The rifle shots, the pier, I thought, as I dipped in the ocean and then dipped in my typewriter, like the good kat Offisa Pup wished me to be, I wonder how many men, or was it just one, Annie Oakley killed last night.

I wonder, also, I thought, placing six new pages of incredibly brilliant novel in my Talking Box, what new books of drunken doom A. L. Shrank has toadstool-farmed on his catacomb library shelves?

The Hardy Boys Invite Ptomaine?

Nancy Drew and the Weltschmerz Kid?

The Funeral Directors of America Frolic at Atlantic City?

Don’t go look, I thought. I must, I thought. But don’t laugh when you see the new titles. Shrank might run out and charge you.

Rifle shots, I thought. Dying pier. A. L. Shrank, Sigmund Freud’s Munchkin son. And now, there, up ahead of me hiking on the pier:

The Beast.

Or, as I sometimes called him, Erwin Rommel of the Afrika Korps. Or, sometimes, simply:

Caligula. The Killer.

His real name was John Wilkes Hopwood.

I remember reading one of those devastating reviews about him in a small local Hollywood theater some years before:

John Wilkes Hopwood, the matinee assassin, has done it again to another role. Not only has he torn a passion to tatters, he has, madness maddened, stomped on it, ravened it with his teeth, and hurled it across the footlights at unsuspecting club ladies. The damned fools ate it up!

I often saw him riding his bright orange Raleigh eight-speed bike along the ocean walk from Venice to Ocean Park and Santa Monica. He was always dressed in a fine, freshly pressed, brown hound’s-tooth English suit with a dark brown Irish cap pulled over his snow-white curls and shading his General Erwin Rommel or, if you prefer, killer hawk’s Conrad-Veidt-about-to-smother-Joan-Crawford-or-Greer-Garson face. His cheeks were burned to a wonderful polished nutmeg color, and I often wondered if the color stopped at his neckline, for I had never seen him out on the sand, stripped. Forever, he cycled up and down between the ocean towns, at liberty, waiting to be summoned by the German General Staff or the club ladies over at the Hollywood Assistance League, whichever came first. When there was a cycle of war films, he worked constantly, for it was rumored he had a full closet of Afrika Korps uniforms and a burial cape for the occasional vampire film.

As far as I could tell, he had only one casual outfit, that suit. And one pair of shoes, fine English oxblood brogues, highly polished. His bicycle clips, brightly clasping his tweed cuffs, looked to be pure silver from some shop in Beverly Hills. His teeth were always so finely polished, they seemed not his own. His breath, as he pedaled past, was Listerine, just in case he had to take a fast call from Hitler on his way to Playa Del Rey.

I saw him most often motionless, astride his bike, Sunday afternoons, when Muscle Beach filled up with rippling deltoids and masculine laughter. Hopwood would stand up on the Santa Monica pier, like a commander in the last days of the retreat from El Alamein, depressed at all that sand, delighted with all that flesh.

He seemed so apart from all of us, gliding by in his Anglo-Byronic-German daydreams . . .

I never thought to see him parking his Raleigh bike outside A. L. Shrank’s tarot-card-large-belfry-with-plenty-of-bats-open-at-all-hours shed.

But park he did, and hesitated outside the door.

Don’t go in! I thought. No one goes in A. L. Shrank’s unless it’s for poison Medici rings and tombstone phone numbers.

Erwin Rommel didn’t mind.

Neither did the Beast, or Caligula.

Shrank beckoned.

All three obeyed.

By the time I got there, the door was shut. On it, for the first time, though it had probably yellowed there for years, was a list, typed with a faded ribbon, of all the folks who had passed through his portals to be psyched back to health.


It read like the Actor’s Directory for 1929.

But Constance Rattigan was there.

I didn’t believe that.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray