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«Enter Without Desire», Ed Lacy

 

Enter Without Desire

 

Ed Lacy

В В В В В This page formatted 2007 Blackmask Online.

В В В В В  http://www.blackmask.com

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

 

     All characters, names, places, and incidents in this novel are purely fictional. No part of this novel is based on actual incidents or real persons—which is unfortunate: in real life I would very much like to meet an Elma.

 

В В В В В E. L.

В В В В В Copyright, 1954, by Ed Lacy. Published by arrangement with the author. Printed in the U.S.A.

 

     I sat there, waiting in this dull Bronx back yard, the gun in my right pocket, safety off. It was simple... wait till he was on top of me, one shot in the heart... then run across the lot to the car. Sid had an ordinary looking heap; nobody would notice it, or the license number. The license number—that was one of the chances I had to take—one of the too-many chances.

 

     But this would work, if my luck held out. IF... IF... Damn, I hoped to hell he didn't have a wife and kids, looked too young for that, but even if he did—I had a wife and kid, too. God knows I didn't want to kill this detective, but I was caught in this web,

had

to do it.

Had

to...

 

     No point in thinking about that—more important to think of some way of disposing of the gun. Couldn't pull the same gag about losing it on Tony again. Well, have to work that out, somehow. Sloppy thinking on my part not to plan.... Hell with plans, no time for it. Not like the other one.

 

В В В В В Marshal Jameson, the promising young sculptor, sitting on his butt in a strange Bronx back yard on a sunny afternoon... carefully planning his second murder.

 

     I grinned, a sour, nervous grin—I was damn near bawling. Me, who'd never hurt a fly, waiting with a gun for a...

 

В В В В В I heard a car stop in front of the house. It was five to three. The dick was on time. I stood up and peered around the corner of the alley. He was alone.

 

В В В В В I waited: no running from this, no backing out. Or was killing the easy way out for me?

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

В В В В В ON NEW YEAR'S EVE day I couldn't take it any longer. Nothing special happened, the same old rut. But just as there's a boiling point, there's a breaking point, and I sure had reached it You can only go so far without a victory, even a little victory. And I was simply sick of the loneliness, the damp cold, of being hungry, of being a flop. I tried getting high on some homemade raisin wine, nipping at a quart of it during the day, but that didn't help.

 

В В В В В New Year's Eve really didn't mean a damn to me, but somehow I felt entirely lost this time. And the wine wasn't doing a thing for me. I had exactly eighty cents in cash. And seven bucks in the postal savings but the p.o. was shut. It was six o'clock, getting dull-dark: and I looked at the stinking kerosene lamp, at the can of beans and hunk of fish I was going to have for supper, and thought... I can't stand this any longer. I'm going to New York.

 

В В В В В Now there wasn't a thing waiting for me in New York, and I'm the guy who knows how lonely a big city can be, but right at that second all I wanted was to be with people, with all the milling impersonal people of Times Square on New Year's Eve. I wanted to see smiles, hear noise, even lots of drunken noise.

 

     Taking my one suit out of the cedar bag, I heated a pan of water and shaved, found a clean shirt. My overcoat wasn't in bad condition and even being dressed made me feel a little better. I walked through the village, along the road that led to the highway. I never wanted to see my shack again—or any of my lousy, unfinished statues.

 

     My luck took a change the moment I reached the highway. A sleek roadster stopped the first time I raised my thumb. A beefy young fellow in a tux was at the wheel. He asked, “Want a lift?”

 

     “That's what I'm standing here for. Trying to get to the city.”

 

     “Hop in. I'm headed for 62d Street and Madison Avenue.”

 

     “That'll be perfect,” I said, getting in, feeling the rich softness of the leather seat, the power of the car as he shifted gears. The car was his badge of the thing I lacked most—security.

 

     The guy pulled a cigarette from his breast pocket—not a pack but one cigarette. As he lit it, he asked if I wanted one. I shook my head, got my pipe out.

 

     “Going to a New Year's party?”

 

     “Call up a few people, see what's doing,” I said, casually, as though I was really on the town, had some place to go.

 

     “Lousy night. I'm stuck with this dinner party at my aunt's. Boring as bell, but you know these family things. Been an unusually raw winter, hasn't it?”

 

     It was his car; the least I could do was make conversation. “Yeah, it's been pretty rough.”

 

     “I live in Easthampton.”

 

     “You're quite aways out,” I said. “I'm at Sandyhook.”

 

     He said, “Oh,” as though I was a freak, added, “You an artist?”

 

     “I don't know. Trying to be a sculptor.”

 

     “I knew some bim who hung around there couple summers ago. Said she was a model. Built like a goddess but very ordinary between the sheets. Took me all summer to... Say, didn't know anybody lived in those eh... shacks during the winter. Must be rugged.”

 

     “It is.”

 

     We didn't talk for a while, then he said, “Watch this,” and put the gas pedal on the floor. We cut through the twilight at seventy an hour and he handled the car well.

 

     In less than twenty minutes he hit the outskirts of Brooklyn, or maybe it was Queens, and slowed down to a normal forty miles an hour. He said, “Doesn't make sense, my speeding to a dull evening. How about a shot of anti-boredom syrup?” He reached over and pulled out a nearly full pint of rye from the glove compartment. He took a long drag; then I wiped the bottle and took a big gulp.

 

В В В В В Either that rye was damn good stuff, or it was the raisin wine and the fact I hadn't eaten a decent meal in a long time, but I was nicely high and mighty when we pulled up in front of a ritzy apartment house on East 62d Street. We took another drink while the doorman pretended he didn't see us; then we shook hands and wished each other a Happy New Year's and I floated down the street.

 

     For a moment I was almost going to brace the guy for a buck, but I can never get that drunk. Only a buck would have been a big help. I mean all I wanted was a few beers to sort of bring the new year in—all that sentimental crap—but I was in a sentimental mood. I had a few people I could call, but at a dime a call that would slice my eighty cents to hell.

 

     I reached 55th Street and was thinking how empty and cold Madison Avenue seemed, when it began to rain a little. That lousy rain tore it. I cut over to Broadway fast—to be near people. The rain hitting my face was as cold and damp as my shack, made me want to scream. I felt chilled to the bone.

 

     Dropping into a drugstore, I had a cup of coffee and felt better, even though the bastards charged me twenty cents. I sat in a phone booth and decided I'd better stop acting like a one-man jerk—I didn't have enough money to be alone. I dialed Marion, almost hoping there wouldn't be any answer.

 

     “Hell-ooo?” Her voice sounded as spirited as ever. “Marion, this is Marsh. Marsh Jameson.” I tried to sound cheerful. “Merely called to wish you all of the best.”

 

     “Marsh, boy! When did you get into town?”

 

     “Little while ago. Friend drove me in.”

 

     “How's the work coming?”

 

     “Slower than I expected, but I'm getting on,” I lied.

 

     “Dear boy, I'm going to a party at the Martins—you know Robb and Ida Martins? Maybe you don't. He's a writer, knocks off these terrible western stories, cowboy drivel, isn't that zany? Makes scads of coin at it, too. He's giving a shindig where you're supposed to come as a cowhand, or an Indian, or something silly like that. I'm going with a young chap named Tony, a...”

 

     “One of your bitter young men?” I asked, and the words sounded as phony as Marion Kimball, as I said them.

 

     “Of course, darling. He's even more bitter than you were —lost several toes in Korea. Oh, much more bitter than you,” Marion said, mocking me. Marion who'd been my mother, my mistress, and a real friend. “Point is, why not join us at my place in about—anytime you wish before eleven? You'll have a good time.”

 

     “Well... sure I won't be in the way?”

 

     “Nonsense, I'll be the belle of the ball, falling in with two men. Look, if you come around nine, I'm cooking a turkey, and you remember my pies...”

 

     “Sure, the career woman who showed them she could cook, too.”

 

     “Marsh, you're such an angry slob I love you. I have an extra Indian hat, lot of feathers... Coming up?”

 

     “Well... I was supposed to call a... Look, if I'm not there by ten, don't wait. And Happy New Year, Marion dear.”

 

     “Same to you, Marsh darling, and do come over. Need any money?”

 

     “I'm loaded. See you.”

 

В В В В В I hung up. It was batty; I liked Marion, I was hungry and broke, ten minutes before I was thinking of putting the bite on a stranger, yet I knew my clumsy pride was going to make me turn her down.

 

     I called Sid Spears, who owned the shack I was living in. He gave me the, “Marshal! Great to hear your voice. How you making out, finished anything yet?”

 

     “Almost. I...”

 

     “Kiddy, we're having open house tonight. Drop in any time after ten, all the drinks you can blot up. If you want to spend the night here... Hell, there's the doorbell and Laura is soaking her fat can in the tub. Drop in. Okay, kiddy?”

 

В В В В В I said maybe and hung up. Sid was a swell guy but some day I'd clip him when he gave me that kiddy routine once too often.

 

В В В В В I walked toward Broadway with forty cents in my kick. I had two parties to take in and knew I wasn't going to either. I didn't know why, merely that I wasn't going. I'd have a few beers and hang around Broadway till morning, take the subway to Flushing, hit the highway and try to thumb a ride back to Sandyhook.

 

В В В В В Only I couldn't take this damn rain.

 

     To be honest, rain scares me, always did since the time I played football. You can get hurt—unexpectedly and badly hurt—on a slippery, muddy field.

 

В В В В В I passed a theatre; people were lined up waiting to get in. Wondering what show could pull in a crowd on New Year's Eve, I stopped. It was some radio quiz program called TAX-FREE!

 

     The last person on line was a mild-looking old man. “How does one get tickets for this show?” I asked him.

 

     “Get in line. Take in the first thousand people. But you don't have to worry, line's small tonight.”

 

     I stood behind him and felt better—I was no longer wandering around, I was now doing something; even if it was something dumb, it would be a way of killing a few hours, getting out of the rain, away from the cold.

 

     We moved up slowly and the old man said, “My wife bawled me out for coming tonight. This is the third time. Maybe I'll be called, though, I figured it would be a short line.”

 

     “Called for what?”

 

     He lifted his bushy eyebrows as he turned to glance at me. It was a neat movement and I should have tried a quick sketch of him. “Called as one of the contestants, get a chance at the prize money. You see they're supposed— or that's what they say—to pick every fiftieth person. But they don't.”

 

     “Oh. They don't?” I asked to make conversation, maybe see those eyebrows go into action again. The soles of my shoes were those rubber things you buy in the five and dime and cement on yourself, only mine were so worn I could feel the wetness of the sidewalk. As the saying goes, I was truly beat to my socks.

 

     “All a matter of advertising,” the old man said indignantly. “Let me tell you, advertising is ruining the moral fiber of our country. Why from the ads in the subway you'd think holding up women's breasts and under-arm odor were the only and greatest American industries. The impression foreigners must have of our country.”

 

     “I understand their impression isn't any too good, even without the bra ads. This show sponsored by a bra company?”

 

     “No, no, a soap company. Merely using bras to illustrate the power of advertising. As we go in, they'll ask where you come from, and your occupation. If you come from a small town, or have an unusual job, why they pick you, whether you're the fiftieth person or not. I'm a retired school teacher, nothing sensational. But if I were a cop or a soldier, or wearing a funny suit, or said I came from Alaska, they'd pick me.”

 

     “What happens if you're picked, get a box of soap?”

 

     The old man worked his eyebrows again as he gave me an annoyed look. “You get a chance to answer the four questions, and a hundred dollars for every right answer, tax-free. The two couples making the most money get a chance at the jackpot question. And the money balloon.”

 

     “Sounds exciting,” I said, tired of talking to him. The coffee had worn off and I was getting high again. All I wanted to do was sit down and get out of the cold.

 

     We finally made the doorway where two handsome men with practiced smiles gave each one a fast handshake, asked, “Where are you from, sir? What's your occupation?”

 

     They merely shook hands with the old guy, but when I said, “I'm a sculptor from Sandyhook,” I thought they would faint with happiness as they pumped my hand, shouted, “Congratulations! You are the 400th person to enter the theatre! Go up to the stage, sir, for a chance at TAX-FREE DOLLARS!”

 

     “Me?”

 

     “Are you a sailor?” one of the characters asked me. “What makes you think I'm a sailor?”

 

     “Sandy Hook is...”

 

     “Sorry, I'm from Sandyhook, L. I., not out in the bay. If that....”

 

     “Perfectly all right, sir. Just follow the usher.”

 

     I saw the old man give me a sour glance as I followed a trim usher down a side aisle, and backstage into a sort of office. Seven other people were sitting around, looking a bit foolish and nervous. A big jerk, with a round, smooth-shaven face and the voice and manners of a supersalesman, grabbed my hand, said, “I'm Hal Lyons, the master of ceremonies. Your name, sir?”

 

     As I gave him my name and address, a hard-faced blonde took it down. In one corner, another overpainted chick was busy typing up some cards. When I said I was a sculptor, this Lyons boomed, “Well sir, that's just fine, Mr. Jameson. Never had a sculptor on the program before, have to look through my gag file. You don't have feet of clay, do you? Ha-ha!”

 

     “You'd better start looking through your file.”

 

     “Let me crack the yaks. Now, Mr. Jameson, we'll have about twenty minutes before air time. Of course, on the air, we must be careful of our language, mustn't we?” He sniffed my breath as he added, “Especially on New Year's Eve.”

 

     “If you mean have I had a few...”

 

     “Yes, we all bend it a little tonight. Of course I have to wait till the show's over before I start. I suppose you know the rules. You'll be teamed with a partner, asked four questions. You both will receive a hundred dollars for every question you answer correctly. The couples winning the most money then try for the big question, worth $2,000, and a chance at the money balloon. Now....”

 

     “What is this money balloon?”

 

     “Mr.... eh... Jameson, haven't you ever listened to TAX-FREE before?”

 

     “My radio's busted.”

 

     “I see,” he said, as though I'd slapped him. “A dart is placed before each of the final contestants, and if they think they have an answer to the jackpot question, they try to break the balloon with the dart. There's a bill inside the balloon. However, time is flying and our accountant wants to ask you a few questions—in case you win, we must know what Uncle Sam's bite is. Joe—come here and get this... Mr. Jameson.”

 

     A bald fellow, with a narrow, bony face and tired eyes, came over and “got me” by grunting a couple questions as to my income, was I married, any dependents? was writing this down, I glanced at the other people and I saw this girl staring at me—really staring.

 

В В В В В I stared back.

 

     She had a lanky figure, so slender she seemed taller that she actually was, with fair legs, and a bosom too large for the rest of her. But her face was wonderful—strong but soft lines, very black hair cut in bangs, odd slant-shaped eyes that gave her an exotic look, an average nose— and when she smiled at me, a great big warm mouth. Warmth was the key to her whole face, a most friendly warmth.

 

В В В В В I smiled back at her, wondering what it was all about.

 

     The accountant was saying, “Let me see, Mr. Jameson, your partner is... yes, Mrs. Elma Morse,” and then he took me over and introduced me to this beautiful girl— and I don't mean beauty in the mere physical sense.

 

     When he left us, she said, “I hope my staring didn't embarrass you, Mr. Jameson, but I knew you were going to be my partner. Marshal Jameson—odd name.”

 

     “Ole Kentucky boy.”

 

     “No drawl?”

 

     “Lost that somewhere along the line.”

 

     “Well,” she said, moving over on the bench so I could sit beside her, “I was looking you over. What sort of a freak are you? I'm a record librarian.” Her voice went with the face—hot and frank.

 

     “Told them I was a sculptor. I'm trying to be one.”

 

     “Not bad, you should do fine on any art questions, and I can handle music. You smart? I could use the money.”

 

     “So could I. Afraid I'm not clever.”

 

     She smiled again and I wanted to touch her face. I said, “Stop that.”

 

     “Stop what?”

 

     “Grinning. It gets me....”

 

В В В В В The smile fled and she looked more like a frightened kid. I figured her for twenty-three, maybe twenty-five at most.

 

     “Sorry,” she said. “I wasn't making fun of you, or anything. It seemed funny, two strangers meeting and trying to pick the other's brains, in hope of a quick buck.”

 

     “Yeah, big way to spend New Year's Eve.”

 

     “Anyway, that's why I was smiling. I didn't mean to...”

 

     “Mrs. Morse—Elma, you have an exciting smile, as you damn well must know. What you don't know is... I haven't been... eh... around a woman for many months. So don't tease me with that smile.”

 

     “You drunk?”

 

     “Been trying to get that way, but without success.”

 

     “These 'many months'... sound as though you've been in jail.”

 

     “Might call it that. I've been living in a shack out on Long Island, trying to work. With no heat, light, money, or women.”

 

     “Oh, stop talking about women as though we were a stick of furniture. Never met a real starving artist—thought they went out with bootleg gin and the Charleston. Did your work turn out all right?”

 

     “Don't be funny, because you're not!”

 

     “I won't be anything.” She lit a cigarette, turned away from me—her movements so graceful I wanted to cry. I mean—well, you know; see a girl on the street, on the screen, or even a picture in a magazine, and there's something about her that sets your body chemistry bubbling; maybe she doesn't affect any other man that way, but for you, she's a stick of red-hot sexy dynamite. That's what this Elma was doing to me. She was so damn lovely and this was New Year's Eve, and here we'd been accidentally thrown together.... Only I wasn't going to do any chump act—in a few minutes it would be over, and she'd be back with her lucky husband, who was probably sitting out in the audience like a proud poppa. I was all steam on the inside, but I was playing it cool—I had to.

 

     All the time I'd been at Sandyhook, trying to work, trying most of the time to keep warm, I hadn't thought much about sex. I had a good plaster anatomical female figure I kept studying and handling, but looking at female muscles isn't exactly a passion arouser. Also, not eating regularly is far more effective than saltpeter. There were a few girls around Sandyhook in the winter—the plump daughter of the local storekeeper, the tall wife of the guy who rented boats. Sometimes Tony and Alice Alvins, my neighbors, had some girls down for a week-end... but I didn't have the energy or the money for those kinds of campaigns.

 

     There was a tavern on the outskirts of Sandyhook that served shore dinners and was empty most of the winter. Sometimes I went to hell with myself and dropped in for a beer, watched television. There was a bloated old woman of about sixty, with terrible make-up and bright blonde dyed hair... who suffered from the illusion she was still twenty. She wore an expensive mink like it was a rag, was a Mrs. M. Something or other... but loved to be called Margie. She had a station wagon, lived in a big house near the sea, and had a husband, some place. Marge was always high and would breeze into the joint and sing in a clear voice, “Hold that tiger...” and give everybody her young girl's smile with her wrinkled mouth.

 

     I don't know if she was crazy or what, but every few minutes she would hum or sing out, “Hold that tiger...” as though it was very witty. Marge was popular with the barflies. She'd set up the house a couple of times during a night. Several times Marge not only gave me the eye, but gave me a whispered version of “Hold that tiger...” but I wasn't having any of that. Maybe I wasn't hungry enough, or I'd get to wondering if Marion would end up like this unhappy old woman, and it would give me the shivers.

 

     Elma asked, “Do they let us pick our subject?”

 

     “I don't know. I ducked in here to get out of the rain.”

 

     She looked at me for a second, her eyes warm and clear, then she laughed, throaty, thick laughter that hit me like a drink. “That's as good a reason as any. In fact, it's even better than if a person had a reason to come here.”

 

     I didn't try to understand that. I packed my pipe and dug into my pockets for a match. She held out a cheap lighter; I thanked her and she said, “Come on, don't look so glum. We have to be partners, whether we like it or not.”

 

     I wanted to say, “Honey, I couldn't be angry with you if I had to,” but didn't want to sound like a jerk on the make. I simply said, “Don't mind me. Hell, I'm not only glad you're my partner, I'm happy to have even seen you.”

 

     “Well, thank you,” Elma said, giving me that big-mouthed smile that made me sweat. To change the subject, I didn't want to build myself up for a big let-down. I asked “What does a record librarian do?”

 

     “Make a file of their titles, keep a catalog. Frankly, I haven't worked at it in several months. I'm... well, unemployed. Why I'm here. But I liked the job, was more fun—to me—than work. You see, I love music... modern stuff...”

 

В В В В В She kept on talking, her voice a happy sound, telling me about the old sentimental records she had, how she played them now and then just to have a pleasant cry... I studied the good curves of her cheeks, the unusual eyes, the lush, heavy lips.

 

     The typist at the end of the room stood up and gave Hal, the m.c., a stack of cards and everybody looked at their watches, as though we were about to go into battle. Not that I've ever been in battle. Hal left the room and out on the stage a band began to play and the room filled with tension as people whispered, “They've started.”

 

     Elma whispered, “The band is strictly commercial— junky.”

 

     Hal's secretary, the hard-looking blonde, suddenly rushed into the room, motioned for the first couple, like a hammy actress. The couple were so nervous they turned a sickly pale. Elma said, “Look like they're walking to their doom. We're fourth—last. Nervous?”

 

     “No. I don't expect to win. How long does this last?”

 

     “Half hour. I sure wish we win. I'm full of the great American dream—lucking up on some easy money. I need it.”

 

     “Who doesn't? But I still don't expect to win.”

 

     The first couple had hardly left the room when the next two were called. Elma giggled nervously. “Must have been a couple of dopes.”

 

     “You get a consolation prize for fluffing out?”

 

     “Everybody receives a box of soap powder.”

 

     “Exactly what I need on a rainy New Year's Eve. I'll...”

 

     The third couple left, and a few seconds later the blonde stuck her head in, curled a finger at us. Elma squeezed my hand. “Here we go—to make asses of ourselves.”

 

     As it turned out, we didn't go any place for what seemed years, but was probably about ten minutes—we just waited around in the wings. The stage was bright with light, a band in the background. At one side of the stage there was a large cardboard Uncle Sam with a cash register for a mouth. At the other end was this huge wooden dollar sign, painted a cheesy gold, with an ordinary red balloon attached to it. In the center of the stage at a platform and several mikes, Hal was putting a couple through the mill. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but the audience seemed to enjoy it.

 

В В В В В From the wings the stage looked unreal, phony to the teeth. And the audience, what the hell did they come for? Did they all hope to get a chance at the prizes? Or were they all lonely and...?

 

     Buddy-boy Hal motioned the couple offstage with, ”... So sorry, but at least you're walking out two hundred dollars richer. And who knows, you may be in the running for our grand prize and a chance at the mystery balloon. Now... for our final contestants we have Mrs. Elma Morse, a record librarian, and Mr. Marshal Jameson, a sculptor. Folks, bring them on with a great big hand.”

 

     It was the first time I'd ever received a round of applause, except on the football field, and that's different. Either I was embarrassed, or the jerks applauding us like mad seemed so awfully stupid, out of this world—anyway I got stage fright and couldn't move. Elma tugged at my hand and giggled, and I just stood there like a dope. The blonde gave me a sharp kick in the ankle which made me jump— and then I was okay.

 

     Hal escorted us to the center of the stage, ran his eyes over Elma, looked like an idiot, and gave out a corny wolf-whistle, which seemed to panic the audience. He said, “Well, now, Mrs. Morse, shame we're not on TV, you're certainly the prettiest record librarian I've ever seen. How about that, folks?” There was more clapping, some whistling. Elma stood there, face flushed, forcing a tight smile. I stared out at the rows of faces, feeling like a loon, wondering what in the hell I was doing on the stage.

 

     Hal said coyly, “Any time you want to come up and listen to my records...” and slapped himself across the face. For some reason this got the audience hysterical.

 

     When the laughter died down, Hal said, “Just gagging around, Mrs. Morse. I suppose Mr. Morse is out in the audience?”

 

     “I doubt it.”

 

     “You mean he's home listening in?”

 

     “I don't know if he's listening in, either,” Elma said calmly, face relaxed once more. “Haven't seem him for some time.”

 

     “Well, time is running out, so let's get on with the show,” Hall said quickly. “You'll have fifteen seconds to answer....”

 

В В В В В I was still so dazed that for a moment I didn't get what Elma had said. Although what good would it do me with less than two quarters to spend on New Year's Eve?

 

     “... Now,” Hal boomed, “here's an easy question— what's the finest soap for home washing? Why, of course... Liquid Bubbles!”

 

В В В В В A big, six-foot pigeon-toed girl in skin tights suddenly pushed a large box of soap into my hands, nearly knocking me over, another in Elma's. She towered so over me, the audience laughed. I wondered if there was anything the audience wouldn't laugh at.

 

     Hal was looking through several little file cards in his hand as he said, “Listen carefully to question number one. You're to pick out the nearest correct answer from several I give you. Now, for a hundred TAX-FREE dollars: How many counties in New York State? 10? SO? 100? 500? 1000?”

 

     Elma looked blank, then almost angry. I said, “I believe there are about sixty-two counties in the state.”

 

     “Correct! Right on the nose for Mr. Jameson, the sculptor! You have a hundred dollars and Uncle Sam receives...”

 

     He pointed to the register in the cardboard Uncle Sam's mouth, which rang up $21 in taxes. I snapped out of my daze —I now had fifty bucks, could eat—even ask Elma to join me—make a night of it.

 

     Hal held up a fat hand for silence. “For another hundred TAX-FREE dollars: Which of the earth's continents has the highest waterfalls in the world?”

 

     “Niagara...” Elma began. I nudged her, said, “Venezuela—South America.”

 

     “On the nose again, Mr. Jameson!” Hal roared as the audience clapped like mad. “Yes, sir, there is a waterfall in Venezuela that is over 3,000 feet high, while our own Niagara is only a puny 169 feet,” Hal read from one of the cards.

 

     Elma whispered, “Aren't you the quiz kid! My God, two hundred bucks. And he's sore at me, giving us the hard ones so....”

 

     “All right now,” Hal said, after Uncle Sam registered more tax money. “Quiet, please. For another hundred TAX-FREE bucks, let's go. In what states is the largest reservoir in the U. S. A.? I mean largest in terms of water supply?”

 

     “Arizona and Nevada,” I said promptly, as Hal shouted correct again and the audience cheered. I felt a little drunk —I had a hundred and fifty dollars, a fortune.

 

     Hal said, “Mr. Jameson, you have a unique knowledge of little known facts. May I ask how you know these things, sir?”

 

     “Sure. I've been living in a shack in the country all winter. There was last year's World Almanac and... that was about all I had to read.” There was a moment of silence and then this “clever” line brought the house down, Hal's inane laughter beating against my ears till they hurt. Elma was staring at me, amazement in her eyes.

 

     Hal waved his hands again for silence. “Mr. Jameson, because you've been so quick at answering, and because you've really run into some hard questions, I'll give you a break. For your last question, you can tell me the name of the reservoir, or I'll give you a new...”

 

     “It's Lake Mead, but it may also be called Hoover Reservoir,” I said, like a kid reciting homework.

 

     “Lake Mead is good enough! You have four hundred TAX-FREE dollars. Now, if you'll kindly sit at the table —along with the other couple—in a few seconds you'll get a chance at the grand prize and the money balloon. But first a word about Liquid Bubbles...”

 

     At another mike three girls sang of the wonders of Liquid Bubbles, as the amazon who'd nearly floored me with the box of soap took us over to the table. We sat down and Elma said, “You're simply terrific. Was that really true, about having nothing to read but the Almanac?”

 

     “Yeah. See, in order to get the shack heated, I had to stuff the door cracks and windows with paper. What I mean is, once I got set, I wouldn't go out to get a paper or anything, because if I opened the door, damn shack would be like an icebox for the rest of the day.”

 

     “That sounds so...”

 

     Hal came over, carrying a hand mike. “Ladies and gentlemen, you each have a dart in front of you. I shall read a line of poetry, give you one hint, and then you will have exactly ten seconds to tell me the name of the author. Now, if you think you know the answer, before you tell me, try to hit the money balloon with your dart. If you hit the balloon and if you have the correct answer, you will receive the bonus bill, but whether you hit it or not, if you have the right answer, you will receive the big $2,000 TAX-FREE prize.

 

     “Quiet in the audience please, I can only say the line once. And please, no help from the audience. Ready? What famous Irish writer penned these words:

 

     “'Each great passion is the fruit of many fruitless years'?”

 

     The stage was full of an unreal, heavy silence. A clock was ticking off the seconds loudly. When four seconds had passed, I was about to take a chance and say, “Shaw,” when Elma grabbed her dart and threw it with one neat and clean motion. There was a mild pop as the balloon disappeared and a fifty-dollar bill sailed through the air in lazy circles, finally glided to the floor. A kind of dull roar from the audience and Hal held up his hand, as though directing traffic, said, “Wait a minute, Mrs. Morse, what's your answer?”

 

     “George Moore!” Elma said, trying to keep her voice even.

 

     Hal's booming “Correct!” hit me like a wallop in the gut. I opened my mouth like a jerk and gasped for air. For Christsakes, I had over a thousand bucks! I never had that much dough at one time in my whole life. At the moment I didn't believe it. I didn't even believe I was on the stage, although over the noise of the audience I could hear that awful bass-drum voice of Hal's saying, “You and your partner have won a grand total of two thousand, four hundred and fifty TAX-FREE dollars!”

 

     Vaguely, in dream fashion, I knew Elma was shaking my hand, and maybe I was pressing hers. The big girl in the skin tights came over and handed Elma a bunch of roses—I remember the delicate light-red color. The main thing was the noise—there were all sorts of noises in the air. I guess we were off the air, for Hal called over the accountant and he gave each of us a statement about the tax being paid, asked, “Shall I give you a certified check?”

 

     “Hell no, cash,” I said. In my mind I was already ploughing through a steak.

 

     “Lot of money to carry around on a New Year's Eve....”

 

     “We're a big boy and girl, we'll take the cash,” Elma said.

 

     There was a lot more talk and people milling around us, asking questions—for publicity, I suppose; then Hal handed me a thin pile of twenty-four 100-dollar bills, and a fifty. I turned and gave Elma a dozen of the bills, said, “I don't have change for the fifty.” And I almost burst out laughing because I didn't have change for fifty cents, much less fifty bucks. “Neither have I.”

 

     “You take it,” I said. “You won the folding money.”

 

     “Nonsense, if you hadn't answered those other questions....”

 

     I took her arm. “Look, Miss Newly-Rich, I'm a little dizzy in here, let's blow.”

 

     “Take the loot and run,” Elma said.

 

В В В В В I elbowed my way out of the crowd, Elma following me. Hal was yelling about pictures, but we reached the stage door and came out on the street. It was still raining.

 

     We stood there and she said, “Well, thanks for....”

 

     “No.”

 

     “No?”

 

     “Look, it's New Year's Eve and... well, back there you said... your husband....”

 

     “We've been separated for several months.”

 

     “Elma, let's blow the fifty, have a big evening?”

 

     “Well—okay, Marshal, only I don't drink much and... God yes, I've been cooped up for a lot of dreary weeks. Let's go.”

 

     I hailed a cab and as we stepped in she said, “Let's get rid of these goddamn boxes of soap.”

 

     “Just a couple of ingrates,” I said, as we left the boxes on the curb.

 

     I told the cabbie to cruise around and he said, “Have a heart, Mac, not on a rainy New Year's Eve. That real soap in them boxes?”

 

     I nodded and he got out and picked up the boxes, said, “The wife can use this. Made up your minds yet?”

 

     I asked Elma if she was hungry and she said yes, so I told the cabbie to drive to a steak house on 33d Street. I grinned at Elma, “God bless America—we're rich.”

 

     “Yes, the 500-to-l shot came in and the hell with the other 499 losers. Marshal, you amaze me: a character who reads the Almanac like it was a novel should be... a dull, mechanical sort. And you're just the opposite.”

 

     “I was reading it because I was bored with myself. How did you know that George Moore line?”

 

     She shrugged. “Stayed in my mind. First because I thought the fruitless years would be a good theme for a song lyric. Then, because it's so true. Our values are all based on comparison, and if you go along on a pretty even level, you never will know great passion, great love or great sorrow.”

 

     “Yeah, but isn't that learning it the hard way?”

 

     “Lately I've found you don't learn anything the easy way. Like tonight, because both of us are down on our luck, the money we have seems like a million dollars to us. A rich slob wouldn't be excited about winning a...”

 

     The cabbie double-parked, said, “Here ya are.”

 

     The meter said we owed him 70 cents, and when I gave him the fifty-dollar bill, he said, “Mac, you must have been celebrating since yesterday. I ain't got change for no green this long.”

 

     “I'll see if I can get change in the restaurant,” I said, embarrassed. “Don't have anything smaller.”

 

     Elma took a dollar out of her bag, handed it to him. As we went into the restaurant, I said, “I'll pay you, soon as I change....”

 

     “Stop it, Marsh, stop acting like we're still poor people. We're a pair of the most highly paid people in the world— over two thousand dollars for less than ten minutes work,” she said, teasing me.

 

     It was about nine-thirty and the place was pretty empty. We took a corner booth and ordered cocktails and two thick steaks with all the trimmings. Now that the excitement was over—or just beginning—I looked at Elma more closely. Her blue suit, the gray blouse, the cloth coat trimmed with some sort of cheap fur—all seemed well kept; the way a person with only a few clothes takes care of her things.

 

     Her face was far from pretty, in the classical sense, but then what the hell is classical beauty? Her features might even be called sloppy, the odd slanted eyes, and the contrasting overlarge mouth. But the soft lines were interesting, and whatever makes for warmth and intelligence in a face was there—lots of it.

 

     “Okay,” she said, “I stared at you, so it's your turn.”

 

     “You have an exciting face.”

 

     “You just say that because I have money.”

 

     “As a sculptor, I say you have a wonderful face.”

 

     “Tell me about your work. I don't know a thing about statues. There you see, I'm sure there's more to sculpting than 'statues.'”

 

     “Statues is good enough. I go in for what they call objective realism. See, I'm crazy for Rodin's works, and strictly against non-objective shapery that...”

 

     “Good Lord, what's that?”

 

     “All this so-called extreme modernism—that's usually only understood by the artist himself. I'm striving for art that can be understood at once, don't go for this stuff about you-got-to-educate-the-people before they can enjoy your work. In one of Malvina Hoffman's books on art she quotes a Paul Valery who wrote:

 

 

В В В В В It depends on him who passes by

 

В В В В В Whether I'm a tomb or a treasure,

 

В В В В В Whether I speak or keep silent.

 

В В В В В This rests with you,

 

В В В В В Friend, do not enter without desire.

 

 

     “Well, I see it this way....”

 

     “I like that,” Elma said. “Sometimes a poem really gets under your skin. This does.”

 

     “And the same for art. If the average person can't tell if your work is a treasure or a tomb, then it's your fault. Before the war I was a half-ass artist, an advertising man. I went in for this symbolism, made art something mystic—and in reality only because I myself was confused. But over in Paris I met this drunken old French sculptor, and he started me on Rodin. Rodin was an honest joker—in everything he did. Know what he...”

 

     As the waiter brought our steaks, Elma said, “Honesty is the key to all things. Why I'm here with you, even back in the radio studio when you were snotty, it was a snotty kind of honesty. Say, does that make sense?”

 

     I nodded. “Everything about you makes sense. That's what I see in your face, realness... honesty. And it can't be merely skin deep. Why in 1914 when Rodin heard about the war breaking, he said, 'Oh civilization—the civilization of man! It's a bad coat of paint that comes off when it rains.' See what I mean, he was honest in all his thoughts— art was life to him. Why next to da Vinci, Rodin was one of the greatest all-around men the world has ever...”

 

В В В В В I talked and talked, even talked my steak cold. I rambled on and on as if to make up for all the months of loneliness, of not talking. I made a jerk of myself, but I had to talk myself out to her. I even told Elma about working like a dog all the previous summer to save a few bucks to last me for the winter... and how cockeyed things went.

 

     “What was supposed to happen after the winter?” she asked, pushing her plate away with a sigh.

 

     “First, I had to see if I had any ability. This was my first attempt at sculpting full time. If I can do it, I want to make small works, nothing more than a foot high, so they'll be within anybody's pocketbook range Not that size alone determines price, but for Christsakes, where could a family living in two or three rooms put a six-foot figure, even if they got it as a gift? I'll make small objects of beauty, capture the realism of nature and life in my clay, solid, yet living-in movement. I figure there will be a market among people who never had a chance before to buy anything except an insipid cupid doll, or a gaudy figurine, or one of those crummy brass horses. But I didn't get started, ran out of dough.”

 

     “Now what, little artist?”

 

     I laughed, in love with her mouth every time she talked. “Now? I been living on seven bucks a week, spent all my time trying to keep warm, something in my belly. I'd walk up and down the beach after a storm, picking up fish that had been washed ashore, waiting for me all nice and frozen....”

 

     “Nature's deep freeze.”

 

     “Yeah. Telling you this so you'll understand what a big deal winning this money is to me. It's a miracle, a fantastic gift. Now... my God! With twelve hundred bucks.... Oh man, I'll really give it a try. I'm going back to Sandyhook, get me a winter house... one with heat and light, hot water, buy a... Hey, I'm gassing too much, and all about boring me. Let's start over—where shall we go tonight?”

 

     “I don't know. I can't drink much, these three cocktails are past my limit. And I certainly can't eat any more... so... what?”

 

     “Taking in a midnight show would be a sad way of spending New Year's Eve. Know a few parties, but...” I didn't want to take Elma to any party, listen to the attempts at being oh-so-clever, the small talk... sharing her with all the people. It was hard to believe I had her alone... and we were going so fast... so fast.

 

     “I have a party we could go to,” she said. “Except I haven't seen the people for months and... I don't feel up to that.”

 

     “Tough spot, lousy with dough and no place to go. Sometimes I keep thinking this must be a dream, that I'll wake up. Elma, it's all too good—the crazy way we got the money, and all that money. And there's you—you're a little unbelievable.”

 

     “I hope that's a compliment.”

 

     “Come on, Elma, we're way past the coy stage. I've never seen anybody as beautiful as you are.” And I kept thinking, Slow down, you've only known her a few hours, slow down... don't spoil this, you can't spoil this!

 

     “Now who's being coy? You're pretty too. Not just the big shoulders, but the rugged bitterness in your face. Listen to me, and to you.... I'm not even ordinary-pretty.”

 

     “Stop it, stop fishing for compliments because I'm the guy to give them to you. Beauty is an individual thing and to me—you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen.”

 

     She studied me for a moment—those exciting slant eyes —said, “Marsh, I think you actually mean that.”

 

     “I do.”

 

     “Well it's the nicest... God, the waiter's bringing us more drinks. And who ordered the strawberry shortcake?”

 

     “We did.”

 

     “Don't think I can put it down. One thing we'll have to do is take a long walk—work some of this food off. I'm wearing a new garter belt and it's killing my... Why are you looking at me that way? I say something wrong?”

 

     “Wrong? No. What do you see on my face?”

 

     “I don't know exactly. Sort of a pained expression, or... What is it?”

 

     “Elma, we've been moving along at a fast pace these few hours we've known each other and...” I stopped. I didn't want to talk out of turn, ruin things, yet when she said garter belt I had such a vivid picture of long slim legs in sheer stockings, the flash of her bare thighs and round hips... and I wanted her so much I had to stop talking, or come right out and ask her... and we couldn't be going that fast.

 

     I tried to cover up by gulping a cocktail, mumbling, “Come on, take a drink.”

 

     “I'm high now. Marsh, what's happened, you look so strained, so...?”

 

     “Elma, stop it.”

 

     She giggled. “But what...?”

 

     The giggle tore things. I said slowly, “All right. When you said garter belt, I pictured you... Elma, I want you!”

 

     Then the words came bursting out, stumbling over my tongue. “Don't get sore, we're just going fast, awful fast. I'm not slipping you a line, the old one-two or... I didn't want to spoil things. I'm sorry.”

 

     Her face seemed a mask I couldn't understand as she said, “Why should you be sorry? It's no crime to tell somebody you want them, only...”

 

     “Only what?”

 

     “Nothing.”

 

     “What is it?”

 

     “Well we are racing along and... Are you sure it's me you want, or is it the fact you haven't seen a girl in months?”

 

     “Elma, I said this was a little unbelievable, maybe fantastic, but from the first second I saw you, your wonderful mouth, I've wanted to kiss you so very much that I... Why I had to tell you back in the studio to stop smiling, you were tearing me up. Guess I sound like a walking cliche, but this isn't any quickie deal with me. Maybe it doesn't make sense, and don't ask how I know, but I know. I'm not a kid, I've been married and divorced and... What I'm trying to say is: May sound like tripe, but I know I never want to lose you. I say that and mean it—and we've only known each other a few hundred minutes and... Okay, I've ruined things. Tell me I'm crazy, get up and walk out.”

 

     “Do you really think I'd get up and... and slap you?”

 

     “No. I don't know what to think, except I'm talking too damn much, to cover up my eagerness, my brashness. Hell of it is, I'm a shy joker. Really.”

 

     “So am I. But I hate all this stupid, silly fencing between a man and a woman. If they're going to be... real friends, I suppose it's better to start with sex than have it as the climax, the end-all, make it more important than it is in a relationship.”

 

     “Darling, I'm talking like a kid, but honestly I don't do this every night in the week, or think of you as a pushover.”

 

     She held a slim finger against my lips. “Don't say that. Neither of us is a pushover. God, how I hate those words—pushover, a lay, a piece, a boff... those horrible, horrible, ugly man-words! Always trying to make sex a dirty, unhealthy thing, a sensational mess.”

 

В В В В В I tried to kiss her finger but she pulled it away. I didn't know what to say. I only knew I'd never wanted any woman as much as I wanted her... and I'd fouled up everything.

 

     She smiled at me, said, “Don't look so troubled, Marsh. I'd like to go to bed with you... and I don't do this every night in the week, either. And I...”

 

     “Elma!”

 

     “And I don't think we have to worry about any overnight relationship, be afraid. We'll see what works out. In a way, we're starting with much in common... both of us a little lost, and I've been lonely for a long time, too. Ever since my husband....”

 

     “Instead of talking about him, let's get out of here.”

 

В В В В В Changing the fifty-buck bill, we left a big tip. Once outside, I took Elma in my arms and her lips were as wonderful as I knew they would be. She had an odd little smell to her that left me excited... this was better than the other jackpot! This was the greatest thing that ever happened to...

 

     Some dumb bastard blew a horn in our ears and we jumped and I let go of her, said, “I couldn't wait.”

 

     “Neither could I. Where shall we go?”

 

     “Have to be a hotel.”

 

     “Walls and bars do not a prison make, nor does hotel furniture make a... Don't say it.”

 

     “Elma... darling, let's go—fast!”

 

     It was still drizzling and we tried a few of the big hotels and they were full. I said, “I might call a friend and get her apartment for awhile, but that... Hope you don't mind if we go to one of the smaller hotels. They look like dives and probably are, but...”

 

     “Marsh, let's get out of the rain.”

 

В В В В В I tried to stop a cab, then we walked down Broadway and on one of the side streets we stopped at one of the old hotels, now looking a little crummy and run down. We got a room with a bath and I registered as Mr. and Mrs. Marshal Jameson of Sandyhook. I started to give the clerk a story about being in town for the night, to explain our lack of bags, but he looked bored so I gave it up.

 

     The room wasn't bad, large, and the furniture solid and old and homy, and only a faint smell of insecticide. Elma still had her roses and she put them in the water-pitcher on the dresser, said, “Take the edge off the frowziness.” Taking off her coat, she held up her pocketbook, asked, “Where shall we put our money? I keep mine under the pillow.”

 

     “Good a place as any,” I said, and placed my dozen 100-dollar bills under one of the pillows, on top of hers, as though it was something I did every night. She went to the bathroom and when she came out, I went in and washed up, and as I came out, Elma was waiting for me at the door. “Marsh, this is about the best way of starting a new year, isn't it?”

 

В В В В В I covered her face with kisses and then we began undressing each other, and her hands were two delightful, racing, living things.

 

     Pulling my T-shirt off, she patted my guts, said softly, “Ah, you're lean and hard—the way I thought you'd be.”

 

     When I unhooked her bra, her breasts were surprisingly large and heavy, and when I kissed the hard red nipples I began to cry. I don't know why—it was all so perfect. She finished removing her things as I stood there and sobbed.

 

     When she was nude, I let my hands run over her body, said through my tears, “Darling, I can't help it, you're so beautiful... like a dream.”

 

В В В В В She laughed, low laughter, her voice a warm breeze.

 

     “Too many couch dreams these days—the highest compliment a man can pay a woman... I think.”

 

     “Elma, Elma, you look so... so...”

 

     “Don't say 'innocent,'“ she whispered, those lush lips moving against my cheek and ear. “Man only says that because he thinks he's about to dirty up a woman, to...”

 

     I crushed her to me, her skin a delightfully cool smoothness. She said, “Oh darling... easy... easy.”

 

     The racket in the streets woke us at midnight. We kissed and dutifully wished each other a happy, happy New Year. I was truly at peace with the world: Elma beside me, money under my pillow.... I was fully enjoying that most intimate and delicious of all private little worlds—lovers in bed.

 

     I awoke later and in the dim light I saw her staring up at the ceiling, her eyes wet. I touched her breasts, whispered, “Elma, I... didn't use.... Have to be more careful from now on.”

 

     “You don't have to worry,” she said gently. “Your wet-dream girl comes complete—I'm four months pregnant.”

 

 

     For a minute the whole room was dead with shocked silence, then Elma began to cry—sullen, fierce, whispered sobs that hit me like dull punches.

 

     I tried to kiss away her tears, tasting the bitter salt. I kept repeating, “Please, honey, stop crying... stop crying. It doesn't matter...”

 

     “Should have told you before but... this was all so fast. I was fed up with things, and worry. You must think I've tricked you.”

 

     “Elma, stop it. Get some sleep.”

 

     “Now you feel sorry for me and...”

 

     “Sure, I feel sorry as all hell. So what? Maybe that's a part of what we call love. Half the time I feel sorry for myself. But don't cry and don't worry. Tomorrow we'll straighten things out.”

 

     “It isn't that simple.”

 

     “Anything is simple when you have money. You'll get a divorce, we'll get married.”

 

     “Marsh, because... You don't have to marry me.”

 

     “I know I don't have to, but I want to marry you. Tomorrow we'll...”

 

     “He wants the baby. I won't give it up. I won't!”

 

     I tried to cover her mouth with a kiss, held her tenderly. “Sleep. Tomorrow, honey. Tomorrow we'll think it out, the two of us. I promise you this—nobody will take the baby away.”

 

     “That's all I've been thinking about, losing the baby. Driving me half crazy that...”

 

     “Tomorrow, Elma. Please try to sleep.”

 

В В В В В And she did fall asleep in my arms and I lay there, staring at the darkness of this strange room, a bit surprised I didn't feel anything at all about the baby. Didn't feel especially happy or sad or trapped... I took it all for granted. It was truly a big New Year for me!

 

В В В В В I reached across Elma to the bed table, lit one of her cigarettes, watching the smoke vanish in the darkness.

 

В В В В В A baby!

 

В В В В В A Baby.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

     FOR SOME STUPID REASON I thought of my ex-wife, Mary Jane. Her bright blonde hair making her face all the more shallow looking, wearing that worn houserobe she lived in, asking me, “But Marsh, why don't we have a baby? Is it my fault?”

 

     “Nobody is to blame. We can't afford a kid anyway.”

 

     “I'd simply die if I thought I was barren. Marsh, you're not fooling me, using something I don't know about?”

 

     “Look, I don't do this alone, you know I'm not using anything. We just aren't having any. It isn't like ordering a pound of meat in a store.”

 

     She'd start crying, the creepy way she had of bawling. “Now Marsh, don't you talk rough to me.”

 

     Of course from the start I'd known marrying Mary Jane was a mistake. And I was using something—I'd read up about this wave-rhythm control and our relations were very mathematical, I was always counting from her last period to the square root of the next, or something. A baby.

 

     I remembered my mother on her knees, moaning, “My baby, my baby,” and all of us standing around the drafty bedroom, staring at the dead baby on the iron cot. Us five kids, some of us full of youth's indifference to tragedy. My old man was there in his old, patched winter underwear, wailing. I got my older brother alone in the next room, asked, “What's he bawling about? Got more kids than he can feed now. Knocking them out like rabbits in...*

 

В В В В В He smacked me across the face. He was eighteen. I had just turned thirteen, stunted, but already muscular and with big shoulders from shoveling manure in the fertilizing plant every day after school.

 

     We were having a hell of a fight when my old man came out, cursed us. “This a time to fight? Stop it or I'll break both your necks.”

 

     I looked at his thin body—even winter underwear hung on him—and I thought I could break his neck with no trouble if it ever came down to neck-breaking. He was under forty, should have been at his peak, but he'd put in over twenty-five years in the mill.

 

     I had childish ideas about age then. Mom was thirty-three, a faded, skinny woman with sparse hair a mixture of sandy-blonde (like mine) and gray. To me she was an old woman. But one afternoon I was doing an errand and saw this big car draw up and this beautiful woman get out. She was something, all straight and slim, lovely red hair, and of course well dressed. Some kid said, “Know who that doll is, wife of one of the mill owners. The fat guy.”

 

     The “fat guy” was a big man, over six feet tall, and almost as wide around the belly. But an old man. I stared at this pretty girl, asked, “What'd he do, rob the cradle? She isn't over eighteen.”

 

     “Listen to you—eighteen! Don't be dumb, she's going on thirty-seven.”

 

     “Thirty-seven—you're balmy.”

 

     “I know. I was working at the newspaper last month when she had herself a fancy birthday party, and there was talk about giving her age or not.”

 

В В В В В And Mom was younger than her and looked like the girl's mother!

 

В В В В В See, not knowing any better, I didn't mind the shack we lived in, the row on row of company shacks in the company street, the company store. Despite the poverty around us, we kids had fun. But now I realized what the mill did to you, what it had taken out of Mom. I made up my mind to escape before I started looking as old as Pop.

 

     Mom and Pop are still down there, still working—taking it. Never even think of asking out. They're caught too firmly.

 

В В В В В I was the first kid in our family to graduate public school. My older brothers were against any more school, but I was too small and young-looking to work in the mill. It was agreed I might try one term in high school. Although small, I was the strongest kid in town, and when the gym teacher saw me in shorts, he told me to try out for the football team.

 

     There was only one subject of conversation on the football squad—one common prayer—each one hoped a scout would see them, give them an athletic scholarship to a college... where a pro scout might see them. Football didn't mean a thing to me till then. A scholarship would be my passport out of town, from the mill... when that idea bedded down between my ears I decided I'd become the best football player in school.

 

В В В В В I lived and slept football. Because of my size I had to rely on speed, so I began to run. I'd run everywhere I went. Soon I had speed and because of my overlarge shoulders I could give a guy a hell of a jolt when I tackled him. I got bounced around plenty myself, but I was light on my feet, and in high school there wasn't too much difference in weight.

 

В В В В В Our school was very small. Mill people made up the bulk of the town, but very few mill kids went to high school. Our coach was an ambitious ex-college player named Buster Lucas. He coached all the teams from football to tennis, taught gym, too. His ambition was a break for me. Also he was a second cousin to the owner of the biggest restaurant in town.

 

     Working after school, playing football, was killing me. Mom said something about giving up this “football foolishness.” I went to Buster, told him, “Coach, I can't keep up three things at once; working, playing ball, and going to school. I was thinking of your cousin. For the sake of the school, he might give me an after-school job. Something not too tiring and paying ten a week.”

 

     “Doubt if he'd go for that,” Buster said, studying me.

 

     It was just before practice and I began to take off my football togs—slowly. “My folks need the dough, so I can't give up shoveling fertilizer. Can't keep burning myself out, either, so....”

 

     “This is a hell of a time to talk like that—middle of our season.”

 

     “Your season. Hear your cousin is a big sport, always betting on the team. Now he must make more than ten bucks a week on bets alone.”

 

     “Okay, I'll talk to him,” Buster told me.

 

В В В В В The job was ideal. Each evening, from six to nine, and half a day Sunday, I slipped on a white jacket, kept the water glasses on the tables filled. I picked up a few cents in tips. Best of all, I ate like a pig in the kitchen, stuffed myself with good food, plenty of meat.

 

     By the time I was seventeen, I was still a runt but weighed 165 pounds, had walking beam shoulders that made me look even shorter than I was, and legs like tree trunks. There were write-ups in the paper about me, about the team winning the state title—which really didn't mean much in Kentucky. But it all helped the tips I pulled down in the restaurant.

 

В В В В В In my senior year, Buster got a Dayton high-school job. I had scholarship feelers from two big southern schools, and a half dozen small, Midwestern colleges. When the team went up to Cincinnati, across the Ohio River, for a radio interview, I hitched my way on up to Dayton, told Buster about the offers.

 

     He said, 'Marsh, you're too small to ever be a real football player. You got to have beef in this game. I was you, I'd forget college ball.”

 

     “I didn't come to ask you that. Football has kept me out of the mill, now it will put me on a college gravy train, get me the hell out of that hick burg.”

 

     Buster shrugged. “You've always been a cocky little bastard. Okay, but watch out you don't get hurt. College ball will be a lot different. Tell you, Marsh, take a small college. Grind won't be so rugged there.

 

     It was a little school in Indiana that was out to build a stadium, make money. I got fifty bucks a month plus room and board for emptying the gym trash basket—often it would need emptying every month. I made another fifty waiting on table. I liked college. I not only had the prestige of being a “football man,” but more important I found out all the sketching I'd done as a kid wasn't outright junk. I decided to study advertising art, which was supposed to be a big money deal.

 

     Buster was right about football—I was playing against bruisers averaging 210 pounds and I still couldn't tip the scales above 166. I was light and fast on my feet, still bounced around like a ball—only sometimes after a game I had to stay in bed all day. After the freshman year, I got the regular sub berth at left end. During the summer I wangled a scholarship at the Chicago Art Institute, and a job at a children's day camp that kept me in food.

 

     I was finishing my soph year when they pulled the props from under me. We were playing a big university—a game we couldn't possibly win—but the university had a large stadium and “our” cut of the gate was big dough. They put me in the second quarter and I picked up yardage in two plays. We had one of these hidden ball deals where I ran to the right sideline, made like a bunny down the field, and cut in to receive the pigskin. Our back could rifle the ball like a bullet. As I cut in, I put my hands up in the air and the ball was there—as I knew it would be. Tucking the leather under my arm, I started making tracks. I was twenty yards from their goal and only a safety man ahead of me.

 

В В В В В A week later, when I was still in the hospital, the coach showed me movies of the game. A brace of giants who ran like they were jet propelled got me from the rear. Some 437 pounds of brawn gave me a brain concussion, along with minor bruises.

 

     I snapped out of the concussion without being paralyzed, but the docs warned me to be careful—mustn't fall or trip, watch myself going downstairs—“a misstep can give you an awful jar.” Any sudden fall, I could end up blind, or dead. They gave me a long lecture about staying out of fights and football games for the next few years—a clout on the jaw could leave me bedridden, if it didn't kill me. I finished out the term and in a way I was even a sort of campus hero... but of course my athletic scholarship wasn't renewed.

 

     I hit New York with some good clothes, not many, but what I had was, and looked, expensive, and a little over a hundred bucks in my kick. I was twenty and confident I'd set the advertising world on its bottom. I got a cheap room on the outskirts of the village, practiced hard to get rid of my drawl, and anything that would make me sound like a hick. To be a “hick” seemed to my childish mind to be the greatest of horrors, and calling me a “hill-billy” was fighting words.

 

В В В В В I was in love with New York. Broadway fascinated me, Fifth Avenue amazed me, Central Park was lovely country, and Coney Island the place for a mad night. I liked watching the smartly dressed women on the streets, the shops; the tension of many people in the air. I even enjoyed the constant rush, the great wasted energy of a city.

 

     The phony, fairy atmosphere of the Village interested me, with the would-be “Bohemian” bars, the comic jokers who roamed the streets trying overhard to be characters. It was 1939 and I soon realized the Greenwich Village I'd read so much about had vanished a dozen years before.

 

В В В В В Dressing my sharpest, I began making the rounds of the agencies with my sketches, then rushing back to my room to hang up my good shirt and change to an old one. But the ad business was glutted with eager kids like myself. Although I lived as cheaply as I could, my money didn't last three weeks. I found a job as a waiter in a large coffee pot, and on my off days still made the rounds of the agencies, getting a little punchy from the polite doors slammed in my face.

 

     I hit this small agency one afternoon, one of these compact outfits with a few good accounts. The boss was a shorty like me, but gone soft and fat. His name was Barrett. His assistant was Marion Kimball and she was in the process of giving me the brush-off, the usual line about ”... although your work shows definite talent, at the moment we do not have any openings...” when she suddenly reached across the desk and felt of my arms. It was a muggy day and I only had on a thin sport shirt. Due to not eating regularly I was in fair shape. She said, “My God, real midget muscle man, aren't you? Stick around for a second.”

 

     She called Barrett on the office phone. He came in and looked me over like he was a queer. Turning to Kimball he grunted, “He's the man.” Then he favored me with a grunt. “Thirty a week. Okay, son?”

 

     “Yes, sir!” I said, my heart pounding. Thirty was low, even for a starter, but that didn't matter... I actually had a job as an artist!

 

     “Miss Kimball will explain your duties,” Barrett said and left us.

 

     Marion Kimball looked like she could be in her late twenties, middle thirties, or even older. She had a firm, hard figure, probably well girdled, and a shrewd and sophisticated face under a smart makeup job, and she was expensively and smartly dressed. A handsome woman, rather than pretty. She grinned and it was her teeth that told me she was older than she appeared. “Let me break this to you right, Jameson. I'll let you do some art work, whenever I can. But you're a rent collector.”

 

     “A what?”

 

     “My, my, aren't we shocked and angry.”

 

     “Well damnit, I'm an artist and...”

 

     “Get the wind back in your sails, Jameson. Take the job, artists are a nickel a dozen. Job is fairly easy. Barrett owns several houses, some of them tenements. He has a complex about being held up, and a mania about real estate agents screwing him. Also, he hasn't the time to look after the houses. You'll do that, and collect the rents. Be any trouble bonding you?”

 

     “I don't think so.”

 

     “Fine. The houses won't take up all your time, and I will try to give you some art work. Buying it?”

 

     “Yeah,” I said, disappointed as the devil.

 

В В В В В We shook hands. Kimball's hand hard and warm, almost intimate.

 

     It wasn't a bad job. I had seven houses to “take care of.” Each day I'd leave my room at about ten, start making the rounds of the houses. There were two “good” houses on West 55th Street, former brownstones that had been converted into small, expensive apartments. There were large tenements on the lower West Side, where five rooms and hot water rented for $30, and one house in Harlem where five rooms without heat or hot water rented for $40.

 

     At each house I'd chat with the janitor, pick up what rents he had, visit people who were behind and maybe send them to the relief office. I had the authority to okay small repairs, or even order a paint job. Around the first of the month I'd be busy, put in full days, but usually I was finished by one, would drop into the office and give Barrett a quick accounting—and the dough—then finish out the day behind my drawing board.

 

     I soon wised up to some of the soft dough waiting to be picked up. It was real small time, but I could average an extra ten bucks a week. Barrett probably knew about these rackets, that's why he started me at thirty. For instance, I'd tell a janitor to buy a broom and pay him when he gave me the paid receipt from the hardware store... then I'd add a new pail or a couple of pounds, of soap powder on the receipt—pocket the buck or two.

 

В В В В В As I said, it was petty scuffling.

 

В В В В В When there was an apartment to be painted, I had a choice of several painters and by dropping a hint that I was interested in a Broadway show, I'd chisel a pair of orchestra seats now and then.

 

     There were other angles that could be worked with the janitors. If a tenant moved in on the fifteenth of the month, I'd hold his rent till the first of the following month, tell Barrett he'd moved in as of the first. Then when he paid again on the fifteenth, I'd split this one “extra” rent with the janitor. As long as I remembered to make out the tenant's receipt dated the fifteenth, everything was okay. Sometimes, when I had a couple hundred bucks in rent money on me, I could even short-change Barrett out of a five spot.

 

В В В В В If you think this was a petty hustle, remember the janitors had their own angles. But it wasn't hard work, my hours were my own, and I never got tough with anybody or looked for trouble.

 

     Life moved smoothly. I moved to a room on East 37th Street, which wasn't much, but the address was “good.” I lived correctly, wore the correct brands of clothes and, by scrimping, I could even take a babe out to a correct bar now and then—vaguely mention I was “something in real estate,” or “something in advertising,” depending on what brand of bull I was dishing out. It was all a phony front, and I didn't like playing the four-flusher, but it was a way of life, and good for a few fast tumbles.

 

     Of course, after a week or so I got hep to the office set-up. Kimball was the brains of the firm—she was everything. She could write copy, lay out ads, butter up accounts when necessary. She was extremely capable and efficient. She was never off guard or relaxed, was in there pitching all the time... yet there was a sort of sensuous warmth about her I could never figure out I could feel it in the way she'd glance at me now and then, like the promise of an expensive mistress. Like the glowing of a match before it bursts into flame. It was all in contrast to her cold, super-efficiency. I never kidded around or made a pass, but I often wondered what she'd do if I pinched her ass, fire me or pinch me back.

 

В В В В В Kimball was always barking, full of razor-like sarcasm. Everyone was lashed by her biting voice, even Barrett... but I had the feeling he slept with her any time he wanted.

 

     Barrett was easier to figure—he was all boss, knew only one way of doing things—to keep plugging. He dashed at each new account like a bulldog, bluntly hanging on till he either had the account or was completely knocked out. He worked hard, worried hard, had his ulcers and a soggy wife —whom I only saw once, and who probably only saw him once or twice a week, if that often.

 

В В В В В Barrett would have gotten nowheres, except to a padded cell, without Kimball. She was behind him every step of the way, calmly soothing and smoothing things out with her charm and cleverness. Barrett had either married or inherited money. With his houses, the agency, his stocks, he never had any real financial worries, yet he kept plugging after the buck as though he was on the ragged rim of poverty. I didn't try to understand his frantic rushing, killing himself for more dough, treating his wife as though she were an old pet dog.

 

     I did try to understand Kimball—that was something else.

 

     She always handled me like a child, as if everything I did was some secret joke to her. The first week there, I came tear-assing into the office every day before lunch, anxious to get a layout assignment—only to hang around the rest of the day, doing nothing. When I did the same thing the following week, Kimball asked, “Jameson, don't you take your lunch hour?”

 

     “Grab a bite while going to the houses, Miss Kimball.”

 

     “Cut the beaver act. From now on take an hour for lunch—even if you eat on the job. And for Christsake, stop rushing around with that pathetic eager smile on your kisser. Quiet down.”

 

В В В В В The two other artists, and a copywriter, had desks in one large workroom, which was headed by Kimball's glass-partitioned office, where she kept an eye on us.

 

В В В В В The copywriter was a tweedy old man, a beaten hack writer who I heard had done a fair novel in his youth, and whose only ambition now was to sip beer and figure the races.

 

     Neither of the two artists bothered much with me. One was a snobbish middle-aged nance who flew into a loud tantrum if anything on his drawing board was touched. The other was a sloppy young woman who wore wrinkled stockings and always looked like she needed a bath—although she didn't smell. She was one of these overserious types, who get into a blue mood when they're old enough to stop playing jacks—and never snap out of it. But she really had talent, a wonderful sense of colors.

 

     Then there was a receptionist-typist, a flashy redhead, who seemed to spend all her time in figuring out new ways of making her small breasts look bigger. She frankly told me she “never went out with any guy making under fifty per.” She was said to be a friend of Barrett's wife, but I wouldn't have been surprised if Barrett got into her bloomers. In fact maybe he got into the nance. Barrett went after sex with the same boorish tact he went after business— smashing right through the center of the line.

 

В В В В В In the beginning, I'd sit around all afternoon, waiting at my drawing board. No one said anything to me, minded my amusing myself with cartoons, or whatever came to mind. Now and then Kimball would realize I was alive and send me on some goddamn errand. I tried reading a book or the paper all afternoon, but she didn't seem to notice.

 

     One day when I came breezing into the office at about two, she said, “Jameson, before you get settled for the day, go down to the drugstore and find out what those bastards did with the tongue sandwich I ordered a half hour ago. On whole wheat toast, no butter or anything. And a container of iced tea—no sugar.”

 

     Kimball was always watching her figure. I was, too— whether I wanted to or not. At the drugstore I got a gooey ham salad sandwich and a big chocolate sundae swimming in whipped cream and nuts. When Kimball opened the bag, she called me in, asked, “What's the bright joke, shorty?”

 

     “Couldn't remember what you asked for, Miss Kimball. I'm not used to running errands.”

 

     “I see. You don't like my...?”

 

     “Didn't say I didn't like it, merely that I'm not used to doing errands. Anyway, this is my treat. I'm loaded today.”

 

     “Did that would-be copywriter, that pseudo-Hemingway, give you a horse?”

 

     “No, Miss Kimball. No, I hocked my paints and brushes —never be missed around here.”

 

     For a moment she stared at me with those steady, hard, clear eyes, then the expertly painted red lips broke into a smile and she giggled. “Cute, Jameson. Not overbright, but still kind of cute, brash kid stuff. Guess it won't kill me to eat this junk—send you out again and who knows what you'll come back with. In about an hour—after I've digested this crap, I want to see you. And get your brushes out of hock.”

 

     I went out and had a bite myself and, when I returned, Kimball told me, “I'm lining up a campaign for a girdle company. Give me a couple of roughs along these lines— we want to get across the idea that with these girdles women don't look like stuffed sausages. Some copy like... Look your boudoir best, no matter what you're doing... That's tripe, but you get the idea. I want sketches of women at work—sweeping the house, taking the kids to school, cooking... all that housewife bull. Sketch them in plain dresses, but with a transparent deal around their hips-showing how trim and sexy the girdle is making them look. Maybe throw in some long, sheer, black stockings—they say that's sexy. Black stockings get you, Jameson?”

 

     “They do.”

 

     “Always wondered why. Well, you get what I'm after?”

 

     “Yes.” I almost said, “Yes Ma'am.”

 

     “Okay, give me a half dozen roughs, and take your time. Maybe I can make something out of it.”

 

В В В В В I dashed back to my board and sketched like mad the rest of the afternoon. I had half a dozen complete drawings, not roughs, by five, but Kimball said she was too busy to see them.

 

     I felt good that night, sure of my drawings. Next morning I covered most of the houses by phone and was in the office at eleven. I marched into Kimball's office, put the sketches on her desk—and waited. She glanced at them quickly, sneered, “Jameson, how the hell old are you?”

 

     “Almost twenty-one.”

 

     “Well, you should know the facts of life. Girdles are worn by women, not these slim kids you've drawn. Women, with thick hips and fat bellies and hanging tits—that's why they buy girdles. We tell them our product will improve their looks, and it will, but it won't make them look like any eighteen-year-old model. You can only kid the customer when she doesn't know she's being kidded. Hell, if the women we're trying to sell looked like the slim babes in your drawings, they wouldn't need a girdle, or even read our ads. Try again—and give me women.”

 

     I went back to my desk, sore as a boil. But when I calmed down and examined my work, I saw Kimball was right. I'd drawn slim gals who certainly didn't need girdles. I tossed the sketches into the waste basket and started over. By the end of the afternoon I had it—women who looked like they should be using girdles.

 

     I showed them to Kimball just as she was going home. She took off her hat, lit a cigarette, and backed away like a ham patron of the arts to study the sketches. Then she shook her head, said, “No good.”

 

     “What's wrong now?” I asked, trying to keep anger out of my voice.

 

     Kimball turned and practically laughed in my face. “Jameson, I love the way you keep yourself under control. What's your first name, again?”

 

     “Marshal.”

 

     “That fits. From a wide-spot-in-the-tobacco-road South?”

 

     “Almost.”

 

     She shook her head, and slowly ran her eyes over me. “Cocky kid, going to make good in the big city or bust those big shoulders in the...”

 

     “Look, Miss Kimball, it's after five. I'm on my own time, so how about getting down to cases? What's wrong with these sketches?”

 

     “Nothing,” she said, putting them in a folder and into a file cabinet. “The sketching is rather simple, but good.”

 

     “But...?”

 

     “The entire idea stinks. I wanted you to visualize my idea; you did, and now I see the idea was wrong. That's all. Not your fault. And since I've kept you overtime, I'll buy you a drink.”

 

     “Sorry, have to take a rain-check on that,” I said, trying to sound casual as I lied. “But I have a supper date.”

 

     “Have fun,” she said.

 

     I had an idea Kimball was interested in me, but she never asked me out for a drink again. Nor paid any special attention to me. But she did keep me busy putting her ideas on paper, most of which she discarded. The few times she liked my work, she gave it to the queer to do. When I asked her why, she said, “Slow, Jameson, slow. You're getting valuable experience here, but the fruit is a more finished artist than you are. He's been at this rat race longer.”

 

     For some six or seven months things went on like this. Along about February Kimball bawled the hell out of the red-headed receptionist for failing to type a couple of letters Kimball wanted in a hurry. The redhead burst into tears, said she had more work than she could handle, showed pages of dictation Barrett had given her the same day. Kimball marched into Barrett's office—there was a short argument during which I heard the boss yell several times, “But the damn overhead...”; then Kimball came out and called up one of the government employment agencies.

 

В В В В В The new typist had a desk next to me and she was a cute kid. When she said her name was Kraus, Mary Jane Kraus, you smiled because somehow it went with her country-girl face, the strawberry blonde hair done in a bun atop her head, the naive baby-blue eyes set in the soft, round face. She wore print dresses that didn't do a thing for her stocky figure, she rarely spoke, and all in all she was so unsophisticated you wanted to take her in hand, protect her from the big city slickers.

 

В В В В В Kraus was sort of fun. When I took her to a Village bar, she was shocked by the homos, but after one drink she would giggle and make moon eyes. It was all good fun, like teasing a kitten. When one of the painters slipped me some tickets and I took her to a play, she was walking on air. She had the usual story: came from a little upstate town, rushed to New York as soon as she graduated business school.

 

В В В В В I took her out now and then. I never kissed her or tried to neck her. She looked so healthy and well-scrubbed, somehow sex never entered my mind. I mean, I had some backward ideas myself in those days about sex.

 

     Kimball treated Kraus with her usual, sarcastic manner, correcting her mistakes, roaring when Mary Jane blushed at Kimball's cuss words—telling her to stop wearing those flowery dresses that made her look as though she was on her way to milk a cow.

 

     And from the start, Barrett was too nice to Mary. He hardly ever raised his voice to her, and when Mary told me, “Mr. Barrett is just too wonderful,” I was a little worried about Miss Kraus.

 

В В В В В Kimball began to take a sudden interest in me. Maybe she was jealous of the boss making a play for Mary Jane. Whatever the reason, she began to joke with me, making fun of Barrett and Miss Kraus. Nothing nasty, merely clever digs. One afternoon, when I'd fast-changed Barrett out of a ten spot, I sat at my desk and watched the lines in Kimball's figure as she bent over the copywriter's desk.

 

     When she came over to look at a layout I'd done for her, she asked, “Where's Kraus?”

 

     “Guess she's in Big Business's office.”

 

     “She'll soon be getting the business,” Kimball said.

 

     “Forget her. I'd like to take up my rain-check on that drink you once offered me. I also have a couple of seats for a show. Suppose I take you to supper? How about Mori's?”

 

     “That's so sweet of you. What will you do for the next two weeks, diet?”

 

     “What do you mean?” I asked stiffly. I'd never been to Mori's, but people had told me about the place.

 

     “Come off it, Jameson, I make out your pay check every week. Mori's will set you back a week's salary, even with your side rackets. I'll...”

 

     “What side rackets?”

 

     “Don't kid the kidder, Marshal. I know this real estate business, from the petty rackets up to the big ones. Forget about Mori's, and I'll go dutch treat to some less expensive place, if you wish.”

 

     I laughed—to cover my embarrassment. Kimball had a red roadster and she took me to a Chinese restaurant near Columbia University that I'd never heard of, and I made it a point to supposedly know all the good eating spots in the city; it was part of my big-New-Yorker front. It was a small place, but they had real Chinese food, I didn't even know what I was eating half the time, and of course Kimball could use chopsticks. Then we drove downtown and she parked her car near Ninth Avenue and we stopped for a few drinks.

 

В В В В В The show was pretty stupid and we walked out after the second act and I took Kimball to a Village bar and we had more drinks and danced, and naturally Kimball was an expert dancer.

 

В В В В В She was good company, and when she asked if I wanted to go to her place and kill a bottle, I was all for it. She had floor-through of a private house in Brooklyn Heights, full of modern furniture that was all angles. We had more drinks and I was pretty high, told her about playing football to get out of the mill. She told me about working ever since high school: salesgirl, switchboard operator, secretary, then finally meeting Barrett. She had a fancy ivory-white radio-phonograph and we danced, barely moving, and bulled each other about art and Spain and Hitler and where would it all end.

 

В В В В В And I knew I could sleep with Kimball that night, if I wanted to. You know how it is, without any petting or double-meaning cracks, you suddenly feel this happy wave of warmth go through you and you know she feels the same way, and that's it.

 

     I wanted to sleep with her—I always had.

 

     I was wondering how to go about it, what to say, when she took the play out of my hands. We had stopped dancing and were sitting on the rubber and wrought iron couch, when she put her arms around my neck and kissed me hard on the lips. It was a fine kiss, all expertly done. I was so astonished I didn't react. Pushing me away, she laughed, asked, “What's wrong, Marshal?” Her voice was too businesslike.

 

     “Nothing.”

 

     “Yes there is.”

 

     “I was just eh... surprised.”

 

     “What's there to be surprised about? You're young, strong and lean, with silly corn-blonde hair. I don't think I'm too hard on the eyes.... So?” She kissed me again, her lips hard and demanding, her tongue forcing its way into my mouth.

 

В В В В В I'm not a sap or a prude, yet I was shocked. I stared at her like a dumb schoolboy and all the time I wanted her, really wanted her.

 

     Marion Kimball smiled at me, asked gently, “This is too sudden, too fast for you? I believe in going fast, living for the present—the future is too far away, too uncertain... maybe a dream.”

 

     “Isn't the man supposed to hand the gal this live-for-the-present line?”

 

     “Maybe. And maybe this is reverse English,” she said, and she laughed—loudly. Her laughter did it.

 

     She became once more the most efficient Miss Kimball laughing at a clumsy young man, her laughter almost a sneer. I had a lot of pride stuck in me somewhere—I still have—and I couldn't have her treating me like a kid.

 

     I said coldly, “Sorry, Kimball, I can't do it like this. Can't go at it this way. Guess it is too quick.” I stood up and poured myself a drink and wondered if I was talking out of my mind because Kimball looked all desire.

 

     She didn't get mad, give me the heave-ho, and I liked her for that. She merely shrugged, said, “Okay, forget it. Mix me a shot, too.”

 

     We sat and talked and even danced, as if nothing had happened—and nothing had. I had another drink and my whisky began to talk. I said, “Kimball, you mind if I call you by your first name?”

 

     “Don't be silly.”

 

     “I'm not silly, just high. Marion, maybe I'm talking out of turn, but there's something I've been puzzling about for a long time. None of my business, but you are attractive, smart, desirable and yet...”

 

     “I'm unmarried?” she cut in.

 

     “Yeah. I'm curious.”

 

     She smiled at me. “Marshal, you're such a youngster, but...”

 

     “Damn it, I'm not a kid, stop treating me like I was the village idiot.”

 

     She shook her head. “You're a boy, or you wouldn't have turned a woman down. You see, it takes something for a woman to ask... and it is a hurt to be turned down, but I know why you did it... your pride.”

 

     “Nonsense,” I lied.

 

     “Not nonsense, I know you want me, I've seen it on your face, every day. Hear me, talking like the office siren.”

 

В В В В В We both laughed and I bent down and kissed her, our lips hugging.

 

     “Thanks.”

 

     “Oh Kimball—Marion—don't say that. You're right, I do want... Hey, you haven't told me why you never married,” I said, clumsily changing the subject.

 

     “As I said, you're a kid. But I'm not—I'm thirty-eight years old—cross my heart. When I was younger I was just a bit too busy, too full of modern-day curse, the get-ahead drive, to bother much with boys. Now, I could marry somebody like Barrett, but I can't stand these 'executives.' Seen too many of them in the raw—and they are raw. Take them out of their office fish-bowl and they turn out to be stupid, disgusting, and so awfully dull.”

 

     “There are other men besides jerks like the boss.”

 

     She nodded. “If I hunted, or maybe shopped is a better word, I might find a man my own age, but husband hunting is a full-time job. I don't have the time. Nor am I quite sure it's worth it. In our social set-up, women must marry for economic reasons—I have that beat: I have my job and even a chunk of money I made in one of Barrett's real estate deals. And I like young men! God, do I love you youngsters! That frighten you?”

 

     “Not exactly.”

 

     “I'm mad about this generation of disappointed young men—who still remember the depression days, and are now worried about the shadow of war, worrying if Hitler will get out of bounds. I like the potential explosion you youngsters represent, the fire that's smoldering inside you! I don't know, maybe it's the mother instinct, maybe that plain old sex urge. But whatever it is, I like boys with fight and ideas in them, still unblunted. I know you'll never amount to anything, but I like your drive, the windmill you're wrestling. Usually after three or four months I junk a youngster, get a newer model.”

 

     “Am I one of your young men?”

 

     Kimball nodded. “At times you're so bitter, so mad at the world, I could kiss you. But in six months from now you'll be beaten down, like all the other slobs, and that will spoil you for me and I'll boot you out. Now, are you afraid?”

 

     “Yeah, a little,” I said, getting my hat. “And I'd better take a powder—before I stop being afraid.”

 

В В В В В From then on, the office became the last act of one of those old hearts and flowers melodramas: Barrett going after Miss Kraus in his usual bullish manner, and Kimball waiting for me, cool and sure of herself, certain I would come.

 

В В В В В I wasn't worried about myself, but little Mary J. Kraus was something else. I knew she had lots of pride too, but dumb pride that might force her to do anything rather than return home, admit the big city had thrown her for a loss. Mary was a bit simple and if the boss slipped her a line of big talk, she might believe him, and be a fool... for if she did sleep with him, she'd go to pieces when he gave her the brush-off.

 

     The last-act curtain came down one Saturday afternoon, as we were all knocking off at noon. Barrett stuck his noggin out of his office, said, “Oh, Miss Kraus, would you mind staying a few minutes? Have two letters that must get in the mail today. By the way, did Kimball tell you that you're getting a three-dollar raise, starting next week?”

 

     Barrett beamed at her and Mary Jane was overjoyed, her childish face one big smile. She quickly took off her hat—a straw pot only a Miss Kraus would wear—grabbed her steno book. Over her shoulder she called to me, “Have to skip that soda with you, Marsh.”

 

В В В В В The redheaded receptionist stepped into the elevator, snickering. I hung around.

 

     Kimball came out of her office and winked at me, asked, “You ring for the elevator?”

 

     “No. How come Barrett gave Mary a raise?”

 

     Pressing the elevator button, Kimball said, “Didn't old Barrett sound like a tenth-rate movie? Today is der tag for Miss Corn-Fed.”

 

     “I don't follow you.”

 

     “Don't be dumb. He's been playing Kraus, slow and easy. Think he was afraid she might be under age. Wonder if he'll offer her a trip to Atlantic City or a short voyage? Kraus hasn't enough appeal for a voyage, she'll last about a week-end. And probably hasn't brains enough to blackmail him with the Mann Act. Lousy three-bill raise—cheap enough lay.”

 

     “You... think he'll proposition her now?”

 

     “Know so. I'm the gal who's been with him for over eight years...”

 

     “Then, while we're talking...?” I cut in.

 

     “Aha, the psychological moment—news of the raise, then the works.”

 

     The elevator came and Kimball stepped in. I didn't move. The operator asked, “Coming?”

 

     “No. I... eh... forgot my pipe,” I said, rushing back to the office. I thought I heard Kimball's laughter as the elevator doors closed, and frankly I did feel like a jerky hero.

 

     The office held that afterwork stillness and I sat at my desk for what seemed hours—listening to the faint mumble of voices in Barrett's office, my imagination working overtime. The longer I sat there, the more ridiculous I felt What was it my business if Mary J. Kraus ended up in a hotel room with the boss? Might be the best thing in the world for her, make her snap out of...

 

     She came running out of his office, crying, her hair flying—exactly as I knew she would. Barrett came after her, stopped short when he saw me. I stepped in and clipped him on the chin and he went down.

 

В В В В В I ran out into the hallway after Miss Kraus, but she was gone. I cursed and rang furiously for the elevator, but the service was lousy after working hours. When I finally reached the street, Kraus wasn't in sight. I looked around, slightly bewildered, I somehow expected her to be waiting for me.

 

     A horn was blowing and there was Kimball in her roadster, motioning to me. As I came over, she put her fist to her lips, said, “Ta-ta-tata, all hail the conquering hero!”

 

     “Cut the clowning, where did she go?”

 

     “Took a cab, in all her virtuous wrath. And hop in before I get a damn ticket.” I got in and we drove uptown and through the park and then downtown and Kimball asked, “Want me to drive over to her room?”

 

     “No. Hell with it.”

 

     “Marsh, does that hayseed mean anything to you?”

 

     “Not a thing. Merely a nice kid I didn't want to see hurt.”

 

     “Honest?”

 

     “Cross my heart!” I snapped.

 

     “Of course you slapped Barrett on the chin?”

 

     “I did... all the trimmings.”

 

     “And now what, little man?” Kimball asked, parking the car. We were in front of her house. It was like her to time things exactly right.

 

     “I'll get along,” I said, suddenly sick with the realization my job was gone. I had no money beyond the pay check in my pocket.

 

     “Will you? Kraus will go back to the sticks, where she belongs. But you—can you go back to that mill town you told me about? And Barrett will blackball you out of every ad agency.”

 

     “I'll do free lance art work.”

 

     “Slop. You won't make a dime and you know it. Come on in and have a drink.”

 

     I knew what was coming, but I went in. We had a drink and sat on the couch and I waited. Kimball came right out with it. She said, “About you—I still like young chaps, particularly interested in a certain young jerk who was brash enough to poke the boss on the chin. That's quite an accomplishment and...”

 

     “How long before you'd turn me in for a new model, Marion? Would I last a week, a month?”

 

     “I might even be willing to send you_ to art school for six months, even a year. You need more schooling.”

 

     “A kept man,” I said, turning red.

 

     Kimball's warm hand stroked my face. “Don't let a word scare you. You also keep things that are precious and...”

 

В В В В В I don't know why I did it. You see I either had to walk out or show her I was a man. I didn't want out, so I reached over and tore her dress from the shoulder to her hip, pulled her to me. She still had this cat grin on her face, so I pulled her to me as roughly as I could.

 

В В В В В And that was it.

 

В В В В В It was after midnight when I left Kimball's. I'd slept with my share of girls, but Kimball was the first real woman I'd ever known, and she was amazing. Even between the sheets, she was so wonderfully efficient.

 

     I didn't want to leave, but she put me out, saying, “I'll be knocked out for the week if I don't get some rest on Sunday, look like hell. I'll never get any rest with you around, so darling, go to your room and pack your things and be here Monday night. Okay?”

 

В В В В В I stopped at a coffee-pot and had something to eat, tried to figure out what I was getting into. Finally decided I didn't know... but it was something I wanted. Somehow, that seemed to clear my mind, made me feel pretty good.

 

     I walked across Brooklyn Bridge, taking in the beauty of the Manhattan skyline against the moonlight, then took a cab up to my room. As I unlocked the downstairs door, I heard the joker who ran the house—a glorified janitor although he called himself an “agent”—climb out of his bed. He had a large combination office and bedroom on the first floor.

 

     As I went up the stairs, he stuck his head out, whispered, “Mr. Jameson.”

 

     “See you tomorrow with the rent,” I called over my shoulder, and kept on walking upstairs.

 

     “But Mr. Jameson, I...”

 

В В В В В I walked faster, ran up the second flight, unlocked my door. I stepped inside and quickly undressed in the dark. I was pretty well pooped.

 

     “Marshal?”

 

     I jumped straight up in the air, my pants in my hand, asked, “Who's there?”

 

     “It's me, Marsh... Mary Jane.”

 

В В В В В I found the light cord and there was Miss Kraus in my bed, holding the covers up to her chin. Soon as she saw me, she began to weep.

 

     “What... what are you doing here?”

 

     “Please don't scold me,” she said, through fat tears. “I didn't have anybody else to turn to. You see, I didn't expect to be... fired and I'd bought some dresses last week and now... now I don't have any money. I didn't know what to do, so I came here, told the landlord I was your sister, and he let me wait in your room.” She really began to weep. “Marsh, I waited and waited... and I'm so upset and... well... I just went to sleep.”

 

     I sat down on the bed, feeling so sorry for her I could cry myself. I patted her soft blonde hair, said, “It's all right. Just take it easy.”

 

     “You must think I'm awful to be in your bed... but I've had such a wretched day. Marsh, I don't know what I'm going to do!”

 

     “First thing to do is get some shuteye. I'll sleep in the chair. Tomorrow I'll get you some money and you'll be okay.”

 

     “I couldn't take money from you. Oh that horrible Mr. Barrett!”

 

     “Stop bawling, the money will be a loan,” I said, not even thinking where I'd get money. All I could think was we made a silly tableau—Mary Jane weeping into the sheet and me sitting there in my shorts.

 

     I got up, told her, “Go to sleep and we'll talk about it in the morning. Don't worry.”

 

     Taking one of the pillows, I tossed it on the one big chair, realized I'd put it on her clothing. As I started to take her dress and stockings from the chair, Mary said, “Oh no, I'll sleep in the chair. It's your room,” and she jumped out of bed.

 

     She was wearing one of my sport shirts, and it just reached her hips and she looked very young and inviting— and like a barber-shop calendar. For a short moment we stared at each other, then with a little cry she was in my arms.

 

     The rest of the night was kind of messy. Mary Jane did a great deal of crying and I kept telling her over and over to rest. At some point in the early morning hours, she whispered, “Marsh, we've done a terrible thing. We are going to be married, aren't we?”

 

     I felt all warm and sorry for her, and a little dazed. Kissing her, I said, “Yes,” and she hugged me and went to sleep.

 

     When we went down for breakfast around noon, the agent made some snide cracks and I damn near socked him. So we moved to another room in the next block, as man and wife. While Mary Jane went back to her room to get her bags—and pay her rent—I took the subway over to Brooklyn.

 

     Kimball greeted me with, “Marsh! What a nice surprise. I...”

 

     “I got a surprise, all right, listen.” When I finished telling her what had happened, she shook her head, said, “You poor sucker. You don't have to marry her.”

 

     “I want to, she's a lost kid.”

 

     “She's hooking you. And she isn't a kid, she's twenty-three. I checked her age for Barrett.”

 

     “You pimp for him too?”

 

     She stared at me for awhile, her eyes hurt. I said, “Sorry, I didn't mean that,' Marion but... Oh hell, all right, maybe I am merely sorry for her, but she isn't sophisticated, doesn't know the ropes, floundering like a lost puppy and...”

 

     “You feed a puppy, not marry her.”

 

     “Kimball, I promised to marry her and I'm going through with it. I'll feel lousy if I don't.”

 

     “Okay, Marsh, thanks for telling me.”

 

     “I didn't come just to tell you, Marion. I've got to find a job, but pronto. Neither of us has a dime. You know people, can pull strings. I feel like a heel asking you, but can you help me?”

 

     “See what I can dig up tomorrow. If you need any cash...”

 

     “We have enough for a few days.”

 

     Kimball squeezed my hand. “Call me tomorrow, around noon. And I'm sorry, guess I got you into this, sort of...”

 

     “I'm walking in with my eyes open.”

 

     “I hope so. And I really hope it works out. Call me before noon.”

 

В В В В В Mary Jane and I were married on Monday, at the license bureau. Kimball not only got me a job with a big real estate company, but wangled two weeks' salary for both of us from Barrett.

 

     Mary found another steno job and for awhile things went smoothly. Living in one room with two salaries, we had more spending money than before, and during the summer we spent a week with her folks—they ran a small store upstate.

 

В В В В В By the end of the year our marriage began to wear. I still felt sorry for her, and at times we had some fine moments. But Mary Jane whined a lot, and if she was young and sweet, she was also dull and boring. I collected rents and didn't even look at a paint-brush.

 

В В В В В That Christmas Pearl Harbor happened and we forgot about ourselves and in February I was number seven in my draft board and got my greetings and we had quite a tender scene when I went off.

 

В В В В В They sent me to Fort Dix, over in New Jersey, and the only true feeling I had about things, aside from a faint feeling of patriotic duty, was one of relief, of being free from Mary.

 

 

В В В В В Logan was alone. He walked down the alley with a long, springy stride. I don't know why I kept thinking he still didn't look like a private detective. More like a salesman, or a young bank clerk.

 

     When he saw me he slowed down a little, smiled as he said, “Lose your baggy tweeds? And your height? My, you've grown a lot of hair.”

 

     “Forget that phone talk, Logan,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “Guess I'm overcautious.” My hand dropped into my pocket, on the gun—all very casually—as he came around the back of the house. I felt of my other pockets with my left hand, asked, “Got a cigarette?” He was less than three feet from me.

 

     He dug into his breast pocket, held out a crumpled pack: I took one, put it in my mouth—all with my left hand.

 

     “Thanks, I have a match,” I said. I had a firm grip on the gun only... I got it half out... forgot about the clumsy long target barrel. The damn thing was stuck in my pocket—would only come partly out!

 

В В В В В Logan dropped the pack of butts, his eyes went big. He came at me as I backed away, still tugging at that lousy, clumsy gun. Suddenly I yanked it out and...

 

В В В В В He was lightning fast. I think I saw the bright burst of flame from his hip before I felt the bullet... felt as though I'd been smacked across the belly with a baseball bat. The force of the slug knocked me down.

 

     For a moment, when the shock got me, I didn't even know I was hit, thought I'd stumbled backwards. My gun fell from my hand. I tried to sit up... and then... at the same time I heard the sharp, clear sound of the shot, the hot terrible pain—this awful, awful pain—cut into my guts and the blood came squirting out of my shirt, down my legs.

 

В В В В В For a long second the pain was so intense, so complete, I couldn't breathe or see. Then he came into view, his gun still in his right hand. He carefully kicked my gun away, went over and picked it up.

 

     We stared at each other for a long time. His face was pale and his eyes puzzled. He asked, “What the hell is this? What you throw a gun on me for? Who the hell are you?”

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

     ONE OF THE CORNY JOKES you heard in the army was: “You never had it so good.”

 

     That was pretty true for me, I got more than my share of breaks in the army. At the start I remained at Fort Dix for nearly three months. Guys were being shipped out on all sides of me, but my name was never called. Our regiment, company, battalion, or whatever we were, was made up of a small permanent cadre of several enlisted men, all “old” army men, meaning they had been in six months or a year, and a Captain Drake, a dapper little man about thirty-five years old. His uniform was always sharply pressed, he walked with an inflated strut, spoke with a drawl, and happily was rarely seen. I was made a barracks orderly, meaning after morning inspection I had nothing to do for the rest of the day.

 

В В В В В On week-ends I came in to New York and saw Mary Jane, and one day I walked into Kimball on Lexington Avenue and she made a fuss over my being in uniform and bought me a fine wrist-watch on the spot.

 

     I was taking things easy, doing a lot of sketching of the various faces in camp, plenty of reading, and soaking up hours of sack time. For the first time in my life I had no worries about rent or food, and the army showed me the fallacy of this goosing finger of fate we call ambition. I mean, a joker hustles and wears the correct clothes and puts up a big front to impress his boss—and zowie, the army calls him and all that energy is wasted because now he's merely another buck-ass private under a non-com who happened to be called a few months before our joker-buddy. So he bucks like hell for stripes in the army, brown-noses everybody in sight, and maybe by the time the war is over, he has sergeant stripes and then—zowie, they discharge him and he's a nobody civilian again and has to start the apple polishing all over again. Now I don't mean a guy shouldn't try to get ahead—but not too hard, should make that his whole life. You push so much, you never get a chance to enjoy life, and one day you'll push yourself into the grave and they'll shovel dirt on your face and on your tombstone they'll chisel, Where Did It All Get You?

 

     The trouble was, after a time I got restless at Dix. I dropped in to see Captain Drake, gave him a clumsy salute, asked if my records had been lost or something. He said, “Jameson, you're a Kentucky boy and ah'm from the South, too. Figured ah'd rather have you getting these soft jobs around here than any of these here Northern boys. Sick to my belly with talking to Jews and wops and micks. About a year or so, they'll throw mah can out of here and ah'll take you with me. All right with you, boy?”

 

     “Yes, sir. Only—well there is a war on. I sort of feel useless here.”

 

     “You got spunk, son. But ah let you go and sure as shooting you'll be shipped to the infantry. Know you don't want that. Boy, what were you doing in civilian life?”

 

     It was a good thing I wasn't drunk on PX beer at the moment—one more “boy” and I might have socked his skinny jaw. I said, “I was an artist—advertising art.”

 

     Drake was impressed, said, “See what I can do for you, Jameson.”

 

В В В В В I cinched the deal by giving him a pen-and-ink drawing of himself. A week later I was sent out of Dix on a one-man shipping list, stationed at Lexington Avenue and 46th Street. I was part of a special-service outfit that made posters. We had a chicken officer who must have got a rake-off from the shoe polish companies. We had to march along crowded Lexington Avenue, trying to look like soldiers, and all the people staring at us as though we were. I felt more of a fraud than in Dix. It was very frustrating.

 

В В В В В Also, I was seeing Mary Jane every night and I wanted to get away from her. Poor Mary was at least working in a defense plant in New Jersey and I didn't want to be a tin soldier. I casually mentioned to the first looey who was our CO. that I didn't think the war effort was really dependent upon whether we shined our damn shoes or not. Two days later I was back in Dix and out the same night on a troop train heading for Fort Benning, Georgia.

 

     Infantry basic wasn't as rugged as football training and it felt fine to get into shape again. But one morning when they had us hitting the dirt—running and throwing ourselves on the ground—breaking the fall by digging the butt end of our rifles into the hard earth—I took a heavy fall and had a headache that scared hell out of me.

 

В В В В В On sick call I told the doc about having had a concussion and they took X-rays and stuff. To my surprise I was soon on my way to an artillery outfit in Kansas where I worked at painting camouflage. It was interesting work and I learned a lot about blending colors. Most of the fellows were artists and I became pals with Sid Spears, who'd been studying sculpture when he got his greetings.

 

     Sid was a tall, thin fellow with a sensitive Jewish face, but he'd been a college boxer and for some unknown reason his skinny frame packed a hell of a wallop. The two of us became a jerky goon squad; we made a good combination—Sid so thin and me so short. We'd get a little liquored up in some dive, start talking a lot of high sounding “art” talk—which was bait for characters who thought wearing a uniform made them rugged, entitled them to make snide cracks about us being “ball-bearing Wacs, charging over the top with fixed paint-brushes.”

 

В В В В В It was stupid fun, Sid flooring guys with one punch and me tackling them if he didn't floor them, or throwing them against the walls.

 

В В В В В Sid and I came to New York together on leave and had a good time at his place. I wasn't going to see my wife, but I felt like a bastard and finally spent my last two days with her.

 

В В В В В After nearly two years in Kansas we were all shipped to Camp Patrick Henry in Newport News, Virginia, I called Mary J. and she bawled over the phone and then I was jammed on a Victory ship for a slow and pleasant crossing of the Atlantic, spent some weeks hangings around Oran in North Africa, sketching the Arabs and the ruined tanks. Then Sid and I and four other fellows were flown to London, and after D-Day, we followed the real soldiers into Paris, lived at a small hotel on Place Clichy, worked eight hours a day drawing maps, making scale topographic models of future battlegrounds.

 

     Of course Paris was terrific and Sid had been there in 1935 and seemed to know a lot of people on the so-called Left Bank. He introduced me to a huge old man with a flowing white beard named Bonard. Bonard liked nothing better than to tell us about the old days of the Left Bank and the Montmartre—as he smoked our cigarettes and took our rations home. He was a sculptor and “home” was a large, dirty old barn on the outskirts of Paris which was also his studio. He had a few heads and small figures around, and I don't think he'd touched any clay in years, but I began fooling around with clay and right away I knew I'd found my medium—this was what I wanted to do. Sculpting was far more satisfactory, more creative than working with paints and brushes. When you made a statue of a woman, by God, there it was—nothing on flat canvas, but something you could touch and handle and feel proud of, as though you had almost created life.

 

     I spent the war in Paris, working on maps during the day, visiting the famous old cafes at night with Bonard, as he talked about Saint-Gaudens, Rodin, Malvina Hoffman, Epstein, about Stein and Hemingway. I heard about the successes, the suicides, and the love affairs of the “old days.” I knew most of the time Bonard was merely repeating gossip, and I didn't believe him when he said he'd been a personal buddy of Gauguin, had in fact urged him to go to the South Seas. Bonard was a grand old liar but he did give me valuable lessons in the human anatomy, and when I slipped him a few cartons of cigarettes, he came up with some plaster and I began making casts of my fingers, my hand, my fist. The first time I tried it, I didn't know plaster grows hot as it hardens, and I screamed like a madman that I was losing my hand as Bonard roared with laughter. Under his instruction I even tried a few heads and one figure, was pleased when he said I had talent. Whenever I could get a jeep, the two of us would drive around examining the various statues with which Paris is studded, Bonard pointing out the good and bad techniques. I became very fond of the old man.

 

     Mary wrote me faithful, insipid letters, sent me packages of stale cookies every week. I sent her perfume, sent Kimball a bottle, and one to my mother—all purchased with packs of cigarettes.

 

     In a sense, Paris was a school for me, with Bonard my teacher. And I studied hard—read everything I could about Rodin, buying pictures of his works, going over them with Bonard.

 

В В В В В I imagine Bonard was more amused by Sid and myself than really interested in our work. He could drink two or three quarts of wine at a bull session, and he had a secret supply of wine which he flatly refused to share with us.

 

     “Waste of time, waste of wine. You Americans and your hard liquor—always in a hurry. Wine is a slow sensation, a long delight. Hard liquor, that's for idiots who receive no sensation unless hit over the head. Like I see your soldiers running after the girls on the Pigalle... push, push, and it's over.”

 

     “We're a very sexy bunch,” Sid said, kidding him. Both Sid and myself were so damn scared of getting a dose we left the street-walkers alone.

 

     “Americans understand sex the way you understand wine. You get no satisfaction. In the old days a man went with a woman, even an ugly man and a dumpy woman, and they enjoyed each other. But today the movies have ruined young people. In France too, but especially in America, where the movies are more a part of life.”

 

     “What's movies got to do with it?” I asked.

 

     Bonard fixed his watery eyes on me. “You go with a woman but are you thinking of her? Bah! Her arms are around you and her eyes are closed, but she is seeing Clark Gable, Boyer. And in your mind you are with a Jean Harlow, Mary Pickford, Rita Hayworth or...”

 

     “I don't know about Mary Pickford,” Sid said, winking at me.

 

     “I saw you wink!” Bonard roared. “A wink—shallow as your work, you have not the heart or understanding for art! For you art is like a woman. You Americans, always chasing, hoping in the next woman to find the full enjoyment you do not have with this one—and only because you are thinking of the next, instead of the woman you have.”

 

     “That's too complicated for me,” Sid said. “Bet you were hell with the gals in your day.”

 

     Bonard kissed his fingertips. “Ah, my youth, when there was true love! The dancing of Avril and La Goule in the Moulin Rouge, the singing of pale Yvette Guilbert. Or sitting at the Chat Noir, with Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec... the lucky ones, the sons of the rich.”

 

     “Stop it, old man,” Sid said. “That was about 1880, make you at least eighty now.”

 

     “You dare call me the liar?” Bonard screamed, clutching his wine bottle, but looking around for something to throw.

 

     It was a wonderful way of sitting out the war, working hard during the day and believing the maps, your work, was important... spending all my spare time with Bonard. For a time Sid was cool to me. I think he was jealous of Bonard's interest in my work. Sid had reached his art level long ago, a mediocre level, and while he was still the better sculptor, I was progressing and he was standing still. He started hanging out with the other GI's, which was okay with me, since I had Bonard all to myself. One evening the old man asked, “When will you have a free week-end?”

 

     “Get a three-day pass most any time, I think.”

 

     “Good. It is time you work from a model.”

 

     “You mean a live model?”

 

     Bonard groaned, pulled his beard, said in French I had the sense of a mule's rear, then added in English, “The purpose of a model is to get the breath of life into your work. For a death mask we need the lifeless, for now you need the living—a nude woman.” The old man puffed on a cigarette, waited for me to say something.

 

     I didn't know what to say. Finally I said, “Okay.”

 

     Bonard banged his big hands together. “The croak of the idiot... okay, okay, okay! Mon Dieu, you show no interest. I, an old man, am wasting precious time with you!”

 

     “Sure I'm excited. How do we get a model?”

 

     “I will bring the model, a great-grandchild of mine, Yvonne. Her face leaves much to be desired, but the lines of youth are in her body. Three days of intense work in my studio. Of course, it will not be cheap.”

 

     “How much?”

 

     “One carton of cigarettes for her mother. At least two cartons for Yvonne—she needs clothes. As for myself, I only ask two cartons—and some cans of rations, so we may eat as we work.”

 

     Bonard had been smoking (and selling) my butts for months. I shook my head, said, “Take me a month to save that many. Can't we do it for less?”

 

     “Yvonne has never posed before, it will take much pleading for her mother to trust the child in my care. Your friend Sidney, it would do him no harm to stir his lazy soul, strain his small talent—join us for a week-end of work.”

 

     I told Sid about it that night, and at first he wasn't interested. But after a lot of sales talk on my part, he agreed. We went through our outfit borrowing cigarettes, telling everybody we had a terrific “shack job” coming up, mortgaging our PX rations for the next two months.

 

В В В В В We arrived at Bonard's barn on a Thursday night with the butts, cans of C rations and boxes of K rations, candy bars, a couple bottles of coke, plus a bottle whose label claimed it was cognac.

 

В В В В В Bonard soon had a hot meal going and, as usual, his bottle of wine. Yvonne was disappointing: a sullen, horse-faced thin kid about IS years old, she was dressed in her worn best, ate greedily, and never spoke.

 

В В В В В After supper, she immediately went to sleep in a room at one end of the barn as Bonard showed us our straw beds, set up the work tables, helped us make two small wire armatures. He had managed to get fifteen pounds of raw clay, which was wrapped in a dirty, wet cloth.

 

     The old man was in one of his talkative moods. For the tenth time he told us about his true love—a laundress who'd been the best can-can dancer in the Montmartre. He went into modest details about his ability in bed, the firm body of the laundress... while Sid and I numbed ourselves with cognac, which tasted like a poor-grade shellac. When Sid began to yawn, Bonard shouted, “Sleep, idiot, it is a waste of air to talk to this generation! Sleep may give cleverness to your fingers tomorrow—surely nothing else will!”

 

     Sid stood up, a little angry. “Time magnifies everything, even your sex life. Bet you couldn't even pay your way into that laundress' bed.”

 

     Bonard staggered to his feet, looking around madly for something to throw. As he reached for the armature on my table, I grabbed him, said, “Easy, he only jokes.”

 

     “Jokes!” Bonard slapped his flowing beard, suddenly pointed a fat finger at us. “I tell you one thing that is no joke—I have never been a pimp!”

 

     “You've had too much wine, old man,” I said. “Nobody said you...”

 

     He pointed toward Yvonne's stall-like room. “I will stand no funny business with her, understand? She is in my trust.”

 

     Sid burst out laughing. “You have no reason to worry, not with her.”

 

     I grinned. “As you said yourself, she is only a child with a face that leaves much to be desired.”

 

     “I warn you, for your sakes, the little one is well able to protect her honor.” Bonard took a last swig of wine, staining his beard and killing the bottle. “Now we sleep the good sleep.”

 

     Sid and I lay on our straw beds, listening to the old man snoring, the running of mice—sorry we hadn't thought to bring mattress covers along. To my surprise I slept well, without battling any bugs.

 

В В В В В The morning was muggy and after a quick breakfast, we started working the clay. At a nod from Bonard, Yvonne mounted a box, fumbled with her dress, let it slip to her feet.

 

В В В В В She stood there, blushing a bit, and she was still a scrawny kid, but the lines of her thighs were soft, and her tiny breasts two delicate buds. Stepping out of her dress, she told Bonard to fold it neatly, then he had her move about till she found a relaxed pose she was able to hold for five or ten minutes at a time.

 

     We worked hard, Bonard fussing over us, full of sarcastic cracks about Sid and I being unusual men—born with ten thumbs. By lunch we both had a rough sketch, about a foot high. As she made lunch—dressed again, of course—Sid kept watching Yvonne. He said, “More I see of her, prettier she gets.”

 

     “I know. It's because we haven't been with a woman for so long.”

 

     Sid said, “Don't make a pass at her, kiddy. She's just a kid and after all, Bonard is doing us a favor.”

 

     “Stop it. What you think I am, a slob?”

 

     Sid winked. “I merely think you're like me, not made of stone.”

 

     I was happy with my work that afternoon. While Sid's figure was mechanical and stiff, mine held a certain flowing movement—the clay seemed to come alive in my hands. When it grew dark and we stopped, Bonard said to Sid, “Your work looks like a human being, not a cow. That can be called progress, I suppose.” Looking at my figure, he added, “You have the lines of the legs very well.”

 

     “Marshal Rodin, Jr.,” Sid said, curtly.

 

     It was too muggy that night to sleep. The damn barn seemed full of the chatter of mice, the musty odor of hay. Bonard was snoring like a motor, and in the middle of the night I heard Sid get up and leave the barn. He accidentally awoke me when he returned and I asked, “Cooler outside?”

 

     “Yeah,” Sid said sleepily.

 

     Putting on pants and shoes, I stepped outside. The weeds and grass around the barn were high—it was easy to see where Sid had walked—the trampled grass led straight to Yvonne's window. There was enough moonlight to see her—wearing a thin slip—stretched out on the straw, eyes open. She was slowly eating a candy bar. Sid had come prepared.

 

В В В В В We stared at each other for a moment, then she came noiselessly to the window. I whispered in my best French that she was beautiful.

 

     “Merci.” A tiny smile gave her face a Madonna quality.

 

     I suddenly took her in my arms and she kissed me hard, then pulled away, shaking her head and saying, “Fini, fini.”

 

В В В В В I blew a kiss at her like a fool and walked away... jealously wondering if Sid had been with her, thinking what a lousy thing it was to do... and wanting her something fierce.

 

В В В В В On Saturday I couldn't keep my mind on sculpting, Yvonne's skinny body seemed to take on sensuous curves. My fingers were listless and Bonard ranted and raved. Sid did better, had luck with the head and face. Yvonne had the same blank expression on her face, although Sid and I tried to joke with her at lunch.

 

     After supper I went to the musette bag we were sharing and all the candy bars were gone. When I asked Sid, he acted surprised, said, “I got hungry, ate them. Why?”

 

     “You dirty bastard 1” I said, and walked out of the barn.

 

     I was too angry to sleep. Sid got up as soon as Bonard started to snore. I waited a moment, then followed him. He was at the window, giving Yvonne five bars of candy, when I said, “Damn it, she's only a child!”

 

     He spun around. “That's why I'm giving her candy. I never touched...”

 

     “Bull! She Bonard's great-grandchild and you have to mess up like a dog in heat!”

 

     “Take it easy, Marsh. I didn't do a damn thing... but how come you're out here? What did you want the candy for, kiddy?”

 

В В В В В Yvonne was eating the candy, watching us without interest.

 

     “I came out to protect the kid.”

 

     “I bet!”

 

В В В В В Yvonne held a finger to her lips for silence.

 

     I whispered, “I'm going to beat the slop out of you! Raping this...”

 

     “Stop talking like a jerk. No point fighting, nothing happened,” Sid said. “And let's get away from here, before we wake the old gent.”

 

В В В В В We walked out to the road and I suddenly turned and measured Sid, swung on him.

 

     The night turned very dark and when I came to, I saw Sid's thin face over me, wet with tears. I was lying with my head in his lap. He moaned, “Marsh! Thank God you're alive!”

 

В В В В В I sat up, my head spinning, felt of my jaw... I'd forgotten how he could punch.

 

     Sid was still crying. “I could cut off my hand! Marsh, you're my best pal and I slugged you, you with your concussion...!”

 

     “That was years ago,” I said, standing up, brushing myself off.

 

     Sid jumped to his feet. “Honest, Marsh, you feel okay?”

 

     “Sure,” I said, rubbing my jaw. “Must have been nuts to swing on you, way you wallop.”

 

     Sid began laughing so hard he started to cry again. “Marsh, you scared the living crap out of me. I thought you were dead! And listen, I never laid the kid. That's the truth.”

 

     I wanted to grin but my jaw hurt. “I know. I couldn't get no place with her last night, either. Now let's get some sleep and stop acting like dopes.”

 

     We worked till late Sunday afternoon and Bonard was fairly happy with my work—I thought it was great. As we were dressing to go back to the hotel, he said, “About Yvonne, I am glad you both acted with honor. For the sake of my family and your health. Watch.”

 

В В В В В We were sipping the last of the alleged cognac, and Yvonne was nibbling those horrible K-ration crackers that tasted like dog biscuits. Bonard opened a sharp little gold pen knife and handed it to her, then tossed part of a cracker in a corner of the barn. He held up a hand for silence, pointing toward the cracker.

 

     I thought he was off his rocker, but after a few minutes a gray rat came out and sniffed at the cracker, Yvonne suddenly threw the knife—a clean expert motion—the blade went through .the rat, pinning him to the rotten floor.

 

     We stared at the tiny pool of dark blood forming under the rat, who thrashed about for a second and then quietly died. It was a hell of a knife throw. I glanced at Sid and he was sweating too. I mumbled, “This is a rough war.”

 

     Sid said, “M-Marsh, you saved my life.... Why we could of been killed!”

 

     With the invasion of Germany we moved out of Paris and for a time were soldiers again, sleeping in tents, eating out of mess kits. We even rushed into the Battle of the Bulge—after a few hours of frantic carbine practice—but got there too late.

 

В В В В В When the war was over I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do. I would have liked to stay overseas as long as possible, but I couldn't bring myself to sign up for the occupation army, so I was sent to a repple-depple in the south of France, and there was little chance of getting to Paris. I made a half-hearted attempt to get a job as a truck driver with the Red Cross, so I could be discharged overseas, but nothing came of it.

 

     The repple-depple was crowded, noisy, and uncomfortable, and being among combat soldiers made me a little ashamed. Sid was sent back to the States in October, 194S. Although I had enough points to get out—I'd been in longer than most of the other men—I kept trying to get back to Paris on some sort of assignment. There was talk about going to a French college under the G.I. Bill, but nobody at the camp knew how to go about it, and it ended up as a latrine rumor. There wasn't any privacy in the camp and I couldn't do any sculpting. Finally, in December, I was fed up with the damp cold, stopped ducking shipping lists, and returned to the States. I didn't bother with a leave, but was sent back to Dix and discharged.

 

В В В В В I hadn't been a soldier, merely a tourist with corporal stripes.

 

В В В В В Mary Jane was living in a large four-room apartment in Flushing. She had spent several years working in an aircraft instrument plant, had over two grand in the bank besides a lot of new furniture. Mary looked swell, slim and even a bit sophisticated. For a few weeks we just hung around the apartment, doing a lot of bottle and bed work. I thought for a time we might make a go of it, but things wore thin again. We simply didn't have anything in common.

 

     For the hell of it I saw Kimball once and that turned out to be a disappointing evening—now she was an elderly woman with wrinkles and dyed hair, trying so desperately hard to be young and gay. New York had been one big Smorgasbord table for Kimball during the war years, and she was bubbling over with stories about all the soldiers she had been “friends with.” Somehow the stories seemed old hat to me.

 

     For many months I didn't do a thing but sleep a lot, lounge around the apartment, write to Bonard, tell myself that “tomorrow I'll start sketching, maybe buy clay...”

 

     Mary Jane gave me a wise, patronizing look, as though I'd just been released from a nut-house and had to be humored. One of the current myths of the time was that all soldiers needed “adjustment and readjustment.” It was true I was trying to find myself, but the war had nothing to do with it.

 

     I didn't see Sid for awhile and when we did meet he had changed, no longer wanted to slug somebody after a few shots to demonstrate his punch. He was about to marry a “nice” young girl and work in his in-law's big hardware office. He had paid a thousand under the table for a small apartment in the Village, was going to art school at night, suggested I do the same under the G.I. Bill.

 

     I finally purchased some clay and tools, tried my hand at carving wood—for some stupid reason—and became thoroughly discouraged. I felt too unsettled to do anything for any length of time. I was sending Bonard CARE packages and he wrote once, but his French scrawl was too much for me.

 

     1946 slipped by and we were broke. In '47, Mary tried to get work in an aircraft instrument factory, but they weren't hiring women. She took out her anger with a week's drunk, being sick most of the time, then went back to office work. She began making cracks about me getting off my rear—we couldn't live on her pay—and of course she was right.

 

В В В В В Kimball was opening her own agency, having rooked Barrett out of two of his best accounts, and gave me a job doing layout. Little things annoyed me, like having to shave every day, wear a fresh shirt and tie each morning... I didn't have the heart any more for this rat race. I gave it up after a month and went back to my old real estate office, and into the soft routine of collecting rents. With apartments as hard to find as uranium, people were paying their rent promptly, not asking for repairs, so the job was even more of a comfortable rut than before. Although with no repairs, the petty graft was out.

 

В В В В В I spent a lot of time at Sid's place, sometimes making a pest of myself. I mean, after all, they only had a two-room place. And if I didn't come home till early morning, or stayed out all night, Mary J. never complained, and that made me feel like a heel. Sometimes I'd try to be a good husband to her, but no dice. I always had this restless feeling, as though waiting for something to happen. And seeing the headlines didn't make me feel any better. Seemed to me the war had been a waste of time, the Nazis were being released as though killing of thousands of people had been as dangerous as passing a red light. Everything had been a waste of time, so far, especially my life.

 

В В В В В I got a sudden desire to go home and, to my surprise, Mary thought that was a good idea, and when I got my vacation, I went back to Kentucky.

 

В В В В В My answer wasn't there.

 

     Somehow I expected a big change, but nothing had changed, it was like stepping back into my life. Mom looked the same, as if she had grown as old as she ever would while she was young. Pop still looked as though a light breeze would carry him off. I had a new sister who was five years old, the mill was still the mill. Home was still a shack—a shack with a radio and electric toaster and even an electric heater. My oldest brother had left part of his toes in the cold of Dutch Harbor, and another brother had decided to stay in the army and was in Japan.

 

В В В В В I was still glad to get away from home.

 

     When I returned to New York, Sid told me he had heard from a friend in Paris that Bonard had died. That was a shock, a kick in the heart. The death of this old wino, this great liar, really upset me. Over a brace of drinks I took stock of one Marshal Jameson and the inventory wasn't much. Bonard's death made me realize life was rushing by and I was still not doing anything I wanted to, cared about. I was getting past the “young man” stage and it was about time I stopped being a bum.

 

     I staggered home about three in the morning, sat on the bed and awoke Mary, told her, “Baby, this is all cockeyed—been wrong from the start. No sense holding on to a vacuum. I want out.”

 

     “You mean, we should separate?”

 

     “That's it.”

 

     “Will you give me a divorce?”

 

     “Of course. That's the best thing I can give you.”

 

     “Marsh,” she asked slowly. “Are you sure it won't... hurt you?”

 

     “Be good medicine for the both of us. When do you want to see a lawyer, get this going and...?”

 

     “Tomorrow.”

 

В В В В В Mary must have seen the surprise on my face. I'd expected a lot of hysterics and screaming, and oddly enough, Mary Jane was still so helpless, I couldn't bring myself to hurt her.

 

     Now she said, her voice low and clear in the still room, “I know we haven't been happy. But I didn't want to be the one to bring things to a head. I knew you'd been through a lot in the war and I felt...”

 

     “Stop it, I wasn't a hero. The war was a breeze for me.”

 

     “Marsh, are you sure you can make out okay—alone? I owe you that, at least.”

 

     “Don't worry about me. God, you don't owe me anything. I'm the one who owes. What will you do?”

 

     “I'll see a lawyer in the morning. I think you should sleep on the couch from now on.”

 

     “Sure. You can have the apartment, everything we have. And thanks for taking all this so... bravely.”

 

     “Marsh, this is as good a time as any to tell you. And I meant to tell you, no sneaky stuff, understand. I met a guy during the war. Alfred...”

 

     “What?”

 

     “Don't be angry, I was all alone and worried and... well, there was Alfred. I still see him. He wants to marry me. He's a mechanic, got his own garage now in Jamaica. I would have told you sooner, but at first you were just back from overseas and I couldn't tell you, and then you seemed so... so... upset, I didn't want to do anything to... make you sick. Marsh, I know it was wrong to...”

 

     “It wasn't wrong. What we were doing was the wrong thing—all this pretending. Marry this Alfred, Mary. Have a houseful of kids and be happy,” I said, getting up.

 

     “Marsh, you really don't mind?”

 

     “Everything's all right.” And that night I slept on the couch and pounded my ear like I was drugged, the best sleep I'd had in years.

 

В В В В В Four months later Mary got her final decree and remarried. Alfred was a stocky, plodding-type, joker about thirty-five, and rather handsome, even with a bald dome.

 

     At one of Sid's parties I'd met a Mexican girl, Ofelia, who had ideas about making marionettes and going on TV. She had a good singing voice, wasn't a bad actress. I was to make the marionettes. Ofelia was exciting in a sort of nervous way—I never knew what she'd do next. She had a furious temper and was always biting me. The second time I saw her we ended up between the sheets, and she was nervous there, too. She agreed to be the corespondent in our divorce, and we even thought it was rather clever to go to Mary Jane's wedding, where Ofelia was the center of attraction, by dint of passing out.

 

В В В В В I gave up my real estate job and moved into a loft Ofelia had made over into an apartment, without much success. I spent all my time experimenting with marionettes, and couldn't make them. They either looked awful, were out of proportion, or didn't work. Ofelia and I began screaming at each other about money, borrowing from all our friends. Finally we were busted and we both got jobs in a factory, and Ofelia started seeing a psycho-analyst, who advised her to get the hell away from me.

 

     I found a crummy room and was bored by factory work. I decided there wasn't any sense in letting the G.I. Bill go to waste, so I enrolled at N.Y.U. to get my degree. I managed to finish a year, but living on $75 a month was tough, and I always had the feeling college was unreal—a time killer. Somehow it was silly for a guy of twenty-eight to be acting like a school-boy. And what good would a B.A. do me?

 

     I tried to change to art school, which made more sense, but they were filled up. So I stayed at school and thought about starting with clay again, but never got past the thinking stage. For one thing I couldn't spare the extra bucks. I tried not to hang around Sid's too much. Sometimes I saw Kimball, mainly when I wanted a decent meal. Kimball was okay, she'd even give me a ten spot when I looked too beat—without a pep talk.

 

В В В В В During the following summer I decided to take a vacation from school, meaning no more subsistence money. I got Kimball to buy me a few shirts and took a job as a temporary salesman in one of the big department stores. The place was air-cooled, and not a bad way to spend the summer. I stole paints and brushes from the art counter and did some work.

 

В В В В В Sid had bought this shack out at Sandyhook and when I went out there for a week-end, I fell in love with the place. It was a real artists' colony, even had a natural red-clay pit and the clay could be used, if you kept wetting it. There was a beach within walking distance, fine fishing and swimming, and at night a lot of characters anxious to drink and shoot the breeze.

 

     That week-end made me snap out of my daze. I decided I was going to be a sculptor, no matter if I starved. I wasn't eating too regularly anyway. Sculpting was the one thing in life I wanted to do and I was going to give myself a crack at it, stop drifting around. Sid was leaving the place in September and when I asked if I could stay there, he said, “You're welcome to it, Marsh, only... be rough. No heat or hot water. I don't even know if they keep the electricity on in these shacks during the winter.”

 

     “I'll manage. I figure I can live on a buck a day. I want to try it for six months. Save like crazy during the summer, maybe get a night job, too. Then I'll go back to school for a month, get that $75 check. If I can start out with about $250—I'll be in.”—

 

     I got an evening job as a bus boy, which meant I didn't have to pay for my meals. The summer passed in a haze of work, sweating, penny-pinching, and little sleep. But I enjoyed it, I was happy, I was working towards something, had a goal, a purpose. During September I managed to hold on to my two jobs and enroll at college—cutting most of my classes, so that when I went out to Sandyhook the first week in October I had nearly $300.

 

     I spent over seventy bucks for a small oil heater, a hot plate, lead pipes for armatures—to support the figures I'd make, wire, cutters, proportional calipers, and other tools, along with a book on anatomy and a plaster female figure for study.

 

     October was a mild month and I dug up pails of clay and went to work. I was pushing myself, trying to knock out a major work in my first attempt... with the result I developed a very trite idea. I tried doing a small tableau to be called, Mankind, which would have as a base a woman on her stomach and trying to get up, and a man stepping on her back, then part of a leg and a high-heeled slipper on his back—with a section of a man's foot on the knee of this leg. Sure, it was obvious, a corny piece of cynicism, but for some reason I liked the idea and worked hard at it. Didn't bother with sketches or models, just started working on what I was certain would be a “masterpiece.”

 

     October was a good month. I caught up on all the sleep I'd missed during the summer by not getting up till noon. I'd work all afternoon—long as the light held—then go down to the beach for surf casting. Evenings I'd listen to the radio, read, or drop in on the Alvins.

 

     Tony and Alice Alvins were local people who had been influenced by the summer invasion of artists. Tony started doing some bad water-color abstractions, while Alice turned writer and, after doing a trashy novel, she threw it away and started a long book about the Long Island Indians— which was rather good, in spots. They had a comfortable all-year-round house and Tony worked at the Grumman Aircraft factory and made a good salary.

 

В В В В В I guess they were glad to have me around: Sandyhook is pretty isolated and lonely in the winter. I'd drop in and bull with them about art, Paris, the Village, and the world in general. Tony had been a combat man, had a Purple Heart, and we often talked about the European towns we'd both been in.

 

В В В В В It got so I'd barge in without ringing their bell, get a beer out of the icebox, thumb through their newspapers and magazines, even read Alice's novel over her shoulder as she typed. I'd bring them fish, and sometimes a bottle of rye.

 

     There's such a thing as being too intimate and two petty things came up that ruined our friendship—for me, at least. One day when I was in their house and Alice was out shopping and Tony at work, I was searching through his desk for a pipe cleaner, when I came upon a Luger in one of the drawers. I admired the deadly beauty of the gun, left it where I'd found it. Later, when I casually mentioned it to Tony, he got angry, snapped, “Thought I had that hidden away. Don't see why you had to snoop around and...”

 

     “Sorry. I wasn't snooping,” I said, stiffly. “Well, I don't like people to know about me having a gun.”

 

     “I certainly won't go around blabbing about it I know it's against the law and...”

 

     “I have a permit,” Tony said. “It's... the gun brings back a lot of unpleasant memories. I took it off a dead Nazi—guy I killed. The point is I might have captured the guy alive, but it was in my first combat and I was trigger-souvenir-happy... Well, forget it. Gun means things to me other people can't understand and... Just forget it.”

 

     “Sure, I never saw it,” I said, still angry.

 

     Several weeks later we were sitting around the table after I had helped them put away a duck supper and Alice was talking about the summer colony—some of the people had sent her cards from Mexico. She said, “They have money to travel, but out here they're nothing but spongers. They'll eat you out of house and home and never even think about reciprocating.”

 

В В В В В I'm sure she didn't mean that as a dig at me, but it made me uncomfortable, as though I'd outlasted my welcome. From then on I only saw them once or twice a week, instead of every day, never stayed for supper or took a drink. Tony and Alice didn't seem to notice the difference, so maybe it was a hint.

 

     My troubles started in November when Nature lowered the boom on me. It got so cold the water pipes busted and it cost me twenty bucks to have them fixed, and after that I had to keep the water running all the time and the noise drove me crazy. I'd spent far too much money—I had less than a hundred dollars left—so I began cutting down on everything, eating lots of starches and fish. I found a kerosene lamp in one of the empty cottages and used that to save electricity. My radio broke and I didn't bother to fix it. As it grew colder I became a hermit. I'd get up in the morning, force myself to leave the warm blankets. Not wanting to buy oil, I'd made a stove out of some tin cans and I'd run around the beach to find driftwood, and any frozen fish, then dash back to my shack and start the wood fire going.

 

     I'd stuff the door and windows with paper to keep the cold out, and by early afternoon the place would be comfortably warm and I'd start working. By six it would begin to grow dark and I'd knock off. But I stayed in the shack, for to open the door would let out all my precious heat. I'd eat fish and a can of beans, then huddle around the kerosene lamp and read anything I could find—usually this old World Almanac, then climb into my bed, the stuffy air giving me a headache.

 

     Actually I was bored stiff with myself. I knew my “masterpiece” was junk, but I wanted to finish it. The only thing that gave me any confidence was a piece I did of two dogs mounting each other. I saw them on the beach one day, did a quick sketch of them, and later did it in clay as a gag. I'd really caught their movements, and as it turned out, it was the best work I did during those months.

 

В В В В В The damn weather turned colder and colder. The clay froze and I had to keep washing it down with a hot damp rag before it was workable. During the second week in December my armature broke and the figure dropped to the floor. Being hard and frozen, the clay broke into a million pieces and... that was that.

 

     I felt trapped. I couldn't go back to New York—I didn't have enough money for carfare and a room, so I started working again, but everything went screwy. Most times I was so hungry I couldn't think of anything but food. Like a pregnant woman, I'd get a driving yen for a steak or a soda, or a drink, and sometimes I'd give in—go to the tavern, have a few shots, watch TV, feel warm and almost human again.

 

     By Christmas I had less than $20 and spent a lot of time on the beach, bundled up in all the clothing I had, picking up frozen fish. I must have eaten fish and beans in every form possible, including a few I invented. I was sick of fish, of the cold, of myself, of being alone. The Alvins asked me over for Christmas dinner, and for some crazy reason I refused—and felt good about it.

 

В В В В В I hung around my shack as though it was a jail. I felt completely frustrated, getting no place. Sometimes I told myself I had to start from scratch, remembered Bonard's long conversations about a sculptor knowing as much about the body as a doctor. I'd read my anatomy book, then spent long hours studying my facial muscles in the mirror, or feeling the muscles in my arms and legs... and often wondered if I wasn't going mad.

 

В В В В В I'd put my money in a postal savings account, so I wouldn't piss it away. On December 31 I had a dollar and seventy cents in cash on me, and seven bucks in the saving account. It was rainy and windy, the water running in the sink seemed to be streaming through my brain, and I couldn't get the damn shack warm. While trying to find driftwood, 'I stopped and had a few beers. Then I drank some raisin wine I had aging, but it didn't do any good. I tried fooling with some clay but it was too cold to work. I was ready to admit I was licked... I wasn't a sculptor, I wasn't anything but a jerk.

 

В В В В В While I heated a pan of water, so I could wash and shave and get out of there, my inner mind kept calmly telling me I had to stick it out, that all my life I'd run from things... that I really hadn't given myself a chance to see if I had any ability.

 

     But I knew I couldn't take it any longer, at least not that night. New Year's Eve never meant a damn to me, but now I had this terrific longing to see people, to be around noise and lights, and I knew I'd really blow my top if I spent another hour in the gloomy shack. I washed and dressed and as I walked toward the road I passed Tony coming home with an armful of packages. He asked, “What time you coming over tonight?”

 

     “Can't make it. Got something on in the city.”

 

     “Oh. We were sort of counting on you—the three of us tying one on. How's the work coming?”

 

     “Great! Happy New Year!” I said, walking on. The goddamn wind nearly tore me apart as I walked to the highway. I stood there, bending to the wind, when I saw this sleek roadster coming and gave it the thumb.

 

В В В В В To my surprise it stopped. The driver was a young fellow wearing a tux and I sat down beside him, on my way to New York... to nothing.

 

 

В В В В В I'd blacked out. Now, when I opened my eyes, for a time I didn't know where I was. I stared up at this old boxlike wooden private house and the little garage with the angular roof. All I could see was the ugly square of the house, the sharp roof of the garage. I wanted to see soft curves... it was horrible to realize these dull, conventional designs, this stupid scene, might be my final picture of our earth.

 

     The pain was so absolutely complete it drowned out everything else; I didn't feel it—didn't feel a damn thing. The burning bullet hole in my stomach seemed like part of a different body, vaguely connected to the rest of me. I knew I was bleeding badly, hanging on to life by a thread, corny as that may sound. Only when you're dying nothing seems trite or real, or matters overmuch. In fact, it's difficult to believe you are dying or...

 

     Logan asked, “What is this?”

 

В В В В В I shut my eyes.

 

     First the square house and now his face coming into focus—a face so average as to represent all the ugliness of life, a memo of all things banal. It was comical—after all these hustling years, I had to end up a horrid bloody mess in a Bronx back yard.

 

В В В В В I still had one thing to do, see Elma again, explain it all to her. Elma baby, I gave it all I had, but it wasn't enough, not nearly enough to...

 

В В В В В Hearing the rustle of clothing, I opened my eyes. Logan had his belt and tie off, was bending over me, blotting out the sky. He seemed to be fooling with my guts.

 

     “Trying to get a tourniquet around your thighs,” he said. “Want you alive till the cops get here, so you can explain....”

 

     “Listen,” I said, and it was a great big effort to speak. “Hell with cops. Get my... my... wife. Phone is... Sandyhook... 7... 3... 6. Riverhead operator... Long Island. Mrs. Elma Jameson. Have to... hurry.”

 

     He straightened up. His face looked overbig as he shook his head slowly, repeating, “Mrs. Elma Jameson, Sandyhook.. L.I.?”

 

В В В В В I tried to nod, gave that up.

 

     Getting to his feet, he said, “Damn, this sure is...”

 

     “Come on... hurry...!”

 

     He said, “Yeah, that's best,” and left.

 

В В В В В What does a dying man think about? Above the house I saw the sky all a clean blue, and the sun out somewheres. Elma be at the beach, take her at least an hour's fast driving to reach me. How could I explain all this to her? What would I say, what made sense? Elma, because I'm so wonderfully crazy in love with you I killed a man, tried to murder this private detective...?

 

В В В В В That sounded so melodramatic I wanted to laugh. Oh God, my poor Elma, the headlines would crucify her. If I could only save her from that, or...

 

     The dick was looking down at me again, the uninteresting lines of his clean-cut face. There was a change in his eyes, they held a different sort of puzzled look. He said, “Broke into this house, found a phone. Your wife's on her way. Damn it, why did you go for your gun? Guns are my line, what I'm good at—you didn't have a chance, Mr. Jameson.”

 

В В В В В MISTER Jameson! This was a respectful dick, this goddamn snooping bird-dog who'd been sticking his nose into my life these last few months. The crummy things men do for money, for a job.

 

     “If you only hadn't pulled a gun...?”

 

     “Had to,” I told him, my voice like a distant echo. “You were closing the trap on me. Did... lot of trapping... when I was a kid in Kentucky. Used to catch... Will I last till Elma gets here?”

 

     “You're bleeding like a pig but that tourniquet seems to be holding... some. I sure hope you last, Mr. Jameson, till she gets here—or the cops. Christ—the cops!” He began to sweat, it ran down his lean face in big glistening drops.

 

     His wet face disappeared from view. I stared up at the wash-blue sky. Everything was so quiet and peaceful— the only sound was the steady throbbing of my heart, even that was a small sound.

 

     My life was being pumped out in this forgotten Bronx alley... That was okay with me—only Elma would get here a few seconds before that marvelous little machine they called a heart, stopped.

 

В В В В В The thought hit me hard.... Suppose I didn't die? That would be a worse mess... the trial, the chair... all be so stupid. Perhaps if I could get the tourniquet loose....

 

В В В В В I tried to sit up, tried to raise my arms... a thick black wave washed over me....

 

В В В В В ... Kept washing over me, as though I was lying on a dark beach....

 

В В В В В I heard somebody cursing, quick little cuss-words. I could hear them distinctly because everything else was so quiet... but the words sounded as though they were filtered through a heavy screen.

 

     It took time to open my eyes. The air seemed a little thick, misty, smelted oversweet. I got Logan in focus. He was bending over me... doing something to my wrist... then he was smashing it and my wrist-watch against the cold stone sidewalk. He squatted beside me, asked, “Mr. Jameson, can you hear me?”

 

     “Yes.”

 

     “Get this, I'm giving you a break and it can mean my neck. Remember this, Mr. Jameson, you got shot NOW, busted your watch when you fell. Got that, not a half hour ago but NOW, Mr. Jameson?”

 

     “Yes,” I had to swallow a few times to clear the thick air out of my throat. It was an absurd comedy—he'd just shot me and he was so-so polite.

 

     “Remember that. I'm calling the cops now, an ambulance, so...”

 

     “I thought you... called...?”

 

     “Mr. Jameson, guess you won't be in no shape to say much, but keep remembering you got shot now. I'm going to slip the cops a phony yarn. After I called Mrs. Jameson I fell off the chair in my excitement and ripped the phone out of the wall. It's just a silly enough yarn to hold up. Stupid me, an accident, see? I don't know where I'll find another phone around here, take me time. But I'm going now to phone the cops. I'm giving you a break. Want your wife to get here before the cops do. Then we'll see. Mr. Jameson, buddy, you got to understand how I'm sticking my neck out. I can be in a holy mess of trouble, real trouble, but I'm doing this for you. Understand?”

 

     “Thanks,” I said, not knowing what he was talking about.

 

     “All you got to do is hold on, live till Mrs. Jameson gets here. Mean, I couldn't say much over the phone and...”

 

     “I'll live... till Elma comes,” I said, wishing he would go away. When you have minutes left in life, no point in wasting them talking to a stranger.

 

В В В В В Something was wrong with Logan, he looked worried, still sweating. I could see him pretty clear through the thick air. He'd nothing to be afraid of, shot me in self-defense... that clumsy, long gun barrel.

 

     I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, the lids were too heavy. As I closed them, he said something. I felt him walking away, feeling the jar of each of his steps on the stone—shaking me a bit.

 

В В В В В I felt all soft and weak, terribly lazy. The only thing that kept me from drifting away on the dark wave was the throbbing of my heart, which seemed to nail me to the spot.

 

     I wondered how long it would hold me there. “Elma, Elma,” I said to myself, and how beautiful the mere sound of her name was! “Darling... hurry... please.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

В В В В В NEW YEAR'S DAY WAS bright and sharp.

 

     I awoke with the sun across our bed. I sat up and looked at my watch—it was 11 a.m. Why I should look at my watch the first thing, I don't know. Habit is no answer—I'd never been in a hurry to go any place. It took me a second to realize Elma wasn't in bed with me. Calling her name, I quickly ran my hand under the pillow—and felt ashamed— the money was still there.

 

     “Taking a bath, Marsh,” she said.

 

     I should have known she hadn't gone—her clothes were still on the chair, where I'd flung them. Getting out of bed, I stretched and went to the window. It felt fine to be standing in the nude, looking down at New York. I wondered why nobody had ever tried doing the skyscrapers in wire. Maybe some day I'd try it, although I hadn't worked in wire much.

 

     The rain had changed to snow during the night and there was still some clean white snow on the rooftops. Be muddy and slushy in the streets. Maybe I could find a shoe store open—or get a pair of rubbers in a cigar-store.

 

В В В В В Pushing the bathroom door open, I waved to Elma and sat on the John... watching the graceful line the water made at her breasts, the curve of her hips and legs under the soapy water... the little islands her raised knees made. And of course the wonderful face, the odd eyes, the dark hair, and that big-mouthed smile.

 

     Elma said, “Good morning. Good New Year's morning, honey.”

 

     I went over and kissed her and she put a hot wet arm around my neck. I whispered, “Elma, we have a lot of talking to do.”

 

     She smiled. “But not in the tub.” She knocked the stopper out with her toes, held out her hand. “I'll run your bath.”

 

     I helped her stand up, took a towel and started to dry her. I must have been staring at her stomach, which seemed normally round, for she said, “Stop staring like an X-ray machine. He and/or she is in there. I'll start getting big about now.”

 

     I kissed the cool, smooth skin of her belly. “Hello in there. You're going to be our child,” I said, and I meant it. For some reason I was almost pleased she was pregnant, as though it was an unbreakable bond between us.

 

     Elma rubbed her stomach against my nose, said, “I'm starved. We'll eat and then we'll talk.” She stepped out of the tub. Her long legs made her a few inches taller than I was.

 

     I finished drying her, gently pressed her against my chest. “Elma, maybe this doesn't make sense. Sounds like a confession story, but we haven't known each other twenty-four hours, yet I'm in love with you. Very much and very honestly in love with you.”

 

     “I know, Marsh, and it doesn't matter if it makes sense or not, it adds up for us. I'm so happy and contented when I'm with you. That must be love.”

 

     “Who knows what love is? Or cares? Whatever we feel, it's great. Look, Elma, is it okay to...?”

 

     “The books say it's healthy and normal up to the last two months. Shall we go back to bed?”

 

     Kissing her I whispered, “Yeah, in a minute. Right now I have to... Get out of the bathroom, we're not that much of a married couple, yet!” I shoved her out, shut the door, and urinated like a wild horse.

 

В В В В В Around noon, we took a shower together, playing around like a couple of backward kids. We paid for the room for another night, went out and had a terrific breakfast.

 

     It was sunny but cold out and the streets not too wet. Elma said, “Let's take a walk—along Fifth Avenue. Or a bus ride.”

 

     We walked up the, Avenue and after awhile she started talking about her husband, talking very calmly. She said, “I'm a Norwegian. Got some Lapp in me—accounts for the eyes. My...”

 

     “Good for the Lapps!”

 

     “My father brought me to Canada when I was a baby, after my mother died. He had a sister living in Toronto. He was killed in a truck accident when I was a youngster. I lived with my aunt's family and came to the States a few years ago—to get a job, finish college. I always thought I was a Canadian citizen, but actually I'm not. For some reason, father never became a citizen and...”

 

     “Forget all that. What about your husband?” I asked impatiently.

 

     “But this is all a part of it. I worked in Detroit for a year, then came to New York, where I found a job with this record company. Mac—my husband's name is Maxwell —isn't a bad sort. But he's weak. He comes from a rich— not really rich but very comfortable—family. Mac's father died a long time ago and he's the apple of his mother's eye—real silver-cord stuff. His mama has a chain of jewelry and accessory shops in New Jersey. Mac began playing the clarinet when a kid, went to Juilliard but didn't graduate. He tried out for classical orchestras, but that's a tough grind. Then he began playing dates with a few minor jazz bands. When I met him he was on an arranging kick. Mac was...”

 

     “A what?”

 

     “He was making arrangements for some of the smaller bands. That's another tough racket to get ahead in. Trouble with Mac is, he just can't be an ordinary musician, and he hasn't enough guts to really work and study to be an above-average music man. Anyway, the record company had a house band that used to back up the lesser known singers. Mac hung around, did some arrangements for them. He had to work cheap and this company—they cut every corner in the game. That's how we met. I suppose I felt sorry for him —he was making a fight to stay out of his mother's shops, trying to be on his own, doing what he wanted in life. Only he was losing the fight. The record outfit was tight with wages and long on profits, so when a union showed its head, Mac and I helped organize the place. There was a strike, we lost, and I got the bounce. The day we lost the strike, Mac and I were married, went on a short honeymoon. We were happy, I guess, but when he took me to New Jersey to meet mama—the roof came down on everything. Mama didn't like me—to put it mildly. She hated my guts.”

 

     “She must be a loon.”

 

     Elma shrugged. “I don't think she'd like any wife of Mac's; still thought of him as her little boy belonging only to her. In...”

 

     “I know the type.”

 

     “In my case she palmed it off on the grounds that we were of different religions. Mama had been lonely most of her life, turned to religion, and became a sort of fanatic. Anyway, it gave her a basis for undermining our marriage. As it happens, I believe you can worship God any way you wish, so I have little... eh... formal religion and I'd have been willing to change that to hers, but in the old lady's eyes that wouldn't do much good. Besides, it was on this point that Mac decided to take a stand—a great, big mad-as-hell stand.”

 

     “Good for him.”

 

     “No, it was his way of ducking the real issue—mama. Mac is one of these persons who fight like the devil on little things, and run from the big ones. By the way, Marsh, are you religious?”

 

     “Yeah, I worship you.”

 

     “Seriously, we might as well iron this out before...”

 

     “Relax, Elma, I feel the way you do—let each person communicate with God, or their God, as they wish. And if a person doesn't believe in a divine power, that's his business. All I ask of a person is not to be a hypocrite. But let's get on with you and dear Maxwell.”

 

     Elma stared at me with puzzled eyes for a moment. “Marsh,” we've known each other so few hours, I don't know when you're kidding me or not.”

 

     I squeezed her hand. “Honey, one thing you can always know for sure—I'd never do anything to hurt you. Nor do I think you'd ever try to hurt me.” I suddenly laughed—to cover up my embarrassment at being so frank. “Now we sound like a couple of mooning school kids,” I added. “But don't start old blabbermouth me talking, I want to do the listening.”

 

     “All right, I'll talk you deaf and dumb,” Elma said. “I didn't take Mac's mother too seriously at first, thought it was the usual case of mother-in-law trouble. And Mac, in making his big pitch about religious freedom and all that, almost talked back to mama—for the first time in his life. We lived together for several months and I assumed mama had gotten over the shock that her little boy was now a husband. Living in New York, we didn't see her often anyway. But the old woman was merely lying back in the woods, waiting to ambush me. Since both Mac and I were out of work, we had money troubles, but I got a job as a salesgirl and Mac still had his union card and picked up a couple of recording dates, so we were eating. One Sunday mama paid us a pop call and was shocked at our living in a furnished room. She said Mac should come home and run their Newark store, maybe I could work there too. She even had a big furnished apartment lined up for us. We accepted. Our big error.”

 

     “Why? Sounds like a good deal.”

 

     “It was wrong from all angles. Mama had Mac in her grip again, a double grip, because she had him tightly by the purse hairs now, too. And poor Mac, it knocked whatever little self-confidence he had smack out of him. He always hated being a storekeeper, some sort of phony conception of his being an artist, all that bunk and snob-appeal. So when we got our fancy apartment in North Bergen, a car, started to learn the ropes of the store... well, the more we got, the more Mac's ego began dragging on the ground; it was all a kind of surrender—to him—that finished him as a man. Maybe you can't see the picture, since you don't know Mac.”

 

     I said, “Seems to me the guy is crying with a loaf of bread in his kisser.”

 

     Elma shrugged again. “Could be this is all rationalizing on my part, to build up my own ego, own explanation for a wrong marriage. Point is, by this time I realized what a weakling Mac was—where mama was concerned—but I thought I could snap him out of it. But the more he worked in the store, more sour he became, started drinking. As it happened, we were making a success of the store, so I suggested I might be able to handle the store alone and he could go back to arranging. That might have worked, but the baby changed all that.”

 

     She stopped talking and after we'd walked a block and she kept staring ahead as though I wasn't there, I finally asked, “What about the baby?”

 

     “I don't know quite how to explain Mac and the baby. Either the thought of being a father scared him silly—he'd always ducked any 'responsibilities'—which was a fancy name for anything he didn't want to do, or maybe he was tired of me... or tired of battling mama. I've tried to think it out, but can't. Seems he was seeing mama daily, without my knowing it. Anyway, when I first thought I was pregnant, Mac seemed happy about it, but a week later when the doctor assured me I was going to have a baby... Mac suddenly said I had to do away with it because mama couldn't stand a baby being brought up by a person of a different religion. Mac arranged for an abortion and when I refused he got nasty, started slapping me. Even in that he was frustrated, I conked him with a jar of cold cream and left. I...”

 

     “How long ago was that?”

 

     “Over two months ago. I had a few bucks saved up, sold some jewelry... since then I've been living in a room, trying to get along as cheaply as I can. Reason why I was at the radio show last night, seeking free entertainment. That's my story, and sometimes it all sounds like a bad dream, so stupid and pseudo-melodramatic, I can hardly believe it myself.”

 

     “Except for the trimmings, it's an old story. We'll straighten this out in a hurry,” I said, wondering if she was telling me the truth. I could hardly believe any clown giving up a girl as pretty and intelligent as Elma merely because of mama. And carrying his child. “What I'd like us to do is go back to Sandyhook, which is very quiet and peaceful in the winter. If we pool our money, leaving about $500 for hospital expenses and doctors when the baby comes, we have $1,900. We can rent a decent house for less than sixty a month, it's off season, buy some furniture for another few hundred. I still want to try my hand at sculpting, find out if I have it or not. Suppose we give it a try for six or seven months, or till the baby comes?”

 

     “Sorry, Marsh, but it isn't that simple.”

 

     “Look, Elma, I won't make a dime, I know that. But at the end of six months, whether I've found myself or not, well still have some bucks left, and I'll get a job. Meantime, we'll ask Mac for a divorce, get married and...”

 

     “Marsh, you can try being a sculptor for as long as you wish. Money never worried me too much. I'm a good office worker, can always find a job. It isn't that.”

 

     “Of course I've assumed you want to marry me, but if...”

 

     “Oh, Marsh, you know I do!”

 

     “Then, honey, what is it? Won't Mac give you a divorce?”

 

     “He'd be only too glad to,” Elma said, her voice shaking. “It's the...” She began to weep, soft gentle tears.

 

     Hailing a cab, I told him to take us back to the hotel. I held Elma tightly, but she still cried. “Honey,” I asked, “what's wrong? He'll give you a divorce, and we'll...”

 

     “Marsh, he... he wants the baby!”

 

     “But you just said he wanted you to have an a.b.”

 

     “That's it, he demands I either do away with it—and I won't!—or I must give the baby to him. You see, this is another of his stands, his great goddamn stupid ego-bolster-ers. But it's my baby and I'm not killing it or giving it up!”

 

     I kissed her and laughed. “Honey, that all you're upset about? All you have to do is go to court, tell the judge he wanted you to get an abortion... all this crap his mama was handing you... you'll keep the baby.”

 

     She shook her head, her face in pain. “No, Marsh, I'd lose in court. That's where he has me over a barrel. I'm not a citizen: I'm in the country illegally, he could not only take the baby but also have me deported.”

 

     “That's ridiculous. Why any judge...”

 

     “I wish it was ridiculous. They have another angle, my union activities. As a non-citizen... you know the rest. Mama thought up this angle, probably talked it over with a lawyer. Mac hinted as much. And the fact that I'm not even a Canadian citizen...”

 

     “But that didn't stop you from coming into the States?” I said, as though that proved anything.

 

     “That was simple—then. I looked and talked like a Canadian, and I told them I was born in Toronto—which I really believed at the time. Why, I even voted up there. No, now under the McCarran Law they could stick me on Ellis Island and forget about me, throw away the key.”

 

     “Stop talking like that. For Christsakes, this is the U.S.A., not a...”

 

     “You stop talking like a jerk, Marsh. Mac even told me their lawyer assured them they could pin a moral turpitude charge on me because I lived with Mac for a week before we were married. As a non-citizen, illegally in the country, they can do almost anything they want to me, and I have no comeback. And imagine if they find out about us, why they'll surely...”

 

     I put my hand over her wonderful mouth. “I don't want to hear any more stuff like that.”

 

     “You may not want to hear it but...” she mumbled through my hand.

 

     “We'll talk to a lawyer first, then see...”

 

     “I've already discussed my case with a society that aids non-citizens. They think I'd lose a court case... these days,” she said, her lips moving against my hand.

 

     “I have a friend who knows some big lawyers. We'll get their opinions. Why, seems to me when you tell this Mac you plan to get married, he'll be glad to step out of your life, get off without a mess or...”

 

     She shook her head. “Marsh, don't you think I've exhausted every avenue, every out that...?”

 

     I took my hand away, closed her mouth with a kiss. “Okay, no more worrying or thinking about it. Things have changed, Elma. There's two of us, and we have some money. Now let's stop all the guessing till I talk to a lawyer. Not another word.”

 

     Elma nodded, found a handkerchief in her bag and ran it over her face. When we got back to the hotel, she said she was tired and stretched out on the bed. I went down to the lobby, called Kimball, asked her, “You know a good lawyer I can talk to? Not for free, either?”

 

     “Sure, Marsh. Thought you were coming over last night? We balled till... What sort of a jam you in? Are you in the clink?”

 

     “No. I'm going to get married to a girl I met last night and she's having husband trouble. There's a baby involved and I want to know where we stand.”

 

     I heard Kimball gulp over the phone and finally she said, “Say that again.”

 

     “I'm going to marry a girl I met yesterday, and she has a husband and a kid and... Aw, come on, Kimball.”

 

     She laughed and I could almost smell the stale liquor on her breath over the phone. “Marsh, you're wonderful. Never a dull...”

 

     “Marion, this isn't any laughing matter. I need to see a lawyer—now.”

 

     “On New Year's Day?”

 

     “You're a gal with influence. Can you swing it?”

 

     “I ought to swing on you. I'll call you back—soon as I pull myself together.”

 

     Giving her the hotel number, I hung up. I bought some pipe tobacco, went up to our room. Elma was sleeping on top of the covers, in her slip. I stood by the bed, looking at her for a long time—liking what I saw.

 

В В В В В I think even then the idea was already in the back of my mind, waiting to be said. For I knew I'd found the girl I'd always been looking for, and I'd be damned if I'd let any spoiled mama's boy take her away!

 

В В В В В I don't know if I believed in fate or anything like that, but I had a hunch that with the money and everything, it was almost as if Elma and I had been fated to be together.

 

     I touched the smooth skin of her shoulder and she slowly opened her almond eyes and stared up at me. I thought how fantastic it was that this girl, whose mother had lived in the Arctic, should now be in an off-Times Square hotel with me. Elma asked, “What are you thinking about, Marsh?”

 

     “That I'd be crazy to let a spoiled brat like this Mac come between us.”

 

     She smiled—those big lips that sent a charge through me —and I sat on the bed and kissed her and kissed her and she said, “Marsh, how I wish I'd met you before—wasn't bringing you a dowry of trouble!”

 

     “We're not in trouble. And, honey, I'm so in love with you, I'm glad to just know you—under any conditions!”

 

     We were kissing and kidding around when Kimball called back. She gave me a name and-a Central Park South address, said, “He'll talk to you. No money, but buy him a box of cigars—real Havana. You really got money, kid?”

 

     “A few bucks. Thanks, Marion.”

 

     “All this stuff you told me before, that's true? I mean, you're not crocked or anything?”

 

     “Sober as a church mouse.”

 

     “Sounds wild as hell, but I hope you make it this time, Marsh. Really, I hope for you from the heart, Marsh.”

 

В В В В В Elma wanted to see the lawyer with me, but I thought it best I go alone. I bought a box of cigars for fifteen bucks, took a cab up to see this lawyer.

 

     It was a big, flashy apartment. A maid opened the door and I passed a tired-looking young woman with badly dyed red hair watching TV in a room. She was wearing a sheer robe and could have been the lawyer's daughter—although I would have laid five to one she wasn't.

 

В В В В В He was a plump, hard-faced, elderly man with little pale blue veins showing in his thick nose. His face a sickly yellow contrast to his blue silk robe, he looked the picture of the morning-after. He thanked me for the cigars, talked about the weather. I didn't know what Kimball had told him, but I seemed to amuse him, as though I was his favorite jester. That made me sore but I told him the story as calmly as I could.

 

     He sat—sunk deep in his big chair—staring at the wall, half-asleep. When I finished he belched a bit, patted his potbelly, asked, “What you want with a babe already knocked up?”'

 

     “You a lawyer or an advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist?”

 

     He stared straight into my eyes for a moment, then sighed. “Okay, that's your red wagon. I hereby give you my best considered legal advice: kid, they got you by the short hairs.”

 

     “He can really take the baby, have her deported? Why, that's... that's unbelievable!”

 

     “Fellow, don't you read the papers, don't you know what's going on? In the old days a lawyer would take any case that came along, and in a way that's how justice should work. Now, well I'd just be wasting my time defending your... girl. In my youth I used to think I'd be a Clarence Darrow... but that's a long time ago.

 

     “About our case?”

 

     He shook his head. “No lawyer would take it to court, haven't a chance in hell of winning.”

 

     “But why? She hasn't done anything criminal?”

 

     “Fellow, she's a non-citizen, that means they can deport her like this...” He was about to snap his thick fingers, but he belched again, added, ”... quick as that. She's 100 per cent right, nail her for morals, and for being here illegally. Why, fellow, they get big shots for that, so figure out what chance your girl would have! Be a joke to even take her case to court.”

 

     “Don't be a comedian. What should we do?”

 

     “Have the...” He belched again. “Damn stinking booze, always gives me lousy gas. Have the abortion. Always have kids with her later.”

 

     “She won't do that. Could she get the divorce now, battle over the baby afterwards?”

 

     “No. Wanting the kid, he'd make the baby one of the conditions of the divorce. Might have her deported on the q.t. anyway. My advice is to forget it.”

 

     “I didn't come here for that kind of advice, or...”

 

     “Aw, stop flying off the handle, I had a rough night. Look, forget about a divorce, or marriage. Understand you live out in the country? Fine, take the gal back to the sticks with you as your new blushing bride.-When the kid comes, simply put your name down as poppa.”

 

     “But, would that be legal?”

 

     He laughed, showing a lot of rotten teeth. “What means legal? Fellow, laws are made to break. If there weren't any murderers, we wouldn't have capital punishment on the books. What's a marriage license? Nothing but an unused piece of paper—99 per cent of the time. Get what I'm driving at?”

 

     “No.”

 

     “Hell, return to your place in the country, with this girl, say you were just married. Who's going to doubt you, who's going to care? Her husband will never find you, if you're careful. You just met her, she lives in New Jersey, before that she lived in Canada—you probably haven't any friends in common. Play it careful and it will work out fine. And when the kid is born, she'll have a birth certificate and all the other papers, all saying you're the father. Might run into trouble years from now, if you should die and there was a battle over a will... but that can be arranged too. From now on you two are man and wife, and who knows different?”

 

     “You.”

 

     He pointed a fat finger at my clothes. “Fellow, you haven't enough dough to arouse my curiosity. I don't even remember your name.” He stood up. “Another thing, remember what I said about the law—remember too, at times, I'm proud that I am an attorney, respect myself—at times —so I wouldn't stoop to blackmail—not petty stuff, anyway.”

 

     “Sorry. I didn't mean to...”

 

     We shook hands and he said, “Speaking of blackmail, I'll deny I ever told you this. I'm giving you practical advice, fellow, not legal advice. One more thing, if you go through with this—remember to always play it safe, don't talk to anyone about it.”

 

     “Thanks.”

 

     When I explained it to Elma, it sounded foolproof. She said, “But if at any time Mac catches up with us, he can still take the baby?”

 

     “How will he ever find us? He never heard of me, neither have any of your friends. From now on you disappear and become Mrs. Elma Jameson of Sandyhook, L.I. If he should locate us, it will be years from now, maybe times will have changed. Besides, what else can we do?”

 

     “It does seem a little... sneaky... but as you say, what else can we do? I'll have to be careful to keep out of Newark, away from people I know.”

 

     “And never get in touch with Mac.”

 

     “Lord, that's the very last thing I ever want to do.”

 

     I pulled her off the bed, kissed her softly on her full lips. “Darling, I hereby pronounce you Mrs. Marshal Jameson. And some day we'll really make it legal. This will work out, I know it.”

 

     “Marsh, we love each other, that makes it as sincere and honest as any other marriage ceremony,” she said, kissing me fiercely.

 

     By way of a honeymoon, we took in a movie and had a big dinner, and a cab ride through the park. We both slept soundly and in the morning I said we ought to get going out to Sandyhook. Elma said, “I have a few things in my room in New Jersey that...”

 

     “Hell with your old clothes. Let's make a clean break.”

 

     “There are a lot of records I've collected, some good old numbers. What harm is there in my packing them, shipping them out to Long Island? Besides, I have to have some clothes when I get there—look suspicious.”

 

     “All right, but let's get on with it. Spoil everything if your ex-hubby sees me with you.”

 

     “He doesn't even know where I'm rooming. And you can wait outside, or wait here in the hotel.”

 

     We took a bus to New Jersey. She lived in a run-down private house. I took a walk while Elma packed. She called a moving company and they came over with barrels and she carefully packed all her records. The company said it might take about two weeks—have to wait till they get a full load going out to L.I.

 

     I'd called Alice Alvins, told her to arrange about renting me a house, that I was married to an old girl friend of mine, and yes, I knew it was sudden and all that. Alice has one of these silly minds for detail and she said, “You mean, you've made your application for a license. Now you'll have to wait three days.”

 

     “That's what I mean, Alice. See you in a few days. But I'm wiring two months' rent, to take care of a lease on the house.”

 

     “My, this girl got money, too?”

 

     “Sure, what the hell you think I'm marrying her for?” I said, and hung up.

 

     We had to spend another three days in the city to make it look good, and we saw the shows and had a wonderful time. But being in the city with Elma made us both a little nervous—never knew when she'd run into somebody who was a friend of Mac's.

 

     Elma liked Sandyhook, even though we arrived there in a lousy snowstorm. The house was a four-room bungalow with a cellar, oil heat. We were very busy the first week. I went over to Len's garage, near Smithtown and bought a second-hand Chevy for three hundred bucks. Len had a rep as an honest mechanic, and he said the car was a buy. Then the three of us—Alice loved shopping—drove all over Long Island buying up old furniture. All told, we spent some $800, but the house really looked comfortable, and if the car looked like a heap, the motor was first class.

 

     There was a glass-enclosed back porch I used as a studio, and I started working as soon as possible, moved all my junk out of my shack—including an old tombstone I had swiped from the cemetery in an attempt to work in marble —and of course soon found out it was too much for me.

 

     The Alvins liked Elma and when I casually mentioned she was pregnant—I thought it best to get that over with— they took it without too much surprise. Elma visited the local doc and of course it was soon all part of the village gossip. But we were safe. I was an “artist”—therefore anything I did was bound to be “crazy.”

 

     We saw Tony and Alice every day and Elma turned out to be a capable cook and housewife. Her records came and we spent long, happy evenings listening to them. Jazz meant a lot to her—Elma knew every member of each band by heart and she'd say, “This is one of Artie Shaw's best, made before he became famous and had to turn commercial....” Or, “In this Billie Holiday, catch Frankie Newton's trumpet behind her....” The Alvins came to our house as often as we went to theirs and I felt completely at ease.

 

     I was busy studying some American sculptors, Cecil Howard, Paul Manship, the Frasers, and Donald de Lue. I liked de Lue's Omaha Beach Memorial, but thought he idealized the face of the soldier a bit, and did a rough copy of it in clay, making the face bitter, and frightened—the way the guys who hit Omaha Beach on D-Day probably felt. The statue came off well and gave me a lot of confidence, and Elma thought I was a second Jo Davidson.

 

     And every minute I spent with Elma, the more I was in love with her. Everything we did turned out right. We laughed at the same jokes: she loved to walk along the beach, her hair blowing out of her parka, and when I showed her how to surf cast and she landed a few king fish, she was as happy as a kid. Even the little things she did pleased me —the fact that she wore low-heeled shoes and didn't distort her long slim legs—the way she'd wake me in the middle of the night, ask, “Marsh, are you sleeping?”

 

     “Not now.”

 

     “Look, there's a full moon out. Let's drive along the beach... watch the moonlight on the waves. Want to?”

 

     “Honey, fix a thermos of hot coffee and we'll get going.”

 

     Or, on a cold morning, she'd pull the covers around us like a tent and we'd fool around like children, daring the other to get out and brave the cold, start the heat.—And when we had the kitchen good and warm we'd have breakfast to the music of Chick Webb or Lunceford or Father Hines. We both loved to eat and Elma was blooming, starting to swell with child.

 

     Her swollen body, the heavy breasts, seemed so beautiful to me, I asked her to pose, and she was delighted. With the kitchen warm as bed, and a stack of records on her phonograph, Elma would pose for hours—resting every fifteen minutes. I made a great many sketches of her—standing, on her back, on her side, of her bosom, of her big belly.

 

В В В В В A statue of a pregnant woman isn't a new idea, but for the first time I felt very sure of myself. I decided to do a two-foot figure of Elma standing very straight and proud. I had a rough done and it was hard work for her, and once when she was resting in an old rocker we had, she fell asleep... and then I knew I had it Sleeping in the chair, Elma was the picture of ease and I sketched her from all angles on paper, started working in clay.

 

В В В В В I was able to catch the warmth and personality of her face, the soft lines of her body, and when I finished it, Elma was delighted and of course it had to be titled: RELAXED.

 

     I was proud as the devil of it and took it to New York to see if it could be baked and colored. Sid was amazed and immediately took it to a friend of his who had a gallery on 55th Street. I couldn't have it baked—I was not only using the wrong clay for terra-cotta work, but I also had a lead pipe armature in the clay, which would crack the statue with heat. But we arranged to have a bronze made—meaning a wax and plaster mold would be made, the wax melting and running out as the hot metal was poured in.

 

В В В В В The gallery owner was to act as my agent and I left the statue with a studio that specialized in bronze work. I rushed back to Sandyhook and started working on a head of Elma. She was getting so big now, it was tiring for her to pose. Within a month RELAXED was cast and finished and on exhibition. Elma and I drove in to see it, take pictures. The dealer had it in the window and it attracted a great deal of attention. Even Kimball heard about it, sent me a note, care of the dealer, telling me it was a professional job and asking how married life was.

 

     The gallery owner managed to get a picture of my work in one of the Sunday papers. I had a moment of despair at the thought that Mac might see it and trace Elma—for I had certainly captured her face, every line and plane. But I kept telling myself there was little chance of his reading the art pages of the paper.

 

     The gallery man was enthusiastic about the possibility of a sale, and said he was going to enter the statue in several contests. He wanted to see more of my work, and all I could show him was the piece with the two dogs mounting each other, which he admired but didn't think it would be to my “advantage to show that now. Later, we can make it a collector's item.”

 

В В В В В March was a damp and windy month and the doctor advised Elma to rest a lot. He was afraid she might get a cold. Otherwise she was coming along fine, and should have her baby some time in May. That would be fine too, because it would be before the summer crowd came down and Sandyhook got hectic.

 

     Our money was holding out nicely. Actually, once we bought the car and furniture, there wasn't much to spend money on in Sandyhook, and we figured I wouldn't have to think about a job till September, and then, as Elma said jokingly, “We'll go to New York, win another $2,400 on a quiz show and return to the country singing 'God Bless America!'”

 

В В В В В But as it turned out we were only living in a fool's paradise.

 

     I was in the post office one morning, mailing a letter to my agent and one to Sid, when the postmaster-storekeeper asked, “Say, Mr. Jameson, your wife's name is Elma, isn't it?”

 

     “Yeah.”

 

     “Been holding a letter here for a couple of days for a Mrs. Elma Morse. About to send it back—unknown— when I thought of your wife, what with Elma being such an odd name. That her?”

 

     I had to think fast. Mac, that nosy bastard had seen my statue after all! If the letter was returned, Mac might come down here. The best thing was to take it. I said, “Thanks. Yeah, that... eh... was her maiden name. Don't know where they got the Mrs. from.”

 

     “My wife said I should wait and ask you. Beats me, how women are always right—some of the time.”

 

В В В В В The return address was her husband's. Once outside the store, I opened the letter. The sonofabitch had traced her through the damn moving company, those two barrels of her records. He wanted to know if she was still pregnant and, if so, if she still was going to have the kid. He said he'd give her a week to answer him before taking up the matter with his mother and her lawyers.

 

В В В В В I walked along the beach, trying to figure what to do. She could write that she had a miscarriage, but he probably wouldn't be content with that, would snoop about.

 

     I wasn't going to tell her, but we only had a few days left in the week he gave her to answer. Elma saw I was upset and finally I showed her the letter that night and she fainted. I got the doc over and he gave her something to make her sleep, told me, “Seems to have suffered a shock of some kind. Your wife looks and is strong and healthy, but with a first baby a woman.... She'll have to take it easy. I want her to remain in bed for the next week, have absolute rest.”

 

     I tried my best, we didn't even talk about it too much, but Elma would lie there and cry all day, and even though Alice came over and acted as a nurse, Elma got worse: her face almost looked like a death mask. The doctor gave me seven pills, said, “Give Mrs. Jameson one of these any time she gets excited, but no more than one a day. Your wife seems terribly upset about something. Having a family quarrel?”

 

     “No.”

 

     “She's a mighty sick girl. Frankly, if she doesn't get better, I may have to take the baby... and I'm not sure she'll survive that.”

 

     “She... might die?”

 

     “There's a chance. I don't want to frighten you, but I do want you to know the gravity of the situation, the importance of keeping her calm. Hysteria can be as deadly as a poison—in her condition. Whatever is exciting her has to stop.”

 

     When he was gone I sat in my studio, staring at the head of Elma I was working on. The problem was clear in my mind.... I was in danger of losing Elma. Even if she didn't die, if the bastard took her kid, had her deported, where would I be? Staring at the clay face, that seemed to be nearly alive with her warmth, everything seemed so damn unfair. All we asked was to be left alone, a chance at happiness, and this miserable sonofabitch insisted on killing her—us.

 

     I went in the bedroom. Alice was sitting beside Elma's sleeping figure, working on her book, writing on long yellow notepaper. She said, “What's wrong, Marsh? Why up to now Elma has been as healthy as a baby food ad, then all of a sudden—a nose dive. Anything wrong?”

 

     “No.”

 

     “Makes me afraid to hope for a kid. You hear about women getting these mental quirks during pregnancy. Like tipping a balance, one day very healthy, the next day...”

 

     “Things will work out,” I said. “Be back soon.”

 

     I went to the store in the village. I didn't want to use our phone in case he traced the call—although he knew where Elma was. I got the Newark operator, asked for the number of the shop. A man's voice answered and I asked, “Mr. Maxwell Morse?”

 

     “Yes.”

 

     “This is Doctor Rogers. I'm calling about your wife. Your letter has upset her to the point where her life is in danger.”

 

     “Is she still pregnant?”

 

     “Yes, and having a very hard time. Unless you give up your demand for the baby, I cannot be responsible for her condition, or her life.”

 

     “Is she in a hospital?”

 

     “That doesn't matter. Unless you stop annoying her with your unreasonable demands...”

 

     “She can put her mind at ease by giving me the child. She's not a fit mother to...”

 

     “Mr. Morse, your wife doesn't even know I'm calling you. Can't you understand that her life is in danger? That...”

 

     “That's a decision she must make. After all, she's a young woman, can have other children. I feel I have as much right to my child, give it all the advantages...”

 

В В В В В I hung up.

 

В В В В В We'd tried everything. There was only one more possibility, the one thing I thought about deep in my mind, even dreamed about at times when the thought escaped and came out into the open.... How simple things would be if Elma became a widow.

 

В В В В В The idea of killing this Mac scared the bejesus out of me. But I knew it was the only out left.

 

В В В В В Mac had to die.

 

В В В В В I had to kill... figure out a perfect murder.

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE


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