And all those years Cal had looked at it and known what a fraud it was and he was and cut hair so you looked as if you’d been blown dry by a Kansas twister and combed by a maniac wheat harvester run amok.
I turned the photograph over and reached down into the barrel, trying to find Scott Joplin’s decapitated and missing part.
I knew I would not find it.
Someone had taken it.
And whoever had peeled it off the photo had telephoned and sent a message to Cal. You are known! You are naked! You are revealed! I remembered Cal’s phone ringing. And Cal, afraid, refusing to answer.
And coming into his barber shop, what? Two days, three days ago, casually checking the photograph, Cal had been kicked in the gut. With Joplin’s head gone, Cal was gone.
All he could do was Goodwill the barber chair, Salvation Army the tonics, piano me his piano.
I stopped searching. I folded the photograph of Cal without Joplin and went out to watch the landlord broom the hairless tiles.
“Cal,” I said.
The landlord paused his broom.
“Cal didn’t,” I said. “I mean, Cal wouldn’t, I mean, Cal’s still alive?”
“Crud,” said the landlord. “Alive about four hundred miles east of here by now, still owing seven months’ rent.”
Thank God, I thought. I won’t have to tell Crumley about this one. Not now, anyway. Going away isn’t murder, or being murdered.
Going east? Isn’t Cal a dead man, driving a car?
I went out the door.
“Boy,” said the landlord. “You look bad coming and going.”
Not as bad as some people, I thought.
Where do I go now? I wondered, now that the smile is there, filling up my bed-sitting-room and me only able to play an Underwood Standard?
The gas station telephone rang at two-thirty that afternoon. Exhausted by no sleep the night before, I had gone back to bed.
I lay listening.
The phone wouldn’t stop.
It rang for two minutes and then three. The more it rang, the colder I got. By the time I lunged out of bed and floundered into my bathing trunks and trudged across the street, I was shuddering like someone in a snowstorm.
When I lifted the receiver, I could feel Crumley a long way off at the far end, and without his speaking I could guess his news.
“It’s happened, hasn’t it?” I said.
“How did you know?” Crumley sounded as if he had been up all night, too.
“What made you go by there?” I asked.
“While I was shaving an hour ago, I had a hunch, Jesus, like the ones you talk about. I’m still here, waiting for the coroner. You coming by to say I told you so?”
“No, but I’ll be there.”
I hung up.
Back in my apartment, Nothing still hung on the hall door leading to the bathroom. I yanked it off the door, hurled it to the floor, and stepped on it. It seemed only right, since it had gone off during the night to visit the canary lady and come back without telling me, just before dawn.
Christ, I thought, standing numbly on the bathrobe, all the cages are empty now!
Crumley stood on one side of the Lower Nile, the dry riverbed. I stood on the other. One police car and the morgue van were waiting downstairs.
“You’re not going to like this,” said Crumley.
He paused, waiting for me to nod him to pull back the sheet. I said, “Did you call me in the middle of the night?”
Crumley shook his head.
“How long has she been dead?”
“We figure about eleven hours.”
I ran my thoughts back. Four in the morning. When the phone had rung across the street in the night. When Nothing had called to tell me something. If I had run to answer, a cold wind would have blown out of the receiver to tell me this.
I nodded. Crumley pulled back the sheet.
The canaries-for-sale lady was there and not there. Part of her had fled in the dark. What was left was terrible to see.
Her eyes were fixed on some dreadful Nothing, the thing on the top of my hall door, the invisible weight at the end of my bed. The mouth that had once whispered open, saying, come up, come in, welcome, was now gaped in shock, in protest. It wanted something to go away, get out, not stay!
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