It had to be. Whoever it was, alone on the pier in the fog, seizing the weapons, firing at Doom.

Annie Oakley, the rifle lady herself? I wondered.

Bang. Take that you son-of-a-bitch. Bang. Take that you bastard runaway lover. Bang. Take that you unholy womanizing freak. Bang!

Wham and again wham, far off but blowing in the wind.

So many bullets, I thought, to make something impossible die.

It went on for twenty minutes.

When it was over, I could not sleep.

With three dozen wounds in my chest, I groped over to my typewriter and, eyes shut, typed out all the rifle shots in the dark.

“Offisa Pup?”

“How’s that again?”

“Offisa Pup, this is Krazy Kat.”

“Jesus,” said Crumley. “It’s you. Offisa Pup, eh?”

“It’s better than Elmo Crumley.”

“Got me there. And Krazy Kat’s right for you, scribe. How goes the Great American Epic?”

“How goes the Conan Doyle sequel?”

“This is embarrassing, but ever since I met you, son, I’m doing four pages a night. It’s like a war: should be outa there by Christmas. Krazy Kats, it turns out, are good influences. That’s the last compliment you get from the Offisa. It’s your nickel. Speak.”

“I got more possibilities for our list of maybe future victims.”

“Jesus in the lilies, Christ on the cross,” sighed Crumley.

“Funny how you never notice…”

“It’s a laugh riot. Proceed.”

“Shrank still leads the parade. Then Annie Oakley, or whatever her real name is, the rifle marksman lady. Someone, last night, was shooting on the pier. It had to be her. Who else? I mean, she wouldn’t open up her place, two in the morning, for a stranger, would she?”

Crumley interrupted.

“Get her real name. I can’t do anything without her real name.”

I felt one of my legs being pulled by him and shut up.

“Cat got your tongue?” said Crumley.

Silence from me.

“You still there?” asked Crumley.

Grim silence.

“Lazarus,” said Crumley, “damn it to hell, come outa that Christ-awful tomb!”

I laughed. “Shall I finish the list?”

“Let me grab my beer. Okay. Shoot.”

I reeled off six more names, including, though I didn’t really believe it, Shapeshade’s.

“And maybe,” I finished, and hesitated, “Constance Rattigan.”

“Rattigan!” yelled Crumley. “What the hell you know about Rattigan? She eats tiger’s balls on toast and can whipsaw sharks two falls out of three. She’d walk out of Hiroshima with her earrings and eyelashes intact. Annie Oakley, now, no to her, too. She’d rifle someone’s butt off before he, no, only way is some night, on her own, she might toss all her guns off the pier and follow after; that’s in her face. As for Shapeshade, don’t make me laugh. He doesn’t even know the real world exists out here with us grotesque normals. They’ll bury him in his Wurlitzer come 1999. Got any more bright ideas?”

I swallowed hard and finally decided to at last tell Crumley about the mysterious disappearance of Cal the barber.

“Mysterious, hell,” said Crumley. “Where you been? The Mad Butcher skedaddled. Piled his tin lizzie with dregs from his shop just the other day, pulled out of the no-parking zone in front of his place, and headed east. Not west, you notice, toward Land’s End, but east. Half the police force saw him make a big U-turn out front the station and didn’t arrest him because he yelled, ‘Autumn leaves, by God, autumn leaves in the Ozarks!’ ”

I gave a great trembling sigh of relief, glad for Cal’s survival. I said nothing about Scott Joplin’s missing head, which was probably what drove Cal off and away forever. But Crumley was still talking. “You finished with your super-brand-new list of possible deads?”

“Well…” lamely.

“Dip in ocean, then dip in typewriter, says Zen master, makes for full page and happy heart. Listen to the detective advising the genius. The beer is on the ice, so that the pee is in the pot, later. Leave your list at home. So long, Krazy Kat.”

“Offisa Pup,” I said. “Goodbye.”

The forty dozen rifle shots from last night drew me. Their echoes would not stop.

And the sound of more of the pier being pounded and compacted and eaten away drew me, as the sounds of war must draw some.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray