Bridge 23

September 25th, 2010

Bridge 23–THE TEMPEST

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The place is largely psychological,

An island, or a cabin in the woods,

An isolated season and locale,

Set off apart from other neighborhoods–

So then that rare magician, Prospero,

Can conjure up his scene, his “brave new world” . . .

Dream up a storm.  The winds begin to blow,

With all the terrors of the deep unfurled.

Then grinning through that scene comes Caliban,

Who’ll murder, if he must, to find a king

Who’ll keep him drunk–an ill-concocted plan,

For Ariel is watching everything.

For love to have the power to transform

It seems that, first, we must survive the storm.

[Spring, 1975]

Shoko said, “I think what finally provoked Jordan to the confrontation here was the feeling he was losing Betty to ‘those California people,’ that she was moving out here again, and that Henry was betraying him by arranging it.”

“True . . . he wasn’t very happy about my part in all this.'”

“Why should what you were arranging be such a threat to him, Henry?” I asked.  “Making film versions of their plays should have been in Jordan’s interest, too.  I always hoped he might become a major movie star.  Was he opposed to that?”

“It seems he was, Jack, more than I’d realized.  It made sense to me, of course–as good for both of them.  Betty wanted some of their plays on record, and a larger audience for what they were doing, sure that many members of a broader movie audience would find their way to New York.  The New York theatre doesn’t sell most of its tickets to New Yorkers, after all.  I didn’t see it as any threat to Jordan at all.


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“But I can see how it might have seemed so to him, as he was already rehearsing The Tempest, as high on that project as on anything since he and Betty had done Antony and Cleopatra in the park.  It was as if he were beginning to think of Christine as a replacement for Betty as primary partner on stage.  Then here we were planning to take her to California to film Romeo and Juliet.  I’m sure Betty was willing for both things to happen–would have negotiated.  So it did surprise me when he insisted on confronting her.  I wondered why he didn’t just stay in New York and do whatever he wanted while Betty was away . . . as he’d done before.”

“Because Betty wanted them all out here for screen tests,” Shoko said.  “They had to come out for that, didn’t they?”

“Not necessarily.  But Betty did intend to use as many members of the New York company as she could, as Orson Welles had his Mercury Theatre people–and Christine was essential to the Romeo and Juliet.  She’d promised to take her into the company after high school, though she also said she’d support her in going on to college if that’s what she wanted.

“But I got a little confused by events there at the last.  On Laura’s suggestion, and with your approval, Jack, I set up shop here at the cabin.  Since I no longer see people anyway, I do almost everything by telephone and mail, which puts me on a more equal footing, and this place works very nicely–keeps people a phone call away.  But I needed help with mail and things.  So Betty sent Shoko out with me.  She was soon helping with everything, as we worked out the basic routine we still live by.  She expected to move back with Betty as she and Christine settled at the house in Encino to make the movie, which could have been before you got back from Japan, and they might have taken me along–to give you back your solitary study.  But that never happened.  So we’ve been here ever since.  Now we may have to re-negotiate our lease.”

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“It looks like you’re getting along fine up here,” I said, “and I may want to go back to Japan anyway.”  I looked up to see Laura coming down the steps from the cabin.  “But here comes the owner now–the one you’ll need to negotiate with.”

I moved over so Laura could sit next to me, saying to her, “Henry has just been telling me how plans were going for the filming of Romeo and Juliet,” then to Henry, “but you said that Jordan had already begun rehearsals for The Tempest.”

“Yes.  As soon as they’d finished that first run of Romeo and Juliet.  It had gotten a lot of favorable critical attention, largely because of the scenes between Betty and Christine, so was the play we wanted to film first.  Jordan said he didn’t want anything to do with movie versions.  He hadn’t done any serious film work, which made Betty the ‘experienced hand’ there, and put him at a disadvantage.  He didn’t like that.  So he went directly into rehearsals on The Tempest, which he was to direct and in which he’d play Prospero–to Christine’s Miranda–without even discussing it very much with Betty.

“That made her mad.  If he’d been more diplomatic, she’d probably have supported him–she’d never denied Jordan center stage–and the company members he was casting, like Ben, were pleased to be doing the play with him.  But, ironically, that also freed Betty to spend more time out here on the film project, so, again, increased the distance between her and Jordan.  And we were hurrying the Romeo and Juliet along, for part of what made Christine so perfect  was that she’d still look young enough in those close-ups.”

“But this meant that Christine got caught between Betty and Jordan,” Laura said, “had them fighting over her.”

Shoko shook her head.  “Betty had only begun to take Christine seriously on our trip to France, and Jordan when he saw her in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, just a little over a year ago.  He said he thought Christine had more natural

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aptitude for Shakespeare than any other actress he’d ever seen, of any age, in England or America–including her mother–which wasn’t the most diplomatic way to put that, either.”

Laura nodded, saying, “But Betty was just as enthusiastic about casting Christine as Juliet.  Then, after both of them had  worked on stage with her, they both knew they wanted her in the company.  But, as she’d been the star for the first time in that play–a surprisingly stubborn, if still deferential, star–that posed problems for all three of them, given the range of egos and ambitions.  Christine did want to make a movie of Romeo and Juliet–she’d seen what making The Countess Rostovna had done for her mother, who was telling her how this film could capture her young performance on permanent record.  But Jordan was also actively courting her for The Tempest.”

“Was rehearsing her for The Tempest!” Henry said.  “He wanted to do it anyway, but having Christine for Miranda made it irresistible.  He’d have been a fantastic Prospero.  I asked Betty and Randall if that, too, might become one of the films in the series.  Betty said, ‘All in good time.  I want to do the love-suicide plays first, since they comment on one another so nicely, and might make a neat package for a television series–like Hallmark’s.  If the Romeo and Juliet does well, that should put us in better bargaining position on Christine, and, if the other three do, Jordan could become a marketable commodity, too–might even enjoy being in the movies.  After that we can think about doing others–including The Tempest.’

“Then, since the studio wanted screen tests on all the principles, Betty had arranged for Jordan and half a dozen of the others to come out over Easter break, choosing the school vacation as more convenient for Christine.  Most would be flying out, but, at the last minute, Jordan, out of perversity, I think, decided to drive across country–with Christine–in his Ferrari.  He still had in mind doing The Tempest first, this

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summer, and postponing film work until fall.  But that just made Betty more determined to do Romeo and Juliet first–in part because, without that, we didn’t have a film deal at all.

“And Betty seemed obsessed by her new relationship to Christine.  She began to talk to Christine about following in her footsteps, inheriting everything she was building.  ‘Why shouldn’t women do it the way men always have?’ she’d say.”

“I felt that talk like that just added to the already heavy psychological burden on Christine,” Laura said.

“And Jordan and Christine took their time getting here,” said Shoko, “stopping in Kansas, to see your old school, and then at Wellington, to see where Christine had been born.”

Laura laughed.  “They even dropped in on Marge.”

“I’m sure Marge was delighted,” Henry said.  “Then, here they came, after everyone else had taken their screen tests, in that Ferrari he’d let Christine drive halfway across the country–while Betty waited–and after Betty had received that letter accusing them of being more than traveling companions.”

“I got one, too,” Laura said.  “I’d already heard enough gossip that I didn’t want them driving across country together, a la Lolita.  But try to tell a high-school senior that.  And I didn’t really distrust Jordan . . . that way.  A few weeks earlier I’d confronted Betty on who had jurisdiction over Christine.  At that time, she’d yielded to my argument that I’d served as de facto mother most of Christine’s life, and probably knew what was best for her while she was still in school.  But Jordan pointed out that, though still in school, she was already eighteen.  So they made the trip together–just packed and left.  But, after we got those letters, Betty suggested that I fly out and take Christine back to New York by air–back to school.”

“The seed of suspicion had been planted that something more than rehearsing one play–if something that probably had little to do with sex–was indeed going on between Jordan and

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Christine,” Henry said.  “It seemed to Betty that, if they were competing for Christine longer term, Jordan might be winning in part by keeping her in possession.  She wanted to separate them, then have it out with Jordan without Christine being there.  I wish it had worked out that way.”

Shoko said, “Someone in the company probably wrote the letter suggesting Christine was pregnant–with Jordan’s child.  Not that Betty believed it.  She said Jordan was more likely to be interested in Ben than in Christine.  But it still upset her. Jordan had been courting Christine . . . as his Miranda.  They’d been together a lot . . . then he’d decided to drive out here with her.  It was as if he were flaunting his dominance.”

“They’d already left when we got those letters,” Laura said, “but when I called Betty to express my anger over people playing upon Christine’s innocence, she suggested I fly out.”

“And became more determined than ever that Christine would be here, working on the film, this summer,” Henry said.  “She was sure Christine had the ambition–wanted to be a movie star–but that Jordan was manipulating her simply to get his way.”  He turned to Shoko, saying, “Jack might be interested in seeing that letter.  And the one from Jordan, too.”

“I’ll get them.”  As we watched Shoko move slowly back toward the cabin, I asked Laura how everything had been going between Christine and her since the funeral.

She said, “Surprisingly well, Jack . . . considering.  Things between us were strained just before and after the catastrophe here, as you can imagine.  Christine was devastated, not just by the death of two people who’d come to mean everything to her–but by the blood and violence.  But, even before that, all the praise of her performances in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet was pretty heady for a high-school girl.  She’d been popular enough to be on the telephone a lot, going to school dances, interested in football and

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basketball games–but this was different.  Suddenly she was caught up in the theatre.  Then Jordan began to absorb all her energy.  She wasn’t even interested in Ben–her Romeo–though I think he was in her.  It was all Jordan.  That worried me, as they began to spend so much time together, then went off across country together.  I really thought she might be able to seduce him . . . even if Betty had never been able to.”

Henry laughed.  “But I don’t believe she did.  At least she didn’t get pregnant.  He wanted her as a partner on stage.  She was the one who decided they ought to get married . . . though he seems to have considered it, if that was what it was going to take, for he was prepared to fight Betty for her.”

I saw Shoko coming back from the cabin, with the letters in her hand, and saw Christine at the window.

“Strange letters, Jack,” Shoko said.  “This one’s from New York–see the postmark.  This one’s from Jordan, written while they were on their way here.”  She looked back at the cabin.  “Christine’s dressed, but I asked her to make a salad for dinner, so she wouldn’t be here as you read these.”

“Good idea.”  I took the first letter, trying to determine as I read it if anything in it gave a clue to the identity of the writer, or any hidden motives.  The text was as follows:

Dear Betty Fredricks:

You must be concerned about Christine, so should look into what’s going on between her and Jordan Simms.  More than just rehearsing another Shakespeare play I can tell you.  They always come and leave together, and are constantly hovering over each other.  I saw her coming out of a doctor’s office about ten days ago.  Then, last week, she was sick in the ladies’ room, like a woman who’s pregnant.  If she were my daughter, I’d find out about it.                A Friend

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Laura said, “I got a similar letter, no doubt from the same ‘friend,’ and at first did think, ‘Well, if not Jordan, perhaps Ben.  The temptation’s always there.’  But, if Christine was sick, it must have been nerves, and I saw no signs at home.  As time has demonstrated, she wasn’t pregnant.  But I did call Betty.”

“It must have come from a woman,” I said, “if she saw her sick in the ladies’ room.  If I had received this letter, as skeptical as I might have been, I would have wanted to talk to Jordan about it.  Did Betty have any idea who’d written it?”

“She speculated about that with Henry and me,” Shoko said, “but wasn’t sure.  There’s always somebody not happy with the casting, I guess.  Then here’s the letter she got from Jordan a day or two later.  He obviously didn’t know about the other letter.”  She handed me the second letter, which read:

Dear Betty,

I’m writing from glorious Wellington, Nebraska, where I’ve stopped with Christine.  We’ve just had a long lunch with Marge French, your old buddy.  Christine was delighted by Marge telling her how much she looks like  you did eighteen years ago.

I’ve thought a lot about your plans for me on this trip, and want you to cancel any screen test you’ve arranged.  I don’t want to make movies at all.  Some of the greatest Shakespearian actors of this century have been destroyed by movies.  We’ve worked hard to carve out a place for ourselves in New York, and it would be a mistake to divide our energies.  I’ll support the experimental work you seem determined to do, so long as it’s in New York, and on the stage.  If you insist on filming Romeo and Juliet, I don’t even want to be involved.  It shouldn’t be hard to find a name actor willing to play Capulet–a nice cameo bit.  Then we can continue to

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perform the play.  We can work The Tempest in as well.  With Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, and Othello, that’ll give us a solid Shakespearian base.        I’m provoked to write in part by the affection I’ve come to have for Christine.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with my Miranda, and begin to develop Prospero’s feelings toward her, as a daughter with a future as a queen–in the theatre.  She’s doing most of the driving across these wide open spaces, and seems delighted by that, too.  I’ve been talking to her as she’s been driving, and think she agrees with me.  She should be a Shakespearian actress, not a starlet.  She can be the greatest there ever was–challenged only by her mother–if she’ll work with me.  And who knows what impact the three of us working together could have on American theatre?

If you and Henry continue with this plan to film other plays, I may establish an independent company, taking any of the actors in the New Age Players with me who want to go.  I’m sure Christine will go with me, too–for this summer at least–as my Miranda.  Remember, the New York stage has as much appeal for her as it did for you from out here in Nebraska.  But I’m still bringing her on, for her own ‘screen test’–then you can talk to her about it.

Love, Jordan

Laura shook her head. “He took her on quite a trip.”

Henry said, “When she got the letter, the first thing Betty said was, ‘Yes, his Miranda.  That’s what he wants.  So now, if for no other reason, I insist on going ahead with Romeo and Juliet immediately–to save Christine from him.’

“She was very angry that last day, pacing up and down, as she always did when she got excited,” Shoko said.  “She

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jumped on Jordan immediately–when he called that morning to say he and Christine were leaving from where they’d stayed overnight, somewhere near the Grand Canyon, and should arrive at Shangri-La that evening.  She read him that other letter over the phone, accusing him, if not of seducing Christine, at least of abusing her affection.”

“I thought she was a little jealous of both of them,” Henry said, “of Christine for taking her place with Jordan, as the manageable young actress looking to him as her guiding star, and of Jordan for taking her place with Christine, as Prospero, after she’d just played the nurse to her Juliet.”

“The psychology gets pretty complicated, doesn’t it?”  Laura remarked.

“Betty accused Jordan of trying to blackmail her through his influence over ‘an innocent high-school girl!'” Henry said.  “Jordan responded, ‘About as innocent as you were at her age.’  I got on the phone, and he agreed to meet us here, where we’d be working that day, anyway, saying they’d drive here directly.

“As we drove up to the lake, Betty was fuming all the way, ‘I’ll call his bluff!  We’ll see where her loyalties are!’  She wanted me ‘to explain the facts of life to Jordan.  Tell him what this means financially.  He’ll believe it coming from you.’

“Then, late in the afternoon, she said, ‘But I don’t want Christine here.’  She called Shoko to have her bring our tentative agreement on filming Romeo and Juliet and other papers she wanted Jordan to see, telling her,  ‘You can take Christine back to Shangri-La, while Henry and I fuss these things out with Jordan.’  Then she suggested we take the boat out on the lake, ‘to see if I can calm down a little, so I’ll be able to think straight.  We’ll come in  when Shoko gets here.’

“Betty always liked it out on the lake,” I said.

“Yes, she was very happy here . . . at times,” said Shoko, “but no place like this could hold her spirit for long.  She had

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things to do, and saw what she was doing as a mission, or the forging of an identity–or an inheritance–from the countess.”

“I know,” I said.  “She had to be in a theatre to be alive.  I need the theatre, too, but just to reach out to occasionally.  The things I did for Betty, like the adaptations of the Dido and the Chikamatsu plays, were only incidental, as if she were allowing me a part of her New York action for old time’s sake.  In no sense was I a partner in what she was doing back there, as I had been in the film she’d done out here.”

“But you might have been again, Jack.  That day, out on the lake, she was talking about going to Japan,” Henry said, “about what she’d been hearing from you about theatre in Tokyo, that in some modes it was more experimental, in some more traditional, than any other theatre in the world.”

“Yes, it is–but all in Japanese.  I’d hoped Betty and Shoko could get to Tokyo while I was there, to see things we’d talked about with the countess–the Noh and Kabuki.”

“And she thought there’d be things she could take back to New York.  We never know, do we, Jack?  Betty and I had been cruising around the lake talking about anything but our immediate problems, and were coming back in, when she said,  ‘My God!  There’s Jordan now . . . puffing up the trail.  Christine has him by the hand, as if she’s leading him!  That really is a sight!  Let’s get in!’  We hadn’t been counting on the speed of the Ferrari, or we’d have made sure that Shoko got here before they did . . . for Christine’s sake.”

“I stopped for some groceries we needed here on the way,” Shoko said,  “and have regretted it ever since.”

“They got to the cabin first, and Jordan was churning when we got there.  His tone of voice immediately concerned me, for I knew his moods, but it seemed to amuse Betty, in a perverse sort of way.  She called the house in Encino, and Thomas told her Shoko had already left.  Then, in spite of the

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fact that Christine was there, she confronted Jordan, accusing him of using Christine.  ‘She’s just a pawn in your game.  That’s a kind of child abuse!  And what have you been doing back there, under the pretext of all this rehearsal?  What about this letter–suggesting that she may be pregnant, thanks to you?’  She turned and asked Christine, ‘Are you?’  I knew their tempers were high, but I was surprised by the intensity of Betty’s anger.   It really was as if she were jealous of Christine.

“Christine was shocked. ‘Pregnant?  How terrible!  I am not pregnant!’  She appealed to Jordan, who’d started laughing, saying, ‘Tell them!’  Then, taking the offensive with Betty, Christine said, ‘I know you were pregnant–with me–before you were married.  I’ve even heard that Jordan might have been my father.  I don’t believe that, either!  I should know my own father!  But–if you’re so interested–we are planning to get married.  I’ll do whatever Jordan wants me.'”

Laura shook her head.  “I’d had no idea it had gone that far . . . planning to get married?”

“So Christine said.  In spite of my determination to stay out of it, I said to Jordan, ‘How could you mislead this child like that, Jordan?  She’s obviously got a crush on you, and you are old enough to be her father!  My age!  Capulet!  Prospero!  Not Romeo!  If she is pregnant–no–that’s unbelievable!  As bad as  incest!  Just taking her off across country this way . . .”

“That got a rise out of him, but he was still laughing, saying, ‘Henry, where do you get all of this nonsense?  Somebody’s been reading you too many Greek tragedies.’

“And Christine was still shouting, ‘Who said I’m . . . pregnant?  Let me see that letter.  That’s ridiculous!’  To Jordan, ‘Tell them!’  To Betty, ‘Mother, you can’t believe . . .’  But she was brushed aside, as I was, as they began castigating each other, as if they were on stage.  Betty told Christine to go into the bedroom, as if dismissing a naughty child.  She

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wanted her out of the way until Shoko got here, I knew.  But that turned out to be the biggest mistake of all.

“At first Jordan was just goading Betty, demanding she give up ‘this film thing,’ and come back to be his partner.  He said, ‘How could I possibly use Christine to influence you, Betty?  You’ve never paid her any attention at all–left her for others to raise!  Now she’s old enough to challenge you–for the attention of men, and as an actress–with the advantage of youth–you become competitive.  As good an actress as you are, the “outraged mother, concerned about her daughter’s virtue” just won’t play.  Sorry.  But think of what we can do if we incorporate her extraordinary talent into our own work.”

“Betty said, ‘I’ve decided we’ll do the Romeo and Juliet out here this summer . . . with you or not!’

“I threw in, ‘Now just a minute . . . let’s think about . . .’

“Then Jordan changed tack, as if willing to negotiate, saying, ‘Let us do The Tempest this summer–then, fine, you and Henry do this film version of Romeo and Juliet–with me or not.  After that, we can do both plays back in New York.  Then, where Christine is concerned, you decide.  Believe me, I want the best for her, just as you do.  Laura talks about her going to college, even that college in Nebraska you couldn’t wait to get away from.  And your great friend, Marge, says she’d be happy to arrange it, that Christine could stay with her.  She remembers her as a baby.’  He did seem to be trying to win her over–but to let Christine do The Tempest first.

“Then, when Betty absolutely refused, he changed tack again, saying, ‘I’ve been talking to Christine a lot on this trip,  you know, and think I know what she wants.  She wanted to go professional months ago, without even finishing high school.  Worse than you were.  And I admit I’ve done my best to encourage that enthusiasm.’  Betty was obviously getting madder and madder, finally telling Jordan to leave Christine

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with her and get out of there, that she’d talk to him the next day.  He refused, saying, ‘If I can’t take both of you back to New York–this time–then I certainly intend to take Christine.  To do The Tempest this summer!  And we’ll leave now!’

“I tried to explain our financial commitments, but Jordan said, ‘I don’t give a damn, Henry!  I know we can do The Tempest. You can worry about these California idiots!’

“So, again, we were in a three-way argument.  Jordan and I were exchanging angry insults, and Betty began to yell, ‘Stop it!  Shut up!  Listen to me!  Henry, you stay out of this!’

“Finally Jordan took me by the arm, led me to the big chair by the window, and said, ‘Sorry to get you so upset, Henry.  You just sit here and listen.  I’ll tell Betty what I intend to do.  Then you can help her sort things out later–tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.’  I sat down.

“Jordan continued to ridicule Betty’s charge of seducing Christine away, ‘As if she were an innocent needing your protection.   And pregnant!  You of all people should know better.  I have no desire to marry the girl.  That was her idea– but I might do it if it’s the only way to get her to do the play!  I want to do The Tempest with her–oh, then maybe Hamlet.  Because she’s such a rare partner on stage.  That’s the only consummation I desire.  And I intend to take her back to New York and do it!  Nothing else matters . . . not to me!’

“‘I have my own plans for Christine–and I’m her mother!’

“‘She’s eighteen now, Betty, will soon graduate from high school.  There’d be nothing to keep us from getting married.  Don’t force me to go to that extreme.  But if you insist . . . ‘

“Christine had been listening from the bedroom, and that’s  when she came back into the room, evidently carrying that pistol you intended to shoot bears with in Alaska–and determined to get their attention.  I heard her say, ‘What am I?  Just a child?  To be used any way the two of you decide?’

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“But they still ignored her.”   Henry paused.  “Then I heard the first shot.  When they wouldn’t listen, she fired the gun, through the roof, I think.  I’ve asked Shoko where it leaks when it rains, but she hasn’t noticed, so I don’t know where the hole is.  I don’t know whether the police found it or not, though they knew the gun had been fired three times.”

Laura said, “Christine told me that she fired the gun first.”

“She certainly got our attention.  I tried to hide under the chair, and hoped Jordan didn’t mean me when he shouted, ‘Get that thing away from her!’  Betty evidently was trying to take the gun from Christine, who may have been threatening Jordan with it, for he kept shouting, ‘You women put that gun down!  That’s not a stage prop . . . it’s loaded!  ‘Don’t point . . .’

“Then I heard the second shot, the shot that must have hit Jordan in the chest.  I don’t know who had the gun then, but the shot came over Betty’s sharp commands to ‘Stop it!’  Then Christine screamed.  Betty may have shot Jordan, if she was waving the gun around the way she might on stage, or if he was trying to take it from them.  She might have thought  Christine did intend to shoot one of them.  But which one?  Jordan?  For his cavalier comments?  Betty might have wanted to shoot Jordan herself, in anger over their confrontation.  But I think she was struggling to get the gun from Christine, with Jordan moving to take it from her, when Betty shot him–accidentally.

“Then that’s when I jumped in, probably just as Jordan got possession of the gun.  I heard his sour laugh as he said, ‘My God, did either of you women ever shoot a gun before in your life?’  He tried to push me away, turning back toward them.  I grabbed him with both arms.  I felt the blood on his chest–and then the recoil–when the gun went off again . . . as if I’d fired it myself.  The gun must have fired the second time as he was taking it from the women, that bullet hitting him in the chest.  Then, as I tried to intercede,  I jostled him–like Romeo

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getting between Mercutio and Tybalt–causing the pistol to fire the third time, the shot that killed Betty.  All accidental.  Angry as she was, Betty would never have shot Jordan on purpose.  But, since he suffered a fatal wound, she might as well have.  And I know he had the pistol when it fired that last time–killing Betty instantly, they tell me–because I felt it fire.  That left me struggling with a wounded man, to protect a woman who was already dead.  Totally insane!  Jordan was staggering as I guided him to the chair.  And, after screaming, ‘No! No!’ Christine was sobbing so uncontrollably that, when Jordan told her to call the police, she wasn’t even listening.

“As I released him, I said, ‘I’ll call.’  But then, though he was a dying man, I heard him pick up the phone and evidently dial the emergency number.  ‘There’s been a lovers’ disagreement out here in the mountains, friend.  Please send the police, and an ambulance . . . though I think it’ll be too late.  What?  Where?  Oh, the lake road.  Number 64.  Right, Henry?  We’ve both been shot . . . shot each other.’  I heard Jordan drop the phone, and picked it up myself, dealing with the operator’s bewilderment as best I could.  She soon said the sheriff and medical help were on the way.

“Since Jordan had called the police, and called it a lovers’ quarrel, the police read it that way at first.  But critics who’d seen the Chikamatsu plays in New York began to describe it as a  Japanese double suicide.  Almost what it was.  They were lovers in life–more than they knew–and so in death.  The recording of that telephone call exists, so why question it?  After the emergency operator hung up, I called Thomas, and told him what had happened.  He said he’d come immediately.

“I turned back to Jordan, who was still conscious.  He said ‘Betty’s dead, Henry,’ and told me to get Christine out of there.  ‘Take the Ferrari–and go!  She can drive.  I’ll take care of things when the police get here, will tell them to call you

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and the women at their Shangri-La.  Go on–take her!’  I could hear Christine wailing, but could not imagine leaving, was trying to do what I could for Jordan when Shoko arrived.”

“I was parking next to their Ferrari when I heard the shots,” Shoko said, “so ran up the path.  Coming in the door was like entering Dante’s hell.  Blood was everywhere.  Henry added to the surreal quality, sitting there with Jordan bleeding all over him, holding that gun in both hands.  I went to Betty first–lying on the carpet, blood covering the front of her–hoping she might still be alive.  When I saw what the gunshot wound had done to her head, I fell to my knees beside her.

“Christine was sitting close to Betty, in a pool of blood, sobbing hysterically.  Jordan had passed out, so then Henry began struggling to prop him up, to keep him talking.  As I recovered my senses, I first tried to quiet Christine, and then to help Henry with Jordan.  When I first touched him, Henry thought I was Betty, in fact–that she couldn’t be dead. Then, when I started asking him questions, he said, ‘Shoko?  Is that you?  Where’s Betty?  Is she all right?’  When I told him she was dead he said,  ‘Oh, my God, it’s true.  And Christine?  Are you there, Christine?  Was Christine shot?  And look at Jordan,  please.  He’s badly hurt.  Help him if you can.'”

Laura shook her head.  “I wish I’d been here . . . for her.”

“I didn’t believe it.  Until I heard Jordan on the phone I wasn’t sure that Betty had even been hit,” Henry said, “just that he had.  I kept expecting her to speak, but . . . she died without a word.   I still can’t believe that . . . of Betty.”

“I answered Henry as best I could,” Shoko said.  “And I’m afraid my questions weren’t much help, either.  ‘What happened?  Who shot Betty?  Did you shoot Jordan?’

“Jordan recovered consciousness briefly.  He looked up at me, shook his head, and said, ‘Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Well, you two try to take care of each other . . . and poor Christine.’  He

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looked over at her, where she sat sobbing, then passed out again.  So the last word he spoke was Christine’s name.”

“I think he had come to think of Christine as his daughter, first as Capulet, then as Prospero,” Henry said.  “And, once he saw Betty was dead, I think he accepted that he was going to die with her.  Then the sheriff and his man arrived.  They started calling out from the time they left the road.  I went to the door and called back as they found their way here.  Then I asked Shoko to help the ambulance people find the cabin,  but, as he had anticipated, Jordan died before they got here.”

Shoko said, “If Jordan was still alive when the sheriff got here, he was unable to speak to him.  And, being blind, Henry didn’t seem any more sure of what had happened than I was.”

“Oh, I told him what had happened, just as I have you, Jack,” Henry said, “but didn’t see a need to tell him Christine had brought the gun into the room and fired the first shot.  He asked, ‘How’d they kill each other with one gun?’  After I explained it all again, he said, ‘Unhuh, maybe, but you couldn’t see what was happening, this girl saw it, but can’t even talk about it, and you just heard shots from the road, Miss . . . ?’  Shoko told him her name, and what she knew.  When Thomas got here, the sheriff let him take the three of us back to Encino, saying he’d talk to all of us again the next day.”

“Thomas was deeply shocked–just stood looking at Betty’s body,” Shoko said. “But when the sheriff released us, he said, ‘Let’s take the young lady home.’  Since then, just as he became dedicated to Betty after the countess died, he’s now dedicated to Christine.  Laura arrived the following day, which helped with Christine.  Then we hardly left the house for the next three days, until we held the funeral there, as you know.

“The police did question us at length, but they finally seemed inclined to accept, on the basis of what Jordan had said on the telephone, and what Henry and then Christine told

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them, that Betty and Jordan had killed each other . . . perhaps accidentally, perhaps as a kind of double suicide.”

When I asked who’d put the bodies in the position they were in when the photograph was taken, Henry said, “I suppose I did, Jack, when I laid Jordan down next to Betty.”

Shoko said, “No, I did.  I first arranged Betty, to conceal that horrible wound and put her clothing in order.  Then, when we knew Jordan was dead, we laid him down beside her.”

“Did you know that laying them end to end that way recreated the picture on the publicity poster from the Japanese film version of Chikamatsu’s Shinju Ten no Amijima–the poster Betty had used so widely in New York?  I’ve been wondering how, if Henry had never seen that poster, he could have duplicated it so closely.  So I thought it must have been you, Shoko . . . or Christine.”  It suddenly occurred to me that I remembered seeing Betty’s scarf in that picture, too, covering part of Betty’s head and one shoulder.

“Any resemblance must have been accidental, Jack . . .as their death was.”  Henry paused to reflect.  “I was a suspect myself for a time, you know–or so I was informed later–in spite of being blind.  Some knew I could get around pretty well up here, even in the dark, had reason to be angry, and could have killed them both . . . with that hand ax, I suppose.”

“But they weren’t killed with a hand ax, and you were the one holding the gun when the sheriff got here,” Shoko said.

“They also asked about you, Jack, said they always ‘look for the husband first,'” Laura added.  We told them you were in Japan, and,  though they talked to you when you were here, they still sent a detective there, didn’t they?”

“It was a week before Henry and I came back up here, to gather Betty’s things,” Shoko said.  “Thomas was helping me, and we missed Henry.  When we went to look for him we found him wandering down by the lake shore.”

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Laura shook her head.  “And you remember how little Christine had to say, even to you, at the funeral, Jack.  She was still in shock, felt it was her fault, first the confrontation, then that she had brought the gun into the room.  She told me, ‘They were arguing about me . . . how could I stay out of it?'”

“It was very hard for Christine,” Shoko said.  “She had so recently become so close to both of them, then had to live with the feeling that she had directly caused their deaths.  After the funeral Laura suggested I stay here with Henry, while she took Christine back to New York–to finish school.  What could any of us do but go on with our lives?”

“Christine, too,” Laura said.  “I wished you were here, for her sake, Jack, but she couldn’t have come back here that soon anyway.  New York was where our lives were.  That’s been difficult enough.  The New Age Players are in limbo, the actors assuming that, without Betty or Jordan, the company no longer exists.  Henry has been talking to some of them on the telephone . . . but, like Christine, they’ve been lost souls.”

Henry said, “I want to talk to you about that, Jack . . . but later . . . when Christine comes out.”

“But Christine began insisting that there was nothing left for her in New York, once she finished school,” Laura said.  “By then she did want to be back out here in California.  She says she still feels most at home here at the lake, in spite of the fact that . . . now maybe because . . . they died here.”

“I tell her that I feel guilty, too, about not being here when Jordan and she arrived,” Shoko said.  “I could have stopped it.  I would have taken both Betty and her home.”

“I think back on that day–how, when I heard the first shot, it made my blood freeze,” Henry said.  “Then my great blunder, as I grabbed Jordan, and heard the gun go off again.  I still hear it in my dreams, Jack . . . and Betty groan and fall.    I feel I’m responsible for her death . . . not Christine.”

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Assignment for Bridge 24:

The last section of The Tale of Genji is The Bridge of Dreams.







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