“How’d you know that?” gasped Crumley.
“I just did, is all. You did the right thing, without knowing. Just like me. I shouted, and he went away from me, too. Oh, God, God.”
I told Crumley about my sale to the Mercury, my running around town like a fool, my yelling to the sky, and the rain not raining on my three-o’clock-in-the-morning door any more, maybe forever.
Crumley sat down as if I had handed him an anvil.
“We’re getting close, Elmo,” I said. “We’ve scared him off, without meaning to. The further away he gets, the more we know about him. Well, maybe, anyway. At least we know he’s put off by loud fools and laughing detectives doing maniac things to typewriters at five in the morning. Keep typing, Crumley. Then you’ll be safe.”
“Horseradish,” said Crumley. But he laughed when he said it.
His smile made me brave. I dug in my pockets and brought out the poison-pen letter that had scared Hopwood, plus the warm love-letter on sun-yellow paper that had lured him down the coast in the first place.
Crumley toyed with the bits and pieces and sank halfway back into his old bathrobe of cynicism.
“Each typed on a different typewriter. Neither signed. Hell, anyone could have typed both. And if old Hopwood was the sex freak we took him for, he read that one on yellow paper and really believed Rattigan wrote it, hell, he raced up the shore and waited like a good boy for her to come down and grab his behind. But you know and I know, Rattigan never wrote a note like that in her life. She had an ego like a ten-ton truck. She never begged in the big Hollywood houses, on the streets, or on the shore. So what does that leave us with? She swam at strange hours. I’d run along the beach, my workout, and see that, night after night. Anyone, even me, could have snuck in while she was two hundred yards out in the bay playing with the sharks, anyone could have sat in her parlor, used her typewriter and stationery, and snuck back out, mailed this foreplay sex-note to that Hopwood son-of-a-bitch, and waited for the fireworks.”
“And?” I said.
“And,” said Crumley, “maybe the whole thing backfired. Rattigan, bugged by the flasher, panicked, swam out to escape him, got caught in a riptide. Then Hopwood, on the shore, watching, waiting, turned chicken when she didn’t swim back in, and fled. The next day he gets the second note, the real doomsday attack. He knows someone saw him on the beach, and can finger him as Rattigan’s so-called killer. So…”
“He’s left town already,” I said.
“It figures. Which leaves us still ten miles up from Tampico in Cleopatra’s barge with no paddles. What in hell do we have to go on?”
“A guy who makes phone calls and steals Scott Joplin’s head off Cal the barber’s old photo and scares Cal out of town.”
“A guy who stands in halls and gets an old man drunk and stuffs him in a lion cage and maybe saves some ticket-punch confetti stolen from the old man’s pockets.”
“A guy who scares the old canary lady to death and steals the newspaper headlines from the bottom of her birdcages. And after Fannie stops breathing, the same guy steals her record of Tosca as a keepsake. And then he writes letters to old actor Hopwood and frightens him away forever. Probably stole something from Hopwood’s apartment, too, but we’ll never know. And, if you checked, probably swiped a bottle of champagne from Constance Rattigan’s wine racks just before I got there the other night. The guy can’t stop himself. He’s a real collector…”
Crumley’s telephone rang. He picked it up, listened, handed it to me.
“Armpits,” said a mellow voice.
“Henry!” Crumley put his ear to the receiver with me.
“Armpits is back, messing around, hour, two hours ago,” said Henry, off in that other country, the tenement far across Los Angeles in a rapidly dying past. “Someone got to stop him. Who?”
Henry hung up.
“Armpits.” I took Hopwood’s springtime cologne out of my pocket and placed it on Crumley’s desk.
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