Betty bounded the final flight of steps two at a time. No-one – nothing – must stop her now.
The door at the top on the right was barely ajar. It had to be the one. She pushed the handle and peered cautiously round the opening. But a rank fug from fifty-seven years of incessant smoking and relentless drinking made it almost impossible to see.
“Hullo”, she said, her deep voice more sultry than ever.
There was no reaction.
The next second dragged like an hour.
Betty tried again.
“Hullo, y ’self,” said Bogart, unmoved. “Huh, Baby. Y ’took y ’time. What kept ya?”
“Dunno. Suppose it was the three kids to put through college. A couple of Tony Awards, an Academy Award nomination and an Honorary Oscar. Not much to write home about. Sorry you had to wait”.
“I thought - maybe you and your motor-bike had broken down on the highway to heaven”.
“Y ‘know about that? I needed the thrust; the power”.
“Then you ran out of gas. Here, we know about everything. Y ’ll pick it up pretty damn quick. Y ‘as always a quick study …”
“So were you, Bogie. Now I’m here, do you want some help with your hand?”
“You always knew where to put it. And Frank, here,” added Bogie, shrugging his left shoulder, “says you always helped him, too. How could you do it, as I lay dying, Betty? That’s what makes me so mad”.
“Hold on, Bogie. I’ve been here barely five minutes and already you’re beating on me. Y ‘haven’t even offered me a goddamn drink. What’s the matter?”
“Look, I know I was a mean ol’ critter as the cancer grabbed m’ throat but was that an excuse to go off whoring?”
“What about you, Bogie? Hell, I couldn’t go fetch your medicine without you getting a call from – I can barely say her name without spitting – ‘Ve-ri-ta’. It was the nurse who told me you rang her from your deathbed. My! Where did you find the energy?”
“Well, she cared. Worried enough to call me. She rang me; not me, her. She loved me enough to visit our boat to see everything was all right.
“Then when she discovered I’d had it painted, she realised I knew my time was up; that the boat had to look good so it could be sold. So, ‘Verita’ – your first lesson is learning how to say her pretty name – called me and I said, ‘Don't drink all my scotch, I'll be down there soon’.
“But it didn’t happen. I was brought here almost right after, with only your whistle for company. Then when ‘Verita’ followed a few years ago, we carried on from where we’d had to leave off. So she’s still got a head-start on you. Go check for yourself. She’s in the next room”.
“Yeah. I’m goin’ through. But on the way, I’m gonna work out how to kill a dead woman. That reminds me, Bogie. You have the whistle. Me? I’ve got my Oscar. You’ll know, of course, what I said when I received it? ‘A man at last!’”
“You’re still goddamn cute, Baby. So I’m surprised you’ve not asked after my other friend. You remember him?”
Betty looked at the third man. Curious.
“I’m not sure we ever met. Umm? Yeah, that’s it. You’re the thriller hack, Raymond Chandler. I didn’t recognise you, sober!”
“Spot on”, chuckled Chandler. “And while you’re doin’ some head scratchin’ try and remember what I wrote”.
“What was that, Ray?”
“As I always remind my Cissy, ‘Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.’ If I were you, I’d try to keep to the script”.
(© Natalie Irene Wood – 17 August 2014)