Holding the sheet in his fingers, Crumley glanced at me.

“I guess I owe you an apology.”

“For what?”

It was hard to talk, for she was staring up between us at some terror on the ceiling.

“For guessing right, that was you. For doubting, that was me.”

“It wasn’t hard to guess. That’s my brother, dead. That’s my grandfather and my aunts dead. And my mother and father. All deaths are the same, aren’t they?”

“Yeah.” Crumley let the sheet drift down, a snowfall over the Nile Valley on an autumn day. “But this is just a simple death, kid. Not a murder. That look on her face you can find on all kinds of people when they feel their heart coming out of their chest with an attack.”

I wanted to shout arguments. I bit my tongue. Something seen from the corner of my eye made me turn away and move over to the empty birdcages. It took a few moments for me to see what I was looking at:

“Jesus,” I whispered. “Hirohito. Addis Ababa. They’re gone.”

I turned to stare at Crumley and point.

“Someone’s taken the old newspaper headlines out of the cages. Whoever came up here not only scared her to death, but took the papers. My God, he’s a souvenir collector. I bet he’s got a pocketful of train ticket punchout confetti and Scott Joplin’s peeled-off head, too.”

“Scott Joplin’s what?”

He didn’t want to, but at last Crumley came to look at the bottoms of the cages.

“Find those newspapers and you’ll find him,” I said.

“Easy as pie.” Crumley sighed.

He led me down past the turned-to-the-wall mirrors that had not seen anyone come up during the night and did not see him go. In the downstairs stairwell area was the dusty window with the sign in it. For no reason I could figure, I reached out and pulled the sign away from its flaking Scotch-taped frame. Crumley was watching me.

“Can I have this?” I asked.

“It’ll hurt you, every time you look at it,” said Crumley. “Oh, hell. Keep it.”

I folded it and tucked it in my pocket.

Upstairs, the birdcages sang no songs. The coroner stepped in, full of mid-afternoon beer and whistling.

It had begun to rain. It rained all across Venice as Crumley’s car drove us away from her house, away from my house, away from phones that rang at the wrong hours, away from the gray sea and the empty shore and the remembrance of drowned swimmers. The car windshield was like a great eye, weeping and drying itself, weeping again, as the wiper shuttled and stopped, shuttled and stopped and squeaked to shuttle again. I stared straight ahead.

Inside his jungle bungalow, Crumley looked in my face, guessed at a brandy instead of a beer, gave me that, and nodded at the telephone in his bedroom.

“You got any money to call Mexico City?”

I shook my head.

“Now you have,” said Crumley. “Call. Talk to your girl. Shut the door and talk.”

I grabbed his hand and almost broke every bone in it, gasping. Then I called Mexico.


“Who is this?”

“It’s me, me!”

“My God, you sound so strange, so far away.”

“I am far away.”

“You’re alive, thank God.”


“I had this terrible feeling last night. I couldn’t sleep.”

“What time, Peg, what time?”

“Four o’clock, why?”



“Nothing. I couldn’t sleep either. How’s Mexico City?”

“Full of death.”

“God, I thought it was all here.”


“Nothing. Lord, it’s good to hear your voice.”

“Say something.”

I said something.

“Say it again!”

“Why are you shouting, Peg?”

“I don’t know. Yes, I do. When are you going to ask me to marry you, damn it!”

“Peg,” I said, in dismay.

“Well, when?”

“On thirty dollars a week, forty when I’m lucky, some weeks nothing, some months not a damn thing?”

“I’ll take a vow of poverty.”


“I will. I’ll be home in ten days and take both vows.”

“Ten days, ten years.”

“Why do women always have to ask men for their hands?”

“Because we’re cowards and more afraid than you.”

“I’ll protect you.”

“Some conversation this.” I thought of the door last night and the thing hanging on the door and the thing on the end of my bed. “You’d better hurry.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray