Triumph of the Will was in John Wilkes Hopwood’s eyes as he stared over my shoulder, as if he had never seen this damned beauty before.
“You think it’s a trick, eh?”
“No.” But I stole a look at his woolen suit, his fresh clean shirt, his neatly tied old-school tie, his vest, his cufflinks, his bright belt buckle, the silver bike clips around his ankles.
I thought of Cal the barber and Scott Joplin’s missing head.
John Wilkes Hopwood stroked his vest and legs with rust-freckled fingers.
“Yes,” he laughed, “it’s covered up! So you’ll never know unless you come visit, will you? Whether the old half-gone-to-seed Richard has-been really is the keeper of the Summer Boy flame, eh? How can it be that a miracle of young-ness is mated with an old sea-wolf? Why does Apollo lie down with…”
“Caligula?” I blurted, and froze.
But Hopwood didn’t mind. He laughed and nodded as he touched my elbow.
“Caligula, yes!, will now speak, while lovely Apollo hides and waits! Will power is the answer. Will power. Health foods, yes, are the center of actors’ lives! We must keep our bodies as well as our spirits up! No white bread, no Nestle’s Crunch bars…”
I flinched and felt the last of the bars melting in my pockets.
“No pies, cakes, no hard liquor, not even too much sex. In bed nights by ten. Up early, a run along the beach, two hours in the gym every day, every day of your life, all your friends gym instructors, and two hours of bicycling a day. Every day for thirty years. Thirty years! At the end of which time you stroll by God’s guillotine! He chops off your crazed old eagle’s head and plants it on a sunburned, forever golden, young man’s body! What a price I have paid, but worth it. Beauty is mine. Sublime incest. Narcissus par excellence. I need no one else.”
“I believe that,” I said.
“Your honesty will be your death.”
He put his photo, like a flower, in his pocket.
“You still don’t believe.”
“Let me see that again.”
He handed it to me.
I stared. And as I stared, the surf rolled on the dark shore just last night.
From the surf, a naked man suddenly appeared.
I winced and blinked.
Was this the body, this the man who had come out of the sea to frighten me when Constance Rattigan’s back was turned?
I wanted to know. I could only say, “Do you know Constance Rattigan?”
He stiffened. “Why do you ask?”
“I saw her name at Shrank’s outside, typed. I thought maybe you were ships that passed in the night.”
Or bodies? Him coming out of the surf at three a.m. some night soon, as she plunged in?
His Teutonic mouth shaped itself to merely haughty.
“Our film Crossed Sabers was the smash of 1926 across America. Our affair made headlines that summer. I was the greatest love of her life.”
“Were you…” I started to say. Were you the one, I thought, and not the director who drowned himself, who cut her hamstrings with your sword, so she couldn’t walk for a year?
But then, last night, I hadn’t really had a chance to look for the scars. And the way Constance ran, it was all lies told a hundred years back.
“You should go see A. L. Shrank, a concerned man, pure Zen, all wise,” he said, climbing back on his bike. “How so? He told me to give you these.”
He took from his other pocket a handful of candy wrappers, twelve of them, neatly paperclipped together, mostly Clark, Crunch, and Power House. Things I had mindlessly strewn in the beach winds and someone had picked up.
“He knows all about you,” said Mad Otto of Bavaria, and laughed with the soundtrack off.
I took the candy wrappers shamefacedly, and felt the extra ten pounds sag around my middle as I held these flags of defeat.
“Visit me,” he said. “Come ride the carousel. Come see if innocent boy David is truly married to old evil Caligula, eh?”
And he biked away, a tweed suit under a tweed hat, smiling and looking only ahead.
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