It was a full half minute before I realized she expected me to follow.

“Do you behave this way often?” asked Annie Oakley. “Sorry,” I said.

I was on one far side of her bed, she on the other, listening to me talk about Mexico City and Peg and Peg and Mexico City so far away it was a dreadful ache.

“The story of my life,” said Annie Oakley, “is men in bed with me bored silly or talking about other women, or lighting cigarettes or rushing off in their cars when I go to the bathroom. You know what my real name is? Lucretia Isabel Clarisse Annabelle Maria Monica Brown. My mom gave me all those, so what do I choose? Annie Oakley. Problem is, I’m dumb. Men can’t stand me after the first ten minutes. Dumb. Read a book, an hour later, it’s gone! Nothing sticks. I talk a lot, don’t I?”

“A bit,” I said, gently.

“You’d think some guy would like someone as truly dumb as me, but I wear them out. Three hundred nights a year it’s some damn different male goof lying where you’re lying. And that damn foghorn blowing out in the bay, does it get to you? Some nights, even with a jerk of a cluck in bed with me, when that foghorn goes off, I feel so alone and there he is, checking his keys, looking at the door…”

Her telephone rang. She grabbed it, listened, said, “I’ll be damned.” She waved it at me. “For you.”

“Impossible,” I said. “No one knows I’m here.”

I took the phone.

“What are you doing at her place?” said Constance Rattigan.

“Nothing. How did you find me?”

“Someone called. Just a voice. Told me to check on you and hung up.”

“Oh, my God.” I was turning cold.

“Get out of there,” said Constance. “I need your help. Your strange friend has come to visit.”

“My friend?”

The ocean roared under the Rifle Gallery, shuddering the room and the bed.

“Down by the shore, two nights in a row. You’ve got to come scare him off… oh, God!”


There was a long silence in which I could hear the surf outside Constance Rattigan’s windows. Then she said, in a strange numb way, “He’s there now.”

“Don’t let him see you.”

“The bastard is down on the shoreline, just where he was last night. He just stares up at the house, like he’s waiting for me. The bastard’s naked. What does he think, the old lady is so crazy she’ll run out and jump him? Christ.”

“Shut the windows, Constance, turn off the lights!”

“No. He’s backing off. Maybe my voice carries. Maybe he thinks I’m calling the police.”

“Call them!”

“Gone.” Constance took a deep breath. “Get over here, kid. Fast.”

She didn’t hang up. She just let the phone drop and walked off. I could hear her sandals slapping the tiled floor making typewriter sounds.

I didn’t hang up, either. For some reason I just put the phone down as if it were an umbilical cord between me and Constance Rattigan. As long as I didn’t disconnect, she couldn’t die. I could still hear the night tide moving on her end of the line.

“Just like all the other men. There you go,” said a voice.

I turned.

Annie Oakley sat up in bed, huddled in her sheets like an abandoned manatee.

“Don’t hang up that telephone,” I said.

Not until I reach the far end, I thought, and save a life.

“Dumb,” said Annie Oakley, “that’s why you’re going. Dumb.”

It took a lot of guts to run the night shore toward Constance Rattigan’s. I imagined some terrible dead man rushing the other way.

“Jesus!” I gasped. “What happens if I meet him?” “Gah!” I shrieked.

And ran full-tilt into a solid shadow.

“Thank God, it’s you!” someone yelled.

“No, Constance,” I said. “Thank God, it’s you.”

“What’s so damn funny?”

“This.” I slapped the big bright pillows on all sides of me. “This is the second bed I’ve been in tonight.”

“Hilarious,” said Constance. “Mind if I bust your nose?”

“Constance. Peg’s my girl. I was just lonely. You haven’t called in days. Annie asked me for pillow talk, and that’s all it was. I can’t lie. It shows in my face. Look.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray