“No shit? God … I respect you for that, Mr. Todd, I really do. Was it the Krauts or us guys?”
“Actually I was shot by my own side.… I’ll tell you about it later.”
We were on Sunset Boulevard, not far from where Beverly Hills becomes West Hollywood, parked opposite the building that contained the Red Connections offices. Waiting for Smee.
“Every second Wednesday he comes, my man says,” O’Hara told me. Then he started to sing quietly to himself. He always got the lyrics slightly wrong. Today it was “A kiss on the lips may be quite sentimental.” Yesterday, when we had arranged this stakeout, it had been “Petting in the dark, sad boy. Petting in the dark, sad girl.” He unwound his window and threw the wax paper wrapper of his sandwich outside.
“Here he comes,” he said.
Smee had left his car in the building parking lot and strode briskly along the sidewalk. He wore a dark suit and carried a briefcase. I saw again the pale face, the gap teeth, the large uneven nose and the slightly weak chin. He looked thin and wiry. But the thinning brown hair had gone. He wore a neatly combed, short-haired dark wig.
“He used to be bald,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s quite a toop,” O’Hara said.
I watched Smee as he went inside. What did I ever do to you? I wondered. I couldn’t believe that Monroe Smee was responsible. There must have been some terrible error or confusion.
He emerged at half past three. O’Hara had lunched on a box of ribs, root beer and popcorn and was well into his second pack of Kools. We followed Smee’s car, a Cadillac Fleetwood, to some offices on Wilshire Boulevard and then on to his dentist in Highland Park. When he left there he drove all the way down Alameda Street to Long Beach and picked up the Pacific Coast Highway south. We motored past the oil pumps, Huntington Beach, down to Newport, and followed him off the highway into the smart beachside suburb of Balboa.
“No wonder he only comes in every second Wednesday,” I said. I felt like we had been driving for hours. “I’m exhausted.”
“You’d never make a shamus,” O’Hara laughed. “I spent eighteen days living in this car on one case.”
That was the source, I realized, of the Buick’s particular moist frowsty smell.
Smee’s house was a big low stucco bungalow with an orange tiled roof. At the back there was a long garden and beyond that what seemed to be a private dock with two boats inside it. As Smee’s Cadillac pulled into the carport, a teenage boy dressed in tennis whites left the front door. He waved at Smee and jogged off. Smee got out of his car and went inside.
“What now?” O’Hara asked.
“I’ve got to talk to him.”
“Yeah, well, be careful.”
I got out and buttoned my jacket. I felt crumpled and dirty after a day in O’Hara’s car. I rubbed my chin — I needed a shave. I wished somehow I looked smarter, more prosperous.
I went up to the front door and rang the bell. A Hispanic maid answered. Right behind her was a thin, rather sharp-faced woman with hard blond hair.
“It’s all right, Caridad,” she said. Then to me: “Yes?”
“I’d like to speak to Mr. Smee. It’s a committee matter.”
“Oh.…” She frowned. “Come in.”
I stepped into the hall, and as I did so my fear returned. Mrs. Smee went into a room and I heard her say, “Monroe? It’s a man from the committee.”
Smee came out. He wore black suspenders over a white nylon shirt.
“Hello, Monroe,” I said. “I think we need to talk.”
He looked deeply and profoundly shocked. Then his nose wrinkled in a curious way.
“Get out,” he said. “Get out of my house you filth! You Commie filth.”
“For God’s sake, Smee—”
“You evil Red bastard! How dare you contaminate my house! How dare you!”
“Very impressive,” I said. “Academy Award stuff. Now, we’ve—”
“Get out! Get out!”
I grabbed his shirtfront with both hands and slammed him up against the wall.
“Call the police!” he bellowed at his wife.
“Why? Why me? Just leave me alone!” I felt a homicidal anger distort my voice unpleasantly. Years of frustration boiling over.
Mrs. Smee screamed behind me. I felt her fists pound my back. I let him go.
“You can’t do anything more to me,” I said. “Just leave me alone.”
He rummaged in the drawer of a hall table and took out a small revolver.
“I could kill you, Todd!” he screamed. “I could kill you here and now and they’d give me a medal for killing Red scum—”
“You’re fucking mad!”
“—but I don’t want the stink in my house!”
“I’ll kill you!” I yelled back unthinkingly. “Leave me alone or I’ll kill you, so help me!”
“Get out, you Commie shit! Get out of my house!” He leveled the gun at me.
“You’re a lunatic. Madman … I warn you!” I backed off all the same. Mrs. Smee had sunk to her knees and was sobbing loudly.
“You’ve had it, Todd! I’ll get you!”
“And I’ll break your fucking neck!”
We shouted insults at each other as I opened the door. My last image was of Mrs. Smee hauling herself up his body, clutching imploringly for the gun.
As I strode across the front lawn the sprinklers came on — automatically, I assume — and soaked my trousers from the knee down. I danced over the grass to O’Hara’s car.
“Did he do that?” O’Hara asked as I got in beside him. “Want me to knock him around some? Little roughhouse stuff?”
“No. Let’s go.”
O’Hara drove off.
“He pulled a gun on me,” I said, delayed shock setting in. “Jesus, he pointed a fucking gun at me.”
“Bastard,” O’Hara said. “Want me to break his legs? His arms?”
“Some other time, Sean.”
He lowered his voice. “I can do that sort of thing for you, Mr. Todd. Anything. Not too expensive, for certain clients. Get my drift?”
I wasn’t listening.
“He’s mad,” I said, my arms and body beginning to tremble. I rubbed my face. “As simple as that. Stark, staring, Grade A nut case.”
VILLA LUXE, June 29, 1972
Why did Smee hate me with such vehement passion? I don’t know. It couldn’t have been simply that incident with the scripts. But it must have started then, as a basic irrational dislike that over the years his anti-Communist mania had turned into something righteous and patriotically American. He was indisputably mad, Smee, beneath the perfect sanity of his life. Perhaps one shouldn’t look any further. He was a manic force operating in Los Angeles and I just happened to come into range.
And yet … admit it, we have all met people whom we have instinctively disliked. It doesn’t take much irritation to turn that emotion into something altogether more venomous. I presume Smee must have felt something like this where I was concerned, especially after I had so guilelessly rubbished his work. When I did that I turned the knife in his vanity — and there are few people vainer than the deluded, talentless ones among us. But also he was an FBI informer when he met me and possibly he saw me as even more of a traitor.… Anyway, one can’t speculate much beyond this. The motivating factors in a psyche like Smee’s are too dark and baffling to be elucidated. He hated me, he was convinced I was a Communist. It was his bounden duty to bring me down. Smee was a given — call him another brute contingency that my life had thrown up. And I had never guessed, not for a moment. And that made the experience even more alarming. Monroe Smee, G-man, HUAC investigator, Red scourge, anti-Communist entrepreneur. My appointed nemesis.
Emilia has done something appalling to her hair. She has dyed it black — a gunmetal blue-black — and has had it set in hard waves around her head. She wears a pungent scent that today at lunchtime I thought I could even taste in my food. On two occasions this morning she found opportunities to brush against me. And I sense her looking at me, covertly, as if weighing me up all the time. The atmosphere in the house is charged, tremulous, on the brink of something drastic.