She turned back. “Find some more champagne. Lock up. Place gives me the creeps. Out.”
Only the empty shore and the empty house saw us drive away.
“How about this?” yelled Constance Rattigan against the wind. She had put the top of her Ford down and we drove in a warm-cold flood of night, our hair blowing.
And we pulled up in a great sluice of sand next to a little bungalow by a half-tumbled wharf and Constance was out shucking clothes down to her bra and pants. The embers of a small fire burned in the front-yard sands. She stoked it with kindling and paper and, when it flared, shoved some forked hotdogs into it and sat knocking my knees like a teenage ape, drinking the champagne, and tousling my hair.
“See that hunk of driftwood there? All that’s left of the Diamond Dance Pier, 1918. Charlie Chaplin sat at a table there. D. W. Griffith beyond. Me and Desmond Taylor at the far end. Wally Beery? Well, why go on. Burn your mouth. Eat.”
She stopped suddenly and looked north along the sands.
“They won’t follow, will they? He or they or them or whatever. They didn’t see us, did they? We’re safe forever?”
“Forever,” I said.
The salt wind stirred the fire. Sparks flew up to shine in Constance Rattigan’s green eyes.
I looked away.
“There’s just one last thing I have to do.”
“Tomorrow, around five, go in and clean out Fannie’s icebox.”
Constance stopped drinking and frowned.
“Why would you want to do that?”
I had to think of something so as not to spoil the champagne night.
“Friend of mine, Streeter Blair, the artist, used to win blue ribbons at the county fair every autumn with his baked bread. After he died they found six loaves of his bread in his home freezer. His wife gave me one. I had it around for a week and ate a slice with real butter once in the morning, once at night. God, it was swell. What a great way to say goodbye to a wonderful man. When I buttered the last slice, he was gone for good. Maybe that’s why I want Fannie’s jellies and jams. Okay?”
Constance was disquieted.
“Yes,” she said at last.
I popped another cork.
“What do we drink to?”
“My nose,” I said. “At last, my damn head cold is over. Six boxes of Kleenex later. To my nose.”
“Your lovely big nose,” she said, and drank.
We slept out on the sand that night, feeling safe two miles south of those funeral flowers touching the shore by the late Constance Rattigan’s former Arabian lean-to, and three miles south of an apartment where Cal’s piano smile and my battered Underwood waited for me to come save earth from Martians on one page and Mars from earthmen on the next.
In the middle of the night I awoke. The place next to me on the sand was empty, but still warm from where Constance had lain cuddling the poor writer. I got up to hear her thrashing and chortling with seal-bark commotions out in the waves. When she ran in, we finished the champagne and slept until almost noon.
That day was one of those no-excuses-needed-for-living-weather days when you just lie and let the juices flow and drip. But finally I had to say, “I didn’t want to ruin last night. God, it was good to find you alive. But the truth is, it’s one down, one to go. Mr. Devil-in-the-Flesh on the beach ran away because he thought he had caused you to drown. He never intended anything but skin diving, anyway, and midnight frolics like 1928. What he got was you drowned, it seemed.
“So, he’s gone, but there’s still the one who sent him.”
“Jesus,” whispered Constance. Her eyelids flinched like two spiders over her shut eyes. At last she sighed, exhausted, “So it’s not over after all?”
I clenched her sand-gritty hand in mine.
After a long silent time of thinking she said, her eyes still shut, “About Fannie’s icebox? I never made it back that night five centuries ago, to look in. You looked, saw nothing.”
“That’s why I’ve got to go look again. Trouble is, the law has padlocked her apartment.”
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