Fog Noir 58 Archive
At our hilltop home in Fairfax, we meet our house guards, Fred and Owen, ensconced in their hazy black car. Warren and Johnny settle themselves conspicuously inconspicuous at the far end of the deck.
In the studio, I locate a tape I want to play for Etta. Out on the deck, she shoots my battered face on Kodachrome as evidence for our lawsuit, saying:
“Your missing tooth gives you a fang, like you belong in a vampire movie. But you’ll have to prove you’re as romantic as Christopher Lee.”
I put my teeth and tongue to her lovely neck.
“How’s this for an audition? Or is sucking the vampire’s real attraction?”
“Careful of your lip.” She nuzzles my body. “Is this a pistol in your pocket, or is your big fang rising?”
“Actually, it’s a tape. A young singer named Joan Baez, a Palo Alto High School girl. Some guys in San Francisco are producing her first album and hired me to shoot the recording session. I got a copy of the recording as part payment.” I pull the box from my khakis.
Etta threads the tape and I slump on the sofa, sipping wine to keep my body therapy going. She lights the logs, takes my head into her lap, and we listen to Joan Baez sing.
“Her ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ is exquisite,” Etta says. “If there’s a folk music fad, I’ll bet she’s the queen…”
Sinking back in my pillowed corner, I drift into a relaxed peace, accompanied by the sound of Joan’s angelic voice, forgetting everything… briefly, very briefly… return to the surface to the familiar stirring strains of George Antheil’s music for Stanley Kramer’s The Pride and the Passion.
Etta is now cuddled beside me, glowing on the long leather sofa, bare feet entwined with mine. She’s holding a glass of the sumptuous wine, the bottle waiting on the coffee table, my glass filled. Raising myself slightly, I take a sip, carefully not dripping on her, and say:
“Most critics hated the movie, but it’s one of my favorites, and the soundtrack is gorgeous.”
“I wanted something inspiring because we’re going to need it for the rest of the night. It’s a wonderful saga of courage and determination, the way they lug the big cannon across Spain. Beautiful to watch, and one of those films where the score is essential to the overall impact.”
Setting wine aside, our lips touch lightly and afterwards, we cuddle and drift in near-sleeping silence. I reflect on the equal desire girls share with guys for lovelling, of blissfully though briefly combining with the infinite. I thank God I’ve received this blessing with Etta.
The window glows grey, as it seems to glow the whole day regardless of time, but apparently brighter this afternoon. I feel we are lost in a ‘grey zone.’ Surprisingly, I have little thought and no worry for Annabel and Lara and her delivery of the diamonds, which should be done by now.
Leaving Etta sleeping sweetly, I slip off the sofa, use the bathroom, refill my wine, retrieve the Independent Journal and marvel how Annabel is managing to keep all our names out of the news. I turn to the movie ads, and Etta wakes, asking,
“The Vikings are landing in Mill Valley—they’ll be fighting all next week. And The Fly is buzzing in later.”
“Both sound like a lot of fun.” Yawning, she looks at the TV Guide.
“Ed Murrow has Robert Evans on Person to Person tonight. He’s promoting The Fiend Who Walked the West—a remake of Kiss of Death. Meanwhile, we’ve got a bunch of fiends walking round us, and I want a kiss of life tonight. So—if you are ‘able’—we ‘cain’ finally see Vertigo later. If this whole Lara thing hasn’t made us too dizzy.”
She pauses, picks up a note pad and reads: “‘Movies are the American dream created as a fantasy and given reality by hero worship of the stars.’”
“Where did you get that?”
“It’s an article I’m writing, thinking about submitting to Cahiers du cinéma or Sight & Sound. Critically, movies are finally being recognised the great art form of the 20th Century. On the lowest level it’s about fandom.” She leafs to another page.
“Here’s something about critics…” She reads: “‘When a movie doesn’t fit a certain oblique formula of critical expectability, acceptability or respectability, it is disregarded and denigrated for all sorts of superficial or intellectual reasons, such as the stars being miscast, as was said about The Pride and the Passion, even though Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren are all believable within the dramatic framework of the beautifully constructed script. Every movie is essentially a writer’s imagining of a reality he creates according to historical or contemporary circumstances featuring fantasized characters, even when they are based on or purport to represent real personages. If anyone ever believes what they are seeing on screen is anything real, they’re very misguided or misinformed. Believability has to be taken within the context of the overall ambiance of the art. What is real and important is the emotional content. Or intellectual—except movies that are only intellectually stimulating are generally pretty dull, unless one has such an active mind that it can only be satisfied with overfeeding. Unfortunately, a number of critics suffer from this.’ That’s as far as I’ve gotten.
“When I was in LA with my dad, we went to a coffeehouse. The walls were decorated with movie posters. Marlon Brando in The Wild One. James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. John Wayne in Hondo. Montgomery Clift in I Confess. Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch. Actors as Beat icons. I wonder how they’ll be regarded in 50 years, in the next century? Still icons? Or even more forgotten than Rudolf Valentino, Jean Harlow, or Clara Bow—‘The It Girl’—you know, the major sex symbols of the 1920s? It’s been only 30 years, and hardly anyone knows those names today. Maybe Lara wants to be ‘The It Girl’ of the Beat scene. Louise Brooks is another, long forgotten—and Lara is playing her character of Lulu tonight: victim or victimizer? I wonder about how Lara plays with men.”
“I wonder too,” I say.
Etta smiles. “Wonderful that we live in this era. I feel it’s a new ‘golden age’—something exquisite is in the air.”
Time to return to Annabel’s for the pool party, barbeque and poetry.
It seems warmer, the mist lighter, the sky glowing dull silver, visibility’s decent for half a block. Folding the roof down, I drive the MG. We wear only T-shirts, our jackets stowed in the trunk, the .45 under my seat. Warren and Johnny follow as usual.
Driving into the Melville estate, we drive into the gathering darkness, perhaps an evolving darkness, a darkness that seeps into our feelings. Etta shudders briefly and we exchange a peculiar look, as if we’re somehow not operating in the same physical reality that we previously assumed we were.
The property is littered with guard vehicles. We squeeze into a space beside the veranda, and Ynez opens the front door. We find Annabel in the kitchen, seated alone in the alcove, her head bowed and a glass of her ever-present Seabreeze in hand.
She rises, clad in a becoming, blue swimsuit, hugs Etta, and says, “Everything went well and Lara is safe and God willing we are free of the Devils—for now. Let us enjoy the pool,” and offers us suits. We thank her, but prefer just to enjoy her company.
Carrying the pitcher and our glasses, we go through the studio where her self-portrait greets us in nude glory and my McClures Cove print sits waiting, out the French doors onto the curved redwood patio, furnished with large portable barbecue, large round glass tables and chairs. Stepping down, we follow a cobblestone path leading across a short, neatly cut stretch of lawn and into a grove of large ferns covered with silver gauze.
Annabel walks before us, somehow sadly sagging in her sheer one-piece blue suit. As though she’s aged ten years in the last day.
Leaving the ladies in lawn chairs at the end of the pool, I wander on, looking for some sign of the murder scene, but see none—no yellow tape stuck around bushes.
I drift lazily into the greenery behind Lara’s cabana and become buried in the mist. An odd sense of detachment fills me, a sublime peace as though I’m flowing with a silent, lilting melody originating from within the fog.
At the garden’s rear, a row of tall pines watch with stoic indifference. Between their spiky, gossamer swathed trunks, patrolling guards materialize and evaporate like specters hired to add movement within the static vegetation.
I notice a broken stem hanging from a bush, a leaf showing an odd trace of red. Snapping it off, I see the blood—the remnant of the life that once was. Dropping the leaf, I return to the pool, take a towel from the pile on a chair and place it on the grass near the girls.
“Good idea,” Annabel says. “We have chiggers now.”
I recline on my elbow, basking in the sunless warmth. Etta, straddling a chair facing Annabel, gives me a loving smile. It’s like living a quiet dream.
Lara appears from her hazy cabana, waves, dives in, swims a couple of laps, gets out of the pool on the far side and saunters around to us bearing a big grin, a light blue towel over her shoulders, her wet, sheer white suit revealing more than movies allow.
Dropping the towel, Lara takes a large pink plastic loop from the grass, places it around her waist. She stands before us, gyrating her body to make it twirl.
“A Hula-Hoop,” she announces with an innocent smile. “Something new.” The hoop loops down about her hips, and she keeps it going by thrusting her pelvis, her green eyes darting between Etta and me.
Annabel frowns and stands, “We need to prepare the barbecue, Lara. The other guests will be arriving soon. Please help,” and heads up the path, disappearing within the dewy ferns.
“One minute, Mother.” Lara moves towards me, whirling the hoop, gives several strong gyrations, jerking her pelvis closer, the breeze brushing my face and the hoop nearly grazing Etta, then stops, letting the loop fall about her feet. She gives us a shrug—apologetic and helpless—and dashes up the path.
Etta reflects. “If Lara’s attitude weren’t so… juvenile, she might represent a wave of future feminism fighting to get out.”
“You mean girls demanding the same status and opportunities as guys?”
“Something like that. There are lots of girls who want more equality with guys, except the ones who want a guy to front for them—you know—that’s a lot of girls. They want power, but they also want a guy who can go out and battle the world and get the money, while they rule the hive like a queen bee.”
“And service the drones when they come home?” I grin.
“If they don’t get serviced by their secretary or some other girl they keep on the side.”
I ask, “Have girls made up their minds what they want?”
She shrugs. “Some have and most haven’t. The so-called ‘Beat’ girls want something more than a home in the suburbs and a new car every year. The idea of being a wife with a houseful of kids doesn’t appeal to them. At least not yet. Some of those girls are just looking for fun, but many of them are intellectual and aware. Aware, for instance, that America is now the most powerful, affluent and complacent country in the world. They know there’s only the ‘bomb’ to worry about, which nobody can control, and the main challenge is to make more money, when most people already have enough. They’re wondering if there isn’t something more. And if there is, what is it, and where can they find it? I don’t know. Maybe we are seeing the beginning of a social revolution, even if a lot of the Beats are only rebelling against conformity, or using sex or drugs for escape.”
“Spoken like a searching sociologist more than a prospective movie critic.”
“You posed a Socratic question and I gave you a Platonic response,” she giggles. “And maybe I’m just rattling on because I feel so tired. It’s been a sad, terrible day…” Etta stares down glumly,
then gazes round into the fog. “Lara’s the only girl her age I know of who isn’t working… at something in the world, even if it’s just ‘dutiful’ housewifery.”
“You think that’s Lara’s real problem? She’s never had to work?”
“Would you work, if you didn’t have to?”
“Never thought about it.” I consider. “Yes—I would. I like taking pictures. Capturing moments. Seeing something new or different or beautiful—and sharing it.”
“It’s your talent. What comes from your true self. Maybe it’s what Lara’s doing—even if she seems a bit crazy. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand her. Even the word “crazy” has different meanings for us. Her mom I can relate to. She’s an artist like my dad, but he makes his art pay, like you, and he uses a lot of his money to buy the kind of art Annabel creates. Until now, Annabel has worked at something I don’t think she cared about so she could create her art, and it doesn’t matter to her whether her art pays.”
“A lot of artists do what she does, work at things they don’t like doing to pay for doing their art, but all the ones I’ve known would rather make money from their art.
“So, maybe,” Etta says, “Lara is like a lot of people. Except she doesn’t have to work at something she doesn’t care about, so she doesn’t care to work. And Annabel doesn’t force her.”
The odor of cooking burgers stirs us from our private reverie.
Annabel has changed into a simple long dark blue frock. She stands with Ynez over the barbecue grill, turning patties and asking everyone for cooking preferences, rare, medium, or well.
A glass table is loaded with condiments, a pitcher of Seabreeze, a vial of Annabel’s ever-present pills, an iced pitcher of lime juice and water, numerous bottles of various alcoholic beverages and a huge salad bowl loaded with cucumber and tomato slices, mushrooms, spring onions, radishes and crisp lettuce.
Xavier and his many semi-suited and sport-coated guards provide the bulk of the misty crowd, which includes Annabel’s attorney and advisor Nathan Girrard. Vicki Kenyon smiles and waves to us. She’s accompanied by a scraggly young man with long curly blond hair, wearing a black and white checkered workshirt and blue denims, who looks more confused than cool.
Etta mentions the dramatic music wafting from speakers mounted on the back of the house.
“Van Cliburn’s new recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1,” Annabel says, not missing a beat in toasting buns. “He recently won the Moscow competition.”
The day is fading into evening, however the mist seems lighter.
“A phenomenon… an incredible phenomenon,” Annabel remarks and turns on the outside
lights which seem to refract the milling bodies even more into amorphous insubstantial beings, “such stuff as dreams are made on.”
Etta takes more salad, picking out the radishes, making a small pile.
We compliment Annabel and she smiles appreciatively, offering more burgers. We accept and eat our fill, accompanied by conversation forgotten as quickly as it’s uttered.
Sitting with Xavier, Warren and Johnny at one of the glass tables near Annabel’s studio, we receive an ‘official’ update.
Xavier says, “We’re all involved in this. I’m the hired help, and you by default.”
“The default is Sean’s fault,” Etta chuckles, “and mine.”
“Just the facts, ma’am?” Xavier grins, intonation imitating Jack Webb.
“About the delivery, the bastards insisted Lara make it alone using Ynez’s Volkswagen. We were ready. Smooth as enrolling in college. All phone booths. Check in here. Go there. Go there. Go there. Finally, leave the stuff there. The whole runaround lasted an hour and a half, and the drop wasn’t made until 3:28. Had her in view most all the time and only lost her during a long run from Fairfax to Terre Linda. Drop was an alley in San Anselmo. We thought we had them, but they managed to grab the bag without us seeing. We don’t know how they did it. Anyway, they got the diamonds and are heading somewhere. I intend to catch them.”
“I’m sure you will,” Etta says.
“Eventually. Annabel’s funding the search. I’ve set up contacts in all the major diamond cutting centers, and Interpol is alerted. A cutter receives a huge reward for fingering the bastards, and there are nice payments for keeping us posted on new customers who inquire about cutting more than a normal number of stones. I hope the bastards are greedy and cash in sooner than later. Until these killers are put down, Annabel wants us to continue guarding Lara.” Xavier pauses.
“Supposedly only Perry knew Lara’s real identity. To everyone else, she was Lulu. Logic tells us Perry brought in pros. They took over and used him as front—then disposed of him. About Perry: His clientele numbered about 50 users a month, Lara included. He sold grass for $10 to $15 per lid, or ounce. Made around $700 a month for himself after he paid his supplier. Two weeks ago, Perry purchased three handguns from an underground arms dealer. A Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum Model 29 revolver. The Magnum is the big gun you heard. A monster. Pretty new. Does more damage than a .45. Takes a strong hand to use it. .32 Browning 1922 and a 9mm Walther P38 with silencer and extra mag. Perry used the Browning and was killed with the Walther. I have confirmation Abe and Teddy were shot with the same 9mm.”
“The 9mm P38 was the main handgun of German troops in the War,” Etta says. “Semi-automatic, eight-round magazine, reliable and fairly concealable. I practiced with one.”
“Knowing about the guns makes one thing clear: the bastards are local. Out-of-towners would have brought their hardware with them. We cross-checked the list of Perry’s customers with Sean’s book buyers. No match so far. And Bailey’s bunch are no help.”
“Legwork doesn’t seem to appeal to the Sheriff,” Etta says.
“He prefers to let his mind do the walking. Regardless, Fielding has become a big question mark, or maybe he’s just an accidental smudge. Regardless, he’s not been seen since Annabel threw him out last night, and we can’t locate him anywhere.”
Rapid footsteps clatter over the hardwood of Annabel’s studio, and Lara skips into view, wearing cliché Beat garb: a tight turtleneck, a skirt shortened to mid-thigh length, leotards and high boots—everything midnight black.
She comes directly to us, focusing on Xavier.
“While I was changing,” she says breathlessly, “I just remembered something—someone. The big party at Todd’s, where I did my crazy dance. I was wearing this same outfit, and I remember one guy, because he grabbed my skirt and because I saw him later… here. One of Duane’s patients. As I was driving out, he was on the veranda out front, coming out of Duane’s office. I remember him because I thought it was cool that not all of Duane’s patients were squares.”
“When was this?” Xavier says.
“A couple of weeks ago. After the party.”
“Can you describe the guy?”
“Neat looking. Dark short hair. Maybe in his thirties. Wore a suit. He was dressed differently at Todd’s—like everyone—everyday casual. He had a funny eye—half-closed like it was always squinting and a scar here.” She touches her cheek. “That’s why I remembered him.”
Xavier says, “Sounds like he was injured in a fight or combat maybe. A boxer… or soldier. A hood… or… a former convict. I’ll give your description to the other guys. Tomorrow, I’ll arrange for you to look at mug files of crooks with that sort of facial scar.”
“If we can’t find ‘scarface’ in the books, maybe you can help an artist draw a sketch.”
“That’s not necessary,” she grins. “I can draw one tonight and have it for you in the morning.”
“Please! ” Xavier says, “Do not mention anything about this to Duane if you see him.”
Grinning, Lara twirls away and we trail after her.
“‘Who’ll come lie down in the dark with me, belly to belly and knee to knee…’” she declaims.
Etta laughs, “God sure knew what He was doing when He created people.”
“God didn’t create people,” Lara says. “Loving does.”
“Ah,” Etta says, “but Who created loving?”
Lara goes silent, and the mist rolls over us in spectral sheets, then she whispers to Etta so only I can also hear: “Are you ever as horny as I am all the time?”
“All the time,” Etta giggles.
Vicki’s boyfriend, the shaggy blond fellow in jeans and checkered work shirt, takes the stage, which is a tall, bare wood stool set atop a small makeshift platform on the edge of the curved patio, and reads from pages he holds in trembling hands. Either he is extremely nervous, or on drugs, or quite mad, or all three, for he rambles on seemingly interminably:
“…borne up by these crumbling crutches of creation,” he reads in staccato declamation,
“we skirt the edges of the acid-etched arena,
finding ourselves thrust back
in the most obliterating offense
to the beginning of the begat,
when once we went forth
to seek the solution
and bring solace to all.”
Lara grins, I think he’s cute. What do you think of his poetry?
“Edifying,” I say.
“An evasion. A way of saying something without saying anything,” Lara squints comically. “Get it?”
I nod. “Got it.”
“I’m glad you got something,” Lara laughs.
Etta grins, “You were supposed to say ‘good.’”
“‘Get it?’ ‘Got it.’ ‘Good.’ Danny Kaye. The Court Jester.”
“You sure see more flicks than I do,” Lara says. “Escape?”
Etta gazes round at Vicki and her guy. Vicki again smiles and waves to us.
“What are you looking at?” Lara asks.
“Vicki’s fellow. Lost and looking.”
“The Lost Generation. They were after World War I. This is the Beat Generation. You’re one war behind and in the wrong key.”
“Maybe every war is sung to the same tune,” Etta says, “and the generations give the songs different names.”
Lara winks. “Time for Lulu to perform. Enjoy the show, guys.” She heads to the platform, sits on the high stool, her black leotarded legs apart and dangling, sets her bag down and extracts her shiny black journal.
“First, Lulu will entertain you,” Lara says in a soft, intimate tone, “with this tender little morsel I call Ficken,” and recites the poem she gave me during our drive to McClures. Laughter and applause accompany her smirking bow. “Now my latest,” Lulu announces serenely. “It’s called, ‘Fox You, Allen,’ or ‘Foul,’ and if you wanna be dirty, call it ‘Bowel.’ Speaking in a rich, sonorous voice—almost masculine sounding—Lulu recites like John Gielgud in The Ages of Man:
I see the best girls of my generation
destroyed by mindless foxing,
starving cat ready for one wow fox,”
screaming from forlorn booze drenched dens
of their big suburban play pens,
cats going crazy for wild fox swellings
outside of their stifling kitty dwellings,
scrounging the streets for the bloated twitch
to cool the pain of their throbbing itch.
Hung out in effigies
the pinup prodigies
stuck up in lockers
of foxed-up boxers,
the craving cat crying
from the heat of trying
in her day of lying
with the last fox dying…”
For nearly ten minutes Lara rants on about so many sad and unfortunate foxes that if I were hunt master, I’d call the hounds to chase the cats instead. I notice Annabel gazing hauntingly at her daughter, a mix of motherly pride, incomprehension and pain. As Lara finishes to enthusiastic applause, Annabel slips alone into the house.
Xavier and his guards drift away, and Lara is chatting with Vicki and her friend. Girrard appears to have left.
Etta says, “I think it’s time to leave.”
We find Annabel in the kitchen, so lost in thought or drunk she doesn’t hear us approach. We thank her for the wonderfully relaxing gathering.
She says, “I have heard about the man with the scar. I hope there is no connection. I hope Duane can clarify everything.” She gnaws her lower lip. “I no longer have the business that has been my life for 25 years, since I was 17. I signed the papers earlier this evening, or was it afternoon? So difficult to tell, because by the clock it is still late afternoon but the absence of sunlight makes it seem like night. Before the signing, I was hurting here.” Annabel touches her chest. “Afterwards, I felt better.” She frowns, and taking her glass and pitcher of Seabreeze, she stalks into the studio as though it is her final refuge. “Perhaps I can even work now.”
She lifts her pallet and a brush, studies my photo, moves to add a stroke to the painting, then uncertainly sets the tools aside. “And perhaps not.” Annabel sips her Seabreeze, gazes longingly at the photograph. “Only a few days ago. We were so much younger then, so innocent… so naïve.”
Abruptly, she grips her chest. “Please—my pills. Over there.” She points to the little table where the pitcher of Seabreeze sits. “Give me three, please.” She gulps them down with her drink.
“They have a new invention, the pacemaker. Possibly it will help.” She pours another glass of seabreeze and sips more tranquilly. “Yes, I am aware drinking is not good.” She laughs. “But, besides painting, you know it is the thing I most enjoy.”
Annabel gazes ruefully “Money. Authority. They mean so little. My painting. Perhaps the expression of a woman who is never fulfilled. With Lara, I seem a failure. But she and I are truly similar. We are similar through our differences. We both want the freedom to be ourselves, but we have yet to find what our true selves are. We both want love and to be loved in our own particular, peculiar way.” She sighs again. “I hope you will continue to be friends. To us both.”
Annabel goes to the open French doors and gazes into the darkness. “I am not a superstitious person, but is it not odd how everything has changed since this fog arrived? Right and wrong. Black and white. This haze is appropriate. It seems everything exists in shades of grey. The fog is breaking all records for density and holding pattern. Half the businesses in the county have closed or operate on short hours. People are advised to stay home and avoid accidents. A freak of nature. Some freak.
Even the clarity I have found this past day seems mottled, as if I have mixed too many colors together.”
Annabel is right. It is indeed a grey world we exist within, one I thought I’d left behind with the War and would never see again. Yet, here we are in this house that’s merely a shell—however magnificent—for the sickness of the people it shelters. And here is this rich lady who has heart trouble all her money can’t cure, facing the prospect of death at an age only a bit older than me, and who is seeing the continuation of her life in terms of a daughter who often appears to have little compunction beyond a tiddlywink—a thin plastic disc children have little interest in playing with today, enticed and enthralled as they are by the latest fad or personality, whether Davy Crockett or Paul Newman or the Hula-Hoop or Elvis or whatever or whomever comes next, lost in confusion—or their passions for drugs or sex or something else. And the fog endures.
Annabel drinks and faces us. “I must be crazy. Are we all crazy?”
“Possibly,” Etta smiles.
She comes close and stares longingly into our eyes. “Sean, Etta, if something were to happen to me, I hope you will do what you can for Lara. I know I can depend on Nate and his firm to manage her finances in perpetuity—a hard word to say— in perpetuity,” she forces a smile, “and with a concept even harder to grasp—it means eternal and timeless. But Lara has no affinity with Nate. I hope you both will provide a human connection, if you can.”
“We can try, Annabel,” Etta says.
“Please do whatever you can for Lara, in whatever way you feel is right. Will you promise?”
“Yes, I promise,” I say.
“I believe you. I believe you are people who keep their word, and you do not give your word unless you feel you can keep it.” Her eyes wet with tears, she pours herself into our arms.
We hug her mightily, and I absorb a jungle of sorrow and regret and thwarted passion—and determination.
She draws back with a sigh. “Thank you. Both of you—please take care of yourselves and take care of each other always… my very, very dear friends.”
We leave reluctantly… as if feeling there’s something more we need to say, but don’t know what it is.
Outside, the fog embraces us as an ashen torrent—strangely soothing like a neutral grey kiss—and we cut through its thickening mass, enforcing early night on a day that should be one of the longest of the year.
Parking in the lot across from the Tamalpais Theatre, where I first met Lara only two days earlier, we invite Warren and Johnny to see Vertigo, our treat as before, and as before they accept and sit several rows behind.
After the movie’s over, Etta says, “The most baroque, bizarre and boldest movie Hitchcock has made.”
I agree, “Just bitchin’ to add another ‘B’ to a movie I sense is even better than anyone right now thinks it is,” and we decide to stay over for the next showing.
Waiting for it to begin, Etta says, “The book it’s based on is called The Living and the Dead and set in France. The plot and dreamy mood are similar—and the James Stewart character is still deceived by the girl. The main difference is that at the end, when he finds out his new girl is really his old girl, he strangles her and the police take him away.”
During the second showing, just after the Kim Novak character reveals she’s the same girl, Johnny slips into the row behind us and pokes his head between ours.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he whispers. “Xavier needs you. Ziggy Ziegler is dead.
We speed to Tidewater Photo on the Miracle Mile—the fog beating over us. The small parking lot is filled with squad cars. We leave the MG on the road.
Sirens sound, and lightbars of squad cars—red and blue bursts—flash through the fog like a flock of UFOs, roar up both sides of the divided road and converge. Uniformed and plain-clad cops emerge and scurry about, conversing discordantly about errant husbands, homicidal lovers and obscure lechers. The chaos continues.
The spotlights and strobes reflect off the surrounding mist and beat on my eyes in bleary refraction, blasting the milling figures with eerie splashes of color. Shaped into surrealistic silhouettes bearing translucent haloes, the multitude of cops seem like phantoms from outer space, and I feel invaded.
My hallucination becomes tangible when one of the aliens approaches us in the form of an older cop in sport jacket, a badge on his pocket. He has a sallow pockmarked face with piercing grey eyes. “I’m Detective Howard with the local San Anselmo Police Department.” He speaks with a soft, hesitant voice. “The Kodak delivery guy found them. He was making a very late pickup and the shop was closed, but he has a key.”
A frowning Xavier joins him. “It’s grim, but the cops need help from someone familiar with the shop and its layout. Ziegler and his girl have been dead several hours. Both shot in the head with a medium calibre gun. Ballistics will tell us if it’s the same 9mm that killed my men. That’s why Detective Howard called me. I’ve filled him in on Ziegler’s connection with our case. We need to learn who the girl is.”
I say, “Her name is Juliet.”
Xavier says, “Etta, you may not wanna see this. They’ve not removed the bodies yet.”
“I can stand it,” she says.
Behind the counter, Ziggy and Juliet lie on their backs like discarded marionettes, limbs twisted, their forearms crossed, conveying a sense of cockeyed complicity in their mutual demise. Their expressions show shock, glazed eyes open, neat bloody holes in the centers of their foreheads. Still hooked on one ear, Ziggy’s glasses lay askew across his face, tangled in his beard, and Juliet’s dyed hair flares out on the dark floor forming a misshapen halo.
Feeling devastated and sickened, Etta and I dash out and deposit our dinner in the weeds beside the building.
Xavier brings us water.
Etta says to me, “I thought you’d seen a lot of this.”
“In war, you’re too busy staying alive to get sick.”
Howard explains: “I’ve not had the bodies removed yet because I felt I was missing something, something in how they fell. I think they were both shot instantly, from midway back between the door and the counter, while the shooter was moving, as if the shooter came into the store with the intention of killing them, and the robbery was an afterthought. Cash drawer was open and all the money gone. I think we’re supposed to assume it was a nasty robbery, maybe by one of Ziegler’s junkie friends.”
In the rear, Etta shows Howard the locked cabinet where employees kept their valuables and Ziggy his cameras, and where to find the key. Juliet’s purse is there containing her identification, and nothing seems missing. Everything seems in order in the darkroom and processing area.
Howard says, “We found a white, plastic surgical glove in the parking lot.”
“Ziggy used only white cotton gloves,” Etta says.
“Hopefully, the FBI can extract fingerprints, but it’ll take a couple of weeks.”
The bodies are now removed and we return to the front area. The counter and numerous surfaces are covered with white fingerprint powder.
On the dark wood floor, the white chalk outlines of the bodies of Ziggy and Juliet linger as ghosts of a wasted tragedy that should not have been performed.
Etta and I notice the Ziggy’s negative file drawer is ajar and its interior compartments of what were neatly arranged and labeled sections of negatives of individual photographers are a bit of a mess. My negative strips are stuffed partly askew in their compartment and a few sleeves are stuffed out of place at the front of the drawer.
I pull them out, coordinate and count them—29 negative strips. “One is missing.”
Etta checks them over too. “McClures Cove—the single frame with the blank tail. It’s not here.”
“You’re right. McClures Cove was number 30. I keep a log. It’s gone for sure.”
Quickly, we finger through the compartments of all the other photographers, but do not find it mixed in with someone else’s.
I tell Xavier: “The photo print you saw on Annabel’s easel today.”
“A lead as thin as your film,” he smiles cynically, “but clearly connected to Lara’s kidnapping. I’ll ask Annabel to check her print.”
Etta suggests we take our print home to study.
Outside, the mist covers the stucco storefront like a shroud, cold and uncaring. The remaining cops stand around silent as mourners, and the scene reverberates as a déjà vu nightmare.
In the car, Etta says, “this is… the worst… Juliet—wow! It could be me. Seeing them like that—it makes me want to kill the monsters myself.”
Xavier and his men trail us—pairs of blurry, quavering yellow lights.
It’s three in the morning when we begin huddling over the big print lying on the coffee table before the fireplace—Xavier, Warren, Johnny, Etta and me—all of us studying the image under the bright illumination of the spotlights, not knowing what we’re looking for, accompanied by wine, cheese and leftover lamb and chili.
A call comes from Detective Howard, and Xavier summarizes: “A man phoned Golden Shore yesterday morning—to buy the picture. He had a low voice—‘gruff’, she said. He described your photo but she never asked where he’d seen it. She didn’t tell him who had purchased it, but did say Tidewater did the printing and she’d have a print for him today.” Xavier snorts. “The bastards learn where the negative is, and kill Ziegler and his girl to get it.” Scowling, he downs a glass of wine and stares at the print. “What’s here that’s so important?”
We spend the next 20 minutes trying to find out—assisted by our house guards—intensely examining the sands strewn with small stones and seaweed, the rock formations, the passageway, looking for whatever is significant enough for two people to be murdered to hide. None of us find anything.
Xavier phones Annabel—she too has had no success, but will continue looking and Lara is helping. He says:
“Fielding still can’t be found, and this picture is a major lead. Let’s try to make it ‘talk.’”
An hour later, all seven of us are wasted—hallucinating animals, faces and human body parts in the rocky surfaces and within the sandy debris.
“I’m just seeing black and white spots,” Warren complains.
Xavier decides to call it quits, and asks me to photograph the print as a safeguard.
I shoot the blowup in my studio, using a tripod, the finest grain film and my sharpest lens, bracketing widely, and give the film cassette to Xavier, plus the negative strip of the six additional frames of the scene.
He says. “Well make large prints of every shot, and study them all to hell.”
The house guards return to their post, and Xavier departs with Warren and Johnny. We watch them descend.
9: Blow Up
We stand on the deck and stare into the amorphous greyness, the black morning light, listen to the rumbles of engines fading. Etta says:
“It’s as if we’re watching a world of shadows, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave seeing only distorted and dim reflections of the real world projected on a wall.”
I hug her from behind. “Where is the reality?”
She grips my forearms. “I’m not sure… but in England last year, I heard about something called Subud.”
“I’ll tell you later. After we’re clear of this evil. This fog is filled with evil. But the fog is not evil. Everything exists in the fog—good and evil. The fog encompasses everything without judgment.
I’ve always loved fog. It makes the world seem like a black and white movie—a living dream. Like when I first visited San Francisco and the Bay Area years ago. I found my grey reality. The hidden evil is the nightmare. It won’t end until the monsters are caught or killed.”
I kiss her neck. “I love you.”
“I love you too. I’ve felt so close to you these last few days. Real partners,” she whispers.
“Sterling Hayden and Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar.”
“Joan shoots it out with Mercedes McCambridge. I can’t imagine shooting it out with anyone.”
“You already have.”
“No. Only at—not out.”
Showering, we sit on the sofa in front of the cold fireplace, stare dumbly at the blowup, scrutinizing from every angle. After 20 minutes, overwhelmed, we drop into exhausted slumber.
Clusters of fog come at me, climb over, fall behind, rise again—effervescent remnants of the past, insubstantial memories of love and lost hopes.
Annabel’s blue eyes glow through the mist.
“Come back,” I say.
“Thank you, Sean—for everything.”
Her outstretched fingers brush the tips of mine like whispers in the wind.
“Lara,” I call. There’s no response.
“Sean.” Etta’s voice. She appears in the doorway, a fractured silhouette splintered by shards of light.
“Take the extension. It’s Xavier.”
“Annabel… is dead,” he says. “An hour, two hours ago, I don’t know. I wasn’t given details, except it was her heart.”
“God bless her,” we say.
“I will… miss her,” Xavier sighs. “Anyway, we’ve been fired. Fielding showed up and ordered my men off the property. He threatened to have us arrested for trespassing. He doesn’t think Lara needs protection now.”
Etta asks, “How’s Lara?”
“Fielding wouldn’t let me talk with her. At the moment I can’t do anything. Nate says Annabel made a new will yesterday. Apparently, Fielding doesn’t have control over her estate like he thinks. Nate can’t say more until it’s filed. He asked me to have my men ready to go back, but it may be Monday before he can get the necessary court order. We agree about Fielding playing a sour game. Nate’s ordering a full autopsy on Annabel.” He gives us Lara’s private number. “She doesn’t answer. I need her sketch, but right now I’m more worried about her safety. Maybe you can reach her. Your personal guards are still on. I’ve got two dead friends, and the main lead besides ‘Scarface’ is your photo. I’ve been up for hours and need some sleep.” He pauses. “Watch out for Bailey. Annabel’s gone, and Fielding’s his chum. Nate says the Sheriff’s trying to find a judge to issue a warrant for your arrest.” Xavier sighs. “If Bailey arrests you, Nate will be on it, so don’t worry.”
Etta dials Lara’s number. No answer. She tries the main house number. After five rings it’s picked up. I listen in.
“Who’s this?” Fielding says curtly.
“Etta Maler. We just heard about Annabel. We’re very sorry.”
“Sure you are!” He hangs up.
She dials again and again, both numbers. No answer.
The fog pounds the window like an army of night demanding entry.
“The evil’s there. In that house. I feel it. I don’t know what it means. But we told Annabel—God bless her—we said we’d take care of Lara.” She tugs on clean jeans and a T-shirt. “We gotta go there.”
The bedroom window shows the grey light of afternoon. It’s 1:38 p.m.
We dress, and Etta gives me a strange look. “I want you to carry my gun too.”
“I don’t know. But it’s important. Maybe you’ll need it more. Trust me.” She gives me the .32. “Hide it somewhere.”
I’m wearing the trench coat, the .45 in its pocket. “Where do you suggest?”
She grins. “Around your wand!”
“The most hidden place you have.”
I remove my coat and pants, and Etta suggests I use the bathroom, as it may be difficult later.
After I do, Etta secures the gun with gaffer tape, running a strip around my hips and between my legs. The subterfuge strikes me as ludicrous, yet I trust her instincts, say:
“Careful how the barrel is pointing, or it may put an end to our lovelling.”
“You may lose a little of your foliage in pulling it out, but nothing vital,” she giggles.
“Good—we can still laugh.”
I grimace. The Colt is cold and terribly uncomfortable. Etta suggests I wear briefs, too—and lays one of my heavy riding socks over the .32 and tapes it down. After I pull on the khakis, she gives me a feel.
“Now you’ve really got a pistol in your pocket, but it feels like you’ve just got a lot to offer,” she chuckles. “How easily can you get at it?”
Adjusting the belt for access, I grip the butt. “Not the fastest draw, but I can manage.”
The phone rings—I grab it. “Yes?”
“It’s Lara. Help—” The line goes dead, but it was Lara’s voice.
I tell Etta and she leaves a message on Xavier’s recorder. Carrying the McClures print, we venture out into the gossamer weavings of the grey enshrouded afternoon. Down below, Warren and Johnny await, Fred and Owen on house duty. We give the print to Warren and relate Lara’s call.
“We’re banned from the property,” Warren says, closing the trunk, “but we can back you from the road.”
A siren sounds and a county squad car shoots through the leaden curtain, red and blue light bar flashing. A scowling Sheriff Bailey disembarks with a grinning Deputy Underwood—his supposedly broken jaw looking fine.
“Going somewhere, Chercheur?” Bailey smiles. “You’re going with me.”
“Fairfax isn’t your jurisdiction,” Warren says.
“Don’t think it matters in a capital offense,” Bailey says smugly.
“You have a warrant?” Johnny asks.
“Don’t need one. Dr. Duane Fielding, a prominent citizen, has filed a complaint alleging Mr. Chercheur planned the kidnapping and extortion of money concerning his daughter. This gives me the right to hold him for questioning, and this time there won’t be any hifalutin shyster lawyer intervening.” Smirking sarcastically, he grabs my arm. “Cuff him.”
Grinning, Underwood moves in with his handcuffs, and I punch Bailey hard in his fat belly, making him double over and let me go, then put a left to his jaw. He falls, and simultaneously, Etta kicks the deputy’s knee, causing him to sprawl.
We take off, dash into the garage, wheel the bike out fast, see Bailey struggling to his knees, Underwood on his side aiming his gun towards us.
Warren grabs the guy’s arm, the shot going wild as we run the bike down the sloping road, letting the motion start the engine, Etta leaping on behind me, and we skid out and down, safe behind the solid grey shield.
Etta presses against my back. I smile with love for her, but the fog does not smile, and love seems the strangest attribute it might possess. It hangs in the air—an omniscient, dispassionate presence, entwining road, trees, structures, streets, and us—like a warm, comforting blanket or the dense cocoon a spider weaves around her victims.
Riding past the Fairfax where we saw Touch of Evil, riding towards the evil touching us, I take Sir Francis Drake, and meet the mist rolling in like a tidal wave of darkness. Ahead, bleary red taillights fill the boulevard, apparently an accident. I ride up a driveway and follow the sidewalk until
it ends, return to the road, and further along dodge round another wreck blocking the lane, then skirt a hazy pile-up at the Hub in San Anselmo.
I catch the marquee of the Tamalpais Theatre—Vertigo—and I sense the movie connects with a vague confusion within me—perhaps delusion—a gnawing sense of inconsistency, something I cannot comprehend, as though we may be chasing a phantom—the elusive wet ghost grazing my face—wet like the real blood blazing our path.
Coming into Ross, another accident blocks the road to the Melville house. I halt, turn the bike round, go back and drive through the hazy opening in a hedge onto someone’s misty front lawn, continue carefully, dodging trees and shrubs, find a driveway and return to the road, riding on through the fog towards the destiny or fate that awaits us.
Reaching the shimmering, diffused white pylon marking Lara’s home, we dart between the brass lions atop the flagstone posts, their silent roars now plaintive cries for the departed mistress. The drive is deserted. We climb to the top of the tiny hill, the roundabout empty, the garages closed.
Emerging from the fog’s embrace, the imposing mansion, pillars tall, brick veranda wide, seems a vision of splendor lifted out of the romantic past and deposited into the hopeful present—the stuff suburban dreams are supposedly made of, now a waiting sepulcher in a world of shadows: the dream gone mad, the rainbow that ends in death.
Dismounting the motorcycle, we walk into its dark arms, stop at the foot of the veranda, stare at the blank, hazy windows that stare back like dead eyes.
“I keep thinking of dead things.” I say.
“Well, lighten up and live.”
We mount the damp steps, find the front door unlocked, enter quietly, pause on the hardwood floor, glance into the main room. The chandelier hangs with its crystals black. The drapes are open on the curving front window. Muted light pours in, making the furnishings appear dull and oppressive as opulent visions on a path to oblivion. Even Annabel’s paintings look lonely. They reflect a subtle desperation I’ve not seen before, perhaps did not want to see.
I draw the .45, release the safety.
Lara appears at the top of the elegant, curved staircase, her eyes glazed, face drawn and anxious. Wearing tight black pants and a man’s tweed sport jacket, she gnaws her knuckles, then shouldering her big leather bag, she descends slowly, as if bearing the weight of every brick and beam in the house.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she smiles with relief, hugging Etta, and me.
“Duane,” Lara says. “Duane killed Mother. He switched her pills for ones that stopped her heart. He doesn’t know I saw him change them back before the ambulance came.”
“No!” Etta says.
I speak low. “Where is he?”
“Upstairs,” Lara gestures weakly.
“Is he alone?”
“Yes… but I think he’s expecting someone.”
Lara steps aside, and I move past her to start up the stairway.
“Give me your gun, Sean,” Lara says icily.
I turn and crash inside myself.
Lara’s green eyes are cold as death, her mouth a twisted grin—she’s pressing a 9mm Walther P38, silencer attached, under Etta’s chin. “I know how much you love her—just hand me your gun.”
Dumbly and numbly, I pass her the .45.
Lara tucks it into her bag, yanks off Etta’s bag and tosses it far into the main room. “And so much for your little pistol, dear.” she giggles sardonically, shoving Etta over beside me, then shouts, “Hey, Vic! I’ve got them.”
“Cool, dear.” Dressed in her black riding duds, Vittoria appears on the landing at the top of the stairs, a huge Magnum .44 in her hand, pushing Fielding forwards, hands behind his back, mouth gagged with a silk scarf, face pale, eyes terrified.
As I recover from my shock, one minor thing makes sense: Vicki escaped from Mount Tamalpais on her AJS off-road bike. She must have practiced riding down the slope for weeks.
Lara tucks the tip of the P38’s silencer into Etta’s ear and frisks me.
“Nice hose,” she says, touching my wand area, “too bad it’ll never rise again.”
“The dead don’t dance,” I mutter, my voice sounding as though coming from the bottom of a
“Oh? Have I surprised you?” Making a faux funny face, Lara presses the Walther to Etta’s temple. “You thought Lara was a poor horny, stoned, mixed-up childish girl. Now I’m probably the wealthiest woman in Marin. Note, I don’t say ‘girl’—so demeaning, as if I’m just a little thing with no mind.”
“You are a little girl,” Etta says, “and you always will be, and little girls who lie always get
caught—sooner or later. With you, it’ll just be a little later.”
“Never! I fooled Mother, who was a very smart lady, for over half my life. All the rest of you are pushovers and pawns.” Her head tilts back like a proud black queen who’s just checkmated the favored white. “I’ve got a helluva brain and I use it. No one suspects, or will ever guess. Mother taught me well.”
“Bravo, Lara,” Etta says. “You win the Oscar for best performance by a mass murderer. ”
“Thank you, thank you.
I’m the ultimate real assassin.
I finally found my right profession.
I’ll kill them all in rapid succession,
And no one will hear a trite confession.”
Lara grins with suppressed glee—sly, malicious, demonic—underlined by the frigid vacuum of her
eyes. “Generally, I don’t enjoy killing women—”
“Like Juliet?” Etta says.
“Was that her name? Her fault—working for Ziggy jerky. It was the only time I could get the negative—I mean, while I was delivering the payoff to myself, and could ditch the Rodgers posse for a few minutes.” She chuckles. “Rodgers is another Scheisse, so humongous it’s a wonder his Rangers see anything with their windshields covered in his merde. And Mother was drowning in a bucketful.”
“What about your mom?” Etta says.
“What about her?”
“How did it feel when you killed her?”
Lara’s lips pucker and her brow narrows for an instant—no regret, only exasperation. “Look, dear, she was going to die anyway, and she was going to pay a fortune for the Rodgers gang to monitor diamond cutting worldwide. It would have been hard for us to cash in. So… I simply decided—why not end it now?”
Vittoria prods Fielding down the steps, his white shirt disheveled, slacks rumpled and feet bare, head drooping like a person already hanged.
“Poor Duane—seduced and abandoned.” Lara pouts with mock pity. “Revised plan, Vic. Since Duane refuses to write his ‘suicide’ note, we’ll have Sean shoot him.”
“And Duane will shoot Sean and Etta, like you planned,” Vicki chuckles. “Sounds good, sweetie. They find Sean with his .45 and Duane holding your Walther.”
“We have to make it look exactly right. Angles of entry wounds, powder residue—everything.” Lara frowns. “Etta’s father has money and connections. I don’t know who he is, but we must assume he’ll order an investigation to end all investigations.”
Vittoria gives her an ugly scowl. “Not good.”
“Don’t worry, dear, I have it under control, as always. After we finish them, we wipe your prints off the Magnum, put Duane’s on it, and lock it in his safe with the diamonds and Mother’s death pills.”
“What do we do with the servant’s body?” Vicki asks.
“Ynez stays in the garage where Duane shot her. Her fault for seeing me switch Mother’s pills.” Lara grins her awful grin. “They say it’s easy to kill, but hard to dispose of the bodies. My way, it’s easy—let someone else do the disposing.”
“Don’t forget,” Vicki says, “we were about to burn the big photo when these two showed up.”
“Speedy little devils, weren’t they? Got here much faster than I calculated.”
“So, we’re part of a set-up,” Etta says. “I thought you didn’t like killing girls.”
“You interrupted me before I could say… you, dear, are an exception. How could I forget the way you’ve treated me? Making fun of me—so condescending and sure of yourself. Mother’s little girlfriend. She gave you more respect in one day than she ever gave me. And she gave you and Sean 40 times the amount of money she ever gave me in one hunk. If she’d given me $200,000, I would have gone to Paris and had a wonderful time and we’d all have lived happily ever after.”
Vittoria touches Lara’s arm. “The big photo, sweetie, we’ve got to keep moving.”
Lara gives Vicki a quick kiss on the cheek. “Yeah, let’s do it now. Inside, everybody.”
They herd us into the main room, Lara holding the Walther to Etta’s head, Vicki grabbing the blowup print from off a sofa.
I ask, “Why does my photo of the cove mean so much to you?”
“This’s for us to know and you to guess, little brother,” Vicki says.
“Awww—show the prick,” Lara says.
Vittoria points to the stones at the far end of the passageway. “There, dummy. Look.”
Etta looks too. At first, I see only another mixed-tone chunk of rock, but then part of a person’s head becomes apparent, the top covered by something black, a light strand of hair hanging below, and slowly an eye, nose and most of a mouth vaguely appear—the pale partial face could be Vicki’s, but it could be anybody’s, or even an illusion.
Lara scowls at Vic. “If you’d kept your hood on, we wouldn’t be having to mess with this.”
“I couldn’t see. You cut the holes too small. And you insisted I watch for when Sean started through the passage, so we could take off and be far enough away for him to see us, but not catch us playing pattycake.”
“Enough comedy,” Lara says. “Burn the print—in the fireplace.”
Vicki shoves Fielding down on a sofa, Etta in the center, and me on her left. Lara stands back, pulls my .45 from her bag and covers us with both guns.
Vicki breaks the blowup in quarters over the back of a chair and ignites it with lighter fluid in the fireplace. My hands are in my lap, and I worry how to get at the .32.
Patience… patience. Trust God. Trust myself.
Vittoria smirks, wiggling her .44 in my face. “Are you enjoying seeing one of your precious pictures burn? This is the only copy, isn’t it?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“We can make dear Etta die painfully,” Lara grins her awful grin. “Like shooting a kneecap, then her crotch.” She points the Walther at each place.
“Dead is dead,” I say.
Lara says, “Would you like to kill her, Vic?”
She chuckles, “You’re so much better at it, dear.”
“Yeah… and I sure wanna take care of Sean myself. I can make it slow or quick. Ynez I killed quick because she was always good to me. But Sean I want to die slow.”
“Shoot his balls off first. Let him bleed awhile.”
“I’m doing it now. Don’t you see how afraid he is?—trying to make jokes, scared to death about his girl? Knowing he’ll never love her again. But let’s get on—the shootout in the hallway. Up, asshole.”
“Why should I cooperate in my execution?”
“Smack him,” Vittoria says.
Lara shakes her head. “No. Just bullet wounds. And no powder marks, absolutely.”
“Want me to suffer more, huh, Vicki?”
Vittoria jams her .44 in my stomach. “Get up!” I gag, lean forward, as though about to vomit. Vicki leaps back, saying:
“Fuckin’-A, you’ll suffer! You and little bitchy have secretly been laughing about me since we met. And you nick me through my titty and my butt. I had to cop a ton of penicillin from flight kits to prevent infection, and I’ve been hurting like hell.”
“I wish I’d aimed to hurt you more!” Etta screams.
Vicki swipes her cheek with the Magnum barrel, knocking her into me.
“Careful!” Lara warns. “I said no bruises!”
Etta begins weeping, face against my chest, and I cuddle her across my lap. Gripping my neck, Etta tucks her hidden hand beneath my belt, finds the butt of the .32 and works it free, sobbing with great heaves to mask her action.
“That print and the negative don’t matter,” I say, patting Etta’s back. “I gave Xavier the other negatives, and he’s put them in a safe place.”
Lara is startled.
“I took a bunch of identical shots of the scene. They’re all sharp. Plus, I made a duplicate neg from our print. I guess you didn’t know I also have a blowup. Xavier has them all. I’m sure your lil Vicki dear will eventually be found. She’s going to be identified and caught. As you know, Etta’s dad is a rich guy, and he’ll probably spend as much as your mom to track her down—so goodbye to your brief hopeful love life together.”
Lara kicks me hard in the shin, and I jerk round to cover Etta’s yanking the .32 completely free—letting out a real yelp because she rips my hair too. Vittoria stares at Lara nervously.
“Don’t worry, Vic,” Lara says, “I’ll figure something out.”
“Yeah,” I laugh, “you’ll figure out how to kill her so she can never rat on you.”
Enraged, Lara whacks my shoulder with the Walther’s butt.
I laugh. “A nice bruise, I’m sure. Will it make the coroner suspicious?”
Vicki waves her gun in my face. “Bastard!” She glances at Lara, “What’ll we do?”
“Merde! You were watching him—didn’t you see him taking a lot of photos? Merde! I put everything together. Invited you in. Made it happen. Don’t worry. I’ll work it out.”
Etta’s sobs lessen as she drags the gun over my thigh and hip bone.
“Nobody would ever have noticed Vicki in the picture,” I chuckle, “if you hadn’t made a big deal of it by killing Ziggy to get my neg. It’s not Vicki’s fault, it’s yours for trying to be too clever and too thorough.”
Etta wedges the .32 up under my belt, rests it on my right hip, makes sure it’s firm, and sits upright. I straighten my trench coat, making sure the gun is hidden.
“Kill him, love!” Vicki shouts, her gun inches from my head. “Kill him now! And her. Get it over with!”
“No! We gotta set them all up in the hallway.”
“Why not right here, right now?”
“Because I don’t want blood all over my carpet and furniture. Silly! Besides, it’s how I’ve worked out the logistics—a probable, neat scenario—all the bodies in the hallway. Take the bindings off Duane.”
Vicki tucks the Magnum in her waist and unties Fielding. “Nice Hermès scarves.”
“Mother’s,” Lara says, “mine now,” holding the P38 against the side of Etta’s head, my .45 on Fielding.
Ungagged, Fielding says, “Why, Lara, why?”
“Why not?” she smirks.
“What I wanted you to think. Get up, Schwanzlutscher.”
Lara prods Fielding up with the .45, Vittoria jams the Magnum against Etta’s forehead, and we all stand. Etta moves away slightly, cowering, appearing totally helpless.
Rubbing his wrists, Fielding stares into Lara’s serenely cold face. “I love you.”
“Sorry, I don’t love you,” she yawns, grabs his chin and gives him a huge kiss on the lips, steps back, grinning broadly, and wipes her mouth. “But we had some fun times, didn’t we? The cabin in Inverness while you were ‘seeing patients.’ The great hotels out of town. The trip to Scotland. All the times here when Mother was out.”
“Hmmm…” I mutter, “Nice to have a thing going with your step-daughter.”
He looks anguished, but Lara is angry.
“He did not have it going with me. I’ve had him going—for 13 years. From two days before he married Mother.”
“Ah… so you seduced him. But Lara, you dear tormented girl, I think Richard, your own father, got you going—he must have molested you when you were very young…”
Her eyes go wide—I’ve hit home.
“…and that’s why you killed him. He was your first, wasn’t he?”
Her face hardens. “No. No—No! Liar!” Her voice rises. “I seduced him—that’s what happened. Yes!—and Mother never knew!” she snarls, backing away, her guns quivering.
Etta notices Fielding edging backwards an inch at a time.
I move slowly to the side to keep Lara’s attention, and take a step back towards Vittoria. “She never suspected?”
“Mother was always too busy.”
“You bet. Mother thought so too, after I killed die Schwanzlutscher.”
“She knew you’d done it.”
“No, stupid—Mother never even wondered,” she smiles proudly.
“Did she find Vicki in the photo, or did you show her?”
“I showed her, and told her everything—everything—including Richard. I knew it would give her an attack, and I had the pills ready.” Lara’s smile turns icy. “She took them herself.”
“How do you feel about killing your mom?” I smile.
“Free! You gob of spit.” She levels the gun at my head.
“Oh, come on, Lara. With all your intelligence, I think you can come up with a more creative expletive,” I laugh, watching Fielding move further away. Etta stands rigid with her head drooping.
“Laugh as I kill you, Sean.”
“If it’s my time to go, it’s my time,” I grin mockingly, placing my hands on my hips, ready to draw the .32.
Vittoria waves her gun, “What are you waiting for? Shoot him!”
“Shut up, Vic! I’m enjoying this. Don’t you know psychological torture is just as good as physical? I owe these two for messing us up on Mount Tam—my new identity, becoming a lovely, long-haired brunette, everything I’d planned—a waste.”
“Well,” Vicki says, “You needed a patsy to cover every ‘potentiality’ you said.”
“Yes, but Sean was your idea. You were so sure he would be… pliable and reliable.”
“No, I’m afraid he hasn’t turned out to be very cooperative. Anyway, come on, Lara, kill ’em and let’s get on with it.”
“Why rush things? Sean should have died with Todd. Now I want him to sweat every last moment of his life,” she chuckles, “and his little dear’s. Hey, Sean—you and Etta are going to die in a couple of minutes. Die forever. Never lovel again. How does it feel?”
I smile, my peripheral eye on Fielding. “Well… there’s a time to love and a time to die. If it’s time to die, it’s time to die.”
Abruptly, Fielding bolts diagonally across the room towards the hallway and the rear.
“Damn!” Vicki shouts.
“Merde!” Lara pursues him, switching the .45 to her right hand.
Vittoria’s eyes dart excitedly from me and Etta to Fielding and Lara and back, keeping her Magnum pressed hard between Etta’s breasts—she’s still acting dejected and doomed.
The faint wail of a siren sounds from the distance.
Lara lets Fielding reach the foyer, and fires the .45, hitting him in the right leg, sending him sprawling on the hardwood floor. She advances as he crawls on, frees her left hand by stowing the P38 in her bag, grabs his collar and stops him.
“Merde, merde, merde,” she mutters. “How do I make this look right?”
“What does it matter?” Vittoria glances away, but quickly back to me. “Finish him.”
Lara rolls Fielding onto his back.
“Please! Lara, don’t… don’t… don’t…” he whimpers.
The siren grows louder.
“I told you, Vic, the wounds have to look right. Distances, angles of entry, everything’s got to be right.
“But now he’s got one in the back of his leg.”
“Only his ankle. He twisted it in the shootout with Sean.”
Vicki listens intently. “Lara… I think the cops are coming.”
The wail increases, approaching the house. I’m ready to draw:
If only Vicki will take her gun off Etta—just for a moment.
“But how does he kill Sean and Etta?” Lara frowns. “I’ve got to get this right.”
“Just do it, honey. Cops are here. Kill the bastard!”
“Shut up! I need to think.”
The siren blasts continuously at the same volume, and abruptly stops.
Lara steps back and Fielding begins weeping profusely, hands raised imploringly.
The chimes sound and heavy pounding reverberates from the front door. A shout comes through:
“Sheriff Bailey here. Dr. Fielding—Duane, let me in!”
Fielding screams, “Help! Oscar, help!”
Lara steps back several yards and fires the .45, the shot tearing Fielding’s chest in a burst of spurting red, his body lurching backward against the hallway wall, against the group of Lara’s photos hanging below the staircase, knocking several to the floor.
The door bursts open with a mighty slam, Bailey and Underwood breaking through, guns drawn, one a shotgun, taking the attention of both Lara and Vicki.
Etta knocks Vicki’s gun hand upward, the Magnum thundering, exploding through the chandelier—I draw the .32. The chandelier falls with a crash—Vicki flings Etta away—and Bailey and Underwood turn, confused. I leap at Vicki, punching her neck, grab her gun hand and shout, “Run, Etta, out the window!” Taking Vicki down and pinning her on the soft carpet, I glimpse Underwood with a shotgun moving towards us.
Vicki grips my hand before I can shoot her, and we struggle. Etta leaps on the sofa, springs up, twists round, covers her neck and head, and smashes sideways through the large front window, glass shattering, as Fielding moans,
“Oscar… stop Lara!” and the Sheriff barks, “Drop the gun Miss—”
“Pig!” Lara shoots Bailey in the head with my .45, then hits Underwood in the chest as he swings his shotgun round—he jerks backward—their bodies falling in thudding succession. Vicki thrusts hard to dislodge my grip on the Magnum, and Lara swirls round to finish Fielding with a quick boom, then one more shot each into the Sheriff and his deputy, drops my gun clanging to the hardwood floor, digs the Walther from her bag and pounds toward us.
Vicki wiggles free. Rising with the .32 swinging, I club her jaw, take a quick shot at Lara, causing her to dodge away, and dash, leaping over the sofa before the shattered window, two bullets following from Lara’s silenced P38. Then comes the loud crack of Vicki’s Magnum, blasting out the
remainder of the window.
Down flat behind the sofa and covered with broken glass, I realize one of Lara’s bullets laced my left arm, fortunately missing the bone. I crawl fast to the near end of the sofa.
Peeking out under the bottom, I see Lara across the room, moving stealthily, searching for a shot. I aim to take her out when Vittoria appears, using a two-handed, cop-type grip. She blasts with her Magnum—the shot tears off the wing of the sofa, dumping it on my back. Damn!
The recoil knocks her arms up, and before she can get off another round, I dive low and hard out the broken front window, arms covering my neck and face, two bullets from Lara’s gun accompanying me, one hitting my left shoulder, roll on the veranda, rise and run to the left into the fog bank—towards Etta staggering slowly along the veranda. I reach and rush her flying off the end
onto the wet grass below as a silenced whiss from Lara’s gun and a loud report from Vicki’s resound around us, bloody flesh splattering from Etta’s arm.
Rolling over a couple of times—Etta crying out—we hustle behind some bushes in the dripping vegetation, peek back, the .32 in my hand, and see only the blurry end of the house and veranda. No Lara or Vicki. We rise, keep low and duck further into the dense grey cloud, stop as running footsteps stomp up the drive. I leave Etta and return towards the veranda, see vague forms of two men appear, rushing towards the house—recognize them: Fred and Owen, our house watchers.
“Get down!” I call out.
Too late, for the diffuse, darting figure of Lara kneels on the veranda, and the guys drop in the roundabout to soft sounds from her gun.
Lara leaps from the veranda and rushes towards me. I retreat rapidly into the dark mist, towards the front of the property, leading Lara away from Etta. Pursuing, Lara fires twice, wings my right leg—it feels like a bee sting—I fall and roll, rise and stumble into a heavy thicket of ferns.
Lying flat, gun ready, I hear running footsteps thudding on the grassy lawn. They approach, and veer away, diminish and fade away in the direction of the road. Limping, I circle back to Etta, find her hunkered behind a hedge. Together, we stagger low and silent, deep into the heavy, damp vegetation at the side of the house, go all the way to the high sandstone wall, and follow it towards the rear of the estate, stop behind a huge old maple surrounded by a dense thicket of ferns.
“Hold still,” I whisper, and listening for the slightest sound of Lara or Vicki approaching, quickly, carefully remove one large shard of glass buried in Etta’s upper right shoulder, using only my right hand—my wounds preventing my left from cooperating.
She grimaces and locks her lips tight, then murmurs, “I heard you yell.”
“Lara got our backup. Fred and Owen.”
“Poor guys. They shouldn’t even have been here.”
“The evil bitch!”
“They must have followed us, maybe because Bailey arrested Warren and Johnny.”
“Damn Bailey!” she kisses my cheek.
“No. Lara killed him and Underwood, but inadvertently they helped save us.”
“Duane did his bit too,” she manages to grin. “I hope we live to appreciate the irony.”
I glance round the tree, looking for any sign of Lara or Vicki, listen and hear only the silence of the mist.
Etta winces quietly as I pick miscellaneous glass fragments from her back. One protrudes uglily from her right thigh. I pull it free, and blood seeps through the denim.
“Not good,” I whisper.
“Thank God, we’re still alive.”
“And in love,” I kiss her forehead.
“The loving wounded.”
“At least not wounded in love.”
We hold each other carefully.
“We’ll never have to say we’re bleeding for each other,” she giggles softly. “Right now, we’re bleeding all over each other.”
“How bad are you shot?” she asks.
“Right thigh, left shoulder and arm. You?”
“Left side. It hurts—lots. And my right arm. I don’t think it hit the bone.”
“Nope, but Vicki sure ripped out a chunk of flesh.”
“Makes me sick to look,” she murmurs.
Using the sock and tape from within my shorts, I bind her arm.
“You’ve got more glass in your back—hold still.” I remove all the small shards I find, which makes more blood flow. “You realize we’re both in shock?”
“Yeah,” she nods and shudders.
“We’ve got one small gun with five shots left, and they’ve got two.”
“I’m glad Vicki never learned to shoot better,” she whispers. “But Lara certainly can.”
Footsteps approach and angry voices emerge from mist—we cower behind the tree. I hold the gun ready.
“Shit! We missed them!” Vicki says. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
“Drecksnebel!” Lara says. “They must have doubled back and gone out the rear gate. We’re too late.”
“They’ll reach one of your neighbors—and call the cops.” Vicki’s tone is frantic. “What are we gonna do?”
“Don’t worry,” Lara says calmly. “The nearest neighbors are away for the summer, and it’ll take them 15 or 20 minutes to find a phone. We have time to work this out and do it right. So, calm down? OK?”
“OK—but figure it fast.”
“Nobody’s gonna believe Sean and Etta because the cops will find me locked in the wine cellar, like we planned.” Lara talks rapidly and precisely. “Duane locked me up when I discovered he murdered Mother. What happened later, I don’t know… but I heard shooting.”
“The big picture—Vic—what we want the cops to see: Duane, Sean and Etta, Bailey and his Deputy were maybe all conspirators in my kidnapping and the extortion. Sean and Etta had a falling out with the others, and they shot it out. Duane killed the two Rodgers Rangers because they were with Sean. Sean killed Duane and Bailey and the Deputy.”
“How does the broken window fit in?”
“Easy. No matter what Sean says, here’s how the cops will reconstruct it: Sean and Etta were outnumbered, and crashed out the window. Sean shot everyone from the veranda. We pick up all the .45 casings and toss them out there. Sean’s gun—we wipe clean and you throw it in the bushes out back when you leave. The cops’ll think Sean ditched it before he called them.”
“Sounds fine so far.”
“Vic, I can work out anything. To leave powder residue, we use my gun with the silencer so no one will hear more shots. We have Duane’s hand fire out the broken window, and leave him holding my gun. Your gun we wipe good and leave in the main room—the gun Etta used, and she and Duane were the two shooters on Mount Tam. Duane holding my gun proves he killed everyone. Plus, Mother when they find the pills in his safe—his fingerprints are already on the vial.”
“Wow—you’ve lost me but I think you’ve covered it all. But why did the Sheriff beat up Sean and accuse him?”
“Some smart cop is sure to think it was subterfuge to cover their collusion. But, Bailey beating on Sean might also have provoked their breakup—like Sean wanting more of a cut of the diamonds because he got beat.”
“Of course, it’s complicated. I love complicated things. But it’s simple—a lot of detectives like to show how smart they are by solving puzzles. Because everyone’s dead, they’ll be so confused over who was killing who and why, they’ll come up with all sorts of scenarios. This is even better than I planned.”
“But Sean and Etta are telling their story.”
“Only briefly. As soon as you arrive in London tomorrow, get in touch with your Mob guy and hire absolutely the best contract killers. Get them to subcontract the job to someone here and kill Sean and Etta immediately—whether they’re in jail or out.”
“They die, their story dies.”
“Right. After the pros take them out, the cops will believe the whole caper was Mob related, especially with my drawing of ‘Scarface,’” she chuckles.
“You’ll stay in London, Vic, until Sean and Etta are dead.”
“I can say I’m sick.”
“We’ll rehearse on the phone before you return. You won’t know why Sean and Etta implicated you—maybe Etta was jealous of you, and you rejected Sean who was hot for you. The cops will have to believe us.”
“What a super mind you’ve got, dear.”
“And what a crazy body you’ve got, dear. Now listen—if I need to, I can hire top attorneys so we won’t have to take lie detector tests. No one’s gonna believe we had anything to do with it.”
“Oh, sweetheart, you do think of everything. But I’m still worried about those negatives.”
“Don’t. Rodgers probably has them at his office. Later today, I’ll call a guy I know who used to work for Mother’s company—she had him fired. I’ll have him blow up Rodgers’ whole verficktes building.”
“Melville Construction becomes Melville destruction.”
“You bet. With my money I can buy anything. Anything!”
I peek around the tree, see the ghostly forms of Lara and Vicki embracing passionately.
“Now, back inside,” Lara says, leading Vicki away. “We’ve got 10 minutes to button everything down. We’re going to leave the safe open, with the diamonds…. there’s a ton of cash there—Duane’s been hoarding. You take 50,000 for the contract. I’ll still have plenty until I have control over Mother’s estate. You lock me in the wine cellar, get your bike where you hid it out back, split and make your flight.” She chuckles. “If the cops try to find you, it’ll take them at least a day to learn you’re now with PanAm. I’m gonna miss you, dear, but you gotta stay out of the country until Sean…” Her voice fades out.
Gripping my good arm, Etta murmurs, “Lara’s an incredible actress. I’m scared no one will believe us.”
“It won’t matter she doesn’t control the estate—they’ll believe her and put us in jail and… and we’ll be killed—” She shifts her body and gasps. “We gotta do something.”
I check her wounds. She’s bleeding but not excessively. Her thigh’s the worst. I say:
“I’m scared too. Lara’s a very dangerous girl.”
“Lara is totally evil.”
Using my one good hand, I unwrap the rest of the gaffer tape from my body and use it to make a tourniquet around Etta’s thigh. She talks while I work:
“Once Vicki hires the killers, we’re dead. Even if we’re believed.”
“So… we have to try to stop them.”
“Let’s go,” she rises, taking my hand.
We carefully, cautiously limp farther towards the rear of the estate, and move inward, watching for something recognizable to materialize within the mist.
The vague shape of a cabana shows between the ferns. Staying deep in the vegetation, we limp along the swimming pool, holding each other up, until the hazy rear of the house assumes form.
We stop behind some landscaping stones surrounded by large, green leafy ferns, from where most of the house’s rear is visible, including the French doors into Annabel’s studio.
I hand Etta the .32. “I’ve an idea. You stay here, watch the back door. If they show, shoot.”
She nods like a wilting flower. “I’ll try… not good left-handed… about done in… blood loss.”
Her leg is soaked, her T-shirt more red than white.
“Can you make it?”
“I hope so… have to.” Her tearing eyes glint.
We share a quick kiss, and I fetch a large flat stone, limp to Annabel’s greenhouse-like studio. Her stacked paintings show vaguely through the glass glowing grey as the mist, save for the window at the far end, its interior covering shining silvery, hiding her private bed.
I slam the stone through it, use my coat sleeve as a glove to knock the shards away, then dash along the side of the house toward the front, keeping low, listening, grab a big landscaping stone, and crash it heavily through a middle window of the main room. Move on to the front of the house, lift a large stone from the base of the fireplace chimney and smash it through the curved window on the corner—the better to confuse you with, my dears—drop back into the mist, and return to the rear, and Etta.
She seems to be holding up, and we exchange reassuring looks. I stumble, trip on a rock protecting a flower bed, sprawl in the dirt and fuchsias. Rising, my right leg feeling afire, I give worried Etta another smile, heft a large stone, limp onto the rear patio and hurl it crashing through the French doors, rush down and climb through the broken window into Annabel’s hidden place.
Kneeling amidst the glass on the queen-sized bed behind all her stacks of paintings, I survey the shelves opposite the foot holding an abundance of cans containing painting chemicals—just what I want. The little end table beside the bed has the candle and in the drawer are matches.
I choose a quart glass bottle of benzene, nearly full, open it by holding between my thighs, grab a rag from the shelf, soak it with the liquid and feed it deep inside, closing off the neck with the rag compressed, light the candle—my hand trembling. Carefully lifting an edge of the black curtain, I
stare down the aisle between the stacks of paintings towards the front.
My wounds hurt like hell, but enough adrenaline roars to keep me going. Hear a footstep… and Vittoria appears at the front of the studio. Still holding the Magnum in two-handed cop grip, she points it this way and that—one blast can rip through all the stacks of paintings and tear me to pieces,
even if only a winging shot. With a rapid glance my way, she quickly goes on, disappearing behind the stacks of paintings.
The broken glass crunches, the French doors slide open, Etta fires once, glass shattering then more crunching—Vicki’s leg appears between the rows of paintings, stepping backwards. I ignite the rag and hurl the flaming bottle.
My throw strikes the pile of paintings at the front, and glances to become a fireball splattering widely, hitting Vicki’s thighs, setting her ablaze. Screaming, she flails madly, and hurtles towards me down the aisle between the canvases, stumbling, smashing into several stacks, setting them ablaze, the gun in her hand, pointing my way, firing wildly. I dive out the window through which I came, hearing the crack of her Magnum, hit rolling down a grassy slope, and stop myself—too soon, unfortunately, because I’m on my back, staring up at Lara, her P38 trained on my face.
“I got him, Vic!” she shouts, her wild green eyes fixed on me. “Get up Schwanzlutscher. Back into the house.”
“I don’t think so.” I roll over face down and turn my head enough to watch her.
“Hey, Vic!” she calls. “Help me get diesen blöden Drecksack on his feet and into the house. Vic! What are you waiting for? Get your crazy butt out here and help!”
The house towers behind her, the low windows of the studio glowing reddish orange, a turbulent mass of darkness swirling above the roof, descending, rolling downward.
The odor of the smoke reaches us, tinged with the stench of burning flesh.
I say, “Vic can’t hear you. Don’t you catch her smell from among your mom’s burning oils?”
Lara glances round as the flames pour from Annabel’s studio, screams, “Vic—no!—I need you! Oh…!” in a long painful, keening shriek that rises to a crescendo and echoes as it is lost in the onrush of smoke and fog.
I roll over quickly, swinging my legs mightily, knocking Lara down, her silenced Walther spitting, and continue rolling fast away, down behind a knoll in the garden.
Lara rises in a fury and comes charging through the haze. “Time to die, Schwanzlutscher!”
“No! You die—Miststück!” Behind her, Etta appears—a wispy angel—firing the .32 rapidly three times, hitting Lara in the right shoulder, causing her to scream shrilly, reel and go down, dropping the Walther.
Lara grapples towards her gun, and I scoop it up and sit back on the grass.
Etta staggers over and stands beside me, her denimed leg purple from blood, her right arm hanging stiffly, the pistol wavering in her left.
“You’ll pay for this,” Lara snarls. “Du verfluchte, blöde Nutte… you’re dead… dead…”
“I don’t think so,” Etta gasps. “You have to be alive to accomplish that.” She shoots her in the crotch.
Lara stares round in shock and horror. “You’ve ruined me!” she cries.
“Right—for all the people you killed. And now you’re dead.” Etta aims at Lara’s face and fires again, but the .32 clicks empty. “Oh, hell!” She sighs, and sinks on the grass.
Behind Lara bright flames dance in Annabel’s studio, smoke gushes from the shattered door and window, rises and meshes with the turbulent grey mass.
Weeping, Lara props herself up by her left elbow. “Help me, Sean,” she begs. “I’ve lost everything.”
“I suffered so much.”
I stare at her.
“What he did to me… you have no idea…”
“Your father? I guess not.” Rising unsteadily with the Walther, I kneel close to her, gaze into her empty green eyes, tears in mine too, not for her, but for all the hurt and sorrow she’s caused. For Annabel—for her dreams dashed by a daughter who didn’t give a damn.
“Sean…?” Etta gasps.
“It’s all right, Lara,” I whisper. “We promised your mom… to take care of you.” I put the silenced muzzle against her temple and pull the trigger. Her head jerks away, body collapsing.
Using my coat tail, I wipe the Walther clean, press Lara’s lifeless fingers on and around the gun and leave it on the ground beneath her hand.
I mutter, “God forgive us… God bless us,” and help Etta up from the damp grass.
Together we limp through the lifting fog towards the wail of sirens.
* * *
In eternity, everything is interconnected and everything is expanding.
As the dimensions expand, time compresses towards simultaneity.
The present is the most important—where things happen slowly, where past and future can be altered, where we may see our fate and choose our destiny, if we are blessed.