“I don’t hear anything.”
“That’s ’cause you trying. Don’t try. Just be. Just listen. Now.”
I listened and my spine chilled.
“Someone in this house,” whispered Henry. “Don’t belong here. I got this sense. I’m no fool. Someone up there, wandering around, up to no good.”
“Can’t be, Henry.”
“Is,” he whispered. “A blind man tells you. Stranger underfoot. Henry has the word. You don’t hear me, you fall downstairs or…”
Drown in a bathtub, I thought. But what I said was, “You going to stay here all night?”
“Someone’s got to stand guard.”
A blind man? I thought.
He read my mind. He nodded. “Old Henry, sure. Now run along. It’s a big fancy-smelling Duesenberg out front. No taxi. I lied. Who would be picking you up this late, know anyone with a fancy car?”
“Get on out. I’ll mind Fannie for us. But who’ll mind Jimmy now, not even Jim. Not even Sam…”
I started out from one night into another.
“Oh, one last thing.”
I paused. Henry said:
“What was the bad news you brought tonight and didn’t tell? Not to me. Not to Fannie.”
“How did you know?”
I thought of the old woman sinking in the riverbed, silent, in her sheets, out of sight. I thought of Cal, the piano lid slammed on his maple leaf hands.
“Even though,” explained Henry with good reason, “you chew spearmint gum, your breath was sour tonight, young sir. Which means you’re not digesting your food proper. Which means a bad day for writers come inland with no roots.”
“It was a bad day for everyone, Henry.”
“I’m still huffing and puffing.” Henry stood tall and shook his cane at the darkening halls where the lightbulbs were burning out and the souls were guttering low. “Watchdog Henry. You, now, git!”
I went out the door toward something that not only smelled but looked like a 1928 Duesenberg.
It was Constance Rattigan’s limousine. It was as long and bright and beautiful as a Fifth Avenue shop window somehow arrived on the wrong side of L.A.
The back door of the limo was open. The chauffeur was in the front seat, hat crammed down over his eyes, staring straight ahead. He didn’t look at me. I tried to get his attention, but the limousine was waiting, its motor humming, and I was wasting time.
I had never been in such a vehicle in my life.
It might be my one and only chance.
I leaped in.
No sooner had I hit the back seat than the limousine swerved in one boa-constrictor glide away from the curb. The back door slammed shut on me and we were up to sixty by the time we reached the end of the block. Tearing up Temple Hill we made something like seventy-five. We managed to make all of the green lights to Vermont where we wheeled over to Wilshire and took it out as far as Westwood for no special reason, maybe because it was scenic.
I sat in the back seat like Robert Armstrong on King Kong’s lap, crowing and babbling to myself, knowing where I was going but wondering why I deserved all this.
Then I remembered the nights when I had come up to call on Fannie and met this very same smell of Chanel and leather and Paris nights in the air outside her door. Constance Rattigan had been there only a few minutes before. We had missed colliding by one or two hairs of mink and an exhalation of Grand Marnier.
As we prepared to turn at Westwood we passed a cemetery which was so placed that if you weren’t careful, you drove into a parking lot. Or was it that some days, looking for a parking lot, you mistakenly motored between tombstones? A confusion.
Before I could give it great mind, the cemetery and the parking lot were left behind and we were halfway to the sea.
At Venice and Windward we wheeled south along the shore. We passed like a slight rainfall, that quiet and swift, not far from my small apartment. I saw my typewriter window lit with a faint light. I wonder if I am in there, dreaming this? I thought. And we left behind my deserted office telephone booth with Peg two thousand miles away at the end of the silent line. Peg, I thought, if you could see me now!
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