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I spent a pleasant four days alone pondering my future. Three times a week the mailman called. He honked his horn up on the highway and you clambered up to collect your mail and buy provisions from him. Like a steamer on an African river his arrival attracted the others living round and about, and we would gather like a tribe by his van and chat. This was my fourth visit to the cabin over the years and I was beginning to recognize the denizens: the solitude freaks, the failed artists, the cheerful bullshitters. When they asked me what I did and I said, “Film director,” I could see them relax. “One of us,” I could hear them thinking, “another fantasist.”

I resumed my old habit of walking the two miles down to the mouth of the Little Sur River for an evening swim. I changed in the rocky dunes and dashed out, naked, into the modest surf.

I think it was my fifth evening down on the beach. I waited for a rare car to pass on the highway before I made my nude run to the waves. I looked down at the gray wiry pelt that covered my body and beat out a short rhythm on my firm little potbelly. I checked the road — all clear — and trotted out into the sea.

Gasping and snorting I thrashed around in the waves for a while. I never went out far; I was happy to cavort oafishly in the breakers. I stood in the foamy water, waist deep, and let the waves surge and batter away at me. A particularly strong one knocked me over, and as I went down beneath the surface I saw a flash of light from the hillside. I stood up, spluttering. The next roller was heaving itself towards me and I stood in a patch of temporarily calm water, latticed with spume. About a quarter of a mile away I saw the small figure of a man emerge from behind a rock and vanish into a copse of birch trees.

I went under. I swam out, kicked sideways and surfaced for a second, guzzling air. I saw no more movement on the hillside. I swam vigorously north, trying to keep warm, before doubling back. The sun seemed to hang on the horizon forever.

When it was dark enough I crept out and found my clothes and towel. When I had dressed I waited an hour before going up to the highway. I hitchhiked for ten minutes before a car stopped. I got the driver to drop me at a roadside diner some miles away. I ordered coffee and some food and wondered what to do.

I thought first about ringing the police. But Smee was a G-man, or had been. He had some kind of badge, that was for sure. I knew Smee would be waiting for me at the shack. I called Sean O’Hara.

“Come up there now?” he said. “It’s got to be two hundred fifty miles. You crazy?”

“I don’t care,” I said. “Smee’s here.… Hello, hello?”

The line was very bad.

“… expect me to do about it?” I heard O’Hara ask.

“I don’t care,” I shouted. “Just get him off my back. The man’s ruined my life as it is.”

“Your back is ruined? He shot you?”

Off my back. Get him off my back. Off. Off.”

There was a long pause full of fizz and crackle.


“OK, Mr. Todd. I’ll do it for you. But it’ll cost you.… Hello?… An out-of-town job like this.”

“I don’t care how much it costs. I don’t care! Just do it.”

“For you one thousand dollars. But five hundred down or I don’t move.”

I thought that was a bit steep for a special favor, but I was happy to pay anything to put the frighteners on Smee.

I told O’Hara to go to Eddie. Eddie would pay him the five hundred. I felt exhausted from my massive swim. I gave O’Hara the precise directions to my cabin. “He’s bound to be there,” I said, “staking it out. Waiting for me.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Todd, I’m on my way. Soon as I get the money. It’s as good as done.”

I told him where Eddie lived, and hung up. I offered up a prayer or two and phoned Eddie. He was in.

“Five hundred bucks? Are you in trouble?… What the fuck’s wrong with this line? Hello?…”

“I just need a job done quickly. This guy’s the only one who can do it. I’ll explain later.”

“OK, John. What’s his name?”

“Sean O’Hara.”


Sean O’Hara!

“How will I know him?”

“He’s Japanese.”

“Jesus Christ!”

He eventually agreed. I stayed in the diner until it closed. I bought a fifth of bourbon from the owner and began the long walk back to my cabin, ten or twelve miles south on the switchback, hairpin highway.

I reached home at about five in the morning. It was cool and there was a dense milky fog over the ocean, flat like a snowfield. I moved very cautiously down the lane. O’Hara was sitting on the hood of my car, smoking.

“Sean,” I said softly, “it’s me.”

“Hi, Mr. Todd,” he said. “Just like you predicted. He was waiting for you. I got here about an hour ago. I come down the road real slow, real quiet. I hear him taking a leak. End of problem.”

“Is he still here?”

“Sure. Up here a ways.”

I had walked right past him. Smee had been hiding in the bushes on the edge of the lane where he could overlook all approaches to the house. He lay quite still, a large pair of army-issue binoculars beside him. His wig was dislodged, tilted forward almost to his eyebrows. He looked stupid and ugly.

“He’s not dead, is he?”

“I should fuckin’ well hope so. For one thousand dollars Sean O’Hara gives you dead.”

“What?… Jesus Christ! Why the hell did you do that?”

“Because you said you wanted the guy offed.”

“I said I wanted him off my back.

“Uh-uh. No. No, Mr. Todd. You said offed. I ast you to repeat it.”

“I said off my back. I didn’t want you to kill him. Bloody hell!”

“You said you didn’t care how I did it. Money no object. Get rid of him.”

O’Hara jabbered on, proudly justifying himself. I knelt shakily beside Smee. He seemed quite unmarked. I felt vainly for a pulse. I held a wet finger beneath his nostrils. No cooling breath.

“What did you do?”

“I crept up behind him. He couldn’t hear me, ’cause of his pissing, like, and I did this.”

I felt O’Hara’s hard blunt index fingers press gently in the cavities behind the lobes of my ears. I shivered.

“You press hard, they’re unconscious in twenty seconds. Then they die in a couple of minutes. Not a scratch.”

So that was that. For another five hundred dollars Sean agreed to help me dispose of the body. We loaded him into his car and I drove it south, O’Hara following, to a point where the highway ran along the edge of a cliff, high above the ocean. I couldn’t see the rocks or the surf; below me all was mist, swirling, dense, shifting. Smee’s car had been hired under a false name. O’Hara removed all other documents from his body and volunteered to dispose of them for twenty-five dollars. I agreed. We positioned Smee in the driving seat, released the hand brake and ran the car over the edge. I saw it cartwheel into the whiteness. Then I heard a splash. Sean ran me back to the cabin. I had six hundred dollars there, which I gave him. I said I would send him the remainder. He left. I went to bed. I slept until midday. Then I got into my car and drove to Los Angeles, to Eddie, and my salvation.