31 STEVE THOMPSON
Criss Cross, 1949, USA, Director Robert Siodmak
I do not believe this. Not him and me like this forever, sitting on this damned sofa and me seeing nothing but a pair of the big lug’s knees and the wall on the other side of the room. The fingers on the clock on the wall have not moved since Slim plugged Steve and me. I don’t suppose the time on the clock will ever change now. My head dropped into the lap of Steve when Slim shot me in the chest. This is the first time I’ve been this close to Steve without hearing him breathe, Steve is or was a big man. His breaths made a noise. There were times when they were noisy indeed. I don’t suppose there’ll be any of that coming any time soon or ever in fact. Not that I feel in the mood for being physical. I’m not sure what I feel. I know that damned clock with the fingers that don’t move is really beginning to irritate me. After Steve and Slim had robbed the armoured truck I spent two long days in this dump, wondering and waiting, although the beach outside helped a little.
I can see that the arm of Steve is draped over my hip. I can’t feel his arm but I can see it. I wonder what Steve is thinking right now. Steve never did a lot of thinking. And without anything happening, which is what is going to happen, he doesn’t have any choice now. Still the big lug got what he wanted, me in his arms forever, just him and me. I wonder where the bullets landed in Steve. I can see that the legs of Steve are stained with blood, and it looks as if most of it belongs to me, Anna Dundee. I used to enjoy feeling the weight of his body against mine but there is nothing to feel now. Even though I can see what is in front of me it’s not the same as when I was alive. And I’m not just talking about the clock that has been telling the same time for a while now. Everything is the same but it’s not somehow. There is no life in Steve and me because we’re dead but there’s no life in anything else either which might be a strange thing to say when no one thinks of a wall and furniture having life. But after you’re dead you realise those things had more life than you thought.
I wonder if Steve gets any pleasure looking down and seeing me with my head in his lap. He must be thinking about something sitting there and looking at the top of my thick black hair. He might be thinking how the roots of my hair are the same as the rest although Steve knew that anyway on account of how we felt about each other. God, the big lug was such a dope. He was well-built and pretty, and I liked the way I could make him angry when I stepped out of line because he needed me so much. But he was a dope. Slim Dundee was no dope but unless I’m mistaken the last thing I heard before everything went white in front of my eyes was a police alarm. That means smart guy Slim has a problem, seeing as there are two dead bodies in this place and also the stash from the armoured car robbery.
I am still here and I can see our dead bodies but are our bodies still here? Have the police taken our corpses away and what I see, and presumably Steve does, is just an illusion, something to help us get our bearings, so to speak. A courtesy to all spirits from God, maybe. Who knows? I just know what I can see, and right now it’s the inside of a beach house in Palos Verdes, a clock on the wall, the legs of Steve and most of me. There is also a lot of blood but no way does it add to the colour.
My mistake was marrying Slim. I didn’t love the guy but it was like he was always there. I don’t ask guys to cling to me like leeches but they did. Slim had money, knew the angles and had plenty of guys who did what he said. So many times I was in a room and there were other guys there. I liked that because I knew all the guys looked and wanted me. Slim kind of liked it but really he didn’t. Because of the way men were with me, I had opportunities. But I’m sitting here dead and I didn’t even two-time Slim other than with this lug Steve, and that was different because before Slim came along I was married to Steve. And before that. I’m not sure I want to even think about what I was doing before I met and married Steve but, if I am going to be sitting on this damned sofa forever, I’m going to remember Liz Short, Hank Hoffman, Noah Cross and the rest of them.
Back then it felt like Steve had come along just in time. There are some bad people in LA but, because they have money and friends like Slim did, you don’t think they’re real bad. But they are, real bad. After what happened to poor Liz, I was glad to take the first ordinary guy that came along. Anna, be honest with yourself. For a while Liz and me had good times, fun at these swell parties in this big house owned by Hank Hoffmann. But the men at the parties wanted more and more, and Hank could have done something to keep his guests under control except he didn’t. I like to drink and I like to dance and rhumba. It’s only fun. But that Noah Cross was always creepy. Liz why didn’t you keep away from him? Listen to yourself, Anna, talking to Liz Short as if she is here. Maybe we’ll meet now we are both dead. But if that’s going to happen, I’ll have to get off this damned sofa. Liz you were such a beautiful girl. It’s just a little film, that’s all, you said. Who knows, I might get famous. Liz Short the Black Dahlia. I suppose that counts as famous, having your body split in two and found next to the sidewalk. Steve and me should be in the newspapers after what Slim did. Not like Liz because they still talk about her. But a few days maybe, especially as Steve was all over the pages as the hero in the robbery. Wait till they find out he was the inside man.
If I’m going to spend forever on this sofa talking to myself like this, will there be a point when I start talking aloud and, if I do, will I hear myself? Because right now I can’t hear nothing, no waves lapping against the beach and no breaths from this big lug. Well, at least I’m on top of him. I’m going to be blamed by Steve’s family for all this because they never liked me. They thought I was wild and that their Steve was a good boy. But Steve was a big boy that knew what he was doing, well as much as anyone. I thought Slim Dundee knew what he was doing but after hearing that police alarm I don’t know what to think.
I feel as if I know what is ahead which is strange seeing no one should know what is in the future. But sitting on this sofa and knowing what is ahead, even if it’s not much, it don’t seem as if any of us knew what we were doing. Steve only came up with the idea of the robbery when Slim caught Steve and me together. The big lug thought he was protecting me, and I thought Steve and two hundred thousand dollars would be real protection. If only Steve had stayed in hospital for a couple of weeks like the papers said. That would have given me time to get ready. A light has gone on in my head. I know what I’m going to think about for the rest of my time. Who did I want to take away the money and me? I’m already beginning to think. I might have settled for Steve or maybe taken Slim instead and the two of us would have made Steve take a walk. That way Slim and me could have bossed Bunker Hill and the rest. Or maybe if Steve had stayed in hospital for the two weeks like the papers said, then it would have been different again. Slim would have been arrested in a couple of days, and I could have disappeared while Steve was still in bandages. I could have headed to Cuba and showed those Havana boys how we rhumba in LA.
Oh, Steve has moved, not much, not even a couple of inches but something has made his body slip, and the view is the same but different. Maybe that’s what being dead is like. The tiniest slip and you notice the difference. Maybe something will make my body slip, too. If the two of us are here long enough and everything in this stupid beach hut rots, Steve and me might slip all the way back to sea and float away to different places. Something like that might just be worth waiting for because I’m going to be here an awful long time and I have to look forward to something. Wondering what the big lug will look like when he sees me floating away from him forever, and me knowing there’s nothing he can do, might even put a smile on my face, assuming I still have a face of course. I hope so. I would hate to lose that. And what about my hair? My hair is going to rot quicker than the sofa, I reckon. Steve might be glad to see the back of me, by then. This being dead is grim but, all the people that have done it, someone must have worked out an angle.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Go Break Bad is now available here.