While I was editing the film, Karl-Heinz went into the hospital. The operation apparently was a success, and he was soon back at the hotel. I visited him often. He said he felt well but he looked frail and elderly. We would take slow strolls along the concrete boardwalk, taking half an hour to cover a few hundred yards.
One day I was called from the editing suite of Lone Star to go down to reception. It was an urgent and confidential matter, they said. A tall man in leisure clothes stood looking out at the sunlit car park. He turned round.
“My God,” I said. “Two Dogs Running.”
“Mr. Todd. You’re looking good.”
We shook hands. I was pleased to see him.
“What’re you doing?” I asked him.
“Still selling,” he said. “But I’ve moved into shoes.”
We caught up quickly on the past. The last he’d seen of me was at St.-Tropez, 1944, my stretchered body being carried aboard an LCI at Tahiti Plage.… I asked him if he had time for a drink or a meal, but he pointed to an old convertible outside containing a young woman and three children.
“Vacation,” he said. “We’re going on up to Yosemite. I just wanted to talk to you about something, something strange.”
“Well, about a month ago a man looked me up. Said he was from a veterans’ organization. Started telling me all about the invasion. Then he got more specific. He started asking me about you. And then — listen to this — he started asking about that German.…”
“The one you—”
“Jesus. How did he know?”
“That’s what I wondered at first. But you see, I told those guys, those paratroopers, afterwards. They picked up his body and the dead guys at the villa. I guess, somewhere, some kind of report was written up. Some man from the provost marshal’s office interviewed me. You were badly wounded and they wanted to know what we’d been doing in that car. And I guess that old man at the villa — what was his name?”
“Well, I guess he would have been brought into it. I think he was pretty ticked off that his car had been totaled. You gave him that receipt and he turned up at Le Muy looking for his car. He wanted compensation. It’s got to be on the record somewhere.”
“Cavanaugh-Crabbe, that was his name.”
“Yeah. Well, this guy — from the vet organization — said the case was being reopened and that you were suspected of executing that German. Murder of a POW, he said.”
“But that’s crazy!”
“That’s what I told him.” Two Dogs lowered his voice. “I told him I had done it. The guy had made a run for it. I shot him and then we found the fingers.… Like we said.”
“Exactly. Christ, I didn’t even have a gun.”
“He said he was going to Europe to make further investigations. He got nasty when I said I had done it. Said there was no need for me to cover up for you.”
“What did he look like?”
“He had this kind of black wig on. Gaps in his teeth.”
I walked out to the car with Two Dogs and met his family. His wife looked Mexican, quite pretty. His eldest boy was ten. I was introduced as “Mr. Todd, the film director, the man I was in the war with.” I shook everybody’s hand. I felt very old, like a grandfather.
The eldest boy said, “Sir? Is it true you were shot by your own side?”
“Yes,” I said. I wished I could have bragged that I’d stormed a machine-gun nest or two. “It was bad luck. Sometimes it turns out that way.”
We said good-bye. I thanked Two Dogs and we made polite plans to stay in touch.
Back in the office I phoned O’Hara straightaway.
“I think Smee’s going or has been to Europe,” I said to him. “Can you check on that?”
“Pleasure, Mr. Todd. I should tell you, though, that since we last did business my rates have gone up to thirty-five dollars a day.”
A week later O’Hara called to tell me Smee had recently flown to London on HUAC business. I hung up. I felt a mad frustration knot my brain. My head ached. What was going on? What was the man after? Why wouldn’t he leave me alone? The phone rang.
“Mr. Todd? This is Mr. Ashplanter from the Hotel Cythera. We’re a bit worried about Mr. Kornfeld. His door’s locked and we can’t get any answer from him.”
There was no expression on Karl-Heinz’s face. His eyes were slightly open, as was his mouth. I tried to read a peaceful passing in his countenance and almost made it. I touched his hand. It was stiff and cold. I wished I hadn’t seen him.… But how many dead people had I seen in my life? Hundreds upon thousands. Most anonymous: the drowned men at Nieuport, the burst mattresses and battered furniture of no-man’s-land. A few were acquaintances. But only two had made me quake and cower internally. Only two had led me down the cul-de-sac of my own mortality. My dead son Hereford and my dead friend Karl-Heinz.…
A weeping Mrs. Ashplanter called a doctor and the morticians. I wandered out onto the beach. From somewhere came a noise of tinny thumping music. A group of young men played volleyball, whooping and shouting with heroic energy. The waves creamed in, all the way from Japan, somebody had once told me. Some journey.… Maybe I’d go to Japan, next year. Who gave a damn, anyway?
We planned to open The Last Walk of Jean Jacques Rousseau at a small art-house cinema called the Rio in Westwood. The day we chose was July 2, 1960, 182 years to the day since Jean Jacques had died. Eddie approved the plan. He hated the film but he thought the anniversary might just attract some press coverage.
As I approached the cinema on opening night I was gratified to see a large crowd — over a hundred people — gathered outside. It was a warm smoggy evening, a smell of tomcat in the air. Then I saw they were carrying large banners. PASADENA WOMEN’S TEMPERANCE ASSOCIATION, I read, and BURBANK DIVISION: SECOND-DEGREE KNIGHT COMMANDERS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE.
Just my luck, I thought, we’ve got a convention in the next-door hotel. But as I drew nearer I saw they were clustered in front of the cinema entrance. I noticed some of the actors standing forlornly about in their evening dress, I tried to push my way through. A sharp-faced young man stopped me.
“This is an official picket, sir. This film is Communist propaganda made by a subversive.”
“Excuse me, please.”
“The director of this film has been named and listed as a member of the Communist party.”
I felt suddenly weak. I backed off.
Eddie got out of an enormous limousine. “What’s going on, John?”
“Some sort of maniac picket. Real esoteric weirdos tonight.”
“Jesus!” Eddie leaped back in his car. Through an inch of open window he said, “Let me know how it goes. Good luck.” As he drove off the crowd cheered. A man in a tuxedo came up to me.
“Mr. Todd? I’m the manager.”
“Sorry about this. Can we delay everything an hour or so? They’ll get bored and go away soon.” I noticed then that the man’s face was taut and pale.
“I’ve been threatened, sir. He said they’re going to torch the place if we show the film.”
“Just some crank. Call a cop.”
“I think he was a cop. He showed me a badge. I think it was FBI.”
“Who was it?”
The manager scanned the crowd. “That’s him, in the back. Just going round the corner.”
I saw a close-cropped black wig above the heads of the crowd.
I started to run. I skirted the picketers and ran down the side of the cinema. Fifty yards away I saw a car pull out and drive off. A Cadillac Fleetwood.*
I drove north. Back to our convict shack near Big Sur. I turned off the coast highway and drove down the narrow lane that led to the house. The shack had a new tar-paper roof and the hedge around it was full of dog roses and morning glory, the garden lush with lupin and poppies. I left the car parked in the lane and made several trips down the steps to the house with my luggage and provisions. Almost as soon as I arrived, I felt a calm descend on me. The fog over the sea was clearing but shreds of it still clung to the headland, like muslin snagged on the rocks.