I walked back to A. L. Shrank’s melancholy museum and squinted through the dusty window.

There was a toppling stack of bright orange, lemon, chocolate-brown candy wrappers filed on a small table near the sunken sofa.

Those can’t all be mine, I thought.

They are, I thought. I’m plump. But then, he’s nuts.

I went to find ice cream.


“I thought my name was Offisa Pup.”

“I think I’ve got a line on the murderer himself!”

There was a long ocean silence while the policeman put down the phone, tore his hair, and picked the phone up again.

“John Wilkes Hopwood,” I said.

“You forget,” said the police lieutenant, “there have been no murders yet. Only suspicions and possibilities. There’s a thing called a courtroom and another thing called proof. No proof, no case, and they throw you out on your butt so fast you’re stopped up for weeks!”

“You ever seen John Wilkes Hopwood with his clothes off?” I asked.

“That did it.”

Offisa Pup hung up on me.

It was raining when I came out of the booth.

Almost immediately the telephone rang as if knowing I was there. I snatched at it and for some reason yelled, “Peg!”

But there was only a sound of rain, and soft breathing, miles away.

I won’t ever answer this phone again, I thought.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” I yelled. “Come get me, you bastard.”

I hung up.

My God, I thought, what if he heard and came over to visit?

Idiot, I thought.

And the phone rang for a last time.

I had to answer, maybe to apologize to that breathing far away and tell it to ignore my insolence.

I lifted the receiver.

And heard a sad lady five miles off somewhere in Los Angeles. Fannie. And she was crying.

“Fannie, my God, is that you?”

“Yes, oh, yes, Lord God in heaven,” she wheezed, she gasped, she floundered. “Coming upstairs almost killed me. Haven’t climbed stairs since 1935. Where have you been? The roofs caved in. Life’s over. Everybody’s dead. Why didn’t you tell me? Oh, God, God, this is terrible. Can you come over? Jimmy. Sam. Pietro.” She did the litany and the pressure of my guilt crushed me against the side of the phone booth. “Pietro, Jimmy, Sam. Why did you lie?”

“I didn’t lie, I just shut up!” I said.

“And now Henry!” she cried.

“Henry! My God. He isn’t…?”

“Fell downstairs.”

“Alive? Alive?” I yelled.

“In his room, yes, thank God. Wouldn’t go to the hospital. I heard him fall, ran out. That’s when I found out what you didn’t say. Henry lying there, swearing, naming names. Jimmy. Sam. Pietro. Oh, why did you bring death here?”

“I didn’t, Fannie.”

“Come prove it. I’ve got three mayonnaise jars full of quarters. Take a cab, send the driver up, I’ll pay him out of the jars! And when you get here, how will I know when you knock at the door it’ll be you?”

“How do you know it’s me, even now, Fannie, on the phone?”

“I don’t know,” she wailed. “Isn’t that awful? I don’t know.”

“Los Angeles,” I said to the taxi driver, ten minutes later. “Three mayonnaise jars’ worth.”

“Hello, Constance? I’m in a phone booth across from Fannie’s. We’ve got to get her out of here. Can you come? She’s really scared now.”

“For good reasons?”

I stared across at the tenement and judged how many thousand shadows were crammed in it, top to bottom.

“This time for sure.”

“Get over there. Stand guard. I’ll be there in half an hour. I won’t come up. You argue her down, damn it, and we’ll get her away. Jump.”

The way Constance slammed down the phone shot me out of the booth and almost got me run down by a car racing across the street.

The way I knocked on her door, she believed it was me. She threw the door wide and I saw what was almost a crazed elephant, eyes wild, hair in disarray, acting as if a rifle had just shot her through her head.

I launched her back into her chair and threw the icebox wide, trying to decide whether mayonnaise or wine would help. Wine.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray