That was it. A dreadful weapon, posted and found.
I gathered the pieces and went upstairs, about ninety years older than I had been a few days before.
The door to Hopwood’s room whispered open under my hand.
There were clothes all over the place, on the floor and by several suitcases, as if he had tried to pack, panicked, and gone off traveling light.
I looked out the apartment window. Down on the pier, his bike was still padlocked against a lamppost. But his motorbike was gone. Proving nothing. He might have driven, rather than walked, into the sea.
Christ, I thought, what if he catches up with Annie Oakley, and then the two of them catch up with Cal?
I dumped a small wastebasket out on a flimsy desk by his bed and found some torn bits of fine bright yellow Beverly Hills-type stationery with C.R. for Constance Rattigan along the top. There was typewriting on the paper:
MIDNIGHTS. WAIT. SIX NIGHTS RUNNING ON THE SHORELINE. MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, LIKE OLD TIMES. And the typed initials C.R.
The typeface looked like the machine I had seen open on a desk in her Arabian parlor.
I touched the fragments, thinking, had Constance written Hopwood? No. She would have told me. Someone else must have sent this to Hopwood, a week ago. And he had jogged up the shore like a stallion to wait in the surf for Constance to come laughing down. Had he gotten tired of waiting and dragged her in the water and drowned her? No, no. He must have seen her dive in and never come out. Scared, he ran home, to find what? The last note, the one with the terrible words and awful degradations that shot him below the belt. So he had two reasons to leave town: fright and the insults.
I glanced at the telephone and sighed. No use calling Crumley. No corpus delicti. Just torn paper which I shoved in my jacket pockets. They felt like moth-wings, fragile but poisonous.
Melt all the guns, I thought, break the knives, burn the guillotines, and the malicious will still write letters that kill.
I saw a small bottle of cologne near the phone and took it, remembering blind Henry and his memory and his nose.
Downstairs the carousel still turned in silence, the horses still leaped over invisible barriers toward finish lines that never arrived.
I glanced at the drunken ticketman in his coffin booth, shivered, and, to absolutely no music whatsoever, got the hell out of there.
The miracle came just after lunch.
A special-delivery letter arrived from the American Mercury offering to buy a short story if I wouldn’t mind their sending a check for three hundred dollars.
“Mind?” I shrieked. “Mind! Good grief, they must be nuts!”
I stuck my head out into the empty street and yelled at the houses, the sky, and the shore.
“I just sold to the American Mercury! Three hundred bucks! I’m rich!”
I lurched over to shove the Mercury letter under the bright glass eyes in the small shop window.
“Look!” I cried. “How about that? See.
“Rich,” I muttered and gasped as I ran to the liquor store to flap the letter in the owner’s face. “Look.” I waved it around in the Venice train ticket office. “Hey!” I jolted to a halt. For I discovered I had jumped into the bank thinking I had the actual check with me and was about to deposit the damn letter.
“Rich…” I blushed and backed off.
At my apartment, I suddenly remembered the nightmare.
That dire beast rising to seize and eat me.
Idiot! Fool! You shouted good rice when it should have been bad.
That night for the first night in a long while, the small rainstorm did not drench my doormat. There was no visitor, no seaweed on my sidewalk at dawn.
Somehow my truth, my blundering yells, had scared it away.
Curiouser, I thought, and curiouser.
There was nobody and so no funeral the next day, just a memorial service for Constance Rattigan that seemed to have been organized by a rat pack of autograph and film-photo fans, so there was a mob of milling extras stomping the sand out front of Constance Rattigan’s Arabian fort on the shore.
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