We left him in charge of the empty fort and drove back toward my place. On the way, Detective Lieutenant Crumley, in a burst of invective, using harsh epithets like cow-chappatis, Bull Durham, bushwah, and watch-out-you’ll-step-in-it, refused my offer to go ride on that damn carousel questioning Field Marshal Erwin Rommel or his pretty pal, dressed up in rose petals, Nijinsky.

“In one or two days, maybe. If that goony old woman doesn’t swim back from Catalina, sure. Then I start asking questions. But now? I will not shovel horse-flops to find the horse.”

“Are you angry with me?” I asked.

“Angry, angry, why would I be angry? Angry? Christ, you drive me out of my skull. But angry? Here’s a buck, go buy ten rides on that calliope racetrack.”

He dropped me, running, at my door, and roared off.

Inside, I looked at Cal’s old piano. The sheet had fallen off the big white ivory teeth.

“Don’t laugh,” I said.

Three things happened that afternoon. Two were fine. One was terrible.

A letter arrived from Mexico. In it was a photo of Peg. She had colored her eyes with a blend of brown and green ink, to help me remember what they looked like.

Then there was a postcard from Cal, postmarked Gila Bend.

“Son,” it said, “you keeping my piano tuned? I’m torturing folks part-time in the local beer joint. This town is full of bald men. Me being here, they don’t know how lucky they are. Cut the sheriffs hair yesterday. He gave me twenty-four hours to leave town. Will gas up for Sedalia tomorrow. Be happy. Yours, Cal.”

I turned the card over. There was a photo of a gila monster with black and white patterns on its back. Cal had drawn a bad portrait of himself seated there as if the creature were a musical instrument and him playing only the dark keys.

I laughed and walked north toward the Santa Monica pier, wondering what I might say to that odd man who lived a double life above the moaning carousel.

“Field Marshal Rommel,” I shouted, “how and why did you set out to kill Constance Rattigan?”

But no one was there to hear.

The carousel ran in silence.

The calliope was turned on, but the music was at the end of its roll and the slots flapped around and around.

The carousel owner was not dead in his ticket booth, only dead drunk. He was awake, but seemed not to hear the silence or know that the horses were galloping to the slap of the Swiss cheese roll in the mouth of the big machine.

I surveyed it all with disquiet and was about to trudge upstairs when I noticed a fine-blowing litter on the floor of the circling horse race.

I waited for the carousel to turn twice more, then grabbed a brass pole and hopped on, moving drunkenly among the poles.

Pieces of torn paper blew in the wind made by the horses jumping up and down and the passage of the carousel itself, going nowhere.

I found a thumbtack on the circular floor under the ripped paper. Someone had perhaps tacked the message to the forelock of one of the wooden horses. Someone had found it, read it, torn it, run away.

John Wilkes Hopwood.

I spent a good three minutes picking up the pieces, feeling as hopeless as the carousel’s journey, then hopped off and tried piecing it together. It took another fifteen minutes of finding a terrible word here, an awful word there, and a damning word further on, but finally there was a death and a doom. Anyone reading this, anyone, that is, with the wrong old skeleton hung inside his young bright flesh, might wither at these strikes to the groin.

I could not put it all together. There were missing pieces. But the essence was that the reader was an old man, ugly man. Truly ugly. He made love to that body because with that face, who would want him? Nobody for years. It recalled how the studios threw him out in 1929, attacked the fake Kraut voice and broken wrists and strange boyfriends and old sick women. “In bars late at night they say your name and laugh at you when you go away full of cheap gin. And now you have caused death. I saw you on the beach last night when she swam out and did not come back. People will say murder. Goodnight, sweet prince.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray