Far down at the halfway point on the pier, a phone rang.
Coincidence? I thought. Phones ring everywhere all the time. But this phone, a hundred yards away, now, had I dialed its number?
Half in, half out of the booth, I grabbed the receiver and planted it back on its hook.
Far off in the windy darkness, that other phone stopped ringing.
Which still proved nothing.
I dropped my nickel back in and redialed.
A deep breath and . . .
That telephone in its glass coffin, half a light-year away, started ringing again.
It made me jump and hurt in my chest. I felt my eyes widen and my breath suck in cold.
I let the phone ring. I stood out of my booth, waiting for someone off there in the night to run from the alleys or out of the damp canvas or from behind the old Knock the Milk Bottles game. Someone, like me, would have to answer. Someone who, like myself, jumped up at two in the morning to run in the rain and talk to the sunlight in Mexico City where life still walked and lived and seemed never to die. Someone. . . .
The whole pier stayed dark. No shack windows lit. No canvasses whispered. The phone rang. The surf wandered under the boards, looking for someone, anyone, to answer. The phone rang. It rang. I wanted to run answer the damn thing myself, just to shut it up.
Jesus, I thought. Get your nickel back. Get . . .
Then it happened.
A crack of light appeared swiftly and went out. Something stirred down there, across from that telephone. The phone rang. The phone rang. And someone stood in the shadows listening to it, tentatively. I saw a whiteness turn and knew that whoever it was was looking along the pier, fearful, careful, searching.
The phone rang. At last the shadow moved, the face turned back, listening. The phone rang. The shadow suddenly ran.
I leaped back into my booth and grabbed the receiver just in time.
On the far end, I heard breathing. Then, at last, a man’s voice said,
Oh, my God! I thought. It’s the same. The voice I heard an hour ago, in Hollywood.
Someone who loved you, long ago.
I must have said it aloud.
There was a long pause, a wait, an in-sucked gasp from the far end of the line.
It shot me through the ear, then the heart.
I know that voice now, I thought.
“Oh, Christ,” I said hoarsely, “it’s you!”
That must have shot him through the head. I heard him seize in a great storm of breath and blast it out.
“Damn you,” he cried. “Damn you to hell.”
He didn’t hang up. He just let the red-hot telephone drop, bang, dance on its hangman’s noose. I heard his footsteps rush away.
By the time I got out of the booth, the pier was empty in all directions. Where the brief light had been was dark. Only bits of old newspaper blew along the plankings as I forced myself to walk, not run, the hundred long yards to that other phone. I found it dangling and tapping the cold glass of the booth.
I picked it up and listened.
I could hear my ten-dollar Mickey Mouse watch ticking at the other end, back in that other phone booth, a hundred miles away.
If I was lucky and alive, I’d go save the Mouse.
I hung up this telephone and turned, staring at all the little buildings, shacks, shop fronts, shut-down games, wondering if I would do something crazy now.
I walked about seventy feet to a small shop front and stood in front of it, listening. Someone was in there, moving around, perhaps shoving himself into street clothes in the dark. I heard rustles and someone whispering angrily to himself, someone talking under his breath, telling him where to find socks, where shoes, and where, where the damn tie? Or maybe it was just the tide under the pier, making up lies no one could ever check.
The muttering stopped. He must have felt me outside the door. I heard footsteps move. I fell backward, clumsily, realizing my hands were empty. I hadn’t even thought to bring Henry’s cane as weapon.
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106