And John Wilkes Hopwood.
I knew I had to believe that.
For, as I glanced through the dusty window, where a shade was half-drawn against prying eyes, I saw that someone was indeed on that couch from which stuffing sprang in mad abandon from the burst seams. And the man lying on the couch was the man in the brown tweed suit, eyes shut, doing lines, no doubt from a revised and improved last act of Hamlet.
Jesus in the lilies, as Crumley had said. Christ fresh to the cross!
At that moment, intent upon reciting his rosary innards, Hopwood’s eyes flew open with actor’s intuition.
His eyes rolled, then his head flicked swiftly to one side. He stared at the window and saw me.
As did A. L. Shrank, seated nearby, turned away, pad and pencil in hand.
I stood back, cursed quietly, and walked quickly away.
In total embarrassment, I walked all the way to the end of the ruined pier, bought six Nestle’s Crunch bars and two Clark Bars and two Power Houses to devour on the way. Whenever I am very happy or very sad or very embarrassed, I cram my mouth with sweets and litter the breezeway with discards.
It was there at the end of the pier in the golden light of late afternoon that Caligula Rommel caught up with me. The destruction workers were gone. The air was silent.
I heard his bicycle hum and glide just behind me. He didn’t speak at first. He just arrived on foot, the bright silver bike clips around his trim ankles, the Raleigh held in his firm grasp like an insect woman. He stood at the one place on the pier where I had seen him, like a statue of Richard Wagner, watching one of his great choruses come in tides along the shore.
There were still half a dozen young men playing volleyball below. The thump of the ball and the rifleshots of their laughs were somehow killing the day. Beyond, two weight-lifting finalists were lifting their own worlds into the sky, in hopes of convincing eight or nine young women nearby that a fate worse than death wasn’t so bad after all, and could be had upstairs in the hotdog apartments just across the sand.
John Wilkes Hopwood surveyed the scene and did not look at me. He was making me sweat and wait, daring me to leave. I had, after all, crossed an invisible sill of his life, half an hour ago. Now, I must pay.
“Are you following me?” I said at last, and immediately felt a fool.
Hopwood laughed that famous last-act maniac laugh of his.
“Dear boy, you’re much too young. You’re the sort I throw back in the sea.”
God, I thought, what do I say now?
Hopwood cricked his head stiffly back behind him, pointing his eagle’s profile toward the Santa Monica pier a mile north from here, along the coast.
“But, if you should ever decide to follow me,” he smiled, “that is where I live. Above the carousel, above the horses.”
I turned. Far off on that other still vibrant pier was the carousel that had been turning and grinding out its calliope music since I was a kid. Above the big horse race were the Carousel Apartments, a grand eyrie for retired German generals, failed actors, or driven romantics. I had heard that great poets who published small lived there. Novelists of many wits and no reviews lived there. Well-hung artists with unhung paintings lived there. Courtesans of famous film stars who were now prostitutes for spaghetti salesmen lived there. Old English matrons who had once thrived in Brighton and missed the Rocks lived there with stacks of antimacassars and stuffed Pekingese.
Now it seemed that Bismarck, Thomas Mann, Conrad Veidt, Admiral Doenitz, Erwin Rommel, and Mad Otto of Bavaria lived there.
I looked at that magnificent eagle profile. Hopwood stiffened with pride at my glance. He scowled at the golden sands and said, quietly, “You think I am crazy, allowing myself the tender mercies of one A. L. Shrank?”
“He is a very insightful man, very holistic, very special. And as you know, we actors are the world’s most unsettled people. The future is always uncertain, the phone should ring but never does. We have much time on our hands. So it is either numerology or the tarot cards or astrology or the Eastern meditation up under the great tree at Ojai with Krishnamurti, have you been? Fine! Or Reverend Violet Greener at her Agabeg Temple on Crenshaw? Norvell the futurist? Aimee Semple McPherson, were you ever saved? I was. She laid on the hands, then I laid her. Holy Rollers? The ecstasy. Or the Hall Johnson Choir down in the First Baptist Church Sunday nights. Dark angels. Such glory. Or it is the all-night bridge or the start-at-noon, play-till-dusk bingo with all the ladies with heliotrope hair. Actors go everywhere. If we knew a good eviscerator we would attend. Caesar’s Gut-Readers, Inc. I could make a mint scalpeling doves and fishing out the innards like card-pips where the future lies stinking at noon. I try it all to fill the time. That’s what all actors are, time fillers. Ninety percent of our lives, stage-waits. Meanwhile, we lie down with A. L. Shrank to get it up at Muscle Beach.”
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