“I knew it,” I said.

I went to stand behind the chair and look at the machine which was not an old beat-up Underwood Standard, but a fairly new Corona with a fresh ribbon in it, and a stack of yellow sheets waiting to one side.

“That explains why you look at me the way you do,” I said. “Lord, yes, always tilting your head this way and that, scowling, narrowing your eyes!”

“Trying to X-ray that big head of yours, see if there’s a brain in there, and how it does what it does,” said Crumley, tilting his head now to the left, now to the right.

“Nobody knows how the brain works, not writers, no one. All I do is throw up every morning, clean up at noon.”

“Bullshit,” said Crumley, gently.


I looked at the desk, which had three drawers on either side of the cubby.

I put my hand out and down toward the bottom drawer on the left.

Crumley shook his head.

I shifted and reached over to touch the bottom drawer on the right.

Crumley nodded.

I pulled the drawer open, slowly.

Crumley exhaled.

There was a manuscript there in an open-top box. It looked to be about 150 to 200 pages, beginning on page one, with no title page.

“How long’s this been down here in the bottom drawer?” I asked. “Pardon.”

“It’s all right,” said Crumley. “Five years.”

“You’re going to finish it now,” I said.

“Like hell I am. Why?”

“Because I told you so. And I know.”

“Shut the drawer,” said Crumley.

“Not just yet.” I pulled out the chair, sat, and rolled a sheet of yellow paper into the machine.

I typed five words on one line and then shifted down and wrote three more words.

Crumley squinted over my shoulder and read them aloud, quietly.

“Death Is a Lonely Business.” He took a breath and finished it. “By Elmo Crumley.” He had to repeat it. “By Elmo Crumley, by God.”

“There.” I placed my new title page down on top of his waiting manuscript and slid the drawer shut. “That’s a gift. I’ll find another title for my book. Now, you’ll have to finish it.”

I rolled another sheet of paper into the machine and asked, “What was the number of the last page on the bottom of your manuscript?”

“One hundred sixty-two,” said Crumley.

I typed 163 and left the paper in the machine.

“There,” I said. “It’s waiting. Tomorrow morning you get out of bed, walk to the machine, no phone calls, no newspaper reading, don’t even go to the bathroom, sit down, type, and Elmo Crumley is immortal,”

“B.S.,” said Crumley, but ever so quietly.

“God promises. But you got to work.”

I got up and Crumley and I stood looking at his Corona as if it were the only child he would ever have.

“You giving me orders, kid?” said Crumley.

“No. Your brain is, if you’d just listen.”

Crumley backed off, walked into the kitchen, got some more beer. I waited by his desk until I heard the back screen door bang.

I found Crumley in his garden letting the whirlaround water-tosser cover his face with cooling raindrops, for the day was warm now and the sun out full here on the rim of fog country.

“What is it,” said Crumley, “forty stories you sold so far?”

“At thirty bucks apiece, yeah. The Rich Author.”

“You are rich. I stood down at the magazine rack at Abe’s Liquor yesterday and read that one you wrote about the man who finds he has a skeleton inside him and it scares hell out of him. Christ, it was a beaut. Where in hell do you get ideas like that?”

“I got a skeleton inside me,” I said.

“Most people never notice.” Crumley handed me a beer and watched me make yet another face. “The old man…”

“William Smith?”

“Yeah, William Smith, the autopsy report came in this morning. There was no water in his lungs.”

“That means he didn’t drown. That means he was killed up on the canal bank and shoved down into the cage after he was dead. That proves…”

“Don’t jump ahead of the train, you’ll get run down. And don’t say I told you so, or I’ll take that beer back.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray