“So Cal, scared, left town. John Wilkes Hopwood. Him and his immense ego. Wrote him using Constance Rattigan’s stationery, got him to come naked on the beach every night. Scaring Constance out to drown herself?”
“Then got rid of Hopwood by letting him know you had seen him on the beach the night Constance vanished. You added a really terrible dirty letter, calling him everything vile.”
“Everything he was.”
“And Fannie Florianna. Left your ad by her door. And when she called and you made an appointment, all you did was come over, burst in, same as with the old canary lady, frighten Fannie so she ran backward, yes, fell and couldn’t get up, and all you had to do was stand over her to make sure she didn’t, yes?”
He knew better than to say yes to this, to say anything, for I was furious now, still shaky but getting strength from my own madness.
“You made only one mistake all along the way over the weeks. Sending the papers to Fannie, leaving them, marked. When you remembered this and went back and broke in, you couldn’t find them. The one place you didn’t think to look was the icebox. Your newspaper notice put under the jars to catch drips. I found it there. That’s why I’m here. And not about to be the next on your list. Or do you have other plans?”
“No, and do you know why not? For two reasons. One, I’m not a Lonely. I’m not a failure. I’m not lost. I’m going to make it. I’m going to be happy. I’m going to marry and have a good wife and children. I’m going to write damned fine books and be loved. That doesn’t fit your pattern. You can’t kill me, you damn stupid jerk, because I’m okay. You see? I’m going to live forever. Secondly, you can’t lay a finger on me. No one else has been touched by you. If you touch me, it spoils your record. You got all your other deaths by fear or intimidation. But now if you try to prevent my going to the police, you’ll have to commit real murder, you sick bastard.
I plowed off with him running after in utter confusion, almost tugging at my elbows for attention. “Right, right. I almost killed you a year ago. But then you made those sales to magazines and then you met that woman and I decided to just follow you and collect people, yes, that was it. And it really began that night on the Venice train, in the storm, and me drunk. You were so close to me that night on the train, I could have reached out and touched. And the rain came down and if you had just turned, but you didn’t, you would have seen me and known me, but you didn’t and…”
We were off the pier and in the dark street by the canal now and moving swiftly over the bridge. The boulevard was empty. I saw no cars, no lights. I rushed.
In the middle of the bridge over the canal, by the lion cages, Shrank stopped and caught hold of the railing.
“Why don’t you understand me, help me!” he wailed. “I wanted to kill you, I did! But it would have been like killing Hope, and there has to be some of that in the world, doesn’t there, even for people like me?”
I stared at him. “Not after tonight.”
“Why?” he gasped, “why?” looking at the cold oily water.
“Because you’re utterly and completely insane,” I said.
“I’ll kill you now.”
“No,” I said, with immense sadness. “There’s only one person left to kill. One last Lonely. The empty one. You.”
“Me?” shrieked the little man.
“Me?” he screamed. “Damn, damn, damn you!”
He spun. He grabbed the rails. He leaped.
His body went down in darkness.
He sank in waters as oiled and scummy as his coat, as terrible and dark as his soul, to be covered and lost.
“Shrank!” I yelled.
He did not rise.
Come back, I wanted to yell.
But then, suddenly, I was afraid he would.
“Shrank,” I whispered. “Shrank.” I bent over the bridge, staring at the green scum and the gaseous tide. “I know you’re there.”
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