Chapter 12--Thomas and Phèdre
after Miss Julie appeared on television--while they were
still working on The Scarlet Letter in New York--Laura completed
tentative arrangements for Christine to go to England that next fall to
play Ophelia in a London production of Hamlet--the actor
to play Hamlet yet to be determined--and was discussing the possibility
of her playing Phèdre at the Comédie Française, to
follow her mother into French theatre as well. Thomas was to go along
as her chauffeur and general man servant, and was looking forward to it--like
the old days with the countess, but now with his princess reaching out
to be queen of the theatre.
These later dialogues were formidable to Charlie--but he became
increasingly fond of the Symposium, tuning to the part of
Alcibiades for the Players Company production of Jack's adaptation while
Laura, Christine, and Thomas would be in Europe.
The Ferrari was always available to Thomas when Christine was not in California, and he would make the trip to the lake at least one day a week to read to Henry. Then he liked to take Henry on a drive on the winding roads in the mountains around Lake Arrowhead, for the Ferrari handled so well it was a pleasure to take those curves, and talk about what he was seeing.
But he also picked up Charlie if he were in town, and the three of them were now very comfortable with one another. Charlie asked Thomas this day, as they were driving up to the lake, if he didn't really consider this his car. Thomas said, "Oh, no, this is the princess's Ferrari. Like Shangri La, I just take care of it for her--though most of the time I'm living there alone, with Midnight, and have lived there much longer, it's still her home."
"And you always drive this car for her."
"When she is here I usually drive for her--unless she decides to drive somewhere herself--for it is her car. Yet, though I like to wear my chauffeurís uniform driving her, she still sits in the front beside me, just as you are doing, and we talk, usually in French--so it's rather informal. I think this car is appropriate, so long as she is my princess--adventurous, sporty. When she becomes the queen of the theatre, what her mother was, what the countess was, then we'll need a more formal car--like the car that the countess, and her mother, sometimes, rode in, and that is still there in the garage. I frequently drive it, too, to make sure it's still in good shape, and occasionally take her somewhere in it. She humors me."
"I understand that you'll be going with her and Laura when she goes
to Paris, perhaps to do Phèdre at the Comédie Français,"
"Yes, to take care of her house there as I do here. Then we will need a car appropriate to the woman playing Phèdre. We're also working on a secret plan of our own."
Charlie laughed. "I don't know how she'll react to trading cars. This Ferrari is her car, as it was Jordan's." But he did know--she was ready to move up.
That afternoon, relaxing after their final discussion of the differences in Plato's intentions in the Laws and the Republic, Charlie, Henry, and Thomas were still out in the boat, chasing the shade, when Henry said, "You'll be going to Paris with Christine, but you never go back to New York with her, do you, Thomas?"
"No, Henry," Thomas answered. "I'm her man at Shangri La, as I was for the countess and for her mother. When she's not there, I take care of the place. That's my duty. What would I do in New York? But in Paris, I can be useful--we're comfortable in French."
"But you were especially important for Christine right after Ben was shot, I'd say, playing the same role you had when Betty and Jordan were shot, helping to settle her down--more than Jack could--to get her sanity and confidence back under control."
"I'm not sure what you mean," Thomas said, looking from Charlie to Henry. Even with these friends, he saw no purpose in talking about Ben's death.
"I can imagine you talking to her that morning after Ben was shot, before anyone else did, assuring her that you had the Ferrari there at Shangri La, had washed it, and had it ready if she needed to go anywhere."
"Which I did."
"And, most important, that you'd see to it the police didn't bother her over Ben's death." Henry paused, trying to
|sense Thomas's reaction, then went on, 'telling her that
you were a witness, and knew of three others that could be called upon
Charlie began to say, "Henry, how can you . . . ?" But Henry held up his hand to him.
"You might have added that, if Lieutenant Carlson became too inquisitive, you could direct his attention toward Arthur, whom you didn't mind putting to a little extra trouble, if necessary. It would serve him right."
"I don't need to respond to any of this, do I?" said Thomas, still on his guard.
"I didn't want to raise these questions with you until Charlie was here, because he's involved, too, of course. I think he knows as much as I do, and nothing we say here need go beyond this boat."
"Why talk about it at all, then?" Thomas asked.
"Let me just tell you what we know from having talked to the Salems recently. They told us they were here the whole time . . . by that tree up above the cabin." Henry pointed. "They had come to clean up after those boys had been staying here, and before we got home. Ben was here when they arrived, shooting at a beer can floating in the lake, and had obviously been drinking.
"Then they saw you come with Arthur, Thomas--ask Ben for the keys to the Ferrari, and go into the cabin. Then they saw Christine come, and heard her argue with Ben--none too clearly, since they couldn't hear all that was being said in the cabin. Then they heard a shot, and Christine screamed and ran out of the cabin, to meet Charlie here," he touched Charlie's leg, "running up to see what had happened.
"Christine ran on down toward the cars, but Charlie was coming toward the cabin when you came out and talked to him. Then they heard another shot. You went back into the cabin while Charlie followed Christine--as you had told him
|to--never having gone into the cabin--had you, Charlie?
Then they saw Arthur leave, carrying his possessions, as they had heard
you tell him to do. Then they heard a final shot, and saw you, Thomas,
come out of the cabin and throw that gun far out into the lake. Then
they watched you go down the trail and heard a car start--evidently the
Ferrari. Is that about what they told us, Charlie?"
Charlie said, "Yes. I hadn't been sure the Salems were here until they told us--but Christine had recognized their car."
Thomas thought about that for a long moment, looking at Charlie. "I knew they were there above the cabin. I'd seen their car parked down below, then saw them from the bedroom window--and knew they'd seen me. I first saw them just after that first shot was fired, and expected some day to have to respond to their testimony--but haven't yet." He paused before going on. "Still, as you've just told the story, you see it clears the princess, that she left, as she told the lieutenant she had, immediately after that young man pulled that gun and fired that first shot."
"Examining the crime scene the next day the police did find a spent bullet in the ceiling," Henry said. "Lieutenant Carlson at first thought it might have been there from two years earlier, but his lab said it was recent. And they found the plate and sandwich in the dresser drawer in the bedroom, which suggested that someone might have hidden in there while Christine met Ben, then might have shot Ben in the head, and got away in one of the cars."
"The police could surely see where that boy had been target practicing, lying there dead he was still wearing his holster, and they found that bullet in the ceiling," Thomas said, as if summarizing the evidence. "And it's true, Charlie never came into the cabin. I told him to take the princess home--and I'd take care of things here. I saw the Salems still there in the woods when I threw the gun in the lake, and their car was the only one still there when I left, but I saw no
|point in talking to them. Let them testify to what they
would--then let the police prove what they could."
"Christine and Charlie both say they have never told Lieutenant Carlson, or anyone else, that you were here," said Henry, "though many may have wondered how the Ferrari got back to Shangri La. And I certainly wondered why Christine was as emotionally upset as she still was that next day, if Ben had just fired that gun into the ceiling . . . if she hadn't shot him herself, or seen him shot."
Thomas paused again. "I tell you this in confidence, Henry--and Charlie--as my friends. What I told the princess that morning was to tell that lieutenant nothing but the truth--what she had seen--that that young man had threatened her with that gun, then, when he fired it, she had run back to the car--and not worry about anything else.
"She told him that, and, fortunately, he assumed she meant he'd fired into the ceiling, for they found that bullet there, as I knew they would. She never told him I was here, since she hadn't seen me, and I've never told her any more of what I am now telling you than necessary. Charlie had seen me here, but he was never asked, and evidently never volunteered that information. If he were asked now, I would expect him to tell what he had seen. He may even think that I did shoot that young drunk. But he didn't see it."
"The Salems told us that you were in the bedroom at the time of the first shot," Henry said. "So how would you know whether he had or hadn't fired it into the ceiling, any more than they would . . . or we would?"
"The Salems would know I was in the other room, for they saw me from there by their tree, looking in that rear bedroom window. But I had purposely left the bedroom door open just a little, so I could see part of the living room in the dresser mirror. I kept myself where the princess could not see me--consequently, I could not see her. I was watching that
|young man . . . Ben. She had asked him for the
keys to her car--which I had just found in the pocket of a pair of his
pants thrown on the bed."
"So you had the keys," Charlie said.
"Yes, so knew I could drive her home. She had started to tell him how they were expecting him to play Caliban in The Tempest--but he wasn't listening. He was accusing her and her father of stealing that New York Players Company from him. She said she'd call her father and let him explain it, and evidently picked up the phone. But I saw him jerk the cord from the wall, leaving her sitting there with the dead telephone. Then he pulled back his shirt to reveal the gun, saying, 'I ought to shoot both of you and claim my inheritance.' He looked at me in the mirror before he started moving toward her, as he jerked the gun from the holster, executing his fast draw, I guess--probably more for my benefit than for hers."
"You no doubt already thought of Ben as the enemy."
"As a member of Jordan Simms' New York theatre family--I despised his attitudes and his motivation, particularly as he dared to threaten the princess in this drunk and clumsy fashion."
"Then he shot the pistol into the ceiling?" Henry asked.
"Not exactly." Thomas laughed. "He handed the gun to her, saying, 'Or you shoot me! Or tell me to shoot myself! Then you'd have nothing to worry about.' She threw the gun down on the table. He picked it up, and was spinning it on his finger, like he thought a Western star might do."
"I've seen him do that," Charlie said.
"She was shocked just seeing that gun again, and him playing with it so wildly, and rammed the table into him, hard, as she jumped to her feet. He fired the gun by accident--and hit himself in the stomach. When she saw that, and the blood suddenly flowing in that room again, she ran out the door, screaming.
"That's about what Christine told us," Henry said.
"Is it?" Thomas looked at Charlie, who nodded. "The Salems must have been shocked, too, by the shot--and her scream. They made noise enough that that's when I first saw them, through the window . . . by their tree. Then, as I tried to get into the other room, I was blocked by Arthur just long enough that the princess had already run from the cabin. I stopped just long enough to see how badly that crazy kid was wounded, then did try to catch her . . . but don't believe she ever saw me."
"You say that Ben was badly wounded?" Charlie asked. "And you knew that when you talked to me?"
"He was. He slumped into a chair, moaning for Arthur. I was sure it was a fatal wound. He was bleeding badly--but would have died slowly. As you know, while I was talking to you we heard another shot. When I got back into the cabin, Arthur was standing there in a panic, holding the gun. He said that, as he was taking it away from the drunken Ben, who was both pleading for his help and threatening him with it, it had gone off again, firing into the ceiling."
"So that was the second shot," Henry said.
"It never occurred to me that either one of them might shoot me. I ordered Arthur to put that gun down, get his things, and get out of there. He laid the gun on the table and moved quickly to do that. As he was leaving I reminded him that his fingerprints would be on the gun, and suggested he not make up any fantastic stories about what had happened here, told him it'd be better not to tell anyone he had been here at all--just go back to New York in the morning as he had planned. 'Report anything you want to, but then you'll be up to your ears in trouble,' I told him. Even in his agony, the drunk had picked up the gun again, and Arthur left in a hurry, which left just me to threaten with it. I moved to take it away from him again."
"So he had the gun."
"And, when he saw my intention, he aimed it at me, and told me to stop. As I grabbed the hand that held the gun, I could see him make up his mind--he just raised the gun to his head and shot himself."
Thomas stopped for a moment. "I could claim self defense . . . but perhaps I was responsible for his death. I forced him to act, and got control of the hand on the gun, before he could fire it at me. I might have forced his hand away from his head as well. But I'm not sure I wanted to. The truth is, my hand was on the hand holding the gun, forcing it up and away from myself, but his finger was on the trigger, and when he pulled it I knew what he was doing. I had never liked the boy, considered him an irresponsible drunk. I'd have to admit I wasn't unhappy to see him dead--because it simplified things for her."
"So . . . with the third shot he shot himself in the head," Henry said.
"That time he and the gun both immediately dropped to the floor. There was blood everywhere, including splashed all over me. It was obvious that he was dead, but I left that for others to discover and report. I didnít even turn him over. I knew that you and Shoko were coming home the next day, and didn't want you to discover the body, but I trusted the Salems to call the police."
"As it happened," Henry said, "Mr. Brown found him when he brought the groceries Laura had ordered. The Salems saw him delivering them--so they, too, were relieved of that responsibility."
"But you knew he was dead when you left." Charlie shook his head.
"It couldn't have been more obvious. Looking from the bedroom window, as I washed up a little in the bathroom, I saw the Salems were still there. Then, looking as fierce as I could, as if I might be coming after them, I picked up the gun
|and came out of the cabin. I walked down toward
the water, however, and threw that gun as far as I could out into the lake.
Then I went down to get the Ferrari and drive it home."
"Leaving the Salems with Ben," Henry said.
"I probably should have left the gun, so that the police would have the evidence of suicide, but, thinking of the princess, just instinctively threw it in the lake--to get rid of it this time."
Henry said, "So we may be floating over that gun right now."
Thomas looked toward the cabin. "No, I couldn't have thrown it this far. I'd say about halfway between here and the boat dock. I could give the police a pretty good estimate if they want to drag for it, and they might find it if they have metal seeking equipment. That would be good evidence that I was here and threw the gun into the lake, but I'm not sure what more they'd learn. That three shots had been fired? I'm not sure Ben had reloaded after he was firing down by the lake--it might be empty. If there were finger prints on the gun after a year in the water, they would be Ben's, Arthur's, and mine . . . and maybe hers."
"If that gun could talk," Henry said, "it could tell about causing three deaths in that room, all of which had traumatized one young woman."
"I know she feels guilty about causing Ben to shoot himself," Thomas said, "as she had when her mother and Jordon Simms shot each other two years earlier. And I feel I may have wanted Ben dead badly enough not to prevent that shot to the head when I might have. But I can live with that. And now that young woman--who wasn't responsible for any of those deaths--has survived that trauma," said Thomas, "and is doing very well. She doesn't need to be reminded."
"I heard that Lieutenant Carlson tried to get Arthur to admit he was here, on hearsay automobile evidence, but he denied it," Henry said. "If he were arrested, however, you
|could testify that he wasn't holding the gun when either
of the shots that hit Ben were fired."
"Why would he be arrested?" Charlie asked. "If I haven't told anyone, the Salems haven't, Thomas hasn't, Christine hasn't, who would? We all just wanted out of here."
"Later the princess said her fingerprints must be on the gun," Thomas said, "as Ben had taunted her by handing it to her. I saw that. She took it by the barrel, but immediately threw it down--could hardly stand to touch it. That might have been part of what motivated me to throw the gun in the lake, but I'm not even sure of that. I just wanted to get rid of it. But who'd believe the story I've just told you--that it was a drunken, if accidental, suicide?"
"Well I do," said Charlie. "I saw Ben when he was drunk and playing with that gun."
"But I'm not even sure myself," said Thomas. "I could have forced his aim away from his head--then taken the gun from him. I think I let him kill himself. But he would have died from the stomach wound anyway. Then the princess would have felt even more responsible."
"The three of us probably know as much about Benís death as anyone is going to," said Henry. "Since everyone has been keeping his own counsel, I see no reason to trouble these tranquil waters looking for a gun--why not just leave it at that? Why would the police want more . . . now?"
That evening, sitting around the campfire with Jack and Laura, Shoko, Christine, and Marcella, Charlie announced that he and Marcella had just been told the day before by Randall Best that they were going to star in their first film together--"Jack's movie Marv and Charlene."
Jack smiled, and said, "At least that's the working title. I wrote of the experience I had with Marvin Crawford in making Hostages on Horseback in The Bridge of Dreams, and told Randall that I've written the film script especially for Charlie and Marcella. I had Charlie in mind for Marv from
|the time I first thought of a film version--he reminds
me so much of him--and then, since I got to know Marcella, and came to
have some sense of their relationship, she has assumed the role of Charlene
in my imagination."
Charlie said that, because of this, they had decided to get married. "We've been thinking about it for some time, and this seemed like a good omen for our life together."
Laura said that Jack and she had agreed that, whenever "those two" did decide to get married, they'd give them the other lot as a wedding present--if they agreed to build a cabin on it. Then Shoko suggested that, since they seemed to be following the pattern of Jack and Laura, she and Henry wanted to invite them to have the ceremony there.
Laura then reported that she had completed negotiations for Christine to go to France to star in Phèdre at the Comédie Français, and they'd be leaving soon.
Then Christine said, "Since this seems the time for announcing surprises, mine is that Thomas and I have been rehearsing Ionesco's La Leçon, hoping I may be able to do it in French at the Huchette. That's the offer I had when Mother did La Cantatrice chauve there. If I can, I will then have done the play in Japanese, in English, and in French." Thomas smiled at Charlie.
Christine's congratulation of Charlie and Marcella on the plans for their marriage seemed sincere. She came up to them later, and forced a frown as she said to Charlie, "Well I'm sorry you couldn't be my Hamlet--that I'm still going to England looking for him--but I hope you do as well as you expect as Marcella's Marvin. And here at the lake. I'll still come to water-ski."
Charlie knew he'd made the right choice, for he didn't want to follow Christine to France--let Thomas do that. He watched them as Christine joined Thomas and, speaking in French, he was sure, they soon left in the Ferrari.