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Authors: Stuart M. Kaminsky

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“Which means?” I asked, blinking at him and rubbing the stubble on my face.

“The case does not exist,” he said.

“Suits me just fine,” I said.

“The director will be pleased to hear that. Assuming that you would, as have local law-enforcement agencies, agree to protect national security, I have been instructed to give you this.”

He handed me a small brown envelope about the size and weight of a travel guide.

“Thanks,” I said, putting the package next to my pillow. “What time is it?”

“Four minutes before eight,” he said, without looking at his watch. “We trust that you will never discuss this investigation and your connection to it with anyone. Such discussion during wartime can be and will be considered a breach of the Sedition Act.”

“You always talk like this?” I asked, trying to sit up again.

He held out a hand to help me and I made it to my feet. “No,” he said. “On my days off I drink a beer or two, go to football games when I can find them, and worry about my brother who’s on a carrier somewhere in the Pacific.”

“Thanks,” I said, checking myself for the most tender remaining spots on my body. The odor was gone, but the aches were still there and raw.

Fielding reached down for the package he had brought, put it back in my hands, and left, closing the door behind him. I opened the package and found a neatly framed certificate of thanks for my contribution to safeguarding the freedom of the United States. The certificate was signed by J. Edgar Hoover. I put it on the dresser and climbed carefully into my pants.

I made it to the bathroom, shaved, washed, brushed my teeth, and leaned over to examine myself in the mirror. The hair on my chest was turning gray. My hair was still thick, though I could use a haircut, and my nose was still flat against my face and lacking in bone support.

“You are a mess, Tobias,” I told myself, and that gave me the courage to go back to my room, have a glass of milk and some Hydrox cookies, and dress. I had one decent white shirt I had been saving—a birthday present from last November from Gunther—a two-by-two English broadcloth from Macy’s that went for $2.19. My pants could have used a pressing and new pocket linings, but, all in all, I was almost presentable.

Mrs. Plaut was nowhere in sight and I made it to my car without a problem other than the shock to my ribs when I went down the front steps. Getting into the Crosley was no fun, but I made it, stopped at a flower stand on Hollywood Boulevard, and hit the hospital about eight-thirty.

Bouquet in hand, I made my way up to Ruth’s room and started through the door before anyone could stop me. I stopped myself. Bette Davis was sitting next to Ruth, holding her hand and talking quietly. I let the door close part way and listened from the hall.

“I am deeply indebted to your brother-in-law and your husband,” Davis said. “And I wanted very much to meet you.”

“I can’t believe this,” Ruth said.

“Well,” said Davis with great sincerity, “when I heard your name was Ruth, I felt a kinship. My real name is Ruth Elizabeth Davis. And my mother’s name is Ruth.”

“I know people say this to you all the time,” said Ruth, “but I really am a fan. I can give you lines from
Dangerous, Marked Woman
, even
Satan Met a Lady
.”

“Please,” said Davis with a laugh. “If you spare me the memory of
Satan Met a Lady
, I will solemnly promise you a walk-on in my next film.”

“No.”

“Yes,” said Davis, taking Ruth’s hand in both of hers. “Promise. Get well and put on a few pounds and you will be on screen for posterity.”

Ruth began to cry and I closed the door.

I sat on the chair outside the room with the flowers on my lap and made up my bill for Arthur Farnsworth. It came to a little over three hundred bucks, including gas, phone calls, doctor bills, bribes, socks, food, gas, pajamas, toothpaste, and daily charges. Before Bette Davis came out of the room, I tore it up.

When I heard the door open, I stood up.

“Thanks,” I said, handing her the flowers.

“For me?” she asked. She was wearing a dark dress and a little hat with a hint of veil.

“For you,” I said. “I’ve got another one coming for Ruth.”

“I have in some ways misjudged you, Toby Peters,” she said, leaning over to kiss my cheek.

“Mutual,” I said.

“I like that woman,” she said, gesturing with the bouquet toward Ruth’s room.

“Me too,” I said.

“I plan to keep in touch with her.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“And thank you,” she answered, smelling her flowers.

A nurse coming down the hall recognized her and nudged another nurse who pointed to Bette Davis. Davis pretended not to notice and walked slowly, royally, to the elevator and out of my life.

In March, Ruth left the hospital. If you ever see
Hollywood Canteen
, look for her in the crowd scene doing the jitterbug with a gum-chewing sailor. She’s the skinny smiling blonde in the white dress and the ribbon in her hair.

On August 23 that summer, a hot, humid Los Angeles day, Arthur Farnsworth was in town for a few days. He picked up a stole for Bette at Magnin’s and then went to Hollywood to talk to Davis’s lawyer, Dudley Furse, about a possible real-estate purchase.

As he walked past a cigar store carrying a briefcase, the owner and two customers heard a piercing scream and looked out of the window. They saw Farney fall straight backward, his head hitting the sidewalk. People rushed to help as Arthur Farnsworth went into convulsions, bleeding from the nose. His briefcase, which may have contained some of the secret work he was doing, couldn’t be found.

Days later, the empty briefcase was returned to Bette Davis by a young boy who said he had found it half a block from the place where Farnsworth fell.

The autopsy report, which was lost soon after the inquest, included the statement by Assistant County Surgeon Homer R. Keyes, that, “A basal skull injury probably caused this man’s death. It didn’t result from the fall but instigated it.” Keyes went on to say that the blow was probably caused by the butt of a gun or some other blunt instrument.

All this took place a few months after I got a call from Clark Gable, who wanted me to … but that’s another story.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook onscreen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

copyright © 1993 by Stuart Kaminsky

cover design by Mumtaz Mustafa

This edition published in 2011 by
MysteriousPress.com
/Open Road Integrated Media

180 Varick Street

New York, NY 10014

www.openroadmedia.com

 

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BOOK: The Devil Met a Lady
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ads

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