VILLA LUXE, July 2, 1972
Last night I woke at about 3 A.M. I heard footsteps outside. At first I paid them no attention. Fishermen often walk past the house at all hours on their way to the beach. But then, as I lay there, I realized that this person was walking round the villa. I lay stiff and still in bed, mentally rebolting and reshuttering every door and window. Yes, I was sure. I am compulsive about locking up everything at night.
I got out of bed, trying to catch sight of this night visitor. I crouched in the hall. I could hear him outside on the graveled forecourt. Then his footsteps walking away. A few minutes later the sound of a car starting.
In the morning I go outside. The sun shines down. The sky is pale blue. I can’t make out any footprints. Halfway up the track I find a cigarette butt. Lucky Strike. Does it mean anything in this day of the ubiquitous international brand?
The fact remains … the fact remains and I have to face up to it. Smee’s body was never found. The car was discovered some two weeks after O’Hara had pushed it over the cliff (all this was related to me by Eddie; I was already in Europe). It was assumed that the driver had been thrown out as the vehicle tumbled through the air before it hit the water. A search was made but no body ever turned up. Because Smee had hired the car under a false name, it was several weeks before he was identified as the missing man. His wife had reported his absence shortly after my departure. She thought he was away on HUAC business in Chicago. As far as Eddie was aware, no link had been established between him and me. He said no one from the FBI had come to question him. That part of the coastline was scattered with holiday cabins and campsites. It would be impossible to establish Who had been there at the time of the accident. And it was still regarded as an accident. The only hint of foul play was Smee’s alibi. He had told everyone he was going to Chicago. The FBI denied he was working on a case for them. As I had thought, Smee was pursuing his own warped vendetta by this stage. HUAC’s influence was on the decline; the blacklists were losing their power. I supposed that Smee thought there was only one way to get me before I was rehabilitated. The offices of Alert Inc. gave no clues, either. Their files were full of “Communists” and “subversives” whose lives they had ruined. Smee had thousands of enemies. At the inquest no verdict was returned. The case was left open.
I had gone straight to Eddie and told him everything. He said I should have come earlier. “I could have handled this, John,” he said sadly. “So much more neatly.” He was annoyed with me for my thoughtlessness. I realized that even after forty years there were aspects of Eddie Simmonette that remained completely opaque to me. And what was worse was that I had inadvertently implicated him too, by asking him to pay O’Hara. O’Hara had been to his house, had seen him and received money from him. He was not too concerned about O’Hara, however. His silence could be relied on. I was the problem.
Eddie sent me home and told me to settle my affairs in an orderly way, with no unseemly urgency. I sold the house. I said good-bye to Nora Lee (a real retrospective regret, this, but at the time I could think of nothing but my safety). Ten days after Smee’s death I was on the plane to London.
I followed Eddie’s instructions faithfully. I traveled to Paris, where I hired a car, and drove across several borders (ostensibly scouting for locations). Ultimately, after further trail covering, I arrived on this island and moved into Eddie’s villa. He gave me a selection of three houses he owned in the Mediterranean basin where I could hide up. I chose this island (the others were in Turkey and Beirut). It was almost unknown then; it had none of the vague notoriety it nowadays possesses. And so my exile began. Only Eddie knew where I was. He kept distantly, discreetly in touch; kept me reassured about the continuing absence of suspicion. Some months after I had arrived, Mrs. Smee went to the police, her memory jogged about my fight with her husband and our mutual threats (something tells me Mrs. Smee was not too unhappy to lose Monroe). A mediocre description of me was issued, but as Mrs. Smee claimed not to remember my name the investigation did not get very far. Eddie told me to give it a couple of years. Let everything blow over. I stayed put, quite happy in a strange sort of way. Eddie visited me sometimes on his yacht. He was my only contact with my old life. He tried to persuade me to come back. But I said no.
So why did I stay on and on? Guilt, fear, peace, seclusion, indolence, old age, apathy, the strange contentment I spoke of. All of these were true. But at the back of my mind I was profoundly frightened of being found out. Also, I have to say this: I was never wholly convinced that Smee had died. O’Hara’s killing technique seemed dubious to me. What if it had only sent him into some kind of deep unconsciousness, a coma? And what if he had been thrown clear of the tumbling car and the shock of hitting the water had revived him? You may laugh at my fears — I did too, most of the time. But these thoughts come back to haunt you. You lie alone in your bed at night and your mind is prey to stranger fantasies than these. I stayed because I felt safe. I was far away. Enough was enough.
I catch the bus into the main town and, once there, I start to visit all the tourist hotels. At the third hotel the register yields the name I am looking for. A receptionist directs me to the swimming pool.
I stand looking over the vast crowded terrace, thick with half-naked people. Beyond the pool is a strip of dirty brown beach, and beyond that a ruined tower on a small rocky island. I pass slowly among the tables, chairs and rows of sunloungers, looking for the face I saw on the bus that day. Eventually, I find him among four hefty middle-aged American couples. The remains of lunch litter the table. Blue smoke of cigars rises in the sunlight. Laughter. Bellies. Straw hats.
“Hello, Investigator Bonty,” I say.
Bonty looks round. No recognition at all.
“Sorry, fella?…” His funny lip. His half lisp.
“Todd. John James Todd.” I can see his brain turning over.
“Mr. Todd?… Yeah. Yeah! Got it. Mr. Todd. Good to see you, my God. This is incredible! After all these years.”
It’s convincing. He stands up.
“Listen. Hey, guys. Hold on. I want you to meet John James Todd. The movie director.… Martha, you remember.… John … ah, he and I met on a HUAC investigation. When did we subpoena you, John? ’Fifty-four?”
“ ’Forty-eight, the first time.”
“Great days. Great days.”
I am introduced to everybody. I shake seven hands. Smile at smiling faces. Bonty really quite proud.
“God, I remember your case. Brayfield — Christ, you got to that asshole like no other subversive. It was fantastic.” He starts telling his friends about Brayfield and me.
“… and then he says — this is in open court, Washington, D.C., for Christ’s sake! — ‘Sure, I’ll name a dangerous lunatic who is trying to destroy the Constitution of the U.S.A.’ ‘Who?’ says the chairman. ‘Representative Brayfield,’ says John here.” Wild laughter and applause. “I tell you, Brayfield practically shit himself, he was so mad.… John, sit down please. What are you drinking? Can you believe this for a coincidence? I’d never have recognized you. Gone native, eh, John?”
“Could I have a word, in private? Just for a moment.”
“Excuse us, folks. Be right back.”
We walk to the low wall that separates us from the thin beach.
I say, “Very good. You can drop the act now. Where’s Smee?”
“Smee. The man who gave you the dossier. HUAC Investigator Smee, you know.”