I’ll come and stand guard, I thought. Why?
Because the dead sea-bottom mummy, that old autumn woman lying in funeral bandages up there, was praying for a cold wind to drift up the stairs.
Lock all the doors! I thought.
But when I tried to shut the front door, it wouldn’t close.
And I could hear the cold wind, still whispering in.
I ran a ways and then slowed down and stopped, heading toward the police station.
Because the dead canaries had begun to rustle their dry wings just behind my ears.
They wanted out. Only I could save them.
And because I sensed, around me, the quiet waters rising in the Nile silt which would flow to erase ancient Nikotris, the Pharaoh’s two-thousand-year-old daughter.
Only I could stop the dark Nile from sanding her away downstream.
I ran to my Underwood Standard typewriter.
I typed and saved the birds, I typed and saved the old dry bones.
Feeling guilty but triumphant, triumphant but guilty, I rolled them out of the platen and laid them out flat in the bottom of my birdcage-sandstone river-bottom novel box where they sang only when you read the words and whispered only when you turned the page.
Then, bright with salvation, I went away.
I headed for the police station filled with grand fancies, wild ideas, incredible clues, possible puzzles, evident solutions.
Arriving, I felt I was the finest acrobat performing on the highest trapeze suspended from the greatest balloon.
Little did I realize that Detective Lieutenant Elmo Crumley was armed with long needles and an air rifle.
He was coming out the front door of the station as I arrived. Something about my face must have warned him I was about to explode my notions, fancies, concepts, and clues all over him. He made a premature gesture of wiping his face, almost ducked back inside, and came warily down the walk as if approaching a landmine.
“What are you doing here?”
“Aren’t citizens supposed to show up if they can solve a murder?”
“Where do you see murders?” Crumley eyed the landscape, and sure enough there were none. “Next subject?”
“You don’t want to hear what I have to say?”
“I’ve heard it all before.” Crumley brushed by me and headed for his car parked at the curb. “Every time anyone drops dead of a heart attack or trips over his shoelaces in Venice, there’s someone there the next day to tell me, sixteen to the dozen, how to solve the stopped heart or retie the shoelaces. You’ve got the heart-attack shoelace look about you, and I didn’t sleep last night.”
He kept going and I ran after, for he was doing the Harry Truman 120-steps-to-the-minute march.
He heard me coming and called over his shoulder, “Tell you what, young Papa Hemingway…”
“You know what I do for a living?”
“Everyone in Venice knows. Every time you got a story in Dime Detective or Flynn’s Detective, the whole town hears you yelling down at the liquor store newsrack, pointing at the magazines.”
“Oh,” I said, the last of the hot air going out of my balloon. Grounded, I stood across the car from Crumley, biting my lower lip.
Crumley saw this and got a look of paternal guilt.
“Jesus H. Christ,” he sighed.
“You know the one thing that gripes my gut about amateur detectives?” said Crumley.
“I’m not an amateur detective, I’m a professional writer with big antennae that work!”
“So you’re a grasshopper who knows how to type,” said Crumley, and waited for my wince to die. “But if you’d been around Venice and my office and the morgue as many years as I have, you’d know that every vagrant who wanders by or any drunk who stumbles in is full of theories, evidence, revelations enough to fill a Bible and sink a Baptist Sunday-outing picnic boat. If we listened to every maundering preacher who fell through the jail doors half the world would be under suspicion, one third under arrest, and the rest fried or hanged. That being so, why should I listen to some young scribe who hasn’t even begun to make his name in literary history,” again my wince, again he waited, “who just because he finds a lion cage full of accidental drowning thinks he has stumbled on Crime and Punishment and feels like Raskolnikov’s son. End of speech. Respond.”
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