They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

BOOK: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
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They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Horace McCoy

Contents

Chapter one

Chapter two

Chapter three

Chapter four

Chapter five

Chapter six

Chapter seven

Chapter eight

Chapter nine

Chapter ten

Chapter eleven

Chapter twelve

Chapter thirteen

A Biography of Horace McCoy

The prisoner will stand …

chapter one

I
STOOD UP.
F
OR
a moment I saw Gloria again, sitting on that bench on the pier. The bullet had just struck her in the side of the head
;
the blood had not even started to flow. The flash from the pistol still lighted her face. Everything was as plain as day. She was completely relaxed
,
was completely comfortable. The impact of the bullet had turned her head a little away from me
;
I did not have a perfect profile view but I could see enough of her face and her lips to know she was smiling. The Prosecuting Attorney was wrong when he told the jury she died in agony
,
friendless
,
alone except for her brutal murderer
,
out there in that black night on the edge of the Pacific. He was as wrong as a man can be. She did not die in agony. She was relaxed and comfortable and she was smiling. It was the first time I had ever seen her smile. How could she have been in agony then? And she wasn’t friendless.

I was her very best friend. I was her only friend. So how could she have been friendless?

… is there any legal cause why sentence should not now be pronounced?

chapter two

W
HAT COULD
I
SAY? …
All those people knew I had killed her; the only other person who could have helped me at all was dead too. So I just stood there, looking at the judge and shaking my head. I didn’t have a leg to stand on.

‘Ask the mercy of the court,’ said Epstein, the lawyer they had assigned to defend me.

‘What was that?’ the judge said.

‘Your Honour,’ Epstein said, ‘—we throw ourselves on the mercy of the court. This boy admits killing the girl, but he was only doing her a personal favour—’

The judge banged on the desk, looking at me.

There being no legal cause why sentence should not now be pronounced …

chapter three

I
T WAS FUNNY THE
way I met Gloria. She was trying to get into pictures too, but I didn’t know that until later. I was walking down Melrose one day from the Paramount studios when I heard somebody hollering, ‘Hey! Hey!’ and I turned around and there she was running towards me and waving. I stopped, waving back. When she got up to me she was all out of breath and excited and I saw I didn’t know her.

‘Damn that bus,’ she said.

I looked around and there was the bus half a block down the street going towards Western.

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I thought you were waving at me …’

‘What would I be waving at you for?’ she asked.

I laughed. ‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘You going my way?’

‘I may as well walk on down to Western,’ she said; and we began to walk on down towards Western.

That was how it all started and it seems very strange to me now. I don’t understand it at all. I’ve thought and thought and still I don’t understand it. This wasn’t murder. I try to do somebody a favour and I wind up getting myself killed.
They are going to kill
me.
I know exactly what the judge is going to say. I can tell by the look of him that he is going to be glad to say it and I can tell by the feel of the people behind me that they are going to be glad to hear him say it.

Take that morning I met Gloria. I wasn’t feeling very good; I was still a little sick, but I went over to Paramount because von Sternberg was making a Russian picture and I thought maybe I could get a job. I used to ask myself what could be nicer than working for von Sternberg, or Mamoulian or Boleslawsky either, getting paid to watch him direct, learning about composition and tempo and angles … so I went over to Paramount.

I couldn’t get inside, so I hung around the front until noon when one of his assistants came out for lunch. I caught up with him and asked what was the chance to get some atmosphere.

‘None,’ he said, telling me that von Sternberg was very careful about his atmospheric people.

I thought that was a lousy thing to say but I knew what he was thinking, that my clothes didn’t look any too good. ‘Isn’t this a costume picture?’ I asked.

‘All our extras come through Central,’ he said, leaving me …

I wasn’t going anywhere in particular; I was just riding along in my Rolls-Royce, having people point me out as the greatest director in the world, when I heard Gloria hollering. You see how those things happen?

So we walked on down Melrose to Western, getting acquainted all the time; and when we got to Western I knew she was Gloria Beatty, an extra who wasn’t doing well either, and she knew a little about me. I liked her very much.

She had a small room with some people over near Beverly and I lived only a few blocks from there, so I saw her again that night. That first night was really what did it but even now I can’t honestly say I regret going to see her. I had about seven dollars I had made squirting soda in a drug store (subbing for a friend of mine. He had got a girl in a jam and had to take her to Santa Barbara for the operation.) and I asked her if she’d rather go to a movie or sit in the park.

‘What park?’ she asked.

‘It’s right over here a little way,’ I said.

‘All right,’ she said. ‘I got a bellyful of moving pictures anyway. If I’m not a better actress than most of those dames I’ll eat your hat—Let’s go sit and hate a bunch of people …’

I was glad she wanted to go to the park. It was always nice there. It was a fine place to sit. It was very small, only one block square, but it was very dark and very quiet and filled with dense shrubbery. All around it palm trees grew up, fifty, sixty feet tall, suddenly tufted at the top. Once you entered the park you had the illusion of security. I often imagined they were sentries wearing grotesque helmets: my own private sentries, standing guard over my own private island …

The park was a fine place to sit. Through the palms you could see many buildings, the thick, square silhouettes of apartment houses, with their red signs on the roofs, reddening the sky above and everything and everybody below. But if you wanted to get rid of these things you had only to sit and stare at them with a fixed gaze … and they would begin receding. That way you could drive them as far into the distance as you wanted to …

‘I never paid much attention to this place before,’ Gloria said.

… ‘I like it,’ I said, taking off my coat and spreading it on the grass for her. ‘I come here three or four times a week.’

‘You do like it,’ she said, sitting down.

‘How long you been in Hollywood?’ I asked.

‘About a year. I been in four pictures already. I’d have been in more,’ she said, ‘but I can’t get registered by Central.’

‘Neither can I,’ I said.

Unless you were registered by Central Castings Bureau you didn’t have much chance. The big studios call up Central and say they want four Swedes or six Greeks or two Bohemian peasant types or six Grand Duchesses and Central takes care of it. I could see why Gloria didn’t get registered by Central. She was too blonde and too small and looked too old. With a nice wardrobe she might have looked attractive, but even then I wouldn’t have called her pretty.

‘Have you met anybody who can help you?’ I asked.

‘In this business how can you tell who’ll help you?’ she said. ‘One day you’re an electrician and the next day you’re a producer. The only way I could ever get to a big shot would be to jump on the running board of his car as it passed by. Anyway, I don’t know whether the men stars can help me as much as the women stars. From what I’ve seen lately I’ve about made up my mind that I’ve been letting the wrong sex try to make me …’

‘How’d you happen to come to Hollywood?’ I asked.

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she said in a moment—‘but anything is an improvement over the life I led back home.’ I asked her where that was. ‘Texas,’ she said. ‘West Texas. Ever been there?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘I come from Arkansas.’

‘Well, West Texas is a hell of a place,’ she said. ‘I lived with my aunt and uncle. He was a brakeman on a railroad. I only saw him once or twice a week, thank God …’

She stopped, not saying anything, looking at the red, vapourish glow above the apartment buildings.

‘At least,’ I said, ‘you had a home—’

‘That’s what you call it,’ she said. ‘Me, I got another name for it. When my uncle was home he was always making passes at me and when he was on the road my aunt and I were always fighting. She was afraid I’d tattle on her—’

‘Nice people,’ I said to myself.

‘So I finally ran away,’ she said, ‘to Dallas. Ever been there?’

‘I’ve never been in Texas at all,’ I said.

‘You haven’t missed anything,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t get a job, so I decided to steal something in a store and make the cops take care of me.’

‘That was a good idea,’ I said.

‘It was a swell idea,’ she said, ‘only it didn’t work. I got arrested all right but the detectives felt sorry for me and turned me loose. To keep from starving to death I moved in with a Syrian who had a hot-dog place around the corner from the City Hall. He chewed tobacco all the time …Have you ever been in bed with a man who chewed tobacco?’

‘I don’t believe I have,’ I said.

‘I guess I might even have stood that,’ she said, ‘but when he wanted to make me between customers, on the kitchen table, I gave up. A couple of nights later I took poison.’

‘Jesus,’ I said to myself.

‘I didn’t take enough,’ she said. ‘I only got sick. Ugh, I can still taste the stuff. I stayed in the hospital a week. That was where I got the idea of coming to Hollywood.’

‘It was?’ I said.

‘From the movie magazines,’ she said. ‘After I got discharged I started hitch-hiking. Is that a laugh or not? …’

‘That’s a good laugh,’ I said, trying to laugh …‘Haven’t you got any parents?’

‘Not any more,’ she said. ‘My old man got killed in the war in France. I wish I could get killed in a war.’

‘Why don’t you quit the movies?’ I asked.

‘Why should I?’ she said. ‘I may get to be a star overnight. Look at Hepburn and Margaret Sullavan and Josephine Hutchinson … but I’ll tell you what I would do if I had the guts: I’d walk out of a window or throw myself in front of a street car or something.’

‘I know how you feel,’ I said, ‘I know exactly how you feel.’

‘It’s peculiar to me,’ she said, ‘that everybody pays so much attention to living and so little to dying. Why are these high-powered scientists always screwing around trying to prolong life instead of finding pleasant ways to end it? There must be a hell of a lot of people in the world like me who want to die but haven’t got the guts—’

‘I know what you mean,’ I said; ‘I know exactly what you mean.’

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