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«Let's All Kill Constance», Ray Bradbury

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She finished three more shots and handed me the flask, eyes shut.

"God is good."

She fell back on the pillows.

"You wanna hear about that damn thing that chased me down the shore?"

"Wait." I put the bottle of Cold Duck to my lips and drank. "Shoot."

"Well," she said. "Death."

CHAPTER TWO

 

I WAS beginning to wish there was more in that empty vodka flask. Shivering, I turned on the small gas heater in the hall, searched the kitchen, found a bottle of Ripple.

"Hell!" Rattigan cried. "That's hair tonic!" She drank and shivered. "Where was I?"

"Running fast."

"Yeah, but whatever I ran away from came with."

The front door knocked with wind.

I grabbed her hand until the knocking stopped.

Then she picked up her big black purse and handed over a small book, trembling.

"Here."

I read: Los Angeles Telephone Directory, 1900. "Oh, Lord," I whispered. "Tell me why I brought that?" she said.

I turned from the As on down through the Gs and Hs and on through M and TV and O to the end, the names, the names, from a lost year, the names, oh my God, the names.

"Let it sink in," said Constance.

I started up front. A for Alexander, Albert, and William. B for Burroughs. C for…

"Good grief," I whispered. "1900. This is I960." I looked at Constance, pale under her eternal summer tan. "These people. Only a few are still alive." I stared at the names. "No use calling most of these numbers. This is-"

"What?"

"A Book of the Dead."

"Bull's— eye."

"A Book of the Dead," I said. "Egyptian. Fresh from the tomb."

"Fresh out." Constance waited.

"Someone sent this to you?" I said. "Was there a note?"

"There doesn't have to be a note, does there?"

I turned more pages. "No. Since practically everyone here is gone, the implication is-“

"I'll soon be silent."

"You'd be the last name in these pages of the dead?"

"Yep," said Constance.

I went to turn the heat up and shivered.

"What an awful thing to do."

"Awful."

"Telephone books," I murmured. "Maggie says I cry at them, but it all depends on what telephone books, when."

"All depends. Now…"

From her purse she pulled out a second small black book.

"Open that."

I opened it and read, "Constance Rattigan" and her address on the beach, and turned to the first page. It was all As.

"Abrams, Alexander, Alsop, Allen."

I went on.

"Baldwin, Bradley, Benson, Burton, Buss…"

And felt a coldness take my fingers.

"These are all friends of yours? I know those names."

"And…?"

"Not all, but most of them, buried out at Forest Lawn. But dug up tonight. A graveyard book," I said.

"And worse than the one from 1900."

"Why?"

"I gave this one away years ago. To the Hollywood Helpers. I didn't have the heart to erase the names. The dead accumulated. A few live ones remained. But I gave the book away. Now it's back. Found it when I came in tonight from the surf."

"Jesus, you swim in this weather?"

"Rain or shine. And tonight I came back to find this lying like a tombstone in my yard."

“No note?”

"By saying nothing, it says everything."

"Christ." I took the old directory in one hand, Rattigan's small names and numbers book in the other.

"Two almost-Books of the Dead," I said.

"Almost, yes," said Constance. "Look here, and here, and also here."

She showed me three names on three pages, each with a red ink circle around it and a crucifix.

"These names?" I said. "Special?"

"Special, yes. AW dead. Or so I think. But they're marked, aren't they? With a cross by each, which means what?"

"Marked to die? Next up?"

"Yes, no, I don't know, except it scares me. Look."

Her name, up front, had a red ink circle around it, plus the crucifix.

"Book of the Dead, plus a list of the soon possibly dead?"

"Holding it, how does that book feel to you?"

"Cold," I said. "Awfully cold."

The rain beat on the roof.

"Who would do a thing like this to you, Constance? Name a few."

"Hell, ten thousand." She paused to add sums. "Would you believe nine hundred? Give or take a dozen."

"My God, that's too many suspects."

"Spread over thirty years? Sparse."

"Sparse!" I cried.

"They stood in lines on the beach."

"You didn't have to ask them in!"

"When they all shouted Rattigan!?"

"You didn't have to listen."

"What is this, a Baptist revival?"

“Sorry.”

"Well." She took the last swig in the bottle and winced. "Will you help find this son of a bitch, or two sons of bitches, if the Books of the Dead were sent by separate creeps?"

"I'm no detective, Constance."

"How come I remember you half-drowned in the canal with that psycho Shrank?"

"Well…"


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