“Call us,” said Crumley. “Can we give you a lift?”

“Some of the ugly ladies from the tenement brought me, thanks, and will take me home.”

“Henry,” I said. I put out my hand. He took it swiftly. It was almost as if he had seen it coming.

“How do I smell, Henry?” I said.

Henry sniffed and laughed. “They don’t make heroes like they used to. But you’ll do.”

Driving back toward the beach with Crumley, I saw a big limousine pass us at seventy miles an hour, putting a lot of space between it and the flowered graveyard. I waved and yelled.

Constance Rattigan did not even glance over. She had been at the graveside somewhere, hidden away to one side, and now she was roaring home angry at Fannie for leaving us all, and maybe angry with me for somehow bringing Death to present a bill.

Her limousine vanished in a great white-gray cloud of exhaust.

“The harpies and the Furies just screamed by,” observed Crumley.

“No,” I said, “only a lost lady, running to hide.”

I tried calling Constance Rattigan during the next three days, but she wouldn’t answer. She was brooding and mad. Somehow, in some dumb way, I was in cahoots with the man who stood in halls and did terrible things to people.

I tried calling Mexico City, but Peg was off lost forever, I was sure.

I prowled around Venice, staring and listening and sniffing, hoping for that dreadful voice, searching for the terrible smell of something dying or long dead.

Even Crumley was gone. I stared, but he was nowhere up ahead, following.

At the end of three days of failed phone calls, unmet killers, furious with fate, and confounded by funerals, I did what I had never done before.

Around ten o’clock at night I strode down the empty pier not knowing where I was going until I got there.

“Hey,” someone said.

I yanked a rifle up off the shelf and, without checking to see if it was loaded or if anyone was in the way, I fired it, fired it, fired it, sixteen times!

Wham, wham. And wham wham. And wham wham, and someone was yelling.

I didn’t hit any of the targets. I had never handled a rifle in my life. I don’t know what I was shooting at, but yes I did.

“Take that, you son-of-a-bitch, take that, you bastard!”

Wham, wham, and wham wham.

The rifle was empty but I kept yanking the trigger. I suddenly knew it was impotent. Someone took the rifle away from me. Annie Oakley, staring at me as if she had never seen me before.

“You know what you’re doing?” she asked.

“No, and I don’t give a damn!” I glanced around. “How come you’re open so late?”

“Nothing else to do. I can’t sleep. What’s wrong with you, mister?”

“Everybody in the whole damn world is going to be dead by this time next week.”

“You don’t believe that?”

“No, but it feels like it. Give me another rifle.”

“You don’t want to shoot any more.”

“Yes, I do. And I haven’t money to pay, you’ll have to trust me!” I cried.

She stared at me for a long time. Then she handed me a rifle. “Sock ’em, cowboy. Kill ’em, Bogie,” she said.

I fired sixteen times. This time I hit two targets by mistake, even though I couldn’t see them, my glasses were that fogged.

“Had enough?” asked Annie Oakley, quietly, behind me.

“No!” I shouted. Then I said, lower, “Yes. What are you doing outside the gallery on the boardwalk?”

“I was afraid I’d get shot in there. Some maniac just unloaded two rifles without aiming.”

We looked at each other and I began to laugh.

She listened and said, “Are you laughing or crying?”

“What’s it sound like? I got to do something. Tell me what.”

She studied my face for a long time and then she went around shutting off the running ducks and the bobbing clowns and the lights. A door opened in the back of the gallery. She was silhouetted there. She said:

“If you’ve got to shoot at anything, here’s the target.” And she was gone.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray