I stood a long way off from the stampede and watched “some aging lifeguards sweat a portable organ across the sands to where someone had forgotten the stool so the lady who played it badly played it standing up, beads of salt on her brow, bobbing her head to conduct the lugubrious choir as the gulls flew down to investigate a scene without food so they flew away, and a fake minister barked and yipped like a poodle and the sandpipers rushed away, frightened, as the sandcrabs dug deeper to hide, and I gritted my teeth halfway between outrage and demon laughter as one by one the various grotesques, come down off the night screen at Mr. Shapeshade’s or out from under the midnight piers, staggered down to the surf and hurled withered flower garlands at the tide.
Damn it, Constance, I thought, swim in now. Stop this damn freakshow. But my magic thinking failed. The only thing that came in was the wreaths, upchucked by a tide that didn’t want them. A few people tried to throw them back again, but the damn things simply returned, and it began to rain. There was a frantic search for newspapers to protect their heads, and the lifeguards grunted the damn organ back across the sand, and I was left alone in the rain with a newspaper draped over my skull and the headlines upside down over my eyes.
FAMED SILENT STAR VANISHES.
I went down to kick the floral wreaths into the surf. This time, they stayed. Stripped down to my swimsuit, I grabbed an armload of flowers and swam out as far as I could before I let go.
Coming back, I almost drowned when my feet caught, tangled in one of the wreaths.
“Crumley,” I whispered.
And did not know if his name on my lips was a curse or a prayer.
Crumley opened his door. His face was bright and shining, but not with beer. Something else had happened.
“Hey!” cried the detective. “Where you been? I been calling and calling you. Christ, come see what the old man’s got.”
He ran ahead to his workroom and pointed dramatically at his desk where a pile of manuscript, half an inch high, lay filled with words.
“Why, you old s.o.b.,” I said, and whistled.
“That’s me! S. O. B. Crumley. Crumley, S. O. B. Boy howdy.”
He ripped a page out of the typewriter.
“I don’t have to.” I laughed. “It’s good, right?”
“Git outa the way.” He laughed back. “The dam has broke.”
I sat down, snorting with happiness at the sun in his face. “When did all this happen?”
“Two nights ago, midnight, one, two, I dunno. I was just lying here with my teeth in my mouth, staring at the ceiling, not reading a book, not listening to any radio, not drinking beer, and the wind blew outside, and the trees shook, and all of a sudden the damn ideas seethed like maggots on a hotplate. And I just got the hell up and walked over and sat down and next thing I know I’m typing and typing like hell and can’t stop, and by dawn there’s a big mountain, or molehill, of stuff and I’m laughing and crying all the time. Lookit that. And come six in the morning I go to bed and just lie there looking at all this paper and I laugh and laugh and I’m as happy as if I just had a brand-new love affair with the greatest lady in the world.”
“You had,” I said, softly.
“Funny thing is,” said Crumley, “what started it. Maybe the wind outside the house. Somebody leaving seaweed calling cards on the porch? But did the old detective rush out, firing guns, yelling ‘Freeze!’ Hell, no. No yells, no shots. Just me banging my typewriter, making lots of noise like on New Year’s or Halloween. And you know what happened next? Guess?”
My body was cold. A whole population of frosted bumps had come up on my neck.
“The wind went away,” I said. “The footsteps outside your house stopped.”
“What?” said Crumley, amazed.
“And there’s been no seaweed ever again. And he, whoever he was, has not come back since.”
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