The Disillusioned

“Enter Lear with Cordelia dead in his arms”
Cordelia is Death. Reverse the situation, and it becomes intelligible and familiar to us-the Death Goddess bearing away the dead hero from the place of battle, like the Valkyr in German mythology. Eternal wisdom, in the garb of the primitive myth, bids the old man renounce love, choose death, and make friends with the necessity of dying.

Sigmund Freud “Theme of the Three Caskets” (1913)

Are we the ones who think up myths or is it myths who think us up?

Carlo Ginzburg, Clues, Myths and Emblems

Most men become base by degrees. For me, in an instant, all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle.

Edgar Allan Poe, William Wilson

Let us be aware of the true dark gods
Acknowledging the cache of the crotch
The primitive pink and powerful pink and grey
private sensitivities
Wincing, marvellous in their sweetness, whence rises
the future.

Therefore let us praise Miss Marilyn Monroe.

Delmore Schwartz, Love and Marilyn Monroe
(after Spillane)

Love is the desire to prostitute oneself. There is, indeed,
no exalted pleasure which cannot be related to prostitution.

Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals

Chapter 1
Over My Head

[description of Hollywood sights and smells from David Huggins, Me Me Me]
I’d been on the road for about five hours and it was getting dark. My fading hangover and the pleasant scent of the Pacific to my left and the smells and sounds from the bars, restaurants and massage parlours to my right produced in me the usual mild derangement of the senses that I found curable only with a bracing drink and the rub and tickle of female companionship. And such companionship was always available in the micro-Sodoms and Gomorrahs dotted along the Pacific Coast Highway―those sinful cities of the California plain.

Bosch Blue Ice LA at night
[descriptions of highway driving from Bowman, Let The Dog Drive]
The rain had stopped. I was happy. Through the bathroom window, as I shaved, I could see most of the town of Millsgate, white houses massed in a jest of innocence, fresh sunlight on the steeple. A girl went along the street skipping rope, head back, eyes seeking the break in the clouds; two white sloops, heeling severely, played at the mouth of the bay. I tried to imagine, to remember really, what it was like to live without the terminal fears of the city, for I had loved a town once without knowing it, and the love would not release me. There was a vein of murder snaking across the continent beneath highways, smokestacks, oilrigs and gasworks, a casual savagery fed by the mute cities, and I wondered what impossible distance must be traveled to get from there to here, what language crossed, how many levels of being. My hair went willingly into the fish-mouth of the razor.

Maybe you know what I mean: those places up and down the coast that make you think the world is a wound and humanity just a scab that will one day dry up and blow away . . . those ruined streets lined with decade-old cars, abandoned crack houses filled stained mattresses, low-grade bars with cheap sad whores trolling among the locals . . . yeah, you begin to see the world as a wound, corrupted and ugly, your fellow citizen as an enemy, an assassin. Also corrupted and ugly.
And so too was my youth: Ugly and corrupted. But also full of sins and pleasures. I was thinking of my youth because at that moment I was driving through the western edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, where I first moved when I came out here from the midwest.
Young men were out prowling. Like so many other young men this Friday night at the end of the century. Strange to think that all of it derives from the unslakeable capacity of the male to spend every waking minute searching for a few frenzied seconds of female friction . . . and tonight appeared to be no different. Of course it was no different. But I at least had some work to do.
I’d been in California for about five years and had come to see it as the unconsciousness of America. Whatever weirdness the Land of the Free was capable of embracing, it usually originated on the Coast, then metastasized to the rest of the country.
Later I would realize how apt this vision of California-the-unconsciousness was. What I was going to encounter was truly something rancid , something that would make Freud blush and Jung freudened. . .
In another hour or so I was at Buenavista, one of the West Coast’s original gated communities. I’d been hearing about this place for years, but I’d never bothered to go in. It loomed above me like a medieval fortress, I pulled in off the big Interstate, drove along the rising hills, and through the trees I could see the facades of the cottages, all new, and most in your standard good California taste, New England cottages alternating with Mexican haciendas, with a few Tudors and Swiss chalets thrown in. Its swimming pools, tennis courts, cabanas and bungalows spread out like toy homes on an epileptic kid’s trainset, all at the top of a cove on the Pacific a few miles south of San Francisco.
Soon I was thinking of the big money that lay hidden in these silicon hills and valleys, and putting my Mustang in the crushed seashell parking lot beside the porte couchere of the big clubhouse made even me feel a bit like a monied prince of the rising Information Age.
I walked past an ancient and sexless gardener, obviously an early version of the typical San Francisco androgyne. He or she vigorously cursed the ruined garden, the flowers wilted and burnt by the season’s hot dry winds. That should have been my first clue. The wind was like a hot devil’s breath blowing down on the back of my neck. That should have been my second . . . Yeah, I should have stayed home. [Hamlet’s Gravedigger And Conrad’s Three Fates.]
The superbly groomed woman at the front desk of the main building, a kind of outsized pink pastiche of Jefferson’s Monticello, told me that Mr. Drexler was probably at the Longbar, an immense section of polished wood and brass which, as its name suggested, ran the length of the mezzanine level, overlooking a strip of beach and the booming Pacific surf.
I recognized my client instinctively. Mr. Christopher Drexler―silicon scion and suspiciously unscathed by the dot.com meltdown. Instinctively I should have turned around and walked out. I should have walked out and not looked back-but I didn’t: some lngering sense of professional obligation overode my deeper impulse to turn tail and run to the nearest bar-but there’s so much I should have done that I didn’t . . . I’m getting ahead of myself . . . Let’s go meet my client.
[Will Self: opening pages of My Idea;opening pages from Amazons.]
He looked like American Old Money-that is, not recognizably American, not particularly old, and all too obviously, all too viciously, monied. He had the face of a spoiled aristocrat (“a deracinated Count”, as Cherry later told me). Dominating the room with his height, broad-shouldered, with a crown of blond hair which glinted in the soft wash of dusk, he was carefully afforded several empty feet of space on either side of him by the lees well-off patrons at the otherwise crowded room.
Feeling something not quite fear, not quite anxiety, I decided to approach him. In the mirror back of the bar I saw that his countenance was murky with tension and seemed about to explode into a rage, but as soon as he saw me, his face relaxed itself into one of those agreeable and earnest California pudding-faces.
He wore a light blue sweater and white slacks. I approached his seat at the bar and he turned to face me and asked if I was Mr. Mickey Tristan.
I admitted that I was and he thanked me for coming to see him outside of what he called “normal business hours.”
He asked if I wanted anything to drink; he was having a Planter’s Punch. [Family Reference To Bring In Backstory.] A fruit drink, a fruit’s drink, my Dad had told me. My Dad had been a religious fanatic, but also a skirt-chaser, and, finally, a murder victim.
“Thanks, scotch and soda would be fine.”
On the television over my head a pair of lions, one male, the other female, were apparently having a marital dispute. The female was trying to rouse her mate, a big golden cat with a vast glowing mane, trying, according to the effete voice of the narrator, to alert him to the fact that dinner wouldn’t be forthcoming unless he made a bit of an effort. After ignoring numerous nips and nudges, the male fixed her with a cold stare, like a king discovering some monstrous breach of royal protocol. Then he yawned, stretched, and with studied indifference suddenly struck her a mighty blow on her snout with a shaggy forepaw.
Drexler turned to me and grinned. “The bitch deserved it.” I doubted that she did, but I let his comment pass with a smile.
“So, I guess you’ll want to hear about my fiancé.”
“Now you know, first off, that I can’t make her come back if she doesn’t want to.”
“Yes, I know. I don’t expect her to come back to me, at least not right away. What I really want is for her not to marry him. And not to ruin her life.”
“And marrying him would ruin it?”
“Yes. I think so. I know so.” Absurdly, his voice dropped an octave, and he leaned towards me. “He’s some kind of Russian mafioso. With aristocratic pretensions. Or maybe he’s KGB.”
“He’s from Russian. Or from the former U.S.S.R., I mean?”
“Yeah, I think. Well he had a Serbian passport in his car. But he tells everyone he’s Russian.”
“You know him that well? He give you a ride or something?”
“No. I went in his car and had a little peek.” He giggled. “We usually don’t need to lock our doors around here.”
He gravely sipped his drink. “He’s a criminal. And probably a terrorist.”
This was even better. “Where’d you find this out?”
“A G-Man.”
“You know someone in the Bureau?”
“No. Not exactly. I was sitting outside her house two nights ago. After a while I noticed a guy sitting in a car, a shitbox, staring at me. I figured he was probably security for this guy-his name’s Kiss by the way, K, I, S, S, if you can believe it-and so I went over to tell him to fuck off and stop looking at me like a faggot.”
“That’s probably pronounced Kish.”
“Did you say quiche? Like the pie?”
“Close enough. So you think he’s got money for security men?”
“I think so. He bought his way in here easily enough. He skipped the whole committee nomination process ’cause he was willing to put up so much money for his membership.
“Instant respectability from his peers.”
“Yeah, that’s right. A fucking-” he paused, searching for le mot juste. “Arriviste.” The comment struck me: not at all witty, but funny, considering who it was coming from-a typical snot whose immigrant grandparents and grasping working-class parents were forgotten by the son.
He sipped hard at his drink. “Anyway I told this cop all about this guy.”
There was no way an FBI agent would be staking out a suspected terrorist all by his lonesome. “This guy showed you a badge?”
“Yeah. FBI. He told me to go away, otherwise I’d be interfering with cop business. So then I decided to buy my own cop.” He turned in my direction and looked down his nose at me. The comment was evidently meant to be a demonstration of authority over me.
“That’s O.K. I accept your imminent apology and excuse the crass mercantile spirit in which that statement was made.”
He looked at me for a moment with his head cocked. “What-Sorry. I’m just a little tired and stressed out about this whole thing.?”
“Forget it. What kind of a girl is Cherry?”
He pulled out her diamond engagement ring-she’d returned it to him last week. He stared at it, puzzled. In the background I could hear the lions snacking on a gazelle.
“She’s stunning. A knockout. A woman to die for.”
He handed me a picture. And indeed she was all those things. [Insert Description Of Cherry’s Photograph.]
“But she gets caught up in stuff too easily. Like this guy.”
I started to say something but he waved me off. “But she’s had a hard life. She said she’d marry him no matter what.” He started laughing. “She said he reminded her of her father.”
“Plus the money.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not exactly poor. It’s not money she’s marrying for. It’s love.” He paused, looked into his drink. Not that I don’t love her. And she knows I do. It’s just that my love is different. I mean I’m more mature.”
Like her Dad?, I wondered.
“I mean, she’s not really had anyone like me before. And don’t say it-I know that she loves me too. This guy’s just a fad. She’s known me so long I think she just needed on some level to take a break from me before we got married, and so she hooked up with him, probably not even for sex and just to talk, but now this guy’s blinded her.” He might have become aware of how awkward all this sounded. He paused, reflected for a moment. “Yeah, I’m not poor. And the sex with me was great, she told me so.” He slapped the bar. “Hell, she even told her Mom! About the sex!”
I let him ramble on. This was boring stuff-a confessional narrative I’d heard many times before. I could write an oral history on the vagaries and varieties of Californian infidelity. After a while he stopped and his face clouded over. I sensed he was done. “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to find out who he is, where he came from, and where his money came from. And why he came to Buenavista. When I get that from you-documented, factual-then I can make Cherry listen to reason.”
“And not marry him.”
“And not marry him. And maybe marry me.”
“What’s Cherry’s full name?”
“ Leigh. She lives with her Mom, Nancy. Mrs. Michael Leigh. Her house is across the street from mine, on the Crossroads, the main intersection at the top of the hill.” He handed me a card with his name and address embossed in gold on it, and hers, written in ink in a childish scrawl.
“Would Mrs. Leigh talk to me, do you think?”
“Yeah, probably. She’s very friendly towards men,” he said flatly.
I didn’t ask what this meant. “And her Dad?”
“He’s dead. Cherry’s still not over it. I think that’s what this marriage thing with this greaseball posturer is all about. She loved her Dad a lot more than her Mom, frankly. But don’t tell anyone I told you that.”
“No, no. Sure.”
He had apparently known her since she moved in across the street from her, thirteen years ago.
“I’ve been in love with her since I was twelve-since we were twelve.”
“You’re the same age?”
“Yeah.”
“And how old are you now?”
“Twenty-five.”
Apparently Kiss had arrived at Beunavista about three months ago, on a dark February afternoon, and moved into the house beside the Leigh’s, owned by Mrs. Andrich. She was now living full-time at the Club, and had lobbied for his immediate membership. Kiss apparently rarely attnded the Club, except for dinner in a private room every third day or so.
“And Cherry dropped out of school, just so she could be with him all the time.”
“Where was she going?”
“San Francisco State. She was studying Russian. And that’s another thing about all this-her Dad was Russian, like this guy says he is.”
“And you know he isn’t? You speak Russian?”
“Of course not. But I know a fucking fraud when I see one.” He tossed back his drink, rattled the ice, dumped a cube in his mouth and started crunching loudly. The bar man looked at me and grinned.
“This fucking greaser’s doing a father-daughter mind-fuck on her. I don’t know why.”
Love, my dear Mr. Drexler, I thought. You said so yourself. But I kept my silence.
“She have money?”
“Yeah, but not as much as me. Maybe you don’t get it, but this isn’t about money, at least her own money. What I want from you now is what it takes to get you started.” His manner was increasingly harsh, impatient.
“I can start right away. I’ll need two thousand dollars up front, and I’ll send a partially executed contract, standard form, over to your office tomorrow.”
He nodded. Then with a lowered voice rich with rectitude he assured me as a professional that he recognized and respected Cherry’s “entitlement to her own feelings.” Then he smiled and clapped me on the back. He slid off his bar stool and started muttering gibberish. I had thought he was just a nice spolied rich boy but now he appeared to be some Pentecostal hill-billy speaking in tongues.
As if to confirm my thoughts he pulled a rubber snake out of the breast pocket of his jacket and started to wave it around his head. A set of wild gesticulations ensued. Finally he reached forward with both hands and tickled my ears.
I was painfully aware that I was the centre of attention, that even this place expected some standard of decorum to be met. The bartender rolled his eyes.
He pulled his hands from my ears and opened them in front of my. In each were five one-hundred dollar bills. “That’s magic. For being a good listener.” He stuffed the bills into the pockets of my elbow-patched sports jacket.
“Magic,” I admitted.
“Magic’s got Aids. By the way, that’s a nice tweed.”
He struck me as a man who fancies himself a “seize the moment” type. But to me he really had the look of a man who is making a raw deal he will later have to pay for. What did I care? I had the money.
“So, Mr. Tristan, you can go to work on this right away?”
I said that that I would. He picked up his newspaper to resume the crossword. “What’s an eight-letter word for “brave in the extreme?” Above me I could see the lions on the TV. They had finished dinner and their big pink tongues were licking their chops, licking each other’s.
I didn’t miss a beat. “Flatfoot.”
Stone-faced, Drexler started to write it down. The bartender grinned and pushed a scotch at me across the polished expanse of the bar. “On the house.”
I threw it back and told Drexler I’d speak to him tomorrow. I walked out of the building into the coming night. A hot wind was blowing in, a Santa Ana, as if coming straight off the surface of the sinking sun. The Pacific was now an immense redness. I set out to find a place I could spend the night.
As I opened my car door I could see that over my head Venus was rising in the sky.
Over my head.

Chapter 2
Hieroglyphics

I set off to find a place to spend the night.
Below the plateau on which the old town proper of Buenavista is situated are larger, more modern and less prosperous suburbs. Still, in the setting sun the view from the plateau was comforting. I pulled over at a lookout and read an historical plaque. In the last century some survivors of the Donner party made their way here and founded Buenavista. A city of maneaters.
I looked down the slope, squinting into the sunset. A vast sprawl of houses had grown up all together, like a well-tended crop, from the dull brown earth. I thought of the time I’d opened a computer and seen the circuitry. The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at me now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the motherboard had. Though I knew even less about PCs than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an ancient and demonic intent to communicate. A kind of pre-Christian pagan feeling to the place. Like Stonehenge. Or that big black slab in 2001 . . .
There seemed no limit to what this gigantic printed circuit could have told me, if I had tried to find out . . . so twice in my first hour in Buenavista, a revelation also trembled just past the threshold of my understanding.
Smog hung all around the horizon, the dying sun was bleeding into the ocean painful; me and my Mustang seemed parked at the centre of an odd, religious instant. As if, on some other frequency, or out of the eye of some Old Testament whirlwind rotating too slow for my heated skin even to feel the centrifugal coolness of, words were being spoken. Injunctions. Commandments. And words of warning.
I snapped back to reality. Two quasi-mystical experiences in one day was quite enough for me. I resolved to drive home, drop off my car, and then head down the street to The Last Dance for a big bunch of drinks. I had that hinky feeling I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A feeling I had throughout my childhood. In reality it was just what people call foresight. I got back in the car and drove down the hill to find a hotel. Still stupid after all these years.

Chapter 3
The Bank

I found a cheap hotel near the liquor store, and after a quick dinner over the evening paper in the restaurant off the lobby, I went up to my room. I had a couple of more scotches and decided to go to bed early. At some point in the night I must have woken, for I awoke to find that the bottle was almost empty and my hangover was worse than ever. I resolved to go down to the hotel’s gym and stretch and sweat myself into some minimal degree of sobriety.
I woke before dawn. I had some frightening dreams that night and in the morning one image in particular stayed with me, a blue bus moving down a highway in the desert, and the picture was so clear in my mind that I might still have been asleep and dreaming, that flash of bright blue metal across the lionskin desert. For the first time in my life I could be certain that I dreamed in color. I don’t know why but this cheered me tremendously.

There is a motel in the heart of every man. Where the highway begins to dominate the landscape, beyond the limits of a large and reduplicating city, near a major point of arrival and departure: this is most likely where it stands. Postcards of itself at the desk. One hundred hermetic rooms. The four seasons of the year in aerosol cans inside the medicine chest. Repeated endlessly on the way to your room, you can easily forget who you are here; you can sit on your bed and become man sitting on bed, an abstraction to compete with infinity itself; out of such places and moments does modern chaos raise itself to the level of pure mathematics. Despite its great size, the motel seems temporary. This feeling may rise simply from the knowledge that no one lives here for more than one or two days at a time. Then, too, it may be explained by the motel’s location, that windy hint of mystery encircling a lone building fixed in what was once a swamp; a cold gale blows from the lake or bay, sunlight cracks on the wingtips of distant planes, ducks tack upwind, and nowhere is there a sign of a human on foot. The motel seems to have been built solely of bathroom tile. The bedsheets are chilly and faintly damp. There are too many hangers in the closet, as if management were trying to compensate for a secret insufficiency too grievous to be imagined. From small gratings in the wall comes a steady and almost unendurable whisper of ventilation. But for all its spiritual impoverishments, this isn’t the worst of places. It embodies a repetition so insistent and irresistible that, if not freedom, then liberation is possible, deliverance; possessed by chaos, you move into thinner realms, achieve refinements, mathematical integrity, and become, if you choose, the man on the bed in the next room. The forest lodge, the suite of mauve rooms, the fleabag above the hockshop, the borrowed apartment—all too personal, the unrecurring moment. Men hold this motel firmly in their hearts; here flows the dream of the confluence of travel and sex.

Still tired, I lay in bed, rearranging my posture, hoping on the off chance that I could fall back to sleep. My back ached, and my throat was dry. One ear seemed clogged. I bit my tongue for saliva, then swallowed hard, but the ear didn’t pop. I stretched my arms and legs, clenched my teeth together in preparation for the back pain sure to spasm when I sat up.
A late summer dawn breaks across the city. In the Hispanic part of town the backyards are filled with washing and chicken coops. The downtown bars are just starting to open. The funeral parlors and old folks homes and emergency wards slowly give up their dead. And Mickey’s waiting in a hotel room. Alone, waiting for his one true love. What a twerp. But really, what else is there to know about him? Well, there’s what he’s thinking about, for one thing. Mickey’s thinking about his own dead. [Pynchon: love between Pirate Prentice & officer’s wife].
The next morning I was up bright and early and decided to go down to the bank and see what I could find out about Mr. Drexler. I hopped in a cab and set off.
The car turned off the big coastal highway onto a side road, and started the long descent to the sea. “Thallata! Thalatta!” the cab-driver remarked, just under his breath. He was a hairyGreek who looked like he dunked his jaw in black ink.
“Right, ‘The sea, the sea!’ From Homer’s Odyssey, I believe.”
“I’m surprised you caught the reference.” I had an out-of-work classics major as a cabbie.
“What’s the dirtiest thing Homer ever wrote?”
“I dunno. What?”
“Rosy-fingered dawn. Get it? Who’s Rosie? And who’s Dawn? Ha ha ha. You like it?”
“Hey?”
“What?”
“Eat shit and die.”
He was silent the rest of the trip
I had no difficulty in finding the Bank. It was the biggest thing in town, and everybody I met was connected with it. They were all going to run an savings and loan empire, make the city an enterprise zone, make no end of lucre.
The Bank was on a narrow and deserted street in deep shadow. It was surrounded by various professional buildings, Victorian-era houses now converted to commercial use. Walking past their windows, adorned with venetian blinds pulled tightly shut, with the sun still rising and everything immersed in half shadows like a Chiroscuro painting, I felt like some furtive, fugitive animal scurrying for shelter. It was not quite opening time, but the Bank’s immense double doors stood ominously ajar. I slipped inside, exchanged sly grins with the security guard, jogged up a freshly swept marble staircase, went down a long barren hall, and opened the door at its terminus.
Two women, one old and fat and the other young and thin, sat at immaculate oak desks on opposite sides of the room. Fatso, knitting a black wool sweater, ignored me completely; the thin one turned from her computer monitor-on which she played a game requiring you thread your way through a labyrinth-and eyed me with practiced distaste.
When I said I was here to see the manager she got up and walked straight at me, her eyes hard and sharp-like freshly-minted coins, like money, warned a voice inside my head. She was almost plain-faced, but her dark hair and dark eyes saved her from that. She was tall, high-breasted, and down below the swish of her legs and the shimmying motion of her thighs combined to produce a small scandal of sound and shape with every step. Her tight dress was so black that it didn’t reflect any light. She looked me up and down, took my card, turned around without a word and preceded me into a waiting room. I couldn’t take my eyes off her body. That dress seemed to me to be a part of the fabric of space itself-an austere chill came from it.
I gave my name, and looked around. On one wall was a large map of the town, with the crossroads where Drexler and Cherry Leigh lived. Only then did the absurdity of their names hit me, and the thought crossed my mind that I should turn around and walk out, right out of that town, but by then it was too late, much too late in fact, when I look back on it . . . I was too curious about these nouveau riche slobs to do the sensible thing . . .
The dark-haired nymph was saying something to me. Her voice was utterly un-Californian, mid-American I guessed, with a pleasant rolling of the vowels that made me think off warm summer nights and corn roasts-the voice of the sort of girl I always imagine will smell like newly baked bread between her legs.
A door opened, a white-haired secretarial head, wearing an obviously rare compassionate expression appeared, and a skinny forefinger coaxed me into the sanctum. The ebbing sunlight gave the room a deserted aura. Before a wall-to-ceiling window view of the Pacific crouched a heavy writing-desk, an immense structure locked with ancient, corrupt secrets, the sphinx feet on its legs making me think it could of its own accord suddenly spring at me. After a second or two my eyes made out behind this structure a sitting figure. He flicked on a light and a sixty-year old Norman Rockwell vision of ruddy good health and financial prudence, moderately tanned by the beach sun, presented itself to me. The great man himself. He was five feet four, I guessed, yet had his squash player’s hands on the end of hundreds of millions of Pacific Rim dollars. We nodded and shook hands.
He was a canny old Scotsman and, knowing this, I stopped off at a bookstore to pick up a copy of Hume’s A Treatise Upon Human Nature. I cracked the spine, dog-eared the corners, and folded a few pages at random.
He shifted in his seat.
“May I ask if you are a policeman?”
“What?”
“Are you a cop?”
“No. I’m a fucking realist is what I am.”
His eyes flickered back to my copy of Hume.
I launched into my spiel about representing an out-of-state investment consortium as a prelude to asking about the Drexlers and the Leighs and this man Kiss. In fact, I probably didn’t need to do this, since an old law school friend who did monthly business of a dubious nature with the Bank had phoned the manager this morning to pave my way, with the old man assuring him that he would tell me whatever he legally could, “and then some,” but I liked to lie to these people, indeed sought out my chances to do so and practiced it at every step.
Ten minutes later I‘d gotten all I could get out of this wretch and I found myself again in the waiting-room with the woman in the black dress. She insisted I sign some document not to disclose any trade secrets.
I began to feel slightly queasy. I felt I had been let into some conspiracy. I handed the paper back to her, and she went back to threading her way through the labyrinth, with her partner still vigourously knitting her black wool. I had started out the door when a cat ran between my legs; I tried to shoo it out but the secretaries laughed and said it belonged to them. It was an off-white, sand-colored really, a brilliant creature, and it glanced at me with an indifferent placidity that for just a split second made me think I was locking eyes with an intellectual superior. A multi-colored courier ran in puffing, apologizing for being late, and I saw that the cat leveled at him the same swift glance of immense, unconcerned sagacity. She seemed to know all about him, his messages, and about me, too. She looked back at me, licked her chops, and trotted under the desk of the black-dressed woman. In the darkness she exuded a pretty platinum glow.
Only later would I think of the absurd intimation these three bitches represented, guarding that vault of secrets and money. Only later would I remember that fable in which curiousity killed the cat. I drove back to Los Angeles. Night had fallen by the time I got there.

Chapter 4
The Little Sister

I fell asleep as soon as I was in the door. In the morning a hot wind was blowing across the canyon. It came in through the half-opened window, rattling the blinds with sudden gusts now and then. I lay back down, and after a while it stopped.
[description of sunlight from Kelly Feeney story]
I walked out to the kitchen. My new automatic coffee maker had already brewed a pot, the smell obscuring the pile of plates and food in the kitchen sink. I poured myself a cup and walked across the kitchen to my office, to see if anything new had come in on the fax or e-mail for me.
I finished my coffee and walked down the fire escape to the street. It was a bright April morning, and the smog was already giving the sky a sickly-yellowish tinge, like an newspaper faded with time. The heat was already coming off the sidewalk. The coffee was working on me already, reducing the dull ache in my head, but constricting my throat, which was again drying up. I crossed the street to the small public park, and walked on the cool grass under the palm trees. I stopped in front of the public fountain, stepping on the pedal and letting the water flow until it would be cool and clean and ready for drinking. I bent down with my lips pursed. Inches from my mouth was a condom. Used. I swore out loud and turned back to the heat of the street, biting my tongue as I went. I discovered that I was out of spit, but I still had blood, at least. “This city is full of fucking animals,” I found myself volunteering to a petite gray-haired woman waiting for a bus.
I crossed the street again, bought the newspapers that were the reason I had left my apartment, some freshly-squeezed orange juice and a big jug of French spring water. I walked into the coffee shop next door, bought a large coffee, drank some of my water, and read the papers.
An hour later I was home, and then the events that I am relating to you began to order themselves around me, a sequence which only the act of writing them down has enabled me to see. All plots are a conspiracy. And the biggest conspiracies move towards death. In that way, life is like a conspiracy. It’s just that some of us see that more clearly than others.
It was an unbearably hot day, outside and in. I was staring out the window, watching a girl waiting for the Venice Boulevard bus. She was in red shorts and a white tee-shirt; I was in yesterday’s underwear. It was early afternoon, and I was nursing a still-cold beer while flipping through an old issue of the American Bar Review, rereading an article about an indictment of an acquaintance, and tax lawyer whom I hated. I scribbled down in my pocket book a reminder to attend to upcoming trial (I hate to lose touch with people). After a staring out the window for a while I read the local newspaper’s book review about some scholar’s quest to prove that Petrarch’s Laura had married into the Marquis de Sade’s family. Any version of the search motiff connected little girls lost search gets me to thinking about my own lost little girl, my sister, and that makes me do what I really shouldn’t do, which is drink during daylight hours. I opened myself a beer and tried to empty my mind of my ruminations, all in all too familial, violent, and savage for such a sunny day.
I set about idly contemplating the teenager at the bus stop, and considering going out for some more beer. The phone rang. For some reason-sheer boredom, I suppose-I picked it up right away. Hello? A pause. Then a woman’s voice-deep, husky, but not from cigarettes or through affectation. I switched on the speaker phone so her voice would fill the room. It was, in crass terms, a fuck-me voice, but my mind was still on my sister and what she would be like now if she was alive. The woman asked if she could come up and see me, in order to avoid talking on her cell phone.
“Come up and see me sometime,” I offered.
She said she would indeed and should be there in five minutes and sure enough, she was.
“I need you to do some work for me,” she said when she arrived. “It will be quick and easy, simple and straightforward and, of course, confidential.”
She was staring right into my eyes the whole time, as if she had no interest in me or my surroundings, but only wanted to get her point across as clearly and as soon as possible. This attitude surprised me, since most people are interested in my curiously uncultivated appearance, and in the carefully cultivated appearance of my office-large oak desk, leather couch and chair; prestigious literary reviews and relevant trade journals arranged on the desk; on the walls a Hockney, a Salle, and a reproduction of Howard Hawkes’ version of Chandler’s The Big Sleep. A nice touch, I thought, to have Bogie looking over my shoulder at prospective clients.
“So what’s it about,” I asked her.
“Its just to locate a man I wish to make an offer to regarding something he may or may not have in his possession.”
“What, drugs?” I wanted to penetrate that mask of composure she still had on.
She smiled. “No, no, its all quite legal, and quite mundane, actually. I want to buy a particular item for my uncle and I want you to find the man who has it. My uncle would never go to the lengths of hiring a private eye, you see, so I thought I’d do it for him.”
“Who’s the man? You know his name?”
“No, that’s where you come in. I can tell you where he might be, and how you can find him. And once you do that, how to make the arrangements of purchase and sale of the, uh, the item.”
“I don’t usually do shopping errands, I-”
“Oh yes, I forgot to mention your fee. I’ll cover all the expenses, of course, and I’ll pay double your per diem. I just want to get this wrapped up as soon as possible, without attracting the attention of other collectors. It will probably take a few days to find him, and then I hope no longer than a few hours for the negotiating.”
“Negotiating the price of this item-this item?”
“Yes. I’ll give you more instructions when you find him. But since your ad says that you’re also a lawyer, I’d assumed that you had some experience in negotiating, in drawing up contracts and so on.”
“Yes, yes, quite true,” I replied as breezily as possible. I could barely suppress a smile. So what’s the item? A Maltese Falcon?” Now she smiled.
“No, quite mundane, just some old Hollywood memorabilia, that sort of pop culture thing.” She paused, and looked around the room for the first time since she had entered it. She looked the Salle picture over carefully, studying intently the various female poses in the picture, all of which bordered on the pornographic. “Very nice,” she said at last. She looked at me with that look again, and this time smiled too. “So, will you do it?”
“Why not? When do you want me to start?”
“I’ll call you. Probably in a day or two. In the meantime, here’s this.” She pulled a cheque from her purse and dropped it on the desk in front of me. It was already made out. “Is that enough to begin?”
“Yes. This is great. I-”
“I’ll be in touch. I’ll phone you in a day or two.”
And out she walked.
The job itself turned out to be simple enough to do. After some hassle I got my hand on the diary. Los Angeles, 1960: Before the Fall

I found this in handwritten form in a leather-bound book, in her father’s script. Obviously his diary. I flipped it open in the middle and began reading:

I first met Jack and Jackie Kennedy in 1958, at a friend’s house in upstate New York. Jack was in the process of preparing for his Presidential bid. It was a typical Jack and Jackie evening, with them both holding centerstage for the duration of the party. Jack began the evening by providing a political commentary on isssues domestic and foreign that could have come straight from Ike’s speechwriters; later, when it appeared that the matter of support had been assured, at least from those New Yorkers who counted, Jackie took over, dazzling the wives right off and pretty soon gripping their husbands’ attention with a series of bon mots on all things cultural – music, poetry, sculpture, the latest at the Met and MOMA: the sort of class that really helped with the East Coast politicos.

Later, when the party dwindled down to the host -my unnamed friend- and his close cronies, and the others had left for home, Jack took over the conversation again, this time discarding his still wooden political persona and let the real him come through. Actually I should say shine through, because when he was relaxed, or in a mood to charm, he really did shine, he really could light up a room. And in typical Jack fashion-at least as I remember it now–the conversation was straight gossip, stories of Senatorial graft, misdoings, and incompetence. Jack was all efficiency and style when it came down to getting political capital out of establishment Wasps.

Now Bobby I already knew, having attended the U of Virginia Law School with him: he borrowed my contracts and constitutional summaries in first year, in return for something never quite specified – not his friendship exactly, but something close to it; for the right to say that I knew him, perhaps even for the right to call on him from time to time for bits of poltical info about Washington, where I hoped to work as a government lawyer doing something safe, such as tax or antitrust law. In the end, my own connections to Washington were slight -I had an uncle in the Justice Department with 20 years experience, and no one else- and so I cashed on three years of academic handouts to Bobby and pushed him until I had a spot as junior counsel on the McClellan Committee. From then onwards I was what you might call a civil servant. But it wasn’t until my work with the Committee was over, and my first real government work began, that I really understood the true essence of American government – finally, that it is not rationality, but rather brute power, that lies at the hidden heart of things in America.

Kind of portentous, but she said that her Dad had always had an obssession about America as a potential second Eden, if only it could keep the rest of the world out. I flipped a few pages ahead, to the middle of a section entitled “Why I Do What I Do, and How I Do It.”

Today our weapons are post-theocratic. For the first time in our history, in fact in the history of warfare, what we fight is impersonal, and what we fight with is impersonal. The enemy is not a Devil; we do not fight for a Christ. Baut back then it was different; with Castro, for example. With a lot of the guys I worked with, things were personal. East Germany was personal. Cuba and Czechoslovakia were personal. And a little while later things got to be personal for me too.

I flipped backwards to the first page:

It was a clear, bright morning typical of the California spring – this was a few years before the smog became an asphxiating nightmare. The rains were over and the green hills and the mountians further beyond with their winking snowcaps looked freshly scrubbed. It all suggested to me a primal state of innocence.
But in the end it turned out that the Pacific waters-like the waters of my mother’s womb-were the closest I would ever get to cleanliness and innocence. The street I lived on ended at the waterfront. My room was the entire top floor of a three-storey brick structure, the remainder of which was used as a warehouse for various goods brought in under the cloak of night. The whole building fairly reeked of freshly cut lumber and salt. Across the street was an import-export business, complete with its own boats and docks. This low-rent, dead-end atmosphere suited me well. I had resigned from my government job and was in Los Angeles to study for the California bar exam so that I might pursuse private legal practice. Truthfully, I intended to go at the law only part-time, hoping to devote the rest of my hours to screenwriting-at which I had no experienc-and the indulgence of my various private vices. I had no family left, I was sick of Washington, and I wanted to enjoy a bit of West Coast life before the strictures of my Virginia upbringing reasserted themselves in me as I saw them do near the end of my hypocritical and puritanical Father’s life…

History’s rough draft. Now her she said that her Grandad she could barely remember, so I thought this might be worth reading.

Chapter 5
City Life
Entering the city at night was like entering a vast mortuary, its dark damp streets reflecting the pale outlines of the looming buildings, the buildings themselves seeming to hum in the absence of wind, of cars, of people, of any noise whatsoever, as if they had soaked up the stresses of the city’s day and now were sighing in relief . . . The silence made Mickey realize that a larger activity shrouds life, protects it, and that most men never see it, except in small doses, random flashes, secret signs made manifest only at birth, death, and few odd moments in between.
In his throat he choked down a foretaste of pain. The car sped through the walled-in streets, the warehouses and financial towers becoming denser, until Mickey thought delusionally, but only briefly, that he was in a forest of petrified trees, a wood of agony and stone. A vagrant approached Mickey’s car, asking what he wanted, what he was looking for. He knew Mickey’s name. Then he realized it was the doorman from his father’s firm. He asked Mickey again what he wanted, his voice distinctly less friendly this time. “I have come not to fulfill the law, but to destroy it,” Mickey told him, grinning.
Mickey stopped at a sign that said DO NOT ENTER. He peered down the forbidden street. Its surfaces were as blue as steel in the underwater light of the street lamps. Looking for a shortcut Mickey decided to risk it, and sped down the street [Ashbery, Flow Chart: “divergent positions,” p. 5] Potholes containing pale rainbows of varying hues of grey glinted and winked, inviting him in. [Murdoch, The Philosopher’s Pupil: the opening car crash; Updike, Rabbit at Rest: the drive through Springer at night to see Nelson]
The Great Chain of Being in the American city: the patrician families and the more recent truly wealthy, then the “little rich” (those mere millionaires, the lawyers and doctors and accountants and other servants of the upper classes, then down to those shrinking but still ideal Americans, the middle class, and then those not so ideal Americans, the losers a pay cheque away from being out on the street, and then, finally, the miserable urban underclass . . . the acres and acres of lost humans, the losers, the forgotten . . . (T. Wolfe) (Pychon Lot 49)-but beside all this is a Chain of Anti-Being, starting with the monied gangsters and their army of underlings, the corrupt politicos who keep everything running, the cops and the killers, the pimps and the pushers, the whores and the johns, and again, at the very bottom, the miserable American underclass, the human shit-pool where these links of being and nothingness fuse, the foul rag-and-bone-shop of the inhuman where all ladders start-in the basement of that famous and shining City on a Hill . . .
I soon spied the Buenavista Hotel.

By putting the geography of the United States into motion, I did my best for hours on end to give her the impression of “going places,” of rolling on to some definite destination, to some unusual delight. I have never seen such smooth amiable roads as those that now radiated before us, across the crazy quilt of forty-eight states. Voraciously we consumed those long highways, in rapt silence we glided over their glossy black dance floors. Not only had Lo no eye for scenery but she furiously resented my calling her attention to this or that enchanting detail of landscape; which I myself learned to discern only after being exposed for quite a time to the delicate beauty ever present in the margin of our undeserving journey. By a paradox of pictorial thought, the average lowland North-American countryside had at first seemed to me something I accepted with a shock of amused recognition because of those painted oilclothes which were imported from America in the old days to be hung above washstands in Central-European nurseries, and which fascinated a drowsy child at bed time with the rustic green views they depicted–opaque curly trees, a barn, cattle, a brook, the dull white of vague orchards in bloom, and perhaps a stone fence or hills of greenish gouache. But gradually the models of those elementary rusticities became stranger and stranger to the eye, the nearer I came to know them. Beyond the tilled plain, beyond the toy roofs, there would be a slow suffusion of inutile loveliness, a low sun in a platinum haze with a warm, peeled-peach tinge pervading the upper edge of a two-dimensional, dove-gray cloud fusing with the distant amorous mist. There might be a line of spaced trees silhouetted against the horizon, and hot still noons above a wilderness of clover, and Claude Lorrain clouds inscribed remotely into misty azure with only their cumulus part conspicuous against the neutral swoon of the background. Or again, it might be a stern El Greco horizon, pregnant with inky rain, and a passing glimpse of some mummy-necked farmer, and all around alternating strips of quick-silverish water and harsh green corn, the whole arrangement opening like a fan, somewhere in Kansas.
Now and then, in the vastness of those plains, huge trees would advance toward us to cluster self-consciously by the roadside and provide a bit of humanitarian shade above a picnic table, with sun flecks, flattened paper cups, samaras and discarded ice-cream sticks littering the brown ground. A great user of roadside facilities, my unfastidious Lo would be charmed by toilet signs–Guys-Gals, John-Jane, Jack-Jill and even Buck’s-Doe’s; while lost in an artist’s dream, I would stare at the honest brightness of the gasoline paraphernalia against the splendid green of oaks, or at a distant hill scrambling out–scarred but still untamed–from the wilderness of agriculture that was trying to swallow it.
At night, tall trucks studded with colored lights, like dreadful giant Christmas trees, loomed in the darkness and thundered by the belated little sedan. And again next day a thinly populated sky, losing its blue to the heat, would melt overhead, and Lo would clamor for a drink, and her cheeks would hollow vigorously over the straw, and the car inside would be a furnace when we got in again, and the road shimmered ahead, with a remote car changing its shape mirage-like in the surface glare, and seeming to hang for a moment, old-fashionedly square and high, in the hot haze. And as we pushed westward, patches of what the garage-man called “sage brush” appeared, and then the mysterious outlines of table-like hills, and then red bluffs ink-blotted with junipers, and then a mountain range, dun grading into blue, and blue into dream, and the desert would meet us with a steady gale, dust, gray thorn bushes, and hideous bits of tissue paper mimicking pale flowers among the prickles of wind-tortured withered stalks all along the highway; in the middle of which there sometimes stood simple cows, immobilized in a position (tail left, white eyelashes right) cutting across all human rules of traffic.

“Whoever’s closing in on you.”
We passed a young man on the road but he wasn’t carrying a guitar and in any case it would have been impossible for Kyrie to have walked this far in so short a time. Beyond the windshield all the earth was pale green lymph as if something had gone wrong with the sun, leaving this invalid civilization submerged in aqua-light. Good wombs and bad wombs. The earth curved. I visualized my apartment then, empty and dark and quiet, furniture from John Widdicomb, suits from F. R. Tripler and J. Press, art books from Rizzoli, rugs from W&J Sloane, fireplace accessories from Wm. H. Jackson, cutlery from Bonniers, crystal by Steuben, shoes by Banister, gin by House of Lords, shirts by Gant and Hathaway, component stereo system by Garrard, Stanton and Fisher, ties by Countess Mara, towels by Fieldcrest, an odd and end from Takashimaya. We had lunch in a huge glass cafeteria that stood just off the highway; about a dozen trailer trucks were parked outside. After we ate I called my home number, collect, and listened to the phone ringing in the empty rooms. It was a sad and lovely experience and I was able to see dust settling on the tables and books and windowsills. Everything was still and I could walk through the rooms, touching the edge of the mantelpiece, turning the pages of a book left open on the coffee table. With my index finger I rubbed a thick line through the dust on the radio. I blew at the shower curtain and looked into the mirror above the wash basin and I listened to the phone ringing. I had been reading that book not too many weeks ago and it seemed possible that some small odd ether still clung to it, making an eternal moment of what had been a wet finger turning a page. Then the rooms were empty again, even in my mind. I was not there and nothing moved. There was only the sound of the telephone.

The hotel had a kind of desolate palatial majesty.

I got a room, shaved, showered, checked out and rented a car. I drove all night, northeast, and once again I felt it was literature I had been confronting these past days, the archetypes of the dismal mystery, sons and daughters of the archetypes, images that could not be certain which of two confusions held less terror, their own or what their own might become if it ever faced the truth. I drove at insane speeds.

To Mickey, its spatial features somehow torqued and twisted into a demented temporality. [Nabokov, Ada: space/time] Ghosts of old gamblers diced for drinks as Tristan worked his way along the bar. Pretty whores from earlier era winked at his approach and cooed after him in his wake.
Life is like a broken mirror, at least my life is, Mickey thought.
I walk in the hotel and head to the front desk.
I went to the front desk. The computer geek told me that Drexler had gone out. An LA cop named Kiss had left a two messages and his number for me. X was waiting in the lobby [Chandler, Playback: old man in lobby]
I recovered those digital photos from the computer.
How much do I owe you?
$400.
I paid him cash. The pictures were composed of little squares but the faces were quite distinct. Enough to ID people with. I was looking at Cherry. But how long ago the picture was taken I couldn’t tell-after all, she always seemed ageless, eerily eternal, on film.
Any luck in finding her yet?
I’m getting close. She had a job working for a studio around here.
Christ, who doesn’t?
It was Jack Kennery’s operation.
Yeah? Well, listen, Kennery used to drive around with her. Her and her father. I took a picture of them once and she threatened to kill. Actually, all three of them did. He paused and looked at me. Sorry, I thought you knew about her and Kennery.
What’d you do?
Nothing. He shrugged a slow, tragic shrug (Highsmith). What could I do? I’m nothing compared to them. Money wise, I mean. He struggled to reassert some dignity: The old guy seems nice enough, though. He tried to calm her down. She told him to fuck off and to keep his fucking hands off of her. Hard to see why a father would take that from his own daughter. You find out anything about Barbie?
Yeah, I spoke to him. He’s living with some woman-I almost said cracker-out near xxxxx Beach. Cindy Wells-ring a bell?
No. But I think I know this Barbie guy. Old and washed-out looking? But acts like an old money Republican?
Yeah, sounds like him.
“If it’s the guy I’m thinking of-and keep this to yourself-he’s really named xxxx. He killed his mistress about twenty-five years ago, I remember. I covered the case. There was no question he did it. Cold-blooded mutilation. And conpletely fuckin’ unrepentant. That’s why he got the full jolt, with no parole.”
I thank him and cross the lobby to the elevators.
I float upwards in the elevator to the hotel’s rooftop bar. I walk across the gold carpet and stop-a fifty dollar bill is right in my path. A woman in a black cocktail dress is standing beside it, furtively looking through her purse. My impulse is to take the money and run. Words to live by.
But she sees me pick it up. “Why thank you,” she says, snatching the money from my right hand before I have time to stuff it safely in my pocket. Our eyes lock for a moment. It seems that we both know I was planning to keep the bill. Her gaze lingers on me for a moment too long. I look away smiling. She opens her mouth as if to say something, then quickly turns and walks away. She passes behind a marble column and disappears towards the exit. After I moment I walk after her, and by the front doors decide to have a drink at the hotel bar instead of venturing out into the rain.
I walk down the steps and through the tables and sit at the bar. It is quiet, just the ambient chatter of business men relaxing and the laughter of the tourists. After a while the fat florid bartender spies me and I order a Scotch
Scotch how? the man says.
“With a bit of ice and a little water poured over the ice. Then the Scotch.” He brings me a lowball glass which jingles like a bell in the Mass. I sip it and soon feel a bit better. Music enters my veins. The woman in black is seated at the bar two seats down from me. She is even younger than I thought-twenty years old, no more. In that tight black dress her body is a weapon, like a jack knife ready to open. I decide that there is something religious about her severity.
She sits on a barstool, her long legs crossed. In them there is the suggestion that she might suddenly leap up and bolt out of here. She has a perfect ivory complexion with green eyes and long black hair. The skin on her chest is smooth along the sternum. Her lips are naturally dark red, thin and serious. At this moment they are tightly closed. I can tell she is upset about something. I ask her what’s wrong. She ignores the question with a shrug.
I pretend to ignore her. She presses her lips together for a moment as if deciding to jump out of an airplane or some other improbable feat. She fingers the gold chain around her neck like a rosary. She’s deciding if she should talk to me.
What’s your name?
She says her name is Candy.
What are you drinking?
The bartender brings me my scotch and a red wine for her.
I’m an actress, she says. I was thirteen and I left home because I wanted to be free. Being rich and famous were just afterthoughts.
We bantered like this for a while, and then she stood up to go, and handed me a card.
I left what was left of my drink and drove out to xxxxx Beach.

Chapter 6
The Beach

Fog blanketed everything. [E. Caldwell description of the cabin].
Cindy Wells opened the door. You’re the cop. I wasn’t sure if this was a statement or a question-her voice was dull, inflectionless. Her eyes were a tremendously faded blue. She looked formless in a ratty track suit.
Yeah. Can we talk a minute?
Sure. She stared over my shoulder at my car. The L.A.P.D. sign was stuck on the windshield. She nooded me in with her head. I stepped past her into the dim hallway. [Faulkner, Sanctuary: description of the interior]. With my back to her she announced He’s gone, you know. She added in a castigating voice, It’s your fault.
She refused to talk to me any further. Night was starting to fall and I decided to try to wrap the case up tonight.
I decided to pay Mr. Kenneaway a visit. On my way there I mulled things over in my mind.
I told myself that I had done the right thing-indeed, the only thing. I had to stay focused. I drove on into the darkening night, the California hills seeming to me then like nothing so much as an evening land, something out of a mournful poem by Holderlin, a wasteland, and me as the last man, the lost one, forever wandering . . . [Pynchon, GR: alienation: blacks in Germany]
I pulled up to Kennaway’s condo building and asked the security man to ring the Kenneaway’s for me. After being told that Jack wasn’t home I confused Mrs. Kenneaway into thinking that she knew me. She invited me up.
I stepped off the elevator and entered their private foyer. A plump little Mexican maid took my coat and directed me down the hall to the living room.
I entered the room. The windows opened onto the ocean. A cool breeze blew the curtains inward. The sky was filled with black clouds. It was getting ready to rain.. There was a feeling of pressure in the air. It seemed there was a woman, and she was sitting beside a lamp.
Mrs. Kenneaway was stretched out on a black leather couch. A tennis game was on the giant TV beside me. She was tall and thin, with a sulky mouth and an athletic build. She was sipping what appeared to be a martini. Things were getting weirder out here all the time.
“Nice drink. Très F. Scott Fitzgeraldish. This place¾and you and your husband¾it’s like The Beautiful and Damned, rewritten by Joan Didion.”
She smiled. “Clever. What in the world can I do for you?”
She held out a slim hand and obediently I went over and touched it. The thunder burst suddenly behind the hills and she jumped.

Chapter 7
The First Murder

When I got back to town I caught up on my sleep and finished up some other business. That night I didn’t go to the last dance, but I found out somehow that Bunny owned the place, and that Bunny was married to the blonde with the green eyes, the one Officer Kiss had been with in the convertible mustang that time.
Then early one morning there was a dim figure seated on my bed. His left hand was gently waging my right hand. His right hand held a gun. I sat up and rubbed my rubbed my soggy face. eyes. I was covered in perspiration. The sheets stuck to my limbs and chest. The room had that stale sweat stink I always associate with a hangover. I looked over at the stranger and realized that I had a hangover. I couldn’t see his features-only the outline of a man in a trenchcoat. I had him pegged for an upset husband of some bimbo looking for revenge. “You’ve got the night sweats,” the stranger remarked with concern. It took me a moment to recognize the voice, I hadn’t heard it for so long. Bunny. I hoped.
I decided to play it dumb and brave. “Okay,” I said sourly. “I assed-fucked her, and then I sprayed her a good one on the face. There’s twenty bucks in my pants. I guess we’re even now.”
The figure went over to the window and pulled up the blind. An immense shaft on sunlight struck me full in the face. For a moment I was quite blind. “Bunny?” No response but the sound of a hammer being drawn back on a handgun. When I opened my eyes again I saw that it was Bunny.
His face was still young, his pale skin still that immaculate white, his hair still think and glossy. For the thousandth time I wondered if he dyed it that preternatural black, or if he was just naturally a part of that procession of popular idols with that — look [Paglia]-Byron, Elvis, and Bunny Echo.
He back down on the foot of my bed and smile. He rested the gun on his knee for a moment before he tucked it into a shoulder holster.
“Sorry to barge in on you like this. I had the feeling I was being followed. Even paranoiacs can have enemies,” he added in a Bill Burroughs imitation. “I want you to drive me to x.”
“What? Why?” I said. “What’s up?”
“I’d like to be, but I’ve got to get away first. I’m just rattled. I’m not so tough as I used to be. You heard about the Drexler disappearance of course.”
“You talk too damn much,” I said, and went into the bathroom.
It was the last time I ever spoke to him.
When I came out he was gone. I dressed quickly in last night’s clothes and stepped out into the hall. It was empty except for an ageless Philipinna maid.
“Hey,” I asked her, “did a guy just come out of here and go by you?
She looked back at me from the corner of the wall and opened her blubbery mouth to answer. She was a grotesque looking thing about as wide as she was tall with obscenely large breasts. I remember those breasts perfectly, because I was looking at them when I heard the shot. [description from R. Condon, Winter Kills]
We both recognized the sound for what it was-any Los Angeleno would familiar with the downtown would. She fingered her rosary beads. I ran past her down the hall.
Bunny lay on his face. His arms were spread out, his legs neatly together-his last act was an unknowing parody of Christ. A pool of thick dark blood was congealing on the pavement beside his head. [Bukowski-crucifix in a deathhand]
The maid looked down at him and began chattering in —–. [The Tesseract] at me with a queer, strained expression. I looked around and sat down on my haunches. [Busch the girls] A small crowd of kids on their way to school and some Asian nannies with their strollers formed a circle around me and the whimpering maid. After a while a uniformed cop and a plaincothes cop pulled up in a squad car. The uniformed cop shoved his way in front of us and asked if anyone knew him.
In a few minutes someone in the crowd was going to flash on the fact that the corpse before them was Bunny Echo’s-missing most of his face or not. I drifted away and went back to my apartment. Bunny had scrawled a note on a piece of paper by my telephone: “Changed my mind. No point in getting you mixed up in this. I’m going up north to find Cherry.”

A Man (Bunny) Breaks Into Tristan’s apartment: outlines a conspiracy
I didn’t go to The Last Dance, but I found out somehow that Bunny owned the place, and that Bunny was married to the blonde with the green eyes, the one Officer Kiss had been with in the convertible Mustang that time.

Then early one morning there was a dim figure seated on my bed. His left hand was gently waging my right hand. His right hand held a gun. I sat up and rubbed my rubbed my soggy face. eyes. I was covered in perspiration. The sheets stuck to my limbs and chest. The room had that stale sweat stink I always associate with a hangover. I looked over at the stranger and realized that I had a hangover. I couldn’t see his features-only the outline of a man in a trenchcoat. I had him pegged for an upset husband of some bimbo looking for revenge. “You’ve got the night sweats,” the stranger remarked with concern. It took me a moment to recognize the voice, I hadn’t heard it for so long. Bunny. I hoped.

I decided to play it dumb and brave. “Okay,” I said sourly. “I assed-fucked her, and then I sprayed her a good one on the face. There’s twenty bucks in my pants. I guess we’re even now.”
The figure went over to the window and pulled up the blind. An immense shaft on sunlight struck me full in the face. For a moment I was quite blind. “Bunny?” No response but the sound of a hammer being drawn back on a handgun. When I opened my eyes again I saw that it was Bunny.

His face was still young, his pale skin still that immaculate white, his hair still think and glossy. For the thousandth time I wondered if he dyed it that preternatural black, or if he was just naturally a part of that procession of popular idols with that — look [Paglia]-Byron, Elvis, and Bunny Echo.

He back down on the foot of my bed and smile. He rested the gun on his knee for a moment before he tucked it into a shoulder holster.

“Sorry to barge in on you like this. I had the feeling I was being followed. You know, even paranoiacs can have enemies,” he added in a Bill Burroughs imitation. “I want you to drive me to x.”

“What? Why?” I said. “What’s up?”

“I’d like to be, but I’ve got to get away first. I’m just rattled. I’m not so tough as I used to be. You heard about the Deeth disappearance of course.”
me to Berdoo?”

“You talk too damn much,” I said, and went into the bathroom.

It was the last time I ever spoke to him.
From my office it was less than ten minutes to the outskirts of Beverly Hills. Ten minutes, or several million dollars. Status ascends the further you penetrate, and soon I was surrounded by L.A.’s version of old money—doctor rich, broker rich, lawyer rich, and movie and music rich.

Mrs. X looked to be at the very center of the wealth. Her house—what I could see from the road—was large, white, and set far back from the road, behind a stone fence with an iron-gated driveway. I pressed the intercom and a man’s voice asked my business. I told him and after a moment the heavy iron gate swung open, revealing a winding gravel road wide enough for two cars which eventually ended several hundred yards later at a turn-about in front of the house itself.

The immense lawn was still green despite the heat and lack of rain. An ancient-looking Mexican was vacuuming the lawn under the canopy of a large oak tree.

I parked the car and walked up the granite steps to the massive front door. The knocker on it appeared to be made of some fabulously esoteric metal. I looked around and finally saw a discretely placed doorbell glowing pink behind a jacanadra bush to my right. I buzzed it and a maid opened the door.

Her round Hispanic face regarded me impassively. “Yes, sir?” I handed her one of my cards, the one that said my name was Mickey Tristan, and didn’t mention I was an ambulance-chasing lawyer.

“Yes, Mr. Tristan. Mrs. X will see you in the study.” She turned and I followed her down a polished oak floor to the back of the house. A floor-to-ceiling window looked out on an immaculate garden. The maid knocked on a door to the left of the window and the voice I’d heard on the telephone said “Come in.”

The maid opened the door and I stepped past her into a big room lined with built-in bookshelves. Mrs. X was standing by a large leather chair.

She was deeply tanned, and wearing white tennis shorts and a shirt. The skin on her face looked very tight over her cheekbones. A copy of a XXX novel sat on a table beside her chair.

She smiled and held her hand out.

Chapter 8
Allow Me To Introduce Myself

My name is Mickey Tristan. It is an American name, an All-American name, I suppose, the Mickey always suggestive of a big, tall, handsome and athletic corn-fed boy of the Midwest, and the Tristan sinuously evocative of that certain something, that aura, I guess, of European emigré sophistication that you find only in that stretch of Manhattan my mother called Upper Asethetica. Mickey Tristan: now there’s a name that you could use without embarrassment. A name both strong and unassuming but also dependable and graceful. One that’s ruthlessly heterosexual and pleasantly euphonic.
My mother used to say that I was “graced”-by which she didn’t mean that I manifested your traditional Christian grace, nor that I should consider myself the deserving recepient of some religious dispensation, like so many of my Bible-soaked countrymen-but rather that I was granted some shield of divine providence, probably undeserved, that I was marked for some purpose, ordained for some fate, all my actions written and foretold in some prehistoric charter, a document even older than the Bible itself, a kind of ur-rap sheet of my soul, sworn and sealed around about the time of the Big Bang.
[Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian]

MICKEY’S BACKGROUND

How do you begin a story like this, anyway? It’s easy enough to end it(just kill everybody, or marry them off, what have you. Comedy and tragedy, the tried and true forms of human storytelling.
But to where to begin(in medias res?(like in the old epics they teach you in school? Or at some forensically accurate point of causation(in which case I might say that this story really began when Mickey saw his Mom shoot his Dad, or when Cherry ran away from home? When the two lovers met?

MICKEY’S Childhood

Mickey Tristan-let’s take a look at this guy. What makes him tick? I’m fucked if I know. Then again, I’m fucked if I know what makes me tick . . .
But on second thought . . . is Mickey really so hard to read? Let’s consider for a moment the flow chart of his personality. Right at the top is a box containing the words “I want to lead the good life, the American dream that is the birthright of all of America’s children . . .”

It was the New York of the 50’s-hot jazz in the night air, cold warriors sat in both Houses, our massive military-industrial complex was in full swing, big Detroit fins were on all the cars, the city was filled with dark nightclubs, B-girls and their easily bought sex- clean, safe sex at that . . . the “System” was full of cheap cops and even cheaper pols and judges, so it was a great time for guys like my Dad, it was the peak of the greenback, America was at her pinnacle, everybody smoked, everybody drank, and everybody needed what Dad had to sell: The Big Lie.

Gone were the Church Dogmatics and the Fear and Trembling; now she read and read the collected works of Hal Lindsey. So The Late Great Planet Earth usurped I and Thou, Oral Roberts broadcasts on pornography replaced Paul Tillich’s sermons on faith, hope and charity .
“Mom, how come you’re reading that book again?”
“Mickey, all of life is simply a process not of reading but of and re-reading this . . . this masterwork of the collective American superego.” Mickey could never tell if his mom was kidding or not when she said stuff like this.
[see description of Mom in Moody’s The Ice Storm].

Mickey was supposed to be a minister, a man of the cloth, as his mom’s parents put it. Her Dad had been one, had made a good living at it, wasn’t one of these TV frauds like you see everywhere today. No, back then, it had been the radio all the religious sharps were on, and they weren’t as bad as the televangelists today. What was it McLuhan said about radio being a hot medium and TV a cool one?
His grandpa on his Mom’s side: a good man, his mom always said.
But his Dad’s father, now he was another story.

Mr. Tristan was talking to his son . . . “I have no doubt that Jesus Christ was the Son of God . . . But what about St. Paul? Wasn’t he just a jewboy from the wrong side of the tracks?
The six year-old shrugged. [R. Moody, Purple America]

Tristan’s mom was screaming at him. “We’re not your real parents. Your the damned offspring of a Bishop and a nun. You’re the anti-Christ!”

When her drinking really took off, along with her reading of Hal Lindsey and Joseph Campbell, Mom became convinced that I had some secret grace, one that would see me through the worst of “this our obdurate world,” to use Mom’s description. Mom was really quite taken with the Protestant revival at work in America in the 1970s.

Tristan’s mom was on acid a lot during these days. She told him that his Dad was an officer in the U.S. Navy, in Naval Intelligence. That he had helped orchestrate the Gulf of Tonkin incident; that he was friends with another officer, —- Morrison, his son was Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, who was a not unwilling partictipant in a CIA-sponsored behaviouralism experiment in capturing and containing the youthful, Bacchic forces of dissent, of rebellion. That Jim Morrison was in fact still alive.
The last time he say his mom-mom!-the very word conjured up in Mickey’s mind images of a smiling woman in her sunny kitchen making him a sandwich with peanut butter and jam on white bread, with a nice big glass of milk. She was drunk. The last time he saw her she was drunk. He saw her like that many times, but couldn’t ever remember her making him a sandwich on a nice summer’s day.

“Oh you’re sooo special . . . ooooh, look at the little annointed one, sitting at the right hand of God”-mussing his hair with mock affection while doing this-or is it the Left Hand of Darkness?”-and smacking him a good one right across his face.

“It doesn’t matter in the end. It’s all the same. The Alpha and the Omega . . . BIBLE QUOTE”

After the orphanage, Mickey ended up living with three different families in three different cities, all in the mid-West. The last of these, Rick and Donna King, were the best of the bunch, and by the time he was 15, ten years after his Dad’s murder, Mickey actually felt love for them, and seemed on the way to a normal life as an All-American kind of kid.

He would come home and put on his rock-n-roll LPs, the first house he’d been in where that was allowed, and hit the books. He made straight As and when he was 16 was 6 foot three and had an arm that made him an All-State quarterback in his junior year. In the end, despite some serious scholarship offers from the state universities, Mickey realized he didn’t have what it took to read real defenses, and that he never would. By the time he graduated high school he had intuited that some part of him was just too trusting, too chronically simple, and that he would never stop taking people at face value. That fall he went off to Harvard. He’d decided to do what his father did, and become a lawyer.

Harvard’s red brick buildings and ivied walls, the wonderful Weedner Library which contained everything, Harvard Yard, the great used bookstores(everything about Cambridge appealed to Mickey. He knew he belonged here. The people, the ideas, Homecomings . . . Four years as an undergraduate spent effortlessly reading books containing the best that had been thought and said, and then three years at the best law school in the country. It was perfect.

[Brodkey; Flood]

But a story like this(a long time ago it would be told as a story of great lovers. But now great lovers swoon into sentiment, or into bathos, and lately into pornography. Obscenity (the latest stage in …..

The Writer: A Good Time Everywhere: Largely A Personal History

I’m writing this against my will. The honesty of it exhausts me. The dishonesty of it exhausts me. I speak of the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law. The alcohol calms me, cures me, sobers me. A shot or two an hour keeps me from thinking of her absence. Her absence: when the rest of the world floods in, when I no longer have to think of her. It’s only when I’m left alone that I’m able to write. But what then do I write about? I hope that no one reads this, at least no one but her. But all hope aside, have I got a story for you…

Is one to take this seriously? A classico-romantic scene, with elements of the pastoral, he would say. Maybe it depends on the mood you’re in when you read it.

¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨

“His stories, are they good?” Well, it’s not so much a question of being good, but one of difficulty. Of difficult pleasures. That at least was what she had told him over the phone yesterday, this unsmiling publisher who had flown all the way from Toronto to this little Newfoundland town. To this pile of yellowed foolscap. Unpublished, but publishable. Yes, definitely publishable. She hands him the top story, autobiographical, entitled “Archaic Romantic Technology”. He starts to read it right there, aloud.

I was a deceitful boy, the result of reading. Mostly I read Don Quixote. When my father found out, he made me reread it. “Aah, ’tis a pleasing study, Colum. Ye read always – that’s the guarantor ye not be hoodwinked in this life.” In his outlook and habits my father was a man straddling two centuries, perfectly. But as for me, for me he was fond of saying that I was as one born out of time. That I alone would escape the family’s fate of fishing and coal mining, that only I could yield to the eternal world of the word. And sometimes that was how I felt, anyway-timeless, as if I alone of the people around me could seize my fate, twist it, make it what I wanted it to be. “Write things down, boy. That’s how you make your life.” I felt I could do it, too. Felt it as far as my eye could see. I was just ten or eleven at the time.
When I told my mother how I felt, she shot back hot and quick, slumped over, covered in her sink-sweat, “God’s a windmill, boy. And so’s Art. And Love. Remember that, always.” I remember it was then that I thought I should write my own Don Quixote. When I told Mother my plan “Damn, boy” was all she could muster. At the sink her hands and face had the eerie luminous quality of pale rocks defiantly shining at dusk.
That same night I told my Grandma my plan. “Oh, my mute inglorious lobster man,” she said. “Then turn away from me, from here. Mo Chridhe Trom.” I remember that though the sky was full of stars that night, it rained. And I remember that on our tin roof the light drops were like little murmurs of gently pitying laughter. “Yes Colum,” they whispered, “turn away.”
My father tucked me in. “Don’t forget to find yourself a Dulcinea, my boy, or maybe a Beatrice.” I could see his eye wink at me in the half-light of my room. Later my mother snuck in, her breath hot on my face, and whispered “You’ve got a lot to learn about suffering, my boy, a lot. You have got to learn to master that before you can master anything.”

But the publisher didn’t have the voice to read it aloud, he couldn’t move from the refined, from the big idea to the slang word which both deflates and reinforces. An obvious irony deficiency. Gold cuff links, funereal suit. His aftershave, too strong for a Club Med dinner, positively reeked out here, an obscene pungency in the bracing, salty Atlantic air of a Newfoundland November. His voice was officious, effete without being precise. She suggests he read them later, and that she would call him tomorrow afternoon.
“Cherry? I was wondering actually if we could have dinner tonight. The hotel restaurant is supposed to be quite good.”
“Sorry, but I’m busy. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He stares at her, open-mouthed. She smiles and heads for the lobby’s exit.
“Tomorrow, then.” She doesn’t stop to ask if he means the phone call or dinner. She wants to see this publisher’s response, to see if anything could be done to publish these stories, stories written by this Lowryesque isolate, who was also a stoic, an alcoholic, and finally a suicide. He often wrote in a Newfoundland dialect that bounced along on its folk music rhythms, but it was the Gaelic vernacular, the brogue, of a Flaubert. Such precision… A frotteur, a weigher of words.
What would she say if she was asked about this man? She would say, probably, something very like the following: “I had grown up in the shadow of this great man, my family living in the campus of this Maritime province’s university, where he taught modern literature to rooms packed with undergraduates, his large gestures, and infectious laughter, his lean tall figure and gaunt face all embodying our ideas of what a great writer, a great man, should look like. He has been a friend of my father’s, a bookish marine biologist, and had always been invited to my birthday parties, family Christmases, Sunday dinners. “My little Beatrice,” he used to call me, in a rolling, mock-Italian accent. When I turned thirteen he made a present to me of the Comedia-a privately printed translation he did himself. I haven’t seen him since my parents died, killed in a car accident, and he didn’t respond to the little note I’d sent him from Toronto last year telling him I was now married.”
She would say something like that, but it wouldn’t be the whole story.

The Writer

The writer looked at the saccharine, idiot prose [Amis, The Information]. It was part of a larger satanic project to rewrite Tolstoy, he decided: “All happy families have the same genetic coding. Unhappy families have chromosomal problems and retroviruses.”
Kiss formulated the idea that his true self was somewhere else-that here, on this planet, or at least in this city, he was cut off from it. Maybe by killing someone he could find it, find himself.

Kiss is listening on the radio to the cops interrogating the writer.
The writer: “I’ve forgotten . . . my skills are a little rusty.”
The sound of the cops working over the writer.
The writer: “There, it’s coming back . . .”
The sound of gunfire as the writer kills them.
Kiss: “Jesus Christ, this guy’s Plan B.”
“…”
“What’s that?”
“You’re the writer, you should know.”
“Its Horace. I stayed home and wrote. Which is what you should have done. Insetad of fucking around with these people.”
“But I-”
“Instead of fucking these people around. Moron.”
“I’m the moron. You just split an infinitive.”
“I’m speaking in the demotic, idiot. Anyway now I’m going to split you. Split you but gooood . . .”

Kiss knocked him into the water. After a few seconds the writer appeared, his head breaking the surface with a frantic sucking of oxygen.
Kiss smiled. “The sea, the sea, the mother of us all.”
The writer said, “It’s like being back in the womb. All this liquid warmth. Ah, what’s the word I want? The-”
“Lubricity. The lubriciousness of this our warm wet world.”
The writer giggled. “Our maternal world.”
“The womb-like water, the vaginate swamp.”
“Yes, yes,” the writer, the bookish fruitcake, getting excited now, “our female world.”
“Indeed, the worst of all possible worlds.”
The writer was really laughing now. Kiss felt himself getting a little closer to death.
“Candide! A gynocentric-”
“The Devil is a woman. Words to live by, buddy.” And with that Kiss pulled out his Walther PPK and shot him three times in the head.
“Words to live by,” Kiss repeated, this time seriously, with respect, as if he thought he was still being watched, still somehow secretly audited by those pious and ghostly men in robes, by the gliding and hooded Jesuits who haunted his youth. Who indeed haunt him still.

A Killing
[NTD: This opening part derives in theme and description from Broch’s The Guiltless; see also the opening to DeLillo’s The Names; also research other opening scenes set in the dark of a modern city, especially Pynchon’s V. The ultimate shape of this novel is unclear, though Broch’s The Guiltless is the controlling text, at this point; it is important to determine soon just which text I am to follow – is Mulcahy’s Glass a useful text here, given that it was published in Gordon Lish’s The Quarterly?, or should I follow M. Amis, Self, Mailer, etc.? Perhaps the best place is to consider the novels mentioned with admiration in the interviews given by Amis and DeLillo – especially the novel of ideas and politics and violence, such as Blood Meridian]

[NTD: this needs a stronger opening line, such as “A screaming comes across the sky”]. It is dark now. [It has been dark for several hours now]. Halloween, 1987. Offshore, on Manhattan. The island is hidden in the evening fog. In the hotel’s lounge the piano player is in full swing [full set(?)] [NTD: check Pynchon’s V, Hobsbawm’s The Jazz Scene, and Reading Jazz], and the sounds drift out the building’s open doors and windows onto the street-front patio and into the night. The black and white striped awning overhanging the patio flutters in the evening’s cool breeze. It seems to come from the ocean, but this may be because the streets are still wet from the sudden rain that came earlier that night. Apart from the couples who have half-filled the patio sits a man, young-looking, but in the dark appearing to be of apparently indeterminate age [NTD: check description in Bruckner’s Evil Angels].

Despite the darkness, he is concentrating on a set of papers. Actually, he is not trying to read them so much as to find a coherence in them, to understand the relationships between them, as if he might through an act of will impose a structure on them
[NTD: check DeLillo’s Libra, Running Dog, Mao II, and The Names re descriptions of the state of mind of an young man confronting a difficult pyschological state].
He was never, he felt, very good at this sort of thing.

When the band was between sets, the man became aware of the sound of the foaming surf. He folded his papers in half and dropped them into the inside pocket of his sports jacket. The breeze was picking up, and he put on his coat, as if he was ready to leave. The waitress asked him if he wanted the bill, but he shook his head to say no. He heard the saxman say something about Bud Powell being in the next set. Powell. “Un Poco Loco”. Appropriate for an ordinary evening on Manhattan, he thought to himself
[NTD: check jazz sources re Manhattan jazz and musicians and various titles from Powell’s music, such as the dance of the infidels].

He turned his chair from the other couples, in order to look out at the night’s ocean. The lights of the patio seemed to extend down to the beach at the end of the street, with the ocean spreading out into the darkness beyond. The clouds gusted in the wind and the sudden moonlight lent unexpected illumination to the spume of the waves that breaking further out from the shore. The smell of the ocean and of driftwood burning on the beach [NTD: check opening of McInerney’s Darkness Falls].
Stewart Meyer, The Lotus Crew
From parker, the goldwulf mss

By the Mass Turnpike it is less than ten minutes from downtown Boston
to West Newton. From West Newton Square to the top of West Newton Hill is a
matter of fifty thousand dollars. Status ascends as the hill rises, and at
the top live the rich. It is old rich on West Newton Hill. Doctor rich,
professor rich, stockbroker rich, lawyer rich. The new rich, the engineer
rich, and the technocratic rich live in developments named after English
kings in towns like Lynnfield and Sudbury.

Roland Orchard looked to be a rich man’s rich man.

His home was large and white and towering as one came up the hill
toward it. It occupied most of the lot it was built on.

New rich seem to want a lot of land for a gardener to manicure. Old
rich don’t seem to give a damn. Across the front and around one side of the
house was a wide porch, empty in the winter but bearing the wear marks of
summer furniture.

Above the door was a fan-shaped stained glass window. I rang the bell.
A maid opened the door. Her black skin, devoid of make-up, shone as though
freshly burnished. Her almondcolored eyes held a knowledge of things that
West Newton Hill didn’t want to hear about.

She said, “Yes, sir.”

I gave her one of my cards. The one with only my name on it.

“Yes, Mr. Spenser. Mrs. Orchard is expecting you in the study.”

She led me down a polished oak-floored hall, past a curving stairway.
The hall–it was more like a corridor–ran front to back, the depth of the
house. At the far end a floor to ceiling window opened out onto the
backyard. The coils of a grapevine framed the window. The rest was dirty
snow. The maid knocked on a door to the left of the window; a woman’s voice
said, “Come in.” The maid opened the door, said “Mr. Spenser,” and left.

It was a big room, blond wood bookeases built in on three walls. A
fieldstone fireplace covered the fourth wall.

There was a fire going, and the room was warm and smelled of woodsmoke.
Mrs. Orchard was standing when I came in.

She was darkly tanned (not Miami, I thought, West Palm Beach, probably)
and wearing a white pants suit and white boots. Her hair was shag cut and
tipped with silver, and the skin on her face was very tight over her bones.
She had silver nail polish and wore heavy Mexican-looking silver earrings. A
silver service and a covered platter on a mahogany tea wagon stood near the
fire. A chiffon stole was draped over the back of the couch, and a novel by
Joyce Carol Oates lay open on the coffee table.

As I walked toward her she stood motionless, one hand extended, limp at
the wrist, toward me. I felt as if I were walking into a window display.

The Tragic Sense of Life
Somewhere one of Conrad’s protagonists ruefully observes “It was written that I be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.” I first came across those words in high school English class, and they’ve come back to me in my long dark three a.m.s of my soul ever since. And as you’ll see, I was nothing if not loyal . . .

It was one of those sweltering New York summer nights which prevent me from sleeping. Bored, I went out for a newspaper. Instead I found my fate. She was waiting for me at the corner of 5th Avenue and East 57th Street with a smile in her eyes and an invitation in her hips.

The nights had always been noisy. Drums and sirens, dogs barking, bottles smashing. And behind that the irregular punctuation of gunshots, the more regular sussurus of whores and their moaning customers.

It had been a long time since he’d thought about his parents. Mickey had often wondered about them after he graduated from college, but after a while the travails of the working world seemed to obliterate all that was essential to him.

The car sped forward, plunging past the outer layers of the city like a hypodermic …

And Mickey, the cold callow excursionist, was now alert only to the possibilities of his own timetable, but no one else’s. He flushed from his mind the sense that his life was suffocating under memoranda. The night’s indiscriminate shapes, a mass of far-off mountains on one side, the hushed Pacific on the other, intimate their patience to him, reminding of the summers of his youth, blue rivers and sleepy small towns… he wonders if cities dream, if a collective unconsciousness produces an urban nightmare from which he may yet awake.

He pulls into the greasy parking lot behind his apartment. Once inside he pulls off his clothes and falls asleep immediately. In the empty hours of the night Mickey dreams of strange things, of the dark interstice between stars, of all the foot prints he’s left behind… A few hours later the officious light of the city’s day awakes him. His lips silently form the word “Candy.”

When he rises he notices that the sheets are barely wrinkled .He’s slept the sleep of the dead.

Over his morning coffee a series of wry reflections enter his head. He realizes, not for the first time, that his mind is preoccupied with darkness. Somehow he senses he’s not the hero of the story, but rather its corpse.

Early sunlight enters the room, silently plastering itself in trapezoids along the walls. Mickey steps to the full-length mirror at the foot of his bed. He sees himself illuminated, radiant in fact. Golden dust motes dance around his head. As if the light of the world is telling that in the end it’s himself that he’s seeking.

Pardon the intrusion, but let’s get one thing straight, right from the get-go: the city was saying things to Mickey Tristan. The city was saying all sorts of things to Tristan.

Men of all ages, creeds and colours flit in and out of these one story buildings. Ramshackle and rambling motels, smoke shops, adult video stores. In fact, Mickey thought he recognized some of these guys, drawn like exhausted moths to the dying November light . . . (J. Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn)

Sayles: p 41
A porno shop over in a Latino section of town.

Shadwell learned through bitter experience a rule, which he broke today, much to his regret: never get on a bus and sit next to a man named Sergio . . .

A little bearded lady strutted pass Mickey, wearning an ankle-length coat fashioned out of industrial strength plastic and sewn with faux-lamé stitching.

Shadwell cast his eye on his surroundings with studied distaste. No one was what they seemed to be. Blondes parading as redheads. White kids aping black gangstas, black kids aping apes . . .

I flashed the social worker some fake ID saying I was a lawyer for L.A. Children’s Services. She was a plump Philipinna named Maria.

She nodded despondently when I asked her about Kiss/Valentine and Jack Kenneaway.

Her tone of voice suggested a surgeon describing a difficult but successful operation.

‘Some of the girls, it’s hard to convince them to leave that knid of life. As I’m sure you know.’

“Do you know the girl wbo’s driving her at present?’
“I don’t know her name. Mrs. Bradshaw has quite a turnover with her drivers. She gets them from the college mostly. Her son is Dean at the college, and he won’t let the old lady do her own driving. She’s crippled with rheumatics, and I think she was in a smashup at one time.’
I cut in on Mario’s complicated explanations and showed him the print. “This girl?”
‘Yeah. She was here with Mrs. Bradshaw the other day. She’s a new one. Like I said, Mrs. Bradshaw has quite a turnover. She likes to have her own way, and these college girls don’t take orders too well. Personally I always hit it off with Mrs. Bradshaw-2
‘Where does she live?’
Alex sounded anxious, and Mario was slightly infected by his anxiety. ‘What is it you want with her?’
“She’s not the one I’m interested in. The girl is my wife.’
“You and her are on the outs?’
‘I don’t know. I have to talk to her.’
Mario looked up at the high corrugated-iron roof of the gamge. ‘My wife divorced me a couple years ago. I been putting on weight ever since. A man don’t have the same motivation.’
‘Where does Mrs. Bradshaw live?” I said.
‘Foothill Drive, not too far from here. Take the first cross street to the right, it runs into it. You can look up the house number in the phone book, on the desk there. It’s in her son’s name, Roy Bradshaw.”
I thanked him. He lay down on the creeper and slid back under the Jaguar. The directory was under the telephone on top of the battered desk which stood in a comer. I found the listing: “Roy Bradshaw, 311 Foothill Drive.’
Five to 11 and I was meeting Mrs. Kenneway.

Ocean Street was a hilltop section of large, beautiful homes, a chunk of real estate on loan from San Francisco. It’s long, steep grade rose like that slope that Dante can’t get up in the Inferno. Below me was a purgatory of middle class homes, schmucks getting and spending, while below, in the hazy distance, lay the purer hell of the lower town.

But up here was Paradise.

The K’s California Spanish mansion was at least 100 years old, but its white walls were immaculate in the late-morning sun.

I crossed the walled courtyard and buzzed the intercom.

In a moment a young man appeared. [MPs assistant in The Secret Agent]. He took my name and left me standing in the reception hall.

I could see into the great white cave of the living room. Its walls were brilliant with modern paintings. Abstract Expressionists. Some Pollock, de Kooning, what have you. It was looking to me like these people were fucking posers. The voice of my Inner Lawyer cut in: Milk them for all they’re worth…
A dark-haired woman came down the hall. Her smile was professionally bright. But a trace of disappointment lurked in the corners of that smile. “Somehow I thought that you were older.”

I’d just failed the first test.

‘I’m older than I look.”

“But I asked for the head of the agency.”

“I’m a one-man agency. I co-opt other detectives when I need them.”

She frowned. “It sounds like a shoestring operation to me. Not like the Pinkertons.”

“I’m not big business, if that’s what you want.”
‘It isn’t. But I want somebody good, really good. Are you experienced in dealing with-well-” Her free hand indicated first herself and then her surroundings-“People like me?”

“I don’t know you well enough to answer that.”

“But you’re the one we’re talking about.”

“Mr. Michaels recommended me, and told you I was experienced.”

“I have a right to ask my own questions, don’t I?”

It was the tone of a woman who had married money and social standing and never could forget that she might just as easily lose these things.

“Go ahead and ask questions, Mrs. Chalmers.”

She caught my gaze and held it, as if she were trying to read my mind. Her eyes were black and intense and impervious.

“All I really want to know is this. If you find the manuscript-I assume Tom Michaels told you about the manuscript”

“He said that one was missing.”

She nodded. “Assuming you find it, and find out who took it, is that as far as it goes? I mean, you wouldn’t march off to the authorities and tell them all about it?”

“No. Unless they’re already involved?”

“They aren’t, and they’re not going to be,” she said. ‘I want this whole thing kept quiet. I wasn’t even going to tell John Truttwell about the box, but he wormed it out of me. However, him I trust. I think.”

“And me you think you don’t?”

I smiled, and she decided to respond. She tapped me on the cheek with her red rose, then dropped it on the tile floor as if it had served its purpose. ‘Come into the study. We can talk privately there.”

MICKEY AND KISS MEET
The first time I actually met Kiss face-to-face he was stoned in the Pink Pussycat parking lot, vomitting in the back seat of a cherry-red ‘68 Mustang.

There was a tall blonde sixteen year-old with him who had green eyes I couldn’t forget. Nor could I forget her fuck-me insouciance, her long long legs and the whore’s sashay of her hips. Half bitch, half boy, I thought to myself. She was wearing cut-off jeans and a tank top, with a baseball cap on backwards. A combination of Neve Campbell and Leonardo DiCaprio. At first I thought she ws just another junior bimbo, cutely androgynous teenage skank-such girls come out en masse in the spring, along with the goofs who line up for the Golden Globe Awards and L.A. Dodgers fans. Such losers who remind me of what it must be like to never grow up-an observation essential to my story, ’cause this is nothing else than a coming-of-age tale . . . But there was something about her that set her apart, and it wasn’t just her looks. Something in how she carried herself-those debutante legs were worth a second look, for sure, but it was a kind of knowingness in her face. For a second I considered the possibility that she really was a whore. Nope: her complexion was too clean, her hips too tight.

She saw me looking at her and smiled back at me, a smile that your average jail-bait chaser would consider maddeningly shy and enticing but that I could see was really quite sly and secretive: calculating and cunning-just the way I like ’em. Her green eyes glinted pleasantly in the fading light. Eyes, I thought, like the color of freshly printed money.

But what made this little tableau remarkable was what I found out later. Kiss was an L.A. cop. And he was on duty at the time. At the blonde’s insistence I wrestled the car keys away from him. He had big hands, like a fighter’s, but he was just too drunk, too stoned, to defend himself. He showed me his badge and demanded them back. He stood up and fell over onto the front seat and wedged himself behind the wheel. “The Captain ain’t gonna like this,” he said. “I’m on a stake-out.” He leaned closer. With a conspiratorial hush in his voice and a nod at the blonde, he added “Nice gash, huh?”

Before I could respond he clapped a hand on my shoulder in a comradely gesture and placed me under arrest. Then he passed out. Flecks of grape-colored vomit flecked the lapels of his black Armani jacket. His blond hair had a curious metallic sheen in the pale fire of the setting sun.

I passed the keys over to the blonde and held out my hand. “Hi. I’m Mickey Tristan. Nice to meet you.”
Suddenly the sluttishness was gone and she was just another All-American tomboy. “My name’s Ca – Cathy. Anyway, thanks for your help. I’ve got to get him home before he turns into a werewolf.” She said this to me in the tone of someone who had known me all my life [Purdy, 63 Dream Palace: with the urgency of a great secret.] “Don’t laugh, I’m serious. I’d ask you to help me unload him but – ”

I suddenly got the feeling she was about to try to make me see something I didn’t want to see. The rules of a game I didn’t want to play. Other people’s dreams and nightmares.

She opened the driver’s door and pushed him over. He began to vomit again. She rolled her eyes heavenward, bit her bottom lip-both habits I came to love-and with a wave and a wink drove smartly away, turning back once to show me her smile. The dying light played tricks on my Ray-Bans, giving her a fractured and shimmering golden halo. As if the sun was her secret betrayer, suddenly revealing her nature.

It would have been better if that was the last time I ever saw either of them. I should’ve just gone about my daily business of getting and spending, living and dying. Instead, I felt a mild astonishment, but I wasn’t sure over what-that this beguiling child beauty had played coy with me in a parking lot, that one of L.A.’s finest was cheerfully, openly corrupt? Stuff like that happened everyday. No, it was something deeper than that. Some sense of surprise, as if I had known that this encounter was going to happen, and would happen again and again: Purdy/Didion ABOCP

Visiting The Writer

“You want the Bank of New York, buddy? The Bank’ll be closed this time of the day. Buddy?” I was slow to respond, totally absorbed in counting the number of boils on the back of the cabby’s neck. By drawing an imaginary line here, and a circle there, you could get —, say, or ____.

Wall Street, that archetypal canyon of money and and promise and despair, darkly wet and slick on this rainy evening in 19–, reminded Tristan of an Edward Hopper night-time painting, the women and men staring into cityscape’s space, doomed isolated souls of 1940’s capitalism.

That old Manhattan magic, that sense of Melvillian doom, that old joke about Wall Street ending in a cemetery.

Mickey Meets The Old Man

The first time I saw him . . . I intoned: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light.” I shined the light in his face and then down the length of the warehouse, to show him the way out.
“You’re a goddamn liar, Tristan.”
“Two out of three ain’t bad.”
“You’re a liar, a bastard. I kn-know. I know because I m-made you. Made you”
I assumed he’d mistaken me for someone else, a criminal crony, an Agency underling.

There are more books in the British Museum about Horace than any other
writer.

It was Horace, I believe, who said I stayed home and wrote. Or was it Bob Dylan?
Stop fucking around, you know why I’m here . . .
Oh yes, something about the writer and his safety deposit box and the hidden manuscript therein that tells this story . . .

–My God!

–Spirit lives in matter, which gives rise to it. We are integral with
matter. We eat, we breathe, we generate, we ache. Existence is painful.

Look, Horrocks will give you to the corporal, who will give you to the

“Yet The perfect body is itself the soul,” the old man said, looking me up and down. He must have seen the look on my face in the dying light, for he added, “Don’t worry, that’s not a come-on.”

Surmise that I, strolling through some blasted inner city, chanced upon an apparently blind beggar hunched against an alley wall, shaking his tin cup, or strumming his dilapidated guitar. He utters the odd hoarse sob in lieu of singing.

It is a sight which I have passed a hundred times unnoticed; but now suddenly I am arrested and seized with a voluminous unreasoning sentiment–call it pity for want of a better name. An analytical psychologist (I myself, perhaps in that capacity) might regard my absurd feeling as a compound of the sordid aspect of this beggar and of some obscure bodily sensation in myself, due to lassitude or bile, to a disturbing letter received in the morning, or to the general habit of expecting too little and remembering too much.

The figure of the crippled beggar: Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions/Bogosian, Drinking in America/Amis, Money (John Self waking up in a hedge)

August 15, 1993.
It was a clear, cold day in Los Angeles. The media were revisiting the Tate-LoBianco killings.
JFK was mouring, in his perverse way, the death of Bunny Echo.
Kenneway was pissed off at me for the prostitution arrest of a recent starlet (he actually used that word, though no one else in the whole town did) and her subsequent asbcondment to Tijuana. Jack figured that my connections with Vice meant that I should have seen it coming. And maybe I should have, for 10 grand a month.
Kenneaway had me handing out wads of twenties to cops, affirmative-action appointed judges (those people have no scruples, and even less brains) by day, and out sniff ofr pussy at night. This meant long hours at the train and bus stations looknig for young girls who’d easily sign Cyborg Pictures contracts. [Denis Johnson, Angels]
I was in my office [Chandler] at Cyborg pictures with Peter McLachlin, Kenneaway’s ultra-louche lounge lizard lawyer, pressing a nubile young thing into legally adopting the name of a dead orphan -that way we could say she was 18, although in fact she was probably only pushing 15.
“C’mon, honey, I like you, Peter here likes you, and Jack, uh, Mr. Kenneaway to you and me, he will certainly like you. We want to help you out, but first you just gotta help us out. Convince us that you’re legal, eager, and ready to go.”
She sat there sucking her lower lip like a grade sixer. Some old American heartland morality was still flikering in the dark pools of her eyes. Got to snuff that out, quick.
“Listen. You read your lines really well. You carry yourself real well. You’ve got waht it takes. So why not start now. You’re gonna succeed, why wait the two or three years? Sign the papers, I’ll take you and your friends or family out to din-dins”-I knew she didn’t have any of either-“and then I’ll take you by your apartment-remember, you get it for 6 months, rent free, whether you shoot a single scene with us or not.”
She looked almost ready to sign-to deal away whatever state of grace she still had access to and enter Kenneaway’s strictly-for-the-laughs underworld of runaway coke whores and Hollywood fuckpads. Little Persephone relaxed her lips and smiled a cheerleader’s smile, prompting a stiffening of sinew in me.
“Is that true what you said about the apartment, a-and the money for food and clothes?”
“Of course. We do it for any one with your talent. You’re what we call in this business a comer.”
Boy, did that turn out to be true.
Anyway, she signed. McLachin said “Ivan, you’re a deal-closer,” grabbed the papers, winked at me, shook her hand with elaborate courtliness, and told her new ID would be ready forthwith, if not prematurely.
“What’s that mean? Prematurely?” On his way out McLachlin said, “Oh, Ivan knows all about that!” She regarded me stone-faced, till I told her it was just a private joke.
I took her out to dinner at the Last Dance, where Freddy the Creep played make-believe that she was my daughter, the degenerate, and then drove her over to her place, where some date-rape knock-out potion helped advance the course of my star-finder/star-fucker research into the person of Persephone Pounder-that was the dead orhan’s name, I’m not kidding (her real name, or her former name, I’ve forgotten already).
It turned out she was cherry, and when I popped Jack’s cherries he got mightily pissed.
[When the cocktail hits]: She grabbed him by the crotch, all soft curves and schoolgirl giggles.
“No. Don’t touch. That.”
“But’s it’s getting hard. He likes it.”
“What he likes and what I like are often two different things.”
She giggled and tugged. “But he likes it.”
“Listen,” trying to free himself, getting caught in the bed sheets again, the girl wrapping those long legs atround him, “Whenever we agree on somebody, it’s a fucking miracle.”
“Well I think he’s in charge now.”
“Ok, Ok. If we’re going to do this, we do it my way. Turn around and get on all fours.
No sooner said than done, master. Mister. Kiss. Ivan.”
She turned around, wiggling that ass, sucking her index finger, leering like a harlot twice her age.

———————

I could feel that old black magic tingling me, running and dancing, side-stepping and hip-hopping up and down my spine-I mean I could feel it, a wake-up call from that ancient and holy part of my reptile brain stretched up and down the sixth and seventh spaces of my lumbar region. Or maybe I mean unholy-you be the judge, ’cause here’s what followed.
I fucked her! No, retake: I FUCKED HER!
It was one of those wild slippery-velvet fuckfests when you can’t tell whose liquids you’re smelling, whose body’s sending out these aromatic hints and nudges, and then you realize that’s the point of it, all of it-not just of sex but of human existence period-I mean we were primordial, we were in some total primeval muck, a Jurassic Park mud-wrestle of licks and pokes and gropes that sounded like some kind of flesh-driven assembly line . . . that slippery sucking sound that body parts make when they rub and clutch and slip and touch like they have a mind and will and libido all their own.

[digression here]. Kiss preferred the company of women. For various reasons: They were more interesting than men, he felt. Moreover, most of them you can fuck sooner or later. Plus, if the other guys think you’re fucking them, then that’s almost as good.
I got home around four in the morning to a ringing phone.
“Ivan?”
“Yeah. Jack, what’s up?
“I heard you had one of our new recruits out on the town. I hope you’re not dipping into the merchandise again, Ivan.”
“No, no, Jack. Just doing some quality control for you, Mr. Big Swinging Dick, is all.”
Jack Kennaway sighed. “Is she there now, Ivan?”
“No. Fuck. I just fed her and tucked her in. That’s all.”
“Well for Chrissakes, Ivan, just don’t get caught doing something stupid in public. And stop taking these girls to the Last Dance. I think someone there works for the cops.”
“Then I’d know about it.”
“No, not from your friends. I mean the good guys.”
I let this pass.
“So you’re alone?”
“Yeah. So what’s up?”
“A power breakfast. Let’s meet at Chasen’s at 8:30. I got a special project for you. Real detective work. Hope you can handle it.” He hung up.
I slept for four hours and then drove like a demon to make it on time.

The Business

1. Jack was watching screen tests of some sweet young things when I flopped into the backseat of his limo. I started to supply appriopriate sound effects when he nugded me. “Shut up.” [see Chandler description of limo in “Trouble is My Business”] Flecks of orange juice pulp dotted his upper lip-he always drank fresh-squeezed, homemade juice, no matter what the season.
He said, “I thought we’d try —–’s.”
I hit the button to send up the screen to shut us off from Oswald, Jack’s driver. “Rerally, I’m not all that hungry.”
“Did you say ‘Hungary’?” That upper lip twitched crazily.
“Am I supposed to laugh at that?”
“If you don’t like my humor, Bohunk, perhaps you should take your services out on the open market. The thing about cops,. Ivan-”
“I’m not a cop any longer, Jack.”
“Once a cop, always a cop, as far as I can tell, Ivie, my boy. Anyway, with you cops, I always gotta remember that your civil servants: you do what you want, when you want. What I want may never even enter your mind.”
This threat about selling my services on the open market had me a bit worried. I could never tell when I’d pissed Jack off, and when he was just having fun. Which was the way he liked it, I guess. Just how much did he know about my screwing around with his girls, anyway? Maybe I trusted that fucking little Scotsman lawyer too much.
Jack turned and looked directly at me for the first time since I had gotten in the limo. “J-just . . . oh, never mind. You’re almost worth what I’m paying you. Let’s order.” He snapped his fingers. A college kid skipped over. “Yes, Mister Kenneway? How may I help you?”
“You see that, Ivan? You could take lessons from this youngster.”
After brunch-Kenneway picked up the tab as usual-I shifted in my seat, cleared my throat, straightened my back. Now was the time to get my orders.
Kenneway pulled out a folder, thunbed through it, and handed me a Polariod of a blonde girl naked from the waist up. He handed it to me and said, ‘Candy-O, age nineteen, born in Iowa City, Iowa, on the 4th of July, 1969. I looked at those perfect teenage breasts for a moment or two longer than it was politic to do. Candy-O sported a blonde pageboy and and a leer that said she knew Jack’s “screen test” was nothing but a try-out for the casting couch and a few lines in the latest Cyborg straight-to-video release.
Jack and I talked about how he met the girl, and he promised me a cool 10 grand to find her within a week. On my way out he added, ‘Find Candy-O, Mallory. She’s special.’

Ancient History

Tell you a story? Okay, sure. Hee hee. Why not? The oldest story. Creation? No, destruction. Yes, yes, that’s more like it. Oh I know, believe me, I know.
To paraphrase Freud, what in the name of God does a murderer want? And a murderee? Certainly not what they get, I reckon. But I could be wrong . . . character is destiny, as my Mom used to say.
I have been a man now, on the outside, for many years, but on the inside I am very much the person I have always been. In my case the child really is the father of the man. Not that I was ever really all that childish. Quite the opposite, in fact. In a way I never really felt I was the child of anybody; I often felt while growing up that I was more of a parent to myself than my parents were. But at bottom I am a child of my time, and so I am in the end very much like yourself, as you’ll come to see. And the same goes for my twin sister. I used to tell people that it was hard for me believe that even then, at the age of six, we were walking on the edge of madness. But actually, now that I’ve had time think about it, it isn’t that hard thing at all to believe. Believe it. Believe me.
It was a warm summer night in June ’64 . . . I remember it with a cinematic clarity… or at least my memory of it has remained unchanged, frozen for what amounts to a short lifetime in a kind of neurochemical celluloid inside my head . . . and running every night in my dreams on the late, late show . . . whether I want to watch it or not. And like any movie you’ve seen more times than you want to admit, at least I’ve got all the good lines down, and by now I can do all the parts . . .
It was one of those summer afternoons that effortlessly stretch into the evening, that seem to last right up to the last minute. The American hour of promised grace, apple-pie time.
My sister Lilith and I-my name is Tristan, our parents having indulged their biblical bent of tongue in naming her, and paid homage to my father’s own first name, and his father’s as well-were outside with our ice cream cones, having finished dinner and conniving to avoid an afterdinner clean-up. When we heard Mom come to the back porch looking for us, we climbed up to our treehouse and lay very quietly on the bed. Cherry was smelling a tiger lily she had plucked from the garden-Mom had told her it would give her freckles. I told her not to, in fact I begged her: even then I really tricked on milk-pale skin, with Cherry’s skin right now making her glow like a plump little — in the fading light.
Mom came out into the backyard, and called out to us. We didn’t answer but lay immobile together. Without saying anything we both knew that each of us could feel her out there, feel her disapproving, brooding presence as she searched the yard and the garage. We both knew that she wouldn’t bother climbing up the ladder to our treehouse-Dad had nailed the ladder’s rungs to the tree so shittily that they couldn’t support much more weight than ours without snapping clean off. When finally we heard Mom go back into the house we turned to each other and giggled, and when we saw the mess the melted ice cream had made of our hands, we giggled even more, and then licked each other’s fingers. It was like we lived in an ever-returning fairy tail, and she was my blonde princess. As usual, we lay down making jokes and teasing one another about who we liked at school until it started to get dark, and then we went back in the house to watch some TV before bed. It was then, when we were crossing the yard to the house that we could feel-I mean this literally-feel a note of panic in the air.
And when we got to the back door… that’s when it happened. A gunshot cracked through the evening calm, and then, after what must have been the longest minute of our lives, two more, one right after another. We grabbed onto each other, and then froze still. Nothing else moved. The birds and the crickets had stopped. It was now completely dark outside, yet the room seemed strangely overlit. And there, my-I mean our-primal scene.
Mom was standing in the centre of the room, naked from the waist up. I couldn’t stop looking at her. After a little while she noticed me. Our dog Blackie was licking up a dark puddle from the floor.
“Don’t be afraid”, she smiled, “this is what is called history.” I think that statement formed my life. When we heard the sirens she handed me the gun, heavy and hot, and knelt down, pulling me to her. She was all soft and cold, but it was me who had the goosebumps. Who was shivering. In a while the police came, and she stopped talking to me. The cops had to pry her off me, and they threw blankets over me and Mom and Dad. It was a long time before I ever saw her again.
They looked at me, all of them. I could feel that I had done something wrong, but I didn’t know what. I looked at the stove to see if Mom had left it on, the kitchen was so hot. Pop’s voice said Ye shall toil be the sweat of your brow. They were staring. I ran, past Mom in the blanketand bit the man who grabbed me. His hand was soft in my mouth, hairy, the ganglion on it bursting, rich and flooding under his skin and out of where I had punctured it. I ran. I wanted to go back to the house, the tree house. And then Lily was there. Her skin was cool. She smelled soft. Whispering in my ear, her voice was thick, deep, womanish. That was the last time I ever touched her. They pulled me away from her, too. This time I couldn’t run. I remember the sun going down, the cool green undersides of the leaves as I stumbled on the lawn and was pushed on to my back, and as if in anger the birds crying out. I could hear Pop again. By their works ye shall know them. And then I was in the van, pushed into the van (this is the part that never ends), Mom and Lily and Pops gone, me looking back, always looking back, watching out the window the receding house, the trees falling away on either side, the blasted cinderblock street on which we lived giving way to the highway, and me feeling strange, somehow knowing none of it was up to me anymore, in fact nothing was, it was all out of my hands, there was nothing I could do but watch and listen, nothing I could ever do, everything dissolving into that final glimpse of everything I had known up to then, of my gabled house with its chimneys and turrets, alone, lost, in the middle of a dark wood, an ever-receding terra incognita of the mind.

No more kisses for Tristan from his Mom. But later there would be lots of kisses, lots from all those nurses, those social workers, those therapist who found sad-eyed Tristan, hang-dog-looking Mickey Tristan irresistible.

70. The First Fight

What it is, guy, is she really likes to lick my balls. I don’t know. I don’t really like it that much. I mean, I don’t mind if she sucks my dick, like if she bobs her head up and down and spits out my jism, or swallows it, or rubs it in her face like anti-aging cream. Or whatever. I might even return the favor, if I’ve smoked a pack-and-a-half of cigarettes to obliterate my sense of smell and drunk a bottle o’ whiskey to annihilate all remaining vestiges of my moral dignity.
I awoke strapped to a chair in some waterfront warehouse. Mr. Kissy-Lips was regarding me without emotion. It was dark outside. I was very thirsty and my head hurt. “Awake?” he asked. I swallowed hard and nodded yes. He poured some spring water down my throat and stood back. I started to fade out of consciousness. He leaned in close and as he slapped my face his own blank face melted, thawed and resolved itself pleasantly into a benigner verison of my Sunday School teacher’s Presbyterian visage. We locked eyes for a moment. I had no idea what would happen next. A lecture on my failing faculty of moral rectitude? Or a swim in the sea? I could see he was trying to make up his mind on this very subject. He took a deep breath, turned on his heels and paced the down the room. At fifteen feet he wheeled about, shook off his air of pensive reflection, and marched military-style straight back to me. He exhaled slowly, kissed me full on the lips and, I think, not without some real affection, rubbed his hand slowly but firmly up and down on my crotch. I thought I might actually get out of a beating. But then with two quick left jabs he broke my bottom right rib.
I gasped.
“I break more of a sweat jerking off, you fuck.”
My legs were twitching spasmodically. He reached in my coat pocket and took my wallet. There was a five in it. He through the five in my lap and with exaggerated ceremony tucked a twenty inside my waistband. He looked at my P.I. credendials and my ID and put it inside his own jacket. “You’re nobody now, sweetheart.”
He laughed softly and told me to stay away from Cherry. “Not because I want her, but for your own good.”
He untied me and walked out. I sat there for a long time. Disillusion is the last illusion. Finally the sun came up and I limped outside and caught a cab a home.
[Stevens; Not Things/Ordinary Evening/McInerny, Bright Lights]
“You know how many people died because of you? Do you?”
Kiss hit Tristan. His baby finger popped. He hit him again. His ring finger popped. He hit him again. His index finger popped. Then his forefinger went. Finally Mickey fell over.

Tristan didn’t say anything.
“You little fuck.”
Kiss was standing with his back to Tristan, his head in his hands. He wheeled and slapped him. Then hit him again. Tristan fell over. Kiss started to cry.
Cherry stepped through the door, looked at Tristan. “That’s enough, Ivan.”
Kiss slapped her across the face.
Her eyes shone back at him hard, predatory.
Kiss’s hand went to caress her cheek. She swatted it away. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Cherry didn’t say anything.
“I guess I’m an animal. I’m an animal.” Kiss was really sobbing now. Cherry held her ground.
“Maybe I was always an animal. Maybe it’s not what they did to me. Maybe it’s just waht I am.”
Tristan was rolling around on the floor trying to loosen his arms and legs from the rope. Kiss, still crying, walked over and kicked Mickey a good one right in the ribs.

Candy arrives in Hollywood

This is the way I see it happening. A girl arrives in Hollywood off a bus from some place like Cuntlick, Iowa and when she looks around it’s with a wild surmise in her eyes, she’s so shocked she forgets to breathe, even, and maybe it’s like the first time you ever had sex, think of it that way, she’s weak in the knees and almost crying, the whole place looks like the Sistine Chapel to her, all these places she’s heard about, Hollywood and Vine, Universal Studios, Spago’s, her brave little heart’s just going boom-boom-boom but then she remembers to be brave even though she doesn’t know what to do next, she didn’t think this far ahead, and this is where a guy like Kiss comes in. Kiss, your friendly neighborhood cop-he’s just out to protect the innocent, is all . . .

Kiss meets Cherry

There was nothing to it, really. Kiss sat down about twenty feet away and regarded her like a jeweller would, if you showed him the Hope Diamond in a three-day-old pile of dogshit. An unhappy little girl, if ever old Ivan saw one. Those big blue eyes, those long waxed legs. She sat very still for a long time, her eyes fixed onto the big clock. After a while she stopped staring at the clock and got up and went into the coffee shop and stole a chocolate bar and a newspaper. She sat in a different seat, this time with her back to Kiss, and read the paper. She showed no interest in the ticket windows or the arrivals/departures board. She wolfed down her chocolate bar, went to the public fountain, and walked over towards where Kiss was sitting. He thought she was going to walk right by him-she hadn’t even looked at him-when suddenly she flopped down beside him and, looking straight ahead, said in a flat, Midwestern voice that her husband would be her any minute and if he didn’t fuck off right now her husband would beat the jism out of his faggot balls pronto. Such spirit! thought Kiss. He flipped out his badge. “LAPD, sweetheart. Which hick town in the Great American Nowhere are you running away from, anyway?”

25. Cherry

birth scene

Harold Brodkey, Runaway Soul
Jacques Dupin, “My Body”

Cherry’s mother looked at her child. For just a single moment a bitter smile broke across her face as she looked at the wet and silent child in her arms. Before there was time for her to think the nurse took the baby away. Then the doctor told her to rest, to not worry about anything, but to just rest. He shut the door and Cherry’s mother was alone in the soft light of the fading afternoon. She was 14 years old.

This movie she’s been seeing all her life, yet never to its completion.
Almost she might say This movie is my life.
Her mother had first taken her when she was very young, 2 or 3 years old. Her earliest memory, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Years before she’d been able to grasp even the rudiments of the movie-story, she had been mesmerized by the ceaseless movement of images on the great screen looming above her. The very universe upon which are projected myriad uncountable unnameable forms of life. How many times in her lost childhood and girlhood she’d returned with hope to this movie, recognizing it immediately despite the variety of its titles. The variety of its actors. For always there was the Fair Princess. Always there was the Dark Prince. A tempest of events brought them together in the shock of what’s called love and tore them apart and brought them together again and again tore them apart, until as the movie neared its end they were about to be brought together again in a fierce embrace. Yet not always happily: Sometimes one knelt beside the deathbed of the other, and heralded death with a kiss. Even if he (or she) survived the death of the beloved, you knew that the meaning of life was over.
For there is no meaning to life apart from the movie-story,
And there is no movie-story apart from the darkened movie theater with its many rows of worshipful seats before the great looming screen.
But how vexing, never to see the end of the movie!
For always something went wrong; there was a commotion in the theater and the lights came up, a fire alarm (but no fire? or was there a fire? once, she was sure she smelled smoke) sounded loudly and everyone was asked to leave; or she was herself late for an appointment and had to leave; or maybe she fell asleep in her seat and missed the ending, and woke dazed as the lights came up and strangers around her rose to leave.
Over, it’s over? But how can it be over?
Yet as an adult woman she continued to seek out the movie. Slipping into theaters in obscure districts of the city, or in cities unknown to her. Insomniac, she might buy a ticket for a midnight show. She might buy a ticket for the first show of the day, in the late morning. She wasn’t fleeing her own life (though her life had grown baffling to her, as an adult life does to those who live it) but instead easing into a parenthesis within that life; stopping time as a child might arrest the movement of a clock’s hands, by force. Entering the darkened theater (which sometimes smelled of stale popcorn, the hair lotion of strangers, disinfectant), excited as a young girl looking up eagerly to see on the screen yet again Oh, another time! one more time the beautiful blond woman who never seems to age, encased in flesh like any woman and yet graceful as no ordinary woman could be, a powerful radiance shining not only in her luminous eyes but in her very skin. For my skin is my soul. There is no soul otherwise. You see in me the promise of human joy. She who slips into the theater, choosing a seat in a row near the screen, gives herself unquestioningly up to the movie that’s both familiar and unfamiliar as a recurring dream imperfectly recalled. The costumes of the actors, the hair styles, even the faces and voices of the movie-people change with the years; and she can remember, not clearly but in fragments, her lost emotions, the loneliness of her childhood only partly assuaged by the looming screen. Another world to live in. Where? There was a day, an hour, when she realized that the Fair Princess who is so beautiful, because she is so beautiful, and because she is the Fair Princess, is doomed to seek, in others’ eyes, confirmation of her own being. For we are not who we are told we are, if we are not told. Are we?
Adult unease and gathering terror.
The movie-story is complicated and confusing though familiar, or almost-familiar. Perhaps it’s carelessly spliced together. Perhaps it’s meant to tease. Perhaps there are flashbacks amid present time. Or flash-forwards! Close-ups of the Fair Princess seem to intimate. We want to stay on the outsides of others, not be drawn inside. If I could say, There! That’s me! That woman, that thing on the screen, that’s who I am. But she can’t see ahead to the ending. Never has she seen the final scene, never the concluding credits roll past. In these, beyond the final movie-kiss, is the key to the movie’s mystery, she knows. As the body’s organs, removed in an autopsy, are the key to the life’s mystery.
But there will be a time maybe this very evening when, slightly out of breath, she settles into a worn, soiled plush seat in the second row of an old theater in a derelict district of the city, the floor curving beneath her feet like the earth’s curve and sticky against the soles of her expensive shoes, and the audience is scattered, mostly solitary individuals; and she’s relieved that, in her disguise, dark glasses, an attractive wig, a raincoat, no one will recognize her; and that no one from her life knows she’s here, or could guess where she might be. This time I will see it through to the end. This time! Why? She has no idea. And in fact she’s expected elsewhere, she’s hours late, possibly a car was scheduled to take her to the airport, unless she’s days late, weeks late, for she’s become, as an adult, defiant of time. For what is time but others’ expectations of us. That game we can refuse to play. So too, she’s noticed, the Fair Princess is confused by time. Confused by the movie-story. You take your cues from other people; what if other people don’t provide cues? What if they can’t? In this movie the Fair Princess is no longer in the first bloom of her youthful beauty yet of course she’s still beautiful, white-skinned and radiant on the screen as she climbs out of a taxi on a windswept street; she’s in disguise in dark glasses, a sleek brown wig and a tightly belted raincoat, closely tracked by the camera as she slips into a movie theater and purchases a single ticket, enters the darkened theater and takes a seat in the second row. Because she’s the Fair Princess, other patrons glance at her, but don’t recognize her; perhaps she’s an ordinary woman, though beautiful; no one they know. The movie has begun. She gives herself up to it within seconds, removing her dark glasses. Her head is forced back by the angle of the screen looming over her, and her eyes are cast upward in an expression of childlike, slightly apprehensive awe. Like reflections in water the movie-light ripples across her face. Lost in wonderment she’s unaware of the Dark Prince having followed her into the theater; the camera broods upon him as, for several tense minutes, he stands behind frayed velvet drapes at a side aisle. His handsome face is veiled in shadow. His expression is urgent. He is wearing a dark suit, no necktie, a fedora hat slanted over his forehead. At a music cue he comes quickly forward to lean over her, the solitary woman in the second row. He whispers to her and she turns, startled. Her surprise seems genuine though she must know the script; the script to this point, at least, and a little beyond.
My love! It’s you.
Never has it been anyone except you.
In the reflected shimmering light from the gigantic screen the faces of the lovers are charged with meaning, heralds from a lost age of grandeur. As if, though diminished and mortal, they must play out the scene. They will play out the scene. Boldly he grips her by the nape of her neck to steady her. To claim her. To possess her. How strong his fingers, and icy; how strange the glassy glisten of his eyes, closer than she’s ever seen them before.
Yet another time she sighs and lifts her perfect face to the Dark Prince’s kiss.

Mother Dick looks like he does his shopping at the Salvation Army. He’s dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and faded chinos, sitting at his desk staring blankly at the gun rack

Daniels on ice. Louis, white, also
in his mid forties, has lived over half of his life in penal
institutions. The experience has affected both his body language and his
thought process.

While acutely aware of the rhythm of life inside a correction facility,
in the real world his timing is thrown. It’s like a song he doesn’t know
the lyrics to but attempt to sing anyway.

Cherry

Mickey and Cherry consider their childhoods. We lay there in that shit-hole motel, the late-night trucks roaring by, comparing notes on our horrific childhoods. Between tokes on the water bong we congratulated each other on the surprising fact of our simple survivals-survivals after a fashion, anyway.

(Richler, p. 62) It turned out that Cherry’s mom drove her crazy with her astrologic predictions; the day-to-day routines of her childhood was dictated by the Horoscope page of The National Enquirer (Richler: p. 56).

Cherry had a god-haunted childhood . . . It was “Gimme that ol’ time religion” shot through with The Devils of Loudon, her favourite Huxley novel.

She was always conscious of the shade of her vanished older brother: she was always reminded by her mother’s silences that someone had had to die in order for her to be born, his old room with everything untouched in it. She wasn’t allowed to play in it, but sometimes at night, when her mother was out, she would crawl into his old bed and sleep, comforted in the end by the feeling that somehow he was still there.

To see her step out of a shower, hair wet, body glistening, was to see the female life-force incarnate, as concieved by Larry Flint (a very horny Larry Flint). Christ, Mickey thought, even to see her take a dump was to see the Eternal Feminine in action, the great She setting up her foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart in a pile of excrement, etc., etc.

Tristan notices that she’s got her dress shifted slightly to the left, the zipper at the back’s off-centre, as if she didn’t want to look too perfect.

The third person watching the video is the person who lives in this
apartment, MELANIE RALSTON. Melanie, thirty_three, is a tanned, blonde,
California beach bunny. Like the kind you se in the old Crown
International movies from the seventies like “Pom Pom Girls” “Malibu
Beach” and “Beach Girls,” except Melanie is older than any of those
girls ever are. She’s dressed in her Melanie_uniform of stringy Levis
cutoffs and a stringy bra top. So far Melanie has been able to make a
living out of lying in the sun, always finding a generous, wealthy man
more than willing to pay her rent and pick up her tabs. In her prime
(twenty two) it was Japanese industrialists, film production guys, and
Middle Eastern businessmen who kept Melanie. And it was places like the
Bahamas, Acapulco, and the Virgin Islands where they kept her.

But now, at thirty three, she lives in an apartment in Hermosa Beach,
California that Ordell pays for an drops in and out of. She’s curled up
in a reclining chair, smoking weed from a pipe, reading Movieline
Magazine and paying no attention to the video.

Asiatic-eyed Cherry. In the dying light of the day, the sky turning an inky black through the efforts of some malevolent god, she appeared to Tristan for a moment longer than was comfortable like a piece of ancient statuary, her pale skin like marble made flesh. Her eyes also seemed to be draining the color from the living world. Those eyes-they suggested categories of sexual depravity far beyond the reckoning of Tristan’s world or, indeed, any world imaginable by him. He considered this and shivered in the fading light. Beyond the depravity, beyond the cruelty, what? What would he find behind the door at the end of Cherry’s mind-a saggy-titted whore astraddle a busted condom machine? What would he find? Don’t go there, boyfriend! proclaimed the talk show host of his mind. Open the door, screamed the talk show audience member of his mind.
At the end of Cherry’s pysche he would find, he was sure of it, an ennui, a boredom, far beyond anything contemplated by the Buddhists or Sade.
She turned to face him and blinked in what struck Tristan as slow motion, like the world was slowly but perciptibly running to a stop. Actually, it was just that his heart was beating that much faster. She smiled, first one side of her mouth went up, then the other. The effect on Tristan was superb, as on everyone who saw her do it in the opening scene of Private Hell.

[Barthelme, Snow White]

So when Cherry Temple hit the streets, twenty minutes pregnant, Kiss’s killer sperm were already doing there job on Mickey’s sperm. In fact, for reasons unknown to science, Kiss produced nothing but killer sperm.

Cherry was a graduate of the Los Angeles campus of Beaver College. She had started out in the Women’s Studies program, but bored, knowing everything already, soon switched to Experimental Film making, producing a much-admired Senior Thesis on the works of Annie Sprinkle.

Cherry’s room was decorated with pictures of Cheryl Crane, the nymphet who knocked off that greaser Johnny Stompanato.

Cherry walked out of there, switching those hips and swinging those long smooth arms. She was twenty minutes pregnant.
I looked at the landscape about me-all I could make out was the faint treeline, the house’s bleak sihlouette, Bunny’s emaciated figure and the scrim of the mountains rising to the east. “Watch this,” Bunny gestured at the house with something in his hand. I looked back at the house, the moon light reflecting off it’s vacant eye-like windows, and with a click of the remote device in his hand Bunny set the house blazing with light. Another click and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was booming across the lawn, enveloping us in a surf of high Germanic Romanticism.
In the sudden light I noticed that Buny looked about 40 pounds lighter. He stepped toward me I had the impression of a cartoon stick man come alive. Water sloshed at his feet. He shined a flashlight. He was standing in a faintly foul-smelling pool littered with dead leaves.
Another wave of nauseau passed through my chest. Looking at Bunny I was reminded of all those times Bunny and I had escaped the tedium of our schooling by ingesting various psychoactive substances. [White Rabbit] I though of how we would come down together after blasting for eight or nine hours on —–, of the bitter lapse back into everyday life, of that hideous slipping off of the beautiful white veil of illusions and the suddeness of again seeing reality in all its plainness: like Bunny wrote in a letter to me, coming down was like “removing yourself from the white thighs of a teenage whore to wipe your jiism off on a dank and ratty old towel hanging on the back of the men’s room door in a second-rate Tijuana whorehouse.”
And again I felt that with I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasureable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart–an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime [Freud’s The Uncanny; the anti-sublime of H. Bloom: West, Pynchon].
We went into the house. He called out to his domestic, a grim little Latino [The Long Goodbye] of androgynous appearance. I loitered in the hall, admiring the vastness of the thirty-foot ceilings [The Big Sleep]. “Tristan?” Bunny was calling me from one of the rooms which led off from the front hallway where I stood. I was looking at a picture which showed a man and a woman standing in front of the house, with a peculiar and sad quality of light which suggested the onset of evening. They were posed like the famous couple in Whistler’s American Gothic, with the woman holding a shotgun. They looked like people I’d actually seen someplace, somewhere. Before I coudl ask Bunny about them he’d taken me by the arm and steered me into the enourmous front room, at the far end of which a giant fire in a giant fire place was crackling away.

I’ve often asked myself if there is any point to writing these things down, if on some level I believe that things are true only if recorded in balck and white, preserved until the parchment rots or the floopy disc is erased, if my knowing that a languid keystroke or an effortless turn of the page can bring these events back to me, like the late late show with its Jayne Mansfields, its Mamie Van Dorens, its Marilyn, above all yes its Marilyn, brings back Cherry’s body to me, as I lie in bed wtaching the flickering, narcotizing stroboscope of the boob tube, my self-caressing hand but a paltry thing compared to Cherry’s more delectable moving parts . . .
Anyway, I had now come to visit Bunny, Bunny who told me he was “deeply distraught,” who was riding around on a carpet of vodka and muscle relaxers (“it’s for my back, is all”). Although we’d not seen each other for the last five years, we’d kept up with postcards and late-night phonecalls during the holidays and around our birthday. But he’d recently written me a real letter, three pages long, asking me to come visit him. In its importunate nature, the letter required nothing less of me than an in-person visit.
The handwriting itself was undeniable evidence of severe nervous agitation. “Man, what’s wrong with me will take up 10 pages in the next DSM-V.” Or: “Inside I’m nothing but dread, a big wet ball of stomach pain-I’ve really got to see you, Tristan, you’re my only friend, the only one who can cheer me up;” “Religous education…”
Remember we would read Rilke, Mickey? Remember Beauty is the mother of terror? You remember all that. I can’t forget it, Mickey. I can’t forget her.
Well, there you have it. I had to go.

We had been friends as boys. But how well did I know him know? Behind the show-biz schtick was a quiet, even reserved person of routines and habits. [Bellow, intro to closing of the American Mind] His family had always been noted for their artistic sensibility, albeit an aberrant one, one which manifested itself through works of Pop-art and genre fiction.

Mickey looks into the pool.

Fungi covered the pool.

CHERRY’S MANSION

Maybe every man has his Golgotha, his Via Dolorossa, or maybe even just his local State Pen gaschamber. I know I have mine.
What I mean is, most or all of us has some external object, a thing you can go and look at, a building or a boat or a which represents all that you fear, that symbolizes all your hidden woes and mental agonies. Mine? It’s a house on a hill, located just off the Pacific Coast Highway, sitting poised several hundred yards above the road. I can see it now, its razor-sharp gables glinting in the setting sun, its sihilouette somehow imparting the possibility that a kind of malign agency inheres in the structure itself, as if it might suddenly decide to hurl itself down the hill in order to severe that great arterial thoroughfare, to cut the life blood of the great metropolises to the north and the south.
It was a dull and damp winter’s day. The PCL was quiet, empty for minutes on end. The clouds sat oppressively low in the sky. The ocean looked like a dirty cookie sheet.
I had been driving straight up from L.A., the Mustang’s top down, through the darkening hillside switchbacks and dreary stretches of mid-winter California that made me think of some 1950′ sic-fi movie, a kind of neutered, radioactive landscape where at any minute a lobster-clawed creature with goggle eyes and an exposed brain might appear, a nubile blonde girl passed out in its clutched. I was listening to some of Bunny’s newer stuff-kind of a cross between Leonard Cohen and a snuff film soundtrack. I pulled off the PCL and in a few moments found myself, as the evening’s final shade fell across the immense lawns and flower beds, within view of Bunny’s house. The sun was now completely down, and only the moon’s light showed me the house’s location. Not a light was on within. This was the weekend to visit, wasn’t it?
A feeling of emptiness seized my insides, [Anna Kavan]. I pulled to a stop and shut off the engine. For some reason I left the keys in the ignition. I slammed the car door shut and at once the birds stopped their singing. Everything was quiet. The highway’s drone was muffled by the rows of trees the previous occupant, a famous English record producer, had planted. Total stillness, total darkness-things I hadn’t experienced since camping at night in the big woods of South Carolina as a child. A sense of insufferable despair flooded my heart for a second, and then just as quickly drained away. It’s always best, I reminded myself, not to think about my childhood.
The sound of a voice behind me gave me my second cardiac surge of the day. “Even the snakes are asleep now.”
I turned around on the crushed gravel driveway. Ten feet away stood Bunny Echo, multi-millionaire, Jesuit-school renegade, poet maudite for an idiot generation of North American brats who didn’t know what the famous phrase meant.

I looked at the landscape about me-all I could make out was the faint treeline, the house’s bleak sihlouette, Bunny’s emaciated figure and the scrim of the mountains rising to the east. “Watch this,” Bunny gestured at the house with something in his hand. I looked back at the house, the moon light reflecting off it’s vacant eye-like windows, and with a click of the remote device in his hand Bunny set the house blazing with light. Another click and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was booming across the lawn, enveloping us in a surf of high Germanic Romanticism.
In the sudden light I noticed that Buny looked about 40 pounds lighter. He stepped toward me I had the impression of a cartoon stick man come alive. Water sloshed at his feet. He shined a flashlight. He was standing in a faintly foul-smelling pool littered with dead leaves.
Another wave of nauseau passed through my chest. Looking at Bunny I was reminded of all those times Bunny and I had escaped the tedium of our schooling by ingesting various psychoactive substances. [White Rabbit] I though of how we would come down together after blasting for eight or nine hours on —–, of the bitter lapse back into everyday life, of that hideous slipping off of the beautiful white veil of illusions and the suddeness of again seeing reality in all its plainness: like Bunny wrote in a letter to me, coming down was like “removing yourself from the white thighs of a teenage whore to wipe your jiism off on a dank and ratty old towel hanging on the back of the men’s room door in a second-rate Tijuana whorehouse.”
And again I felt that with I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasureable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart–an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime [Freud’s The Uncanny; the anti-sublime of H. Bloom: West, Pynchon].
We went into the house. He called out to his domestic, a grim little Latino [The Long Goodbye] of androgynous appearance. I loitered in the hall, admiring the vastness of the thirty-foot ceilings [The Big Sleep]. “Tristan?” Bunny was calling me from one of the rooms which led off from the front hallway where I stood. I was looking at a picture which showed a man and a woman standing in front of the house, with a peculiar and sad quality of light which suggested the onset of evening. They were posed like the famous couple in Whistler’s American Gothic, with the woman holding a shotgun. They looked like people I’d actually seen someplace, somewhere. Before I coudl ask Bunny about them he’d taken me by the arm and steered me into the enourmous front room, at the far end of which a giant fire in a giant fire place was crackling away.

I’ve often asked myself if there is any point to writing these things down, if on some level I believe that things are true only if recorded in balck and white, preserved until the parchment rots or the floopy disc is erased, if my knowing that a languid keystroke or an effortless turn of the page can bring these events back to me, like the late late show with its Jayne Mansfields, its Mamie Van Dorens, its Marilyn, above all yes its Marilyn, brings back Cherry’s body to me, as I lie in bed wtaching the flickering, narcotizing stroboscope of the boob tube, my self-caressing hand but a paltry thing compared to Cherry’s more delectable moving parts . . .
Anyway, I had now come to visit Bunny, Bunny who told me he was “deeply distraught,” who was riding around on a carpet of vodka and muscle relaxers (“it’s for my back, is all”). Although we’d not seen each other for the last five years, we’d kept up with postcards and late-night phonecalls during the holidays and around our birthday. But he’d recently written me a real letter, three pages long, asking me to come visit him. In its importunate nature, the letter required nothing less of me than an in-person visit.
The handwriting itself was undeniable evidence of severe nervous agitation. “Man, what’s wrong with me will take up 10 pages in the next DSM-V.” Or: “Inside I’m nothing but dread, a big wet ball of stomach pain-I’ve really got to see you, Tristan, you’re my only friend, the only one who can cheer me up;” “Religous education…”
Remember we would read Rilke, Mickey? Remember Beauty is the mother of terror? You remember all that. I can’t forget it, Mickey. I can’t forget her.
Well, there you have it. I had to go.

We had been friends as boys. But how well did I know him know? Behind the show-biz schtick was a quiet, even reserved person of routines and habits. [Bellow, intro to closing of the American Mind] His family had always been noted for their artistic sensibility, albeit an aberrant one, one which manifested itself through works of Pop-art and genre fiction.

Mickey looks into the pool.

Fungi covered the pool.

Someone’s Childhood Memory

Let’s get one thing clear-incest is an old man’s game. As a literary conceit, Shelley and all that Romantic brother-sister stuff, it’s a young man’s gig. It’s a teenage boy’s anxiety dream about his sister, his Mom. All quite harmless in its way. But the real malevolence of intergenerational family fucking -yeah, that’s an old man’s game. Know why? Ever take a good look at one of these old guys the cops bring into court? They’re fucking animals. They don’t know what they are, who they are, what they’re supposed to do and not do. They can’t think five minutes ahead and they have no fucking idea what the phrase “moral courage” means. But this isn’t surprising. Of course not. They’re just too fucking old. Such old men, they’re all Nietzscheans: at their age they figure they’re finally beyond all that’s good and evil. Beyond all that you and me know in our hearts.

Hear the man, those are his footsteps in the dark downstairs, now up the stairs, now coming towards your door, pausing there… you now know that this is no a common thief… and what he’s after has been stolen from you before, again and again…
As you can see, this isn’t exactly a memory per se, but a kind of sense-impression mistily recalled and relayed in the second person. So whose experience is at issue here? By gathering up these fragments and mulling them over I was able to reach some tentative conclusions-but more on this later.

84
CHERRY IS THE STAR

The sky is the first thing you notice out here-an astringent, cyanide-blue dome, like the ceiling of some great European cathedral, like the cranial vault of that bluish-white skull the lab technician had reassembled. Traven’s skull, my sometime partner. I could feel the beer I’d consumed the flight already sweating out of me, could feel the glances of the beach girls while they assessed my six-two frame. But my thoughts were too melancholy, all of them musings onTraven’s broken head, on this broken world.
Civilization depends on the observance of order and form, of rules and customs, but what civilization alone produces is quite apart from all of this. I had come back to where I was born, the small town where I had grown up and which I had been only too eager to leave. [DeLillo, Americana, 130].

My plane landed 30 minutes late. I’d phoned in a bomb threat from my cell phone while on board, threatening to detonate a large fertilzer/nitrate-type bomb if the demands of the Information Insurgency terrorists weren’t met-i.e., no more infomercials, the immediate establishment of a state-run television company, reparations payments to all cable subscribers, and free cable television for everybody. Delillio-airports/Didion-California/McHale-Mooney’s information sickness
The plane taxied to the gate. The runway steps locked into the big portal. Passengers were already up, heading for the exit, ignoring the shrill stewardesses’ pleas to remain seated. I shimmied and shoved my way up to the front of the line, pushing past a woman who looked just like Natassja Kinski in Cat People (1982). She hissed at me, I slipped her a card with my name and private number on it. The door slid open and I stepped out, semidebonaire, the first one off naturally, out into that old familiar Californian sunlight.
I saw my partner, Benny Traven. I saw a mess of fire trucks and emergency vehicles. A cop looked at me and spat. I saw Benny wink and shake his head-this wasn’t the first time I’d phoned in a threat to generate some media attention. And I saw the signs.
“Bunny Echo, Drug Addict” and “Bunny Echo, American Hero”. “Bunny Echo, Murderer,” “Echo : Artist.” I guessed a 50-50 split. Which is exactly what I wanted at this stage of the game (not for nothing did I sweat it out over Hegelian dialectic in grad school). A zit-faced kid with a construction paper poster showing me jamming on a cloud with Joplin, Hendrix, Cobain. I walked over a gave him a crisp $50 and a sloppy kiss on the lips for it.
I strutted out, semidebonaire in my torn jeans Oxford loafers, camel-haro jacket and navy blue flannel shirt. I placed my carry-on bag on the ground, and openingit, pulled out Chloe, who seemed none the worse for the delay. I put her on the ground and fastened the leash around what I guess you’d call her neck. I could sense a crowd forming around me. Benny appeared, handed me my sunglasses, and picked up my luggage. A bunch of my security guys appeared to form a circle around me and Benny led the way to the vehicles, with Chloe tugging at her leash, knowing her dinner was in the van. The Natassja Kinski woman stopped and stared, open-mouthed. I waved, she gave me the finger. People pressed in. Benny waved them off, saying I was too tired to talk. I flashed my grin all around, saying I had to get my little pet back home before she passed out in the heat. Chloe is a lobster, 15 inches long, a brilliant orange.
Once Benny was behind the wheel and Chloe in her tank in the back, and the team of security guys who’d been flanking us were in their cars, for and aft of the van, I told Daphne, my nubile twenty-something assistant (isn’t there always a nubile twenty-something assistant? Anyway, she’s a first cousin in need of a job, so what can I do?) to open the door, that I had something to get off my chest. CNN had just pulled up.
Some nattily dressed black dude put his microphone in my face. “Bunny, could we have a few words?”
“Absolutely not.”
“C’mon, just a-”
“I have a prepared statement.”
I pulled out a blank sheet of paper from my breast pocket. I turned it upside down. I intoned, in my best BBC accent, “The events of the last 72 hours have profoundly reinforced for me the truth of that old religious-ethical injunction my Quaker parents taught me.”
“What religious injunction is that, Bunny?”
“Never bum-fuck a saint. Thank you, and good day.”
I back-tracked to the open side door of the van, flashing Victory signs over my head Tricky Dick-style.
Then I grabbed my crotch.
I hopped in. Daphne slammed the door shur, her sleek little head shaking with exasperation.
Then I grabbed her’s.

“So Bunny shows with this magnum bottle of Dago Red, I mean this thing you couldn’t even give down at the docks to a fucking diabetic, and at the end of the night he’s got the fucking nerve to say ‘Oh Cherry sweetheart, that’s mine, pass it over here-’”

Childhood mother father parents guilt
see Martin Amis review of E. Leonard

My mother lived in full obedience to her heart’s commands. In this regard she never lost her way, she never veered in her total commitment to the life of the heart. That’s to say that she lived on another plane of life altogether, an emotional landscape inhabited by ladies-in-waiting and knights errant, fair maidens and damsels in distress, and all the other figures of dream and nightmare that populate the fairytale story books my grandfather used to read her as a child.

Later, in my adolescence, as my father continued his alcohol-fueled womanizing, and my mother’s heart continued to tear so slowly, I grew to understand them a bit better. But my earliest memories of them are watching them as we sat at our breakfast table, wondering why they seemed to love each other but hate each other so much. A sense of guilt began to grow in me then, a deep sense of having done some secret thing so unspeakable and wrong that each parent blamed the other for it, both knowing that I could never be blamed-¾that what I had done was so terrible that only my removal from their existence could heal it,

Kiss and Cherry
Mr. Kissy Lips fancied himself Cherry’s oldest and dearest male friend. He had known her when she was still a farm girl, essentially, giving blow jobs in back seats to sweaty beer salesmen. He had known her through her ascent to the windswept heights of whoredom, and now she was out of the Life and working for Mary Kay. He had in fact known her first hand many times, and had never, not once, had to pay for it! Well, okay, maybe just the first two or three times . . . He honestly believed her to be a cocktease of the first rank, a practioner of the phallic arts of the Old School of European Courtesanship. Though he still secretly thought of this new cosmetics gig as a bit of a come down, he would support her, he resolved, no matter what. It was her, he reflected with wonder, who coined or at least popularized the phrase “sex trade worker” as a legitimizing euphemism for prostitute. Some trade! Some work!, thought Mr. Kissy Lips.

Love is cruel, saith Mr. Kissy-Lips. Love is nasty, love is mean. Love sucks, love bites, love masticates. Love doesn’t swallow, love spits it all back out, love is walking into your parents’ room and seeing them doing it when your six years old . . . Love is all these things, and more. Love makes the world go round, love brings your world to a stop, love will do all these things and then Love will look you right in the eye and say it ain’t so . . .

“Love?”
“Yes, dear?”

“Degenerate.”
“Say it again.”
“Fuck you.”
“Hang on, baby, hang on . . . I’m almost there.”
“Fuck off.”
“Say that again. Say ‘fuck’ again.”
“Fuck right off right now.”
“Say ‘My wrists are secured to the headboard by my absurdly monistened panties’ C’mon, say it.”
“—-”
She hung up.
She called back.
“I wish things were different between us. Even if only one or two things were different.”
“You’ll feel different when you get one or two drinks in you. When you get me in you.”

Cherry was on the phone to Kiss.
Then she was on the phone to Tristan.

Kiss believed in romance: he believed it with Cherry, anyhow. No, he didn’t believe in moonlit ponds and flowers and all that crap. He believed in something a bit more modern-like the time he told her he wouldn’t come in her mouth-and he didn’t! Although he’d been distinctly silent on the point about coming on her face.

Cherry was on the phone to Kiss.
Cherry was on the phone to Tristan.
“How does it feel to really hurt someone?”
“Good,” she giggled.

Kiss whispered in the phone, “Say ‘Like a triple-knotted ligature around the neck.’”

Cherry giggled, “By the way, the sex really sucked. You were lousy. You have a small penis.”
“That’s not what you said when I made you come five times in one night.”
Sex follows.
“I love you.”
“There you go again.”
Kiss’s hand was slick with her juices. He’d been rubbing her for about ten minutes. “I’m sorry I can’t go.”
“Pretend I’m someone else. Somebody you like.”
“I do like you.”

Kiss was on top of her. He was really pounding her. It was starting to hurt. “Hurry up and go, for Chrissakes.”
“I was waiting for you, honey.”
“For me? Fuck . . . forget . . . about . . . me . . . I”m not doing this for the good of my health.”
Kiss – descent into crime

After I got booted off the force because of beating Mickey Tristan senseless once or twice or maybe ten times I found myself with little choice but to shake hands with the Devil.
I cemented my relationship with Jack Kennaway, becoming his security boss-Risk Assessment Management, read the plaque on my door. This meant that I spent most of my time pimping, and shaking down his poker buddies and arranging police “permission” for Cyborg Pictures’ hard-core crud.
But I also had to cultivate Johnny Roselli, that tiresome punk who couldn’t hold his liqour and was always losing his shirt to Jack. Why Jack put up with him I don’t know; I guess it was a weird father-son thing, though if Jack wanted a surrogate son I don’t know why he didn’t pick me. Roselli, the fucking greaser wasn’t even a wop. I’m pretty sure he was Portuguese anyway. [see Mike Hoolihan, Night Train] But whatever he was, he was insanely ambitious, and had committed the RICO statute to memory. Jack yoked that ambition to the chariot of vice, and the results were impressive, as you’ll see, were impressive.
And me? I was the conduit to the LAPD, the former Vice detective who knew which cops could be bought and which couldn’t, which runaway teenage girl nobody would look for and which would end up on a milk cartoon (always bad for business-one time Jack had to scrap an entire film when he saw her face looking at him all forlorn over his Breakfast of Champions) . . .
Jack was always getting charged by the cops for something or other involving obscenity, but they would always drop the charges on lack of evidence-I’d always get Jack the tip in time for him to move whatever harder-than-hard sex ‘n’ snuff stuff he had kicking around his warehouses, or his own house’s basement. He loved to court danger.
Jack was always getting his picture shown on those Moral Majority TV shows as being some agent of Satan, and was always showing up at Spago’s in dark shades with Cherry Temple, before we found out she was pulling a Traci Lords on us. Yeah, he got Cherry, and I got that dumb wop-wannabe Johnny Roselli, him and his crew of psychopathic punk purse snatchers, statch rapers, child killers, porno writers, and his midget JFK-a hydrocephalic monstrosity that Roselli looked after as a favour to Jack. JFK was all hair and teeth and forehead-and dick, too. Believe me, the little freak was packing a huge one. Jack told me once that a Chinese doctor, the guy who pioneered penis enlargement surgery, had used JFK as a lab rat for a new technique, in which mucles from the legs were transplanted to the base of the penis, which had been partially separated from the body-a cut and paste trick that gave JFK an extra 5 inches, easy. Jack was really drunk and laughing hysterically when he told me this, so I’m not sure if it’s really true. I never wanted to ask, to be honest. I did notice that JFK had a mighty hard time walking upright, like his legs were all screwed up, and in fact he preferred to scamper about on all fours.
So there you have us, the unholy trinity of L.A. underworld: Jack Kennaway, Johnny Roselli, and me, Ivan “Oral” Kiss, a.k.a. Mr. Kissy Lips, Sandisto, California, i.e., The Man from Sadisto. Jack the Father (the Winner), Johnny the Sacrificial Son (the Loser), and me (the Holy Ghost of our little gangland heresy). Yes, me: the Ghost, the Spirit, the breath of life, yeah, I’m the gust of fresh air blowing away the miasma of those pornocrats and lowlifes. It’s a simple truth-I’m the guy who’s still alive to write this, and history is written by the winners.

Kiss Kills The Old Man

Kiss strolled into the great man’s inner sanctum, all gunman deboinair, exuding the desparate anti-charm of the Islamic terrorist who doesn’t really believe all those promises about a martyr’s heaven.
“There’s only one place to spit in a rich man’s house, and that’s in his face.”
The old man smile. “Diogenes.”
“Right. And if he were alive today, he’d be writing advertising copy for one of your more legitimate operations. Probably blurbs for your porno distributor. You know, in the rich lady’s love nest, there’s only one place to cum, and that’s-.”
“Your point is sufficiently made, Mr. Kiss.”
He seemed to exude that aura of vanished power, of anti-power, really, that only former U.S. Presidents and men who have walked on the moon seem to have. You ask yourself, what does this guy have? Does he know something I don’t? He looked like a man cheerily resigined to watching life slip by him. That fail frame once commanded armies, once drew young women to him by the bedroomful. Even now Kiss noticed that several young women-cocktail dress bimbos all Chaneled up-hovered near, drawn by the great man’s fading embers of virility. Power corrupts, corruption empowers, Kiss remarked aloud to him, with amused bitterness.

Kiss strolled into the great man’s inner sanctum, all gunman deboinair, exuding the holy anti-faith of the fevered, of the terrorist Islamic terrorist who finds out at the last moment that he really and truly believes in all those promises about a martyr’s heaven. Kiss surveyed the room, its bookshelves, its paintings, the furniture.
“There’s only one place to spit in a rich man’s house, and that’s in his face.”
The old man smile. “Diogenes.”
“Right. And if he were alive today, he’d be writing advertising copy for one of your more legitimate operations. Probably blurbs for your porno distributor. You know, in the rich lady’s love nest, there’s only one place to cum, and that’s-.”
“Your point is sufficiently made, Mr. Kiss.”

Kiss supposed that this was it.
“The only wealth is life, Daddy-O.”
“What?”
“That’s John Ruskin. You’ve got his books behind you on the wall.”
“Oh. What do you want?”
“Nothing. I’m through taking the rich man’s coin.”
Kiss shot the rich man once in the chest.
Davenport slumped back into the chair, coughed spasmodically, and fell to the floor. Kiss walked over and nudged him onto his back. He was not yet dead.
Davenport asked him what he was doing.
“Looking for my dick. Fuck. I can’t find it. I just had the thing out this morning . . .
“You shot me. You shot me. I’m dying.”
“Fuck it. It’s these damn boxers. Oh, there it is. Don’t look, please. I’m kinda shy.”
Kis unzipped his trousers. Kiss started to urinate.
Davenport opened his eyes, to see a syphilitic male organ discharge yellow pus, some dark red blood, and finally a steady stream of yellow urine which warmed his face and gathered in the folds of his silen smoking jacket. It was really quite a warm feeling, Davenport reflected.
Kiss pissed in the old man’s mouth, the old man trying to spit it out, drowning him.

The guy was delirious. “Let’s get out of here. I want to go home.”
Kiss said, “You are home,” and he pushed his head under the surface of the toilet water.

Kiss Dying

[see the end of The Kingdom of this World]

Kissy-Lips was dying. But even still, his neurons were rapid-firing, making new neural pathways which were forming throughout his battered cerebral cortex . . . and Mr. Kissy Lips, in yet another moment of maximum lucidity, realized that heaven . . . the kingdom of the world.
Blood was bubbling out of his mouth. And so were these words, which both ambulance attendants, Mary and Thomas, reported to Mother Dick, with word-for-word corrobation. “Dear God, please don’t send me to heaven . . . there’s nothing for me to do there.”
Kiss looked at the woman’s name take. “Mary, don’t touch me.”
They had him in the ambulance now. Frantically trying to transfuse him. Kiss snickered, “Stop, stop, I’m a Christian Scientist.”
The guy said, “I don’t fucking believe this guy.”
Kiss remarked lightly, “Thomas, if thou doubtest, then touch my garment.”
Dear God, thought Kissy-Lips, Dear God, thanks . . . Thanks for nothing!

Kiss realized, in a moment of great lucidity, that he didn’t want to go to heaven. It wasn’t even really a question of what he wanted anymore.
Please God, he whispered, please, don’t send me to heaven.
Thanks God, thanks, for nothing.
Fuck. You.
Fuck You.

LUCIFER IN SUNLIGHT

His eyes blinked open. He was awake. The stale room seemed to weigh heavily on him. Although there had been no motion in the room for the last six hours, excepting his laboured breathing and occasional toss and turn in the sagging bed, the yellow air was aswirl with motes of dust. No wonder he sneezed all morning. It was Monday, seven a.m. He thought, We’re at the end of another dull, grey month. He meant himself and his office colleagues, that small group on the fourty-seventh floor of dull, grey building he worked in. R and D for a cable and satellite t.v. conglomerate. As he roused his stiff limbs from the sweat-dampened sheets he realized that he had dreamed last night, but could recall nothing of it beyond a sense of urgency, like some forgotten deadline remembered at the last minute. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he reached behind him for his pillow. There looked to be abouty forty of fifty hairs on it. All of them were undoubtedly his. He would count them later and enter the total on his computer. He had to be losing more than he was gaining. His software programme, I’m Your Body, told him as much. Now it was time to look in the mirror at his hairline. What will he see? A face, blue-eyed, handsomer than most. Wearier than most. He is twenty-five years old. His name is David Hobbs. With solemn deliberation, he begins to shave.

Brother Cain was his first big success

Another World

As Stoppard watched the craft lift away into the night, he thought again of how irritating they had been. He’d never forget the dull, uncomprehending stares when he tried to explain cinema verité to them, their spatulate, three-fingered hands impatiently drumming away on the desktop. And you could never tell what they were thinking—if they were thinking! Who did they think they were, anyway, to criticize him—not even forty, and he had already won an Oscar, two Golden Globes, and received dozens of nominations to boot. The philistines! Technological giants, but cultural pygmies. He smiled. That’s what they looked like, actually: pygmies. All of them were about four feet tall, and they all looked alike, too, though in Hollywood these days you could never say anything like that out loud…

And what is with those Reese Pieces?

You think this is the only planet in the galaxy, do you?
We were just trying to stop you from killing yourselves. There’s lots of other sentient races out there who’d jump at the chance to save their plant from war, famine, disease, you know.

Stoppard walked off. Well, there was always the Vlorbidians. And at least they didn’t care if you went over budget.

By now Henderson knew the labyrinth as well as it knew him. You see, the trick to coming to terms with it was accepting that it was a living thing, capable of deception and malice, yet also prone to forgetfulness and mistakes. It was like the fox and the hedgehog—the fox knows many little things, the hedgehog one big thing. Generally Henderson was the fox: he’d charted little pathways and burrowed little cross-cuts; the labyrinth was the hedgehog, knowing only that Henderson was trapped, and must stay that way. After 10 years, Henderson was feeling that maybe it was time to change roles, to become the hedgehog: time to kill the labyrinth.

I think I’d been having the dream about the vampire again. It was the feel of the fly’s feet on my face that woke me. Sticky ticklings, tiny caresses. Then it stopped. It settled into me, somehow. After a while I thought I could here it make a faint sound, like a baby sucking milk. I brought my hand up, and smacked it hard against my forehead. I held it there awhile. When I drew my hand away, it was covered in blood. Vampire, I thought. Time to start the day.

Civilization depends on the observance of order and form, of rules and customs, but what civilization alone produces is quite apart from all of this. He had come back to where he was born, the small town where he had grown up and which he had been only too eager to leave. [DeLillo, Americana, 130].

Someone said, “Motels. We should try motels.”
“You mean hotels?”
“No. Motels. The ones by the road. One storey, cars out front, pool at the rear.”
We were in the boardroom, looking for a concept. One on which to hang a new cable t.v. series. Each week would have all new characters, except for the narrator guy, who would just speak at the beginning and the end of each episode. It wasn’t yet agreed whether he would wear a suit or not.
The idea behind the concept was this: soft-core porn mixed with neo-gothic vampirism. My idea, as yet uncontributed to this yet again reconvened concept session was this: shoot the scenes in both soft- and hard-core. When the censors change their minds, when the zeitgeist starts to blow the other way, when we finally make the show into an underground favourite years after it is cancelled, then we can trot the hard-core version. My reasoning was this: it can’t cost much more to shoot the thing in hard-core, because all we have to do is let the actors and actresses keep on with the scenes, and shoot a bit more footage. Throw in some religious obscenities in the non-sex scenes. Reshoot some of the murder scenes with a twist of comedy.
Chubb, our team leader, head of our division, turned to face me. “What’s your view of the concept, Dave?”
“Well, I was also thinking along the lines of using hotels, I mean motels, as the thematic background or dramatic setting, if you will, for the series.” This was not true. “A sense of geographic diversity, along with a view of lower-middle class life – whose members comprise our target audience, after all.” I hoped that was in fact true. I did not response. “But what I’ve really been focussing my time on, frankly, is the long-term outlook for this concept, and how we can brighten that forecast. And I think I’ve found a way.” I paused and relayed my idea of shooting a soft- and a hard-core version of the series.

Bad Guys

His name was Johnny Roselli. Not the Johnny Roselli, the guy was found stuffed into an oil drum in his garage the day before he was to testify to the Church Committee on political assassinations. Not that Johnny Roselli. This was just a small-time guy who like the old wop’s dapper style. And also hated the Kennedy’s. Ah, the Kennedys, I mean the dead Kennedys. But enough’s been said about them, hasn’t’ it? Let’s try to avoid talking about them.
But can we, really? I mean, this is a story about America, about money, sex, pornograpghy. About murder. So how can we really avoid them, when you stop to think about it.

In The Movies

He thought that she looked like a million bucks-in Confederate money, that is: she was Deep South trailer trash. He walked on. He stopped and turned around, yeah, she was garbage at first glance, yet she was still alluring, somehow-her impossibly full breasts and slender torso tapering to that perfect waist, yeah, a million bucks in Confederate money would be wirth many more millions now-those Jefferson Davises were real collector’s items, and so was this little bitch.
Kiss loved these girls. In a way, the way that counted most, they were like him-they came from nowhere, they had no past, and they certainly had no future.
Kiss was forty-four years old─the same age as John the Baptist when he was beheaded. The girls? They were 15, 16, 17 years old. On average, they were 16. Bobby-soxer age. Of course, these grunge-dressed runaways only wore bobby-sox when Kiss had them dress up, before undressing them. He still loved and remembered the America of the ’50s, his parents recent émigres from Eastern Europe, himself a boy, the Eisenhower age, big fins on the cars, chrome-heavy roadsters and the Saturday nights at the roadhouse diners his parents took him to. So, Kiss figured, if he was forty-four, and his girl of the moment was sixteen, then that totalled sixty. Divide that by two and you have a healthy, innocuous thirty-the peak age of human sexual life. So it was all right, when you looked at it dispassionately, scientifically-when they were fucking, he and the girls weren’t a team, a pair, but a single item, a seamless unit, an integrated fleshly coalescence of human sexual perfection, a solitary beast with two backs which, when the math was done, cashed out at a respectable thirty years of age. Nothing sick about any of it.
Kiss didn’t believe any of this. He just liked to torture Mother Dick with these convoluted justifications for his taste in teenage girls. He knew it wasn’t right basically, not by society’s current standards, anyway, but he also knew what he liked.

—————————-

Kiss
Kiss liked to watch the opening of Leno-the jokes were better-and then flip over to Letterman in time for the Top Ten List.

Kiss wears clothes nice and likes wearing nice clothes. Stylish,
athletic wear (Reebok), heavy, black leather jackets (Hugo Boss),
warm-colored berets and baseball caps to cover his balding head are
Ordell’s “look.” At this moment Ordell’s wearing an open silk shirt.

Ordell narrates the video playing on the big-screen .V. (the most
expensive thing in the apartment). He holds a cocktail in one hand
(screwdriver, his drink of choice) and the remote control in the other,
pacing the floor in his I-can-talk-anybody-into-anything voice.

Love is cruel, saith Mr. Kissy Lips. Love is cold, love is vicious. Love is hard. Oh yeah, love hurts. Yeah, love hurts a lot.

And there ain’t no cure for love.

Kiss watched a small army of mommies and nannies wheel and carry there puking and bawling infant charges through the park. He thought that there was something faintly sickening about this endless process of having children.

Kiss remembered that great lunatical Jesuit, x, with his books and his sermons on evil, with his warnings of fleshly temptations and his strenuous efforts to “get to know you” by way of seduction.
[Eco’s blind librarian/Irwin]

On Location With Kiss, Cherry, and Kenneway
He shut up for a minute.
” No. It is impossible. It is impossible to convey the truth about one’s sensations of the fundamentals. Ask any intellectual on his deathbed what he remembers most and it is physical memories: Mom, Dad, his first kiss, first grope, his worst sexual experience. It isn’t his doctoral dissertation, it isn’t his first “A-plus” in school. You see, it isn’t the life of the mind that wins in the end. It’s the life of the body. But while you can convey an idea to somebody, a geometric theorem, you can’t convince them of your intimations of mortality, immortality, make them feel your own irrefutable existence. Animals can do it. We can’t. The human essence cannot be conveyed, transferred, or translated from one to another. It is inalienable. It is impossible. Each of us, every one of us, lives, dies, fornicates, absolutely alone. Fucking alone.”
‘Right, Boss.’

The limousine’s phone rang. Jack picked it up, listened and murmured, ‘Yes. Yes, I’ll tell him.’ Hanging up, he said, ‘The switchboard at the plant. Johnny Roselli wants to see you. Make it brief, you’re on my time now.’
‘Yes, sir.’

City at Night: In A Bar

Nellie, the topless serving girl, was being literally run off her feet. The place was hopping, college kids’ pheromones doing their magic on the atmosphere. As if, Kiss sniffed, there wasn’t enough sex in this place.

Kiss looked at her left breast, which was swaying dangerously close to his bruised right eye. It is still firm, Kiss appraised coolly, not yet sagging, but still it is right at that tender point on the female age curve, right before gravity steps in to do its nasty work. It looked, Kiss reflected, like a basketball hanging in mid-air, just at the top of its arc, right before it begins its descent to the basket. “Shwoosh!” Kiss found himself saying aloud.
“What’s that, love?” Nellie replied, the weariness in her voice reinforcing for Kiss’s his newly-formulated gravity theory of fleshly degradation and corruption.
“Uh, nothin. You ever see this guy, this guy here, a friend of mine?”
He showed her the picture. “His name’s Mickey Tristan?” Kiss found it best when talking to Californian women to make everything sound like a question. Get more info that way, don’t sound like a cop, like you’re Authority.

Mother Dick was telling Kiss to go easy on Nellie, she being an old cop favourite and all. “Yeah, she’s in good with all the brass-she used to dance for those guys when they were rookies in the ’70s.
Kiss went over to the jukebox and picked out Jim Morrison’s City at Night. When Nellie came over the song was at the good bit, the part and Kiss was singing that lyric “cops and cars and topless bars” and Nellie looked down at him and Kiss looked right back like he knew something she didn’t and she didn’t like that one bit . . .
“You’re drunk, you’re cut off.”
“What? What’d I do?”

Kiss considered the perfection of those breasts, testing them to see if they were real.
After a while their erotic attraction passed and he considered them merely as biological curiosities. A while after that he began to ruminate in a speculative way, the way a young Sartre might about the base of a tree. Nellie’s breasts were making Kiss feel sick, their absurd pendolous quality, the brute fact that they were forever inches from his face, that their very femaleness somehow negated Kiss’s own existence, all this made him nauseous.

“Nellie, I believe you know dick.”“
Kiss unzipped his pants.
[mugger exposure scene from Mr. Sammler’s Planet]

The whore turned to Nellie and said, with a gesture at Kiss, “Oh, don’t mind him, he’ll fuck anybody.”

LOW LIFE 1

A potential three grand in my kick; Kiss’s hinkyness doing a slow simmer in my gourd; an instinct that Candy-O Shoftel’s ‘hideaway’ was Jack Kennaway’s fuck pad on South Lucerne – the place where he kept the stash of specially cantilevered bras he designed to spotlight his favorite starlet’s tits, cleavage gowns for his one-night inamoratas, and the stag-film collection he showed to visiting defense contractors – some of them rumored to costar Johnny Roselli, Jr., and a bimbo made up to resemble Jack’s personal heroine: Amelia Earhart. But first there was Scrivner’s Drive-In and a routine questioning of Candy-O’s recent coworkers. Fear adrenaline was scorching my soul as I drove there – maybe I’d played my shtick too tight to come out intact.

73. Love is Form

Love is form, the pornographers tell us.

76 Kiss Investigated

2. I drove to a pay phone and made some calls, straight and collect. An old LAPD pal gave me the lowdown on Kiss – he had two California convictions for felony statch rape, both complainants thirteen-year-old girls. A guy on the New York force that I’d worked liaison with supplied Midwestern skinny:

MICKEY AND CANDY MEET FOR THE SECOND TIME
As it turned out, the next time I saw Kiss was in the top-secret back room of Carrie’s. He was getting a marathon blow job from a she-male decked out in a Beverly Hills High cheerleader’s uniform. He was too busy staring into the mirror across from him to notice me, his myriad and fractured reflection spastically grinning back at him with that weird devil’s fuck-face Cherry used to complain to me about . . . and the next time I saw Cherry was at the Pink Pussycat. I bought her enough drinks to knock out any woman I’d ever known. She smoked all of my cigarettes too. She told me that the cop who arrested me was named Ivan Kiss and was an old friend of her family’s.

Pretty soon I was seeing her “between boyfriends.” Soon I was lending her small amounts of money. “For abortions,” she’d say. I could never tell if she was joking. I don’t know why I would meet up with her. It wasn’t about sex, and she never gave me her phone number or told me where she lived. In fact, I didn’t even know how old she was. Somewhere between sixteen and twenty-six. We’d just bump into each other, about once or twice a month. After not seeing her for a month the bartender at The Last Dance told me that she’d gotten into the movies, and I didn’t see her around any more.

Then when I’d just about forgotten about her and was back to getting and spending, living and dying, I got a check for all the money she owed me. The letter said she was in Mexico working on a film, and I should come down to T.J. to meet up with her and do something about my pale complexion.

That Was Then: Cherry And A MAN

It was my sentimental education. Me and Cherry-O living for two months at the Los Angeles Hilton, doing whatever we felt like, indolent and sun-dappled, me the archetypal American innocent, she the tempting goddess Astarte, Athena, Nike, take your pick. The point is, she didn’t need men, she didn’t need women either, for that matter, but she picked me. [Fuentes].
She taught me so much. May I mean too much. Her bon mots were like a tickertape from the underside of the male pysche. Eros and thanatos and the decline of the West were the dominant themes. Example: On or about June 10, 1974, human nature changed forever, Cherry used to tell me-that’s when Deep Throat opened in downtown New York. A Marx-quoting, Freud-obssessed historicist theoretician of the sexual act. (She’d gone to the New School of Social Research in New York. Everything always seemed to come back to New York with her, though she made her name in L.A. And L.A. was where she eventually dropped out of my life, the tutelage done, the tuition a bill I had yet to reckon.)
For a while Cherry-O was pornography, or rather, that hard-core, cutting edge part of it often called “sophisticated” or “mature.” I don’t just mean that her movies had the traditional accoutrements of plots, characters, nearly-justifiable sex scenes, etc., not to mention a suggestion of violence and callousness and all-round hatred that the censors could never quite excise or exorcise, but something else as well, something the rest of the hundreds of porno flicks made each year lacked-hers had a kind of vision to them, a kind of art, something ineffable that lurked in her stylized fuck-and-suck gropings, something which intimated that this slippery coupling was the real her, and the real you, that one was only truly alive while manifesting this icy fuck-hunger which bordered on the insane, the criminal, the satanic.
Something in her eyes, in the set of her face, I don’t know what, let you know that in the heat of the moment-and surely those orgasms were real, weren’t faked moans and spasms-she was an animal, an animal and nothing but, and knew it, and liked it, in fact hated being anything else, and worst of all (or best of all?) she let you know that you, too, were exactly the same way, if only you could admit it to yourself. Could admit it, come to know it, even revel in it.
I always found this effect chilling; it seemed as if a childhood ghoul was sneaking up on me, a monster from under the basement stairs, tiptoeing up obliquely, and then jumping right in front of me, there it is, my own raging Caliban, dick in hand, a kind of boogie-main ectoplasmic physical correlate, with all the force of a Kantian proof, of my own irredeemable reptile nature. Indeed, watching her movies, I had a pulsing sense that some profound natural law was being violated, violated on a cosmic scale . . . a trangression transpiring time and again with my own very knowing aiding and abettance. Sometimes it was like a demon motor was revving in my head, ready to take me some place my Mom really wouldn’t want me to know about . . .

Ah, Cherry . . . my Cherry . . . to see her suck a cock was to see feminism die . . .

I mentioned this to her once, during the act itself. She stopped her ministrations, a slight frown of surprise clouding her features. “Hey, Tristan”-she always called me by my last name when we were being intimate-”That’s brilliant, Tristan, that’s really very good.”
She flashed that thousand-dollar-a-night harlot’s smile. Exaggerated concentration creased her brow. “Perhaps the student is now the master, n’est-ce pas?” She reached behind her for something and stuck a beret on her head. I snickered, she giggled. I spasmed, she gurgled.
Believe me, it was the good life.

So she was an porn actress that not only men wanted to fuck, and they wanted to watch getting fucked, that’s obvious, but also, and worst of all-and who among those slobs and shits in her vast fandom knew it?, not one, I’ll bet-men wanted to be her too, or more precisely, to be nothing, nothing but this frenzied animal fuck-act itself, to be at one with this self-annihilating display of carnal misanthropy. She had, in short, a depraved talent, a perversely divine dispensation-I hate to think of what dark force granted it to her-for reducing herself, her fuck partner, and her unseen audience to some syphilitic nightmare version of themselves. Parenthetically, she was, and is, hugely popular with college-educated white men in the middle-to-high income bracket.
It was this widespread sense of devotion, of loyalty to her videotape-dream-atrocity, that prompted me to scan her films for subliminal messages, hidden markers, backward masking. When I told her this, she beamed. “You’re looking for my magic. It’s there, but you won’t find it. You’re looking at a pornographer’s pornography.” No mean boast.
Anyway, what I mean is, she was it, she was in all the magazines, at all the conventions, always the prima donna of the awards shows, even though you probably don’t remember her now. She did the whole bit. Slapping waiters in restaurants, fights on the set, rumours of major drug abuse and every communicable disease on record. But she dropped out of the public eye (“the pubic eye,” she’d call it over morning coffee, the two of us perusing the mail’s latest batch of adult movie magazines) a few years ago, right after an enterprising journalist had discovered and divulged to the L.A. cops that in over half the movies she had made, she was only sixteen-with the result being that her sole honestly earned financial asset was now an duly seized illegal stash of kiddie porn, at least to the right-thinking minds of the Orange County D.A. and his constituents, although her fans and the black marketeers maintained a sentimental and vigorous interest in her works, her omnium gatherum, she would solemnly intone, being something of an amateur classicist (“the original meaning of “amateur” was someone who performed out of love for the task, and up on the screen I’m strictly a professional,” she observed more than once to me). The one and only time I pointed out to her by way of a gentle, friendly clarification that her movies were never shown “up there,” up on a silver screen, she shreiked “Faggot” at me and kicked me in the balls so hard that I came blood when she, by way of apology, let me-me!-finally fuck her.
“I will show you fear in a handful of lust,” she deadpanned, placing my left hand on her pubic mound. She seemed to enjoy it. But then who could tell with her? When we were done fucking she pushed me off her like a dirty sheet.
I didn’t shower for days afterwards. Though not out of a star-fucker’s enchantment. I spent the week-end days in county lock-up after I’d reciprocated the gesture with a unintentionally hard slap to the face after suffering her belaboured and frankly over-clinical evaluation of my sexual techniques and powers (my “short cummings,” she’d giggled when I couldn’t rouse myself for a fourth time on a Sunday night. “Quantity changes quality, does it, Mickey?”). County lock-up-now there’s a place you sure want to keep your clothes on. The shower was strictly off-limits to any smooth-cheeked, clean-limbed young hetero like me. Anyway, she bailed me out, told me never to hit her again, and I never did. I think.

Mickey and Cherry met The Writer
The Father

Every man has a question which paralyzes him, though I don’t know if the same situation obtains for women. And for me, giving myself over to avoiding this question has determined the course of my life. This is perhaps curious, for I am a thinking man, one for whom asking the right questions and getting the right answers is bread-and-butter. I am a lawyer by trade, as was my father. But professional familiarity with questions and their accompanying objections and evasions is a small consolation for me now. What if the answers never come? Only now have I realized that time is a fake healer. But this insight brings only further questions. My father… I am writing this under conditions of duress, as we say in the trade.

The pariah dog in the alley below won’t stop howling, though it is a cold moonless night. This is probably the final year of my life. If so, I won’t live to be the age my father was when he died. A typical shortcoming on my part, he would chide.

My father. I remember that my father taught me many things, such as that in the practical use of the intellect, forgetting can be as useful, as essential, as remembering. Something else he told me over and over was that if it’s not worth remembering, it’s not worth doing. But try putting those two maxims together when you’re ten years old. I never quite could. Consequently, I spent most of my early life feeling on the verge of an extraordinary illumination, one which never came.

I have been thinking about things like this a lot lately. And now I have finally faced my question, and it is a big one, it is about my life, and it has unavoidably an unfortunate kind of Schopenhauerian ring to it: is sadness only an emotion, a feeling, or is it also a kind of thinking, too? To expand on that: is all our sadness, all our pain, nothing but loss, forever gone from us? Or are they really a kind of gain, something that we own still; can it be that our pain and loss is still with us in the memory of what we lost?

Memory, the origin of narrative.

Ownership, the origin of evil.

Memory. Ownership. Together the two comprise and rule our lives; the one is our physical possessions, the other, our mental repossessions of our lives. In a sense, memory is simply time retold, but my memory is fragmented, and not always honestly owned (being a thief, among other things). Yet nothing’s gone, nothing’s missing, at least that I can remember. I still have her in my memory, for instance, and possession is nine-tenths of the law.

It seems too hard to think about it now, too hard to recall all those nights, those crowded restaurants, those shining, noisy bars, and always her bright, brilliant face. In those days we lived in Grenwich Village, on the entire top floor of an old apartment building which looked out onto the lake. Our rooms were crammed with books, antique furniture, oversized wardrobe closets jammed with new clothes. On Saturdays and Sundays music floated through on the sunlight while I read the thick weekend papers. During the week I attended to my father’s legal practice. I was a lawyer too, but I never thought of the office, and my position in it, as anything but temporary. Like so much that was to follow, I had just drifted into this part of my life.

And though I drifted for so long, I now find myself anchored, inextricably. It is night-time; as I write this, I am sitting at my desk looking out at a bar across the street, at the people coming and going. I have also been watching a young woman who lives over the bar. She has been putting on make-up, arranging her hair. In the dim light her supple shadow looms behind her on the walls, occasionally doubled or tripled by the headlights of a passing car. Her darker, more rounded twin suggests to me another woman, someone from those long-gone days of busy hotels, broad avenues in foreign cities, slow sunny cottage weekends. I mean my once (and future?) wife. All these memories. It occurs to me that in terms of feeling, of memory, the best days are always the first to go, and always the worst to remember. I suppose that can hold true not just for people but for a country, too…

I can clearly remember the day after I met her, beginning with my father’s intrusive “What did you do last night?” I rarely answered him in those days with anything approaching the truth. That day I did. I told him who I had met, what she was. All around me were well-dressed, well-fed men, dark, luxuriant leather furniture, wood-panelled walls, a spacious library, secretaries with perfectly shaped legs. For years I worked in this atmosphere. There was not a single fluorescent light bulb on the premises. Light was too precious to be rendered in so commercial, so unnatural, a form. Even the air itself had a quality of rareness, a sort of gravity to it that suggested it would keep safe your money, preserve your trust. Here it was old-time law, old-time lawyers.

As it happened, on the particular evening my father had asked about I had gone to a business party. The year was 1983. My mother, a Southern woman, had recently died. I think, seriously, her death had something to do with the Civil War. Yet, she was less a Southerner than a sort of typical American neurotic. Strange, since I never developed any warning sense for this sort of sentiment. The country was supposed to be out of its recession. The country needed to make money. I needed to make money. My father had hoped that a legal career would launch me into maturity; but the income, the relative prestige of my father’s firm, served only to prolong, to further extend my over-extended boyhood. I was overextended financially, emotionally, even temporally, living never in the present but stuck in my family’s past and my one hopes for the future. With the money I received from my trust fund, established by my mother, I dabbled in occasional pursuits like real estate, modern art, underground film, above all various women I knew to be unsuitable for the role of wife to a lawyer (wherein lay their appeal, I suppose). But I wanted to tell you about the party.

Eventually all this had to end. I knew that it would for me, at least, but eventually my father’s firm was swallowed up in a merger with a bigger multinational.

Swallowed up too was my father, in a series of strokes that left his face half-frozen, his mellifluous courtroom voice forever cracked and croaking. And in the new, grimly utilitarian surroundings the resulting creature operated in, there was no longer room for my absences from the office, for my late-morning appearances at breakfast meetings, for my early afternoon marijuana coughs… A new and grasping sort now practiced law, their sole unswerving goal -ultimately never one of mine- to make money.

Money. Is it abstract happiness? Abstraction of greed? Perhaps both are true. Someone famously said that a new form of currency is the most unwelcome surprise. And we lawyers, who once dealt in words and gestures, we now traded in this new, too literal form of currency. Deflation, debasement – this was life for me in the new medium. Not by accident was the new firm in a bank’s building, immersed in a banker’s mentality. I floated down those starkly clinical halls, every day a dull Monday. In three years I would be gone, generously cashed out of the partnership. In a few more years that bribe money too would be gone . . . After owning all my life, now I rent. I forfeited so much, you see. But you can’t forfeit memories. No one wants them, I suppose. And now memory rushes towards me, but I don’t try to evade it. I won’t, I can’t. This attitude is not altogether perverse of me, for now I own so little else. Now I live in a room one-hundred feet long and twenty-two feet wide. I painted everything black, the easiest colour to live with. My modest perfectionism in the art of living survives still. All this in an area the city laughingly labels the Fashion District. My black box. My memory box. A dark ruin. As an extension of my personality -and don’t doubt that it is- it may as well be in downtown Sarejevo…

If my memories were to have a kind of mental substance, an otherworldly texture, they would be like a sort of rumpled bed. One you know on sight you don’t want to climb into. An invalid’s bed. Infected. Yeasty. One that, once you are lying on it, paralyzes you, and soon a torpor, a slow fever of the limbs washes over you and pulls you back down every time you try to rise. Do you see? The bed is like your life, like tomorrow, like the rest of your life: when you’re in it, too exhausted to move, then all that is left for you is memory, and it is underneath you, behind you. Then your only motion will be memory’s slow, nervous tic. And what do you do then? You seek the light, I suppose, if you are like me. You seek the light dumbly, and always, and in seeking it you shine it back, like the sought-for curve of my ex-wife’s breasts above their bra. Now why did I think that? I hate to think about Candy. I hate to face those memories that uncompress and storm towards me and over me, about to soak me, drown me, like a black, boiling thunderhead. You see why I hate to remember, why I hate the very act, the very effort itself . . .

The Painter
There is a certain kind of minor painter who is never known except when he or she is finally dead, and then is only knowable through catalogues, auctions, estate sales. They try grandly to make art their religion, their destiny, and, finally, their point of departure from all that is felt to be commonplace, quotidian. Perhaps perversely, they themselves become the subject and object of their quest. Among their idols are the Kandinsky who wrote On The Spiritual In Art, the Van Gogh who painted the doomed sky in Crows Flying Over A Corn Field. Their favourite colour is, obviously, blue. Blue, hard to find in nature, common amongst the nobility, the true colour of the artistic imagination. Or so they believe.

This happened in New York to such a painter. Serious, she rarely smiles. Her clothes are dark, and often seem a little out of style. She says that she really believes that money doesn’t mean anything. She is a late riser. Her fingers are always stained blue. This young woman, who I should say is or was my wife, and whose seriousness produced a quiet eroticism she was not unaware of, nor unwilling to use, had been drifting casually from relationship to brief encounter to blind date. Until she met me. But I hate to think about that.
I remember attending her openings in local galleries, lingering too long in front of her work with a morose politeness. Sets of sketches, oils, and watercolours. Most were very mannered, obviously done in the mode of now-forgotten New York trends, but the last few showed a real maturation. This was when we had first started seeing each other. I still considered myself a confirmed bachelor, with a possessive and unctuous demeanor towards women. She still affected a romantic attitude towards life and art, and an artless promiscuity towards men. Some critics thought she was developing a real talent. More than I knew, I was to change all that . . .
This is being written in the dim light that bathes my desk. Spilled scotch and vodka have burned their rings onto the desktop. Cigarettes have scorched the floor beneath. I see I said something earlier about my wife and a party. My tumbler glass of whiskey sweats beside me. The air is musky, with a distinct scent of fermentation, but not unpleasant – it is bracing, almost salacious on hot nights like this one. My room has a kind of basement coolness, a masoleum rot to it . . .
It was all decided at a party. Curiously enough, I met my wife at a party, and I lost her at one. Languid, graceful, I first saw her at a function father’s firm had arranged. It was an exhibition of the firm’s art collection. Under the crystal chandeliers of what had once been a ballroom of a mansion now rented by a local gallery, the faces of my legal colleagues shone and smiled as she, Candy, figuratively at least, enlightened them on the eternal values of art and ardour, life and love. Behind her, the metal leaf in the burnished and brocaded walls flickered back pale images of candle flame and wine glass. Above, cherubs and nude goddesses frolicked and floated on the ceiling. Myself, my part was that of the dazzled onlooker. She seemed to me like someone with no past, with an unbounded future. Answering questions about her art, her bright face thrilling her interlocutors, she was like an actress who had stepped off the screen. Without words she told you at once that her real concern was in finding the very heart of life, of living, and taking you there with her. She was somebody who wraps her dreams around her when she rises in the morning, an unknown saint. Her lean, defiant body, her wide mouth, her sparkling eyes and breathless, obedient voice . . . I was living alone at this time, believing that’s how I always wanted to live, a sure way
of exposing one’s self to accidents of the heart.

The Painter

We had dinner that night. She was French-Canadian, a true Québeçois. Six weeks later we were married. That was 1984. Ten years later, a decade’s worth of creature-pleasures, of the disappointments and apologetics common to too-familiar mates, combined to make our marriage a broken promise. At some point, the effulgence, her aura, left her skin . . . Have I said before that I am a man of minor talents? And not just in law, I mean. In love, in life. A private school athlete, an Ivy League undergraduate, honour-roll in law school, none of these roles prepared me for my practice, for my marriage. My father, a true, old-time Wasp, believed in hard work and in honour, unfortunately not heritable traits; for my part, I believe I was bequeathed only my mother’s artistic aspirations, but certainly not her Old World shrewdness. When I married I was one of those unfortunate people who make an art of their love. I knew nothing of matters of the human heart… Do you want an example?
I knew my wife had been seeing someone. I had met him about a year before it all came apart. A confident, memorable face, an unmemorable name. I had been out in private practice for six years, but for the last two I hadn’t met with a client. Our tastes were expensive – a cottage in Northern Québec for her, one in the Muskokas for me, new cars every two years, annual vacations to Europe, original artwork… I was slowly and then suddenly going broke. My trust fund was depleted, my own savings exhausted. But I’d offered you an example.
I’d sometimes thought of leaving her, her profligacy, her ultimatums about money, above all her exaggerated grief over her own infertility, her stalled artistic career. But I could never bring myself to leave that promise she held out to me, that sense of a dream cloaked about her, for I still hoped she might spread her limbs out and wrap it around me, too. It’s only as I’m writing this that I realize that she did try to protect me with that aura, envelope me with her dreams, but by then it had all become a sadness instead. The irony of all this is that she was sad because her sorrow wasn’t a true sorrow… I don’t mean it was faked, or maudlin, but that she wanted a truly acute sorrow, a great, crushing sadness, but such capacity was not in her. Nor was motherhood, nor fidelity. If she couldn’t live her dream, couldn’t be a devoted mother, a loving wife, not to mention a passable artist, then something in her, some sense that life for her was elsewhere, pushed her in the other direction. Away from me.

She’s not the first woman I lost, either. I had a history of that.

The Painter Goes Away In A Crisis

Out of boredom, she consented to a solo vacation at her father’s cottage. This was perhaps a strange thing to do, in that her father had died there only a few weeks before, a suicide. But she was known for her morbid tastes. Her parents had divorced when she was a child, and her father had seemed not to miss her. At least that’s what she told everybody. But those were her foster parents Here biological parents were dead. But it was mostly her foster dad who had raised her, whom she always called her “real dad.” She resolved to try to get to know better who he had been, in whatever ways were available to her.
The contents of the cottage, where he spent his summers, had been willed to her, the cottage as well. This she thought was exceedingly generous, given that they rarely met, usually only a few times a year. Mostly, she expected to find old furniture.
She went through all the possessions of his she could find, examining each bank statement, neck tie, cuff link, address book and old letter for its secrets, for whatever sense each could reveal about their former owner. Finally she began to suspect that perhaps there might be no secrets left regarding his life, that in fact the dead take all secrets with them, and that what is left behind can only reveal not their life but their afterlife, their unwanted and probably unforeseen but persistent influence on the here and now.
But at last she found something that might qualify as a secret. One of those small revelations of self that the dead forget to take with them. It was in an artist’s carrying case – she knew that her father had once in his youth, tried his hand at painting, before settling unhappily into his doomed marriage and his career producing television commercials. She remembered him attending her openings in local galleries, lingering too long in front of her work with a morose politeness. Inside the case she found, arranged chronologically, a set of sketches, oils, and watercolours. Most were very mannered, obviously done in the mode of now-forgotten New York trends, but the last few showed a real maturation, and the very last in the portfolio was completely different from all the rest. Her father had pinned a note to it, “Is this at the last my breakthrough?”
Indeed, after months of labouring consciously or not after the style of famous contemporaries she had herself felt the same sensation of a breakthrough mixed with doubt, having just a few days earlier produced much the same painting. In each case, it was a self-portrait. In each case, its background was a deep blue, the blue of Denis’s The Road To Calvary, with the figure wearing a robe the blue of Gauguin’s The Beautiful Angel. He had titled his, simply, Self-Portrait; hers was labelled Let The Dead Bury The Dead. This was meant to suggest that one strive to forget one’s body when contemplating one’s true and best self, to forget or overcome that blue corpse we all carry with us everyday.
She stared at his final piece. She tilted her head, in puzzlement. And then her features cleared, as if in recognition of someone, or in acceptance of an unexpected difficulty. Soon she experienced a new sensation, certainly not one she imagined her father had ever felt about his art. She was numb, short of breath, sitting there on the wooden floor in northern British Columbia, amidst the accumulated detritus of a wasted life. She stared at the picture, his self-portrait, nearly hers as well. She could feel herself dissolving in the light semi-opaque already, shot through with a numbing, uncanny sense of deja-vu. This sensation would repeatedly slip away into her fault-ridden belly, only to reappear in her throat, alternating with a mounting sense of massive self-deception. What to call such a thing? Clairvoyance.
Later, as she sat there cooling in the fading patch of afternoon sun, she stared in silence out the window. The radiance of the light striking the water seemed to her to be like memory itself, her own memories in their entirety, an inner voice, grey and unmodulated, bearing witness to an earlier, better self. She had the stunned face of a favoured and devoted relative expecting a great legacy, only to find that she had been quietly left out of the will.
It was not until days later that a sense of self-revulsion set in. That is, when she returned to the painting and noticed the lines from Kandinsky her father had carefully printed on the back -along with some excoriating self-criticism- all of which was by way of explaining why he had chosen to give up painting and art altogether.

The deeper blue becomes, the more urgently it summons man toward the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity and, ultimately, for the supersensual.

Enough of thinking and feeling, he had written below, these things had got him precious little in life, and so he was resolved to direct himself outwards, to concern himself with his actions. It was during this period that, for the first time since she was a child, she felt any connection to her father.

CHARACTER BECOMES MENTALLY UNSTABLE

She throws out one, two, three works after another. Nothing seems to meet with the sense of self-mastery she wants to express. Not beautiful enough? Trash it. Too beautiful? Burn it. Eventually she exhausts her materials and, a little later, herself. She leaves the cottage and returns to her apartment to destroy all she has created there. Inspired, she plans a new beginning, a new direction for her, for her art. It will be a departure from all she has done before. She will correct where her father had failed. He had been on the right track. She takes out a sheet of paper and writes it all down.
She thinks, I have to stop imagining my father. Stop trying. Today I take all this to another plane of consciousness. I cannot imagine him. Everything inside me having to do with imagining, knowing, comes back to him, his absence. There is pain behind my eyes. A glitter of light inside my head. Its nothing. No more thoughts. Its so bright today. Acres of light, tremulous. Above, the blue lampshade of the sky. Strangely calm. I am told I am like him. Me. And not me. Mental light, in the dark. I should have brought my sunglasses, the yellow ones, with the angled frames. My Picasso eyes. On my last day. What your mind thinks of when you see what has to be done. My not-me. Its all a course in preparation for this point. A course in dying. You should always stick to the point. Cato’s sword, with a philosophical flourish.

Cherry Dies

(Several drinks later). I . . . I am going to get through this part quickly. It was last Sunday morning, the air full of summertime’s hot buzz. Our apartment building’s rooftop patio, overlooking downtown Toronto to the north. To the south, the glimmering lake, its water wind-broken, blue flecked with white. On the crushed gravel stands a young woman. Posed as if deep in concentration, obedient to some incontrovertible set of inner commands. The sea birds wheel above her indifferently, floating in the blue dome of the sky. Out on the rooftop the light is almost blinding. The air is very dry and still. “Brightness at noon”, she says, “this is the sun’s tyranny.” A few allusions in there I didn’t quite catch.
Behind me the door is swinging in the slight breeze. She steps up onto the concrete wall bordering the patio’s outer edge. She turns around on the ledge, quite casually, and crosses her arms. Now we are again staring at each other. Up here, at midday, there are periods of total silence, erie to hear while viewing the city’s skyline spread out below.
She is staring behind me at the sepulchre-like garbage incinerator, and over head, the watery, astringent sky. The crushed gravel and broken glass surrounding the patio stones reflect the sunlight up into our eyes, forcing us to squint at one another. I feel as if I am expecting some grave and irrevocable command from her. It has been three months since we last saw each other.
In order to say something, I say “Wait.” My voice sounds like it hasn’t been used in years. “I know what it’s like. To be this sad.” Immediately I wonder if this is true. Have I ever been like this? After our marriage ended? After my father died? She keeps her silence. I notice she has lifted her gaze over my head, and aimed it at the sun. I wonders what to say next. Has she forgotten my presence? It seems to me that action, physical movement, is impossible under these conditions. The sun is heavy on my neck.
She shifts her weight to her left leg, cocks her hips, and stands in the way she knows she looks best. I’m not sure if this is done for my benefit or hers. I take a step towards her.
She speaks, but numbly. “Please, don’t”.
I take another step forward, now holding my hands out to her. She crosses her arms across her chest. I think I can almost grab her now. I take another step. She drops her arms down, her palms now facing me. She isn’t wearing her wedding ring.
I notice for the first time that her top does not reach her skirt. Her midriff, exposed, moving in and out with her excited breath, suggests something carnal to me. Involuntarily I feel myself smiling. I close my eyes. I am almost there. I open them. I almost have her. Her eyes are very dark, but they are depthless, like moist, unearthed clay.
Then she focuses her stare on me. But in this moment when her eyes meet mine, I feel an immense understanding arise between us. Somehow I know she is not altogether beyond me.
Out on the roof of our building I see a group of sail boats moving out beyond the harbour. Their sails, like the wings of the sea birds, glint and glimmer in the pagan light, and bring a vague desire to her mind, to somehow really be who she is but without the burden of always knowing who and what she is. It is like remembering some childhood happiness, she thinks; and this recollection makes what she is again ache inside her.
I think she thought that she really had no choices left. The applause of the sea gulls seemed to confirm this. The sky was like lapus lazuli. Blue from beyond the sea. I guess she heard the whisper of the ocean; I guess she wanted to step into that lovely image of blue, the horizon’s pure blue, the forever vanishing point where the sky and ocean mingle. She wanted to be in it, of it, to embrace it. I think she became aware that something, somewhere inside her, again hurts. She looked as if she was not quite sure where. Maybe nowhere in particular. In the end she must have guessed that it’s just her life that she felt. And nothing else. Hers alone. (But not mine – I don’t think she had known for quite a while what I felt).
Then, with a final step taken with a negligent grace, she was gone. For her, the air, the sky, her memories, all of it is now a thick sticky film of images absorbing everything.
After a while the stupefaction left me. I look around me, up at the hungry sea birds aloft in the sombre blue sky, alone with their muted calls. I look down and see a golden bracelet on the patio stones. It is heavy, expensive. “Ambrose” is engraved on it. I rise absent-mindedly, put the bracelet into my pocket, for it seems impolite to do anything else, and disappear back down into the building…
(Several drinks later). The effort of writing this pantomime is simply too much. Writing about the past is like remembering it, but writing about the past in the present tense is just like reliving it: there is no finality, things echo over and over; finally it is too painful.

Mickey and Cherry met The Writer
This is what happened to such a writer who was, he knew, very nearly at the end of his life. On a summer day he sits outside in the late afternoon sun. He was reading aloud to his dog, an aging Labrador Retriever. There is nothing poetical or exotic about this image of man and dog, the writer knows; in his tiny seaside village in the maritime province of N—-, this little tableau was repeated over and over among the retired fishermen and other pensioners. And although his life is nearly over, there is no atmosphere of death around him, he himself is jovial of mood, expansive of gesture, the dog large and muscular, its coat thick and lustrous (a word which the writer thought overused, especially when talking of the hair of mammals such as young women or pure-bred dogs). Indeed, far from appearing ill, the writer, in the slant of pale afternoon light, looks like a large babyish boy, with his face lit by the knowing flash one finds in an adolescent still innocent but just beginning not to be so (like Doré angel about to be expelled from Heaven, the writer thought while shaving that morning). Sitting in his weather-beaten Adirondack chair, he reads aloud his stories to the dog, pausing to laugh that he had ever written such serious things, things full of earnest love, such as this, about his best friend’s daughter:

[Mickey considers the book]

But was all of this because of a book? Had everything that happened in the last 30 years been predetermined by the contents of this book? A book that almost no one had read? It was too much to be believed. And yet . . . what other explanation was there?

Judged in this way, it seemed less a book and more a totem or talisman, something that could damn a man, destroy a family, change a country’s history. He picked the book up in his hands and felt its weight.

He flipped through the pages, seeing the words flip by too fast for them to form a meaning in his mind. Suddenly an idea occurred to him. One that could perhaps explain the book’s apparent power. He knew he’d need help with this. He reached for the phone.

[Mickey contacts professor for help in breaking the code]

Arthur Grayle was a professor of humanities at the University of Chicago: he was currently serving a term on the prestigious Committee of Social Thought. His specialty – in fact, what he really lived for – was something he called esoteric modes of reading. He’d learned the arts of reading ancient texts for their hidden wisdom from the likes of Leo Strauss. [see Ravelstein and The Athenian Murders].

Meets at a party
Languid, graceful, I first saw her at a party the University had arranged, in honour of another one of my publications. Under the crystal chandeliers of the Reception Hall the faces of my university colleagues shone and smiled as she, Cherry, figuratively at least, enlightened them on the eternal values of art and ardour, life and love. Behind her, the metal leaf in the burnished and brocaded walls flickered back pale images of candle flame and wine glass. Above, cherubs and nude goddesses frolicked and floated on the ceiling. Myself, my part was that of the dazzled onlooker. She seemed to me like someone with no past, with an unbounded future. Answering questions about my book, her bright face thrilling her interlocutors, she was like an actress who had stepped off a movie screen. Without words she told you at once that her real concern was in finding the very heart of life, of living, and taking you there with her. She was somebody who wraps her dreams around her when she rises in the morning, an unknown saint. Her lean, defiant body, her wide mouth, her sparkling eyes and breathless, obedient voice… As usual, I was living alone at this time, a sure way of exposing one’s self to accidents of the heart.

After reading this particular passage the writer stops to take another bite of his red apple, which he then replaces in the dog’s empty water dish at his feet.

Visitors arrive. First out of the car is a young woman he has known for a longtime and loved as a child and later failed to love as an adult. She has a consort, an young publisher, or as he calls himself, a businessman. It is, the writer says aloud to his dog, as if they were drawn by the smell of his apple. Forbidden fruit. The writer acts as if their visit was a surprise, though he knows very well why they are here, and has in fact been expecting them.

Back in the 1960s, one of the New York glossy magazines called him the best writer in the country, a judgment which seemed to paralyze him, which somehow prevented him from publishing the omnium gatherum (was that the phrase?; the writer was, few people knew, an untutored classicist) of his works. But by that time he was already moving inward, towards some utterly final story the completion of which would mark him as perfected, indeed, in his own mind, as terminated. (Back then, he didn’t precisely know how the story would turn out, because so much of it still had to be lived).

The writer reads aloud to the visitors from more of his early, published work, work which they surely already know well, since the reason they were here was to persuade him to let them take away with them his unpublished work. After going in his little whitewashed clapboard house on the pretext of getting them something to drink, the writer returns with a magazine in hand, a very famous magazine, “For Adults Only”, as it describes itself, but one which also published serious fiction, which is why the visitors thought he had produced it. The writer turns the pages until he finds what he is searching for, a photograph which makes him sigh, and then holds the page out to the visitors with a glitter in his eyes of intense amusement.

The page glints in the light like a knife. It is a picture of an older man, fat, but with a boyish and affable look about him, in a way much like the writer himself, engaged in a procreative act with a younger woman, severe, studious, with long black hair (“lustrous hair,” jokes the writer to his unmoved audience) surprisingly like that of the female visitor.
Her companion doesn’t understand why the writer has shown them this picture. The woman thinks she understands, but she is wrong.
Why did he do it? Sheer pleasure in the ironic coincidence of the images with their own physical realities? Yes. To show the eternal beauty of life? Probably. In order to further reinforce his own sense-and hers too, he secretly hoped-of the infinite sadness that attaches itself to unsatisfied yearnings for the things of this world? Maybe. Mere bad manners? Could be. After the magazine is set aside and the process of handing over some of his papers is finished and her consort, as the writer insisted the businessman be called, is safely out of sight in the car, the woman returns to the side of the house. “Colum, really!” The sound of her right hand striking his face is the one solid thing he will remember from that day, is in fact one of his last memories. On going to retrieve his apple from the water dish, he notices that it was covered with flies. “Now whose fault is that?,” he asks the dog.
That night he writes his last sentence, in a journal he expects only his executor will see: “One thing readers and writers forget about each other-reading a story is one thing, but living it is quite another.”
And the young woman? A few mornings later she lies immobile, the sun slowly breaking through the blinds in dust-mottled splinters. Word has reached her of the writer’s death. Outside she can see the wings of the lonely sea birds glinting in the rising light, their harsh cries putting to her the question, Do the ruder sensibilities, the rougher forms, survive? And only them? Alone, she fills with hope: They do not. Do they?
Cherry ruminates about the dead writer

¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨

Finished reading, Candy sits in her hotel room with the manuscript in front of her, oblivious to the fading patch of afternoon sun, staring in silence out the window. The radiance of the light striking the water seems to her to be like memory itself, of her own memories of Colum, of his visits to her parents, of their own aborted romance, yet all somehow bearing witness to an earlier, better version of her self that she knows never existed except somewhere in his pages. Such is the writer’s power, perhaps. She has the stunned face of a favoured and devoted relative expecting a great legacy, only to find that she had been quietly left out of the will. She remembers something he mentioned to her the last time he saw her, about how he was seeking to change his much-lauded style, strip it down, because in what he wanted to write, what he wanted her to read, subject would be everything and technique could only conceal.
Several weeks later she receives a letter from the publisher:

Dear Ms. Leigh,

I just wanted to write to you to tell you how much I enjoyed the story, “Original Sin”, if that’s all it was, that you mentioned to me. I liked it very much. Somehow it reminded me of you. It’s too bad what happened to him. Literary people are often very unpredictable.

Yours,
Miles Savage

¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨
Mickey and Cherry split
The party. This was last summer. The scene explodes in my mind’s eye. Let me collect what fragments I can. Let me get another drink. Yes, her friend with the unrecallable name was there. He was, is, a magazine writer, a feature writer on the arts. Candy and I had arrived together, but the whole time I felt curiously detached, as if I was alone at this party, waiting with everyone else for my date to arrive. Keep in mind I had no idea what was going to happen. I’m not sure she did, either.
Candy’s bright aura had returned to her that evening. Wanting to savour it alone I had not wanted to go this party. For months I had not wanted to do anything, to go anywhere. Perhaps I knew I was losing her. I secretly hoped that tomorrow would be the same as today, tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow. But often I would quickly think us: what an impertinence, what a headache! It didn’t occur to me that my state of mind was odd, or unnatural, although I had examined it often enough. Indeed, I was thinking such thoughts, with my wife elsewhere in the chattering crowd -the party was at the same gallery where we had first met, incidentally- when someone called my name. I turned. It was him. “François”, he said, extending his hand.
I raised my head from my anonymous mental life, from my rehearsals and recollections of our ongoing domestic tedium. I looked directly at him. He was tall, slim, dark-haired. He had a warm, lazy voice. He was saying something to me but I hadn’t been listening. Apparently my wife had asked him to introduce himself to me. Then I heard my own voice, a lawyer’s voice, clear, hard, excessively precise under stress. “I’m giving her up. Too expensive.” An aimless yet original gesture? Maybe. Suddenly I had to go to the bathroom badly. Turning, I knocked over his glass. I felt I was fighting for a secret part of my life.
When I walked out of the Men’s Room I was, I suppose, going to go home. François was there. It quickly dawned on me that he was an American, New Orleans-born. And a materialist, a vulgarian. His thick fingers grabbed my jacket while he spoke about the importance of remaining friends with my wife.
Laughing then, I could hardly breath. But remembering it now, I can hardly keep from crying. What else I said, I don’t know. I felt like I had just lost some implacable, jealous god. Like I had made a bitter promise to be kept for the rest of my days. From across the room my wife’s tired eyes met mine, weary of everything. In my memory it seems to me it was then, precisely at this moment, that the light finally went out of her, her eyes, her hair. I know there is a terrible justice inequity: only by relinquishing our claim on another can we void their claim on us. Such are the laws of love and ownership at the end of the century. As a lawyer, let me assure you that you can never own another person, except in memory. That’s good advice. Please take it. But I don’t mean to oversimplify things. That isn’t my job. Things are perhaps simple enough.
Simple things. Perhaps that’s the answer, in considering things, human things, their simplicity. But I’m no longer a materialist, not like I used to be. Consider the inventory of my world… Alone with my night-thoughts I am sometimes two solitudes: myself, my wife. I have her still, in memory, her open, unknowable face, lit with promise. At night, in bed, remembering and later dreaming, I am still drawn to that light. I’ve read that in space light bends, it can be folded back upon itself. Here in my light-absorbing black room, my stale memory box, I read of theoretical physics, of the immaculate light of space-time, its pure curves relentless, unyielding. In theory, if you could move fast enough, you could see the past, the future . . . But what physicists can’t tell you is that to see the future is to see the accumulation of all your losses, all that you will lose, all your sadnesses; perhaps then the past is enough, for remembering, like dying, is something that we do all our lives… For me memory is like a near-death experience. Really.

Old Lady

112old lady – mccarthy suttree/ellroy big nowhere ch 26/conrad heart of darkness /chandler farewell, my lovely ch 5 pg 25 ch 17 pg 112 ch 30 pg 204

Deeth’s apartment building, an ancient four-storey walk-up. His apartment was on the second floor. The hall was long and narrow, with only a single dim bulb burning midway down it. Room 204. I knocked, waited, knocked again. Behind me a door creaked open. His across-the-hall neighbour peered out at me. I peered back. She was about four feet tall, hunchbacked, oddly fetal in apperance. A powerful smell of taculm powder and stale urine wafted into the hall. I asked her if she knew Deeth. No answer. A big gold crucifix hung from her neck. I pegged her as Russian Orthodox. She studied me like I was some foreordained emissary of doom. She looked me over a full thirty seconds. The words dementia praecox formed themselves in my mind. Then she said, as if to herself, “Its about time.”

“What do you mean?”

Her protuding eyes blinked at me. “He’s going to Hell, you know.”

“Deeth? Why?”
Again the dumb stare. Time for some sweet-talk about her haute couture cheekbones and refined clothing? “Well, I’m sure that you’re right. And I’m also sure that Mr. Deeth does not believe in Christian justice as you and I do. Have you seen him recently?”
“Mr. Deeth, as you call him, is an assistant manager of this neighbourhood’s most notorious, most un-Christian drinking establishment. I suspect that he is there right now. This is a club that puts teen-age girls naked on its stage. But he’s not home right now. Are you here to arrest him?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t go into that with you.” Again the fish-eyed stare. “Right now.” This brought me a smile.
“I see. Wait here a moment.” She came back about two minutes later with a copy of The Bel Vista Christian Monitor, which look liked it was photocopied in some dank church basement. She flipped it open to an article reproduced from the Times, dealing with Deeth being charged with running a common bawdy house. His name was triple-underlined in red by the bidy herself. This gave me an idea. “Do you mind if I borrow this from you for a day or two?”
“No. Not at all. If it will help you, please take it with good grace.”
I thanked her and told her I would be back in a few days. My idea: wrath-of-God time for Deeth.
So all I had at this point was a work-in-progress. I still had to find this Deeth/Kiss guy. Time to go back to the hotel, the Exemplary Hotel, time to lie down with the Guiltless.

MILLENIUM VOICE

Even now, when I’m lying down alone, a part of me still sleeps beside her, and then I’m back with her-then the hours are langourous, the weather soft, I’m an orphan, happy, safe, and secure, and for just a little while both of us are safely beyond the horrors of this world.

Or I see her driving my Mustang, the top down, Chet Baker crooning words of love into the warm evening air, the murderous catalyst of the LA smog and the Santa Ana winds combined safely washed away behind us onto the receding highway.

Today, appropriate to my thoughts, is December 21-the first day of winter. New York is slushy and dirty. The cold sun sets early, disgusted with the city. I’m lying in a bathub of tepid, gray water, naked and nearly dead to the world.

It’s four in the afternoon. The grey light sneaks in through the blinds, crawls around the room, but can’t find much to do. In another hour or so it will give up and leave.

[Banks, Continental Drift, snow]

Right now I’m waiting for an expensive whore to come and help me celebrate the joys of the season . . .

After she leaves I flip open a book. Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil. “The magnitude of the New Year’s festival at Babylonia is well known.”

I spent New’s Year alone. I would get up and drink coffee (Bag of Bones, 44, 46).

I remember when she told me about her childhood. Cherry’s childhood. Ha ha ha. This is what she said to me, at the start of it: This is the saddest story you could ever hear. And that is what I said to myself, when she was finished.

It is a story to save your life. That is what you will say, when you and I are finished. But you’ve probably heard it before. The truth, I mean. This truth. It is an instructive story, and a pure one, too. It is about transcending certain personal limits of mine. My own private terminal fiction. You know what the old King said? “And this story will the good man teach his son”. Which I offer to you by way of introduction and explanation.

Picture this, she says: New York, on New Year’s Eve, 1999. A man…

Tell me a story, I interject.

…a man…

Let’s make it short and sweet, shall we?

…Yes. It is. Picture New York, a few years further along in its progression. Like it is now, only more so. You know, that old death-in-life New York, a time zone unto itself, the late twentieth-century city of mass awareness, the perfect setting for the minimal hero, the man who can gage the final size of things. For where else would such a man be found? The man with the gift. You’ve got to have that talent, you understand, or else the city is just stupefying isolation, random violence, mindless tedium. But if you can see the secret appearances of things, then what you get is action, action, action. Tremendous life. Effortless death. Who could ask for anything more?

Or so the story goes.

With me it comes down to this thing about time. You see, I’ve never really gotten the point of it, of how to plan for it, of how to deal with it. And this could be my character flaw, as they say in high school English.

I had either never known or had forgotten completely what I was like, I mean as a person, until I stopped the drinking. And the smoking. And the ocassional drugs and related debaucheries. But by the time I’d finally stopped all this it occurred to me that maybe it was too late, that I was too late. That, plainly put, I was simply out of time. Well, we shall be informed forthwith, as my lawyer likes to say.

Preface

“You’ve fallen in love with dying.”
This was the psychiatrist talking.
This was what the doctor, himself a case of exquisite neurochemical sensitivities, of New Age alchemical agonies, was always telling Tristan. Fallen in love with murder is more like it. That’s what Tristan was thinking. Murder, and other dark thoughts. Maybe even murder most foul, as the Bard has it. And Shakespeare, with his cribbed and outlandish plots, his impassioned speeches, his raging Othello and doom-eager Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare was very much on Tristan’s mind of late.
Tristan desperately wanted to be the author of a kind of postmodern revenger’s tale, an end-of-the-century Jacobean tragedy. Tristan had a plan. He was writing the script for it in his head. With audience interaction and all the other improvements of the post-Brechtian theatre, how could it miss?
“But don’t you see, you’re living like death is your friend, your only friend.”
But Tristan wasn’t listening to the doctor right now. He was listening to his own private voices-no, no, Tristan isn’t schizoprhenic, exactly-mostly, his voices are the ones of the heart. And also the voices of the dead, the famous dead, like movie stars, kings, war heroes, astronauts, serial killers, but also his own obscure dead, his Dad, his sister, and the people he had killed. Not to mention the people he’d wanted to kill but someone else already had.
But the doctor was ignorant of Tristan’s little psychodrama, oblivious to that look in Tristan’s eyes that grew brighter with every passing word. The more the quack whined away in that little white rubber room-the greater the look of, of, what do you call it? Oh yeah, that look of murder. That’s too bad. Because if the doctor had seen this look in time a lot of people might still be around, still doing the things people do as the millenium closes in on us. Too bad. Too bad, for sure, about all that murder.
Meanwhile the quack was droning on about the latent and manifest content of Tristan’s dreams of falling. Big deal, we all dream that one. But wait, get this, in his dream he’s falling upwards, upwards to heaven. This, continued Dr. Mort, could be interpreted as a good sign.
“But what if heaven is itself merely a higher kind of hell?,” Tristan responded, not because he really cared about his own present or future estate, but merely because he felt it to be polite, to say something interesting now and then.
The doctor paused, furrowing his brow and tugging at his ever-wet septum. “What do you mean? About heaven?”
“Like, I dunno, like a Parisian brothel. Like a House of All Nations, except the condom machine’s busted. And your favourite girl’s got the clap.”
“That’s your idea of heaven?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“What would you be doing there? In Heaven?”
“Just sitting around. You know, me and a box of Kleenex and the Jenna Jameson Web Page.”
“I think that’s enough for today, Tristan. We’ll talk after group tomorrow.” He stood up.
“Doctor . . .?”
A sigh.
“Yes, Mickey?”
“Should I pray for redemption?”
“Yes Mickey, you’d better.” He sighed again and walked away.

The Ghost Writer’s Preface

You go through the front gate, under an ivy-covered arch, and wind your way up the main drive. You grin at the nurses who know you, badge your way by the ones who don’t, stare in honest wonder at the droolers, the head shakers, the twitchers, the plain old depressed and the ever-present shuffling doomed, by far the greatest in number, their blinkless lithium stares a kind of death-in-life, a weird testament to your own strutting sense purpose and glowing thirty-something sexual fecundity. You can still turn heads, you’ve still got your looks, you’re Policewoman as created by Coco Chanel and Bob Guccione. Yeah, it’s the quick and the dead in this place, just like on the outside. Just like everywhere you’ve ever been. These unfortunates, these freaks with the taxidermist’s eyes, they can’t touch you-you’re all cop-efficiency, disdainfully marching through their leisurely but aimless nut-house perambulations.

You march smartly down the corridor, your heels an ordering metronome of real-world sanity, right to the end of the East Wing, just off the Eden Block, and there he is in Room 13. It figures, you grin, Mickey’s East of Eden, given the judas-number of the great betrayer. Ironic, because he betrayed no one, he was an innocent through all of this, while you, on the other hand . . . [Roth, Sabbath’s Theatre].

But what to do? Kill him in cold blood, like your cop’s conscience tells you to, or spring him from here,
give him his walking papers, like the heavy hitters in the D.A.’s office ordered you to? It’s a devil’s choice, this one.

No, it isn’t. That bit about the cop’s conscience is a just bit of crap that floats to the surface of your mind the way little squigglies float in the vitreous humor of your eyes. Too much reading of Stanlislavski’s An Actor Prepares has gone into your make-over into a cop. That’s all this is to you-another acting gig. Of course you couldn’t kill him. You’re lover’s conscience wouldn’t let you do it. Now there’s a surprise, you didn’t know you had a lover’s conscience. From time to time you’d suspected it, but you’d never actually heard its voice, due, no doubt, to your highly malleable and evasive personality. But there’s no time for such mock-serious self-evaluations now, because you’ve got to go get Mickey, get him out of here, and let him finish what you’ve started. Of course, given half a chance, a real cop would kill him, since society would be so much better off, and a real lover would never have let Mickey get locked up here for two years anyway . . . but now you’re going to do the best you can for him. He’s around here some place.

Yeah, there he is, you see him behind the wire-glass window of the reinforced steel door, safer here right now than he has ever been in his life or ever will be again. ’Cause you know for sure now that you’re gonna let Mickey out. You’re going to take him back to New York City and show him his new digs. You’ll even take him out for dinner and drinks, if all goes well. And why not? You’re a helluva cop, one of the guys, all things considered.

So there’s Mickey Tristan, age 33, snazzily dressed in a standard-issue white hospital robe, locked up in his neat little room, with his nifty little laptop, a high-end one you certainly can’t afford on your pissant cop’s salary, now matter how much graft you take. Mickey’s typing away with a concentration so ruthless that it reminds you of a kid pulling the legs off a fly. This new and psychically-rinsed-out Mickey, man, he’s really pounding away on those keys. You think to yourself that there’s got to be something sexual to it all. You just gotta go in and see what Mick’s got up on his screen in there, so you open the door and slide on in:
Mickey’s Manuscript

If you could be standing over Mickey’s shoulder while he’s typing away in the looney-bin, this is what you would be reading (and in fact you’ve been reading these little dispatches from beyond far point, ’cause Mickey’s doctor, some creep named Dr. Mort, he sends them to you, after all, you’re a cop, a respresentative of law and order, a stitch in the thin blue line that separates us from madness, and you send him a crisp new thousand dollar bill in return):

I am 33 years old. I am exactly six feet tall. And I’m a really good guy. In short, I am just like Christ. Christ, when They got him. And now They’ve got me too. I know when I say things like that it makes me sound crazy, but you’ll see its true, if you just can bear with me.

I am a ghost. Sort of. Dead souls glide by me in these antisceptic hallways. Labcoat geeks poke and prod me with their questions: cause-and-effect, identity, responsibility, free will-these are their big concepts, these the weighty issues of the day around here.

Upstate, in this renovated mansion, we are suffering the sweltering heat of a New York [Bellow, Herzog] August, yet I am feeling arctic-dead to the world, I write my final declaration of my Faith, as a forward to the long and tantalizing agony of my life. Was it always just agony? No, no. It’s all a matter of how you look at it. At least it was fun while it lasted.

Right now, my life pains me only in retrospect. Only when I think about it. When I was living it-and let’s be honest, it’s really just about over, despite what the psychiatrists tell me about “closure” and “moving on”-I more or less enjoyed every damn thing I could. So, herein, I offer you my life. I wish only that it be read in the spirit in which it was lived and I seek no better fate, hee-hee. But a few cautionary remarks should be made at the outset, for mine is nothing if not a cautionary tale, hah-hah.

Like many a private eye hero before me, I believed I could make my way in the world without losing my honor, or at least without breaking the code of my-not-so-always-honorable profession. And like many a private dick (or lawyer, or social worker, nuclear engineer, just name your profession), I found that the truth had been there right before my eyes. And honor, whether mine or anyone else’s, had nothing to do with finding the truth. Remember Sunday school? Civics class? Remember “The truth shall make you free?” Don’t count on it, fuckface. I mean, just look at me . . .

WHAT THE FUCK AM I WRITING? You may well ask!

Obviously there’s something seriously wrong with me.
I am a prisoner. Sure, I get my day passes, my week-end furloughs away from this nuthouse-the Crossroads Home for Criminally Insane (!), a reconverted stately mansion in upstate New York-but I am still imprisoned. Misprisoned.

Although here at least I don’t have to worry about meals, shelter, clothes; here, my only responsibility is to live . . . I have my lone desk and chair, my lonely bed. Some previous occupant, an amateur Egyptologist, has left a poster of the rotting, crumbling Sphinx on the wall, taunting me to guess her secrets. Would-be Popes and Napoleons, Antichrists and JFKs wander in to ponder with me her hidden mysteries, her immense wisdom. A room in her belly contains the lost knoweldge of Atlantis. Or so I’m told. Madman with theories of everything and grassy knoll gunmen with frazzled consciences explain it all to me. Masonic handshakes. Pyramid power. Thus pass my days. But my nights are much better. Indeed, when I lay me down to sleep, then I slip the surly bonds of this jail, Daddy-O, and suddenly I am back with all of them-and so the mind makes for itself a hell . . .

And now I am a pariah, an exile. I am like one of those Russian inner emigres, only I am in fact encouraged to write (although anything outside the confessional mode is strongly discouraged). But for the likes of me there shall be no reprieve from this gulag; for the likes of me it is and always will be the zero hour of year zero . . .

For too long I tried to obey that impulse to silence, but now I’m ready to testify. Now I’m ready to swear and make oath and affirm the truth of all that follows. And remember that I don’t get to keep any royalties from this thing . . . And neither does he-him, you know who, or you will, soon enough, the mysterious Mr. Third Person in this sorry first person tale . . .

Aah, I am human, all-too-human. How about you?

I like to read aloud what I write down. I like to feel the words in my mouth, on my tongue. Sometimes I read them to the guy next door, who keeps asking to be transferred.
I’ll bet that on some level inside youself you too can even hear me right now.
Maybe if you really listen you can hear what I hear: these words emerge from the silence, hang like dust motes in the dead exhausted August air for a moment, holding there for a heart’s beat, and then drift away, like an already forgotten confession. Like useless penance made to a dead priest.

Sis, it was me. It was me. Always. Me.

Sorry, I had to say that. I have to make apology and restitution to those I’ve hurt at least 5 times a day, verbally, I mean out loud, with my voice, like I’m some kind of fucking nut, which I guess I am. All part of my cognitive therapy, all part of my purgatorial cleansing, all part of the big plan, which I now concede exists, even though I can’t tell how it’s all going to turn out. The big plan-don’t doubt that there is one. Forget about how exlihirating it is to give yourself up to God, how glorious it is to finally admit that heroin runs your life, that your addiction to Hustler magazines and two-handed jerk-offs is what runs your show, what you’ve really got to do is to surrender yourself to the Big Plan, the hidden order [Pynchon].
When the big-nosed nurse Mrs. Eisenstein comes in I ask her if she has ever considered Sade’s thesis that big-nosed women has a big clitoris, q.e.d. This always gets a chuckle, and sometimes a slight nod of the head, as if in confirmation. Then, if I’m feeling especially good, I like to put her to the strict proof thereof, which isn’t an investigation I actually want to undertake, given that looking a ladies’ private parts was how I got into this private hell in the first place. But what’s bred in the bone, will out in the flesh, as my
Grandmother used to say.
incest & family

Connections. Interpretations. Extrapolations. They Like that. It’s good business.
I am what I am.
On Tuesday mornings some geek shows me inkblots. “What’s this look like?” And this?
How about this?”
“Pussy. Pussy. And pussy.”
I am told that I manifest a terrible morbidity. A feline morbidity? I counter. I am morbid in the extreme.
“Take the human view,” the geek says.
“Sure. Fuck. Fuck. And fuck.”
“Be realistic,” the geek suggests.
“O.K. Dying. Death. And more death.”
“Take the long view,” the geek advises.
“Oh fuck. The heat death of the universe.”
“Not that long,” the geek counsels.
“The pussy-whipping death of Mickey Tristan.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. You are empowered with the basic existential facts, at least as your current ideational situation lets you perceive them.”

Facts. They want facts.

Fact: My Mom and Dad fought a lot.

Oh boo hoo!

Fact: I was taken from my family and put in a group home run by a retired U.S. government rocket scientist. Now this may not sound so bad, you know, put a kid in an environment of learning and discipline, with an emphasis on achievement, self-reliance, etc. The thing was, this guy was a Nazi. I mean that literally. He was one of Werner von Braun’s whiz kids, and the government snapped him away from the Soviets right around when Hitler’s bunker was being pounded by artillery. No shit. He told me so himself. After I’d been there for five years he took me into his confidence–very April 16th we celebrated old Uncle Adolph’s birthday.

It was like Boys from Brazil meets My Three Sons.

Sorry. I made that last little bit up. My childhood was much more prosaic, much sadder, than that.

Situations. They want to know about my current “situation.” About my “past situation.”
Well I’ve got a few situations very clear in my mind. Like the last time I saw my sister. When they took me away from my sister. Both times.
Like the last time I killed a guy.
Or like the first time I killed a guy.
Even this stuff gets a bit much for Doctors Mort and Godsick-some names, I know, I know-who usually look out the window, or at their feet, but never in my eyes. Not when I’m telling my story.
You know what? No matter how these scenes are arranged, analyzed, interpreted, reshuffled, and rethought, the good doctors all agree with me that one thing is really unavoidably clear. It’s been practically staring me in the face for ages: I’ve been seriously fucked up for a long, long time.

Heaven. That bane of his childhood, the Great Wrong Place. How had he wound up talking to this clown about heaven, about his dreams and his Mom and his virginity, anyway? Tristan was tired of talking to this guy, tired of listening to him. On the other hand, he couldn’t take the long quiet periods around here either, “here” being an exceptionally secure country nut-house in upstate New York.
He couldn’t take the silence. It left him too much alone with what was going on in his head. Within his nasty old mind, within that other world. Alone, with Murder, and with Revenge-those two characters who poked and prodded him all day, all night. They told him a story, the same old one, the oldest story, in fact, each and every night. In it was Murder, and his good buddy, Revenge (man, those guys were tight!), and Dame Melancholy, a.k.a. Cat Woman, was in it too, and just about everyone he had ever loved, and had ever hated, and the awful unfolding of their plots.

But why not let Tristan tell it?
The Narrator

Life? Man, the same old shit, different days is all, the idiot calendar turning like a perpetual
motion machine, like a gyroscope, like an infernal slinky flip-flopping down the stairway to heaven, spazzing the wrong way, down, down to the foul rag-and-bone shop basement remainder sale of your shitty life. Life’s not a bitch, why do they say it’s a bitch, it’s worse than a bitch, life is like being a forty something mulatto Harlem ho-bitch on the day the welfare cheques come out, it’s like catching Mighty Joe Young’s [no, not King Kong’s, he’s too famous to have anything to do with you] I was saying, Mighty Joe Young’s money-shot right-square in the face, a real big yoghurt splash, without a fucking Kleenex in sight . . .

Life is a dumbshow. You can only help yourself. You can’t help anyone else. And they sure as hell can’t help you. Well, maybe a whore can do a certain something for you . . .

This story is something, all right-something of a myth, I suppose (a myth being a story everybody already knows). And so I guess you already know what I’m going to say. I mean, deep inside you, deep inside your bone marrow on rainy Saturday afternoons, or flickering across your 3 a.m. synapses, or way up inside your tear ducts where your sorrowful truths lay hidden, somewhere inside you, sport, it’s there. I’m there. You already have this story inside you. You know. You konw me, quite well. Better than I knew myself for a long time. You already know! Consciously or not, you know! Well, I do hope I’m not boring you.

Incest is a Winter’s Tale, a story full of dead tress and fallen leaves. And little girls. Incest is an anxiety dream dreamt by old men late, late at night. It is old men lying in their sleep and waking up, not knowing why, never knowing why. Old men don’t know why; like Hemingway said, that’s the great fallacy, that old men are wise-they aren’t, they’re just careful.

Exotic Cherry
Angel-eyed Cherry, though there was at times, late at night, under the moon, when Kiss noticed something faintly asiatic about her eyes, as if she was changing, metamorphosizing before his eyes into a different woman altogether.

THE NARRATOR

“Tell us a story, won’t you? Please. Please.” You want a story? About me? I’m an accident of the Divinity, that’s my story. Inner and outer. In here there is guilt. As a child I was an artist, like all children; now I cover things up (Horgan). You can proceed from the dream outward. Or sit in the corner and be quiet? No? No. Outside is the crowd.
I hate crowds. This means, in all likelihood, that I hate you. Right now, though, I don’t hate you. Right now I am busy pretending-pretending that I am free.
I reach down and eat a week-old crumb from under my desk. I see I have broken the crease in my pants. My story, your story, from the top. The same old same old, the story that everyone already knows, even if they haven’t heard it before.
Genesis-see, isn’t this interesting?-in the beginning there was… what? the word, the word made flesh (that’s me)… I can remember the moment of my birth, the birth of my mental life, the real me… It was in the beginning of autumn, and outside the trees seemed to shiver in the chill of early evening. A single gull circled overhead, dully and aimlessly drifting in the grey emptiness of the darkening sky. As if, I thought, it did not know what to do with itself. As if that gull was me. But, I mean, I might just be guessing when I say I remember this. I want you to know something – I just don’t remember.
There are no gulls outside now. Now there is the torpid traffic cop, numbly crucified in the intersection’s centre, with the usual whores already at their stations, the stations of the cross… [Bataille], Cancer. In here, nicotine and gin, valuim and whiskey. Upon all these achievements I stamp nihil.
If the hatred of one’s own voice is the beginning of wisdom, then I am well on my way, I am wise beyond my years, mature beyond reckoning, you might say. Sometimes I think that I’d like to have another life, another crack at life. Now maybe you are one of those people who think that one life is, in the end, much the same as another, as any other… but you’d be wrong. You haven’t met me. My life – my slop and slide from birth onwards, the birth of my body, and then the budding of my mind – I don’t mean to go into all that, not now, not ever… I’m not your typical bildungsroman hero, of that you can be sure… [Brodkey/Roth]. Want a story of growing up, of coming of age, of sowing wild oats? There are other books, written in other times. Other times, other tomes… but at this time, in this tome, here is something completely different…

Sins of the Father

Just after 3:00 a.m. Mickey got a phone call telling him his father was dead. He thought he recognized the woman’s voice, but didn’t bother to ask her name. After a brief silence she softly said she was sorry and hung up. Mickey hung up the phone and went to the mini-bar. He poured himself a drink and toasted the old man.

Heaven. That bane of his childhood, the Great Wrong Place. How had he wound up talking to this clown about heaven, about his dreams and his Mom and his virginity, anyway? Tristan was tired of talking to this guy, tired of listening to him. On the other hand, he couldn’t take the long quiet periods around here either, “here” being an exceptionally secure country nut-house in upstate New York.
He couldn’t take the silence. It left him too much alone with what was going on in his head. Within his nasty old mind, within that other world. Alone, with Murder, and with Revenge-those two characters who poked and prodded him all day, all night. They told him a story, the same old one, the oldest story, in fact, each and every night. In it was Murder, and his good buddy, Revenge (man, those guys were tight!), and Dame Melancholy, a.k.a. Cat Woman, was in it too, and just about everyone he had ever loved, and had ever hated, and the awful unfolding of their plots.

But why not let Tristan tell it?

COPS VISIT MICKEY IN THE HOSPITAL

There is a rat’s squeak as my cell door opens. Two plainclothes cops enter my room grinning. One of them is Detective Kiss. The other is Detective MacDunleavy. He has a massive face, his washed-out brown hair too long at the front. His broad, rounded shoulders and big gut suggest immense physical power now gone to pot. Lassitude exudes from every part of him, except his cool grey eyes, which blink and dart with a quick, nervous intelligence. He appears not to have any facial hair at all. In his demeanor he suggests a very big and very lonely fifteen year old girl.
Detective Kiss comes and sits on the edge of my desk. He beams at me broadly. I shut the cover of my laptop.

Hello.

Can I help you? I ask.

Your name is Mickey Tristan, correct?

Yep. So they tell me. But I really can’t remember for sure.

MacDunleavy speaks up. That’s not what we hear. We hear your problem’s that your memory is just too good.

Kiss holds up a hand. Easy, Mother, the guy’s been through a lot. He turns to me. Isn’t that right, you’ve been through a lot? He lets his coat fall open and I can see his gun.

Yeah, sure. I guess. That’s what they tell me.

You’re not to sure of anything, are you? Kiss asks me.

No, no. Sorry.

So you wouldn’t be a very good witness, would you?

I look up at him blankfaced.

MacDunleavy interjects, He means as a material witness in connection to the disappearance and possible kidnapping of Cherry Jones, aka Candy-O.

Kiss grins again. Yeah, that’s what I mean. You got anything new to tell us about that?

Once I actually had something going for me. Yeah, no shit. A girlfriend, a car, even a career, if you can believe it. But then it got all fucked up. Maybe I fucked it all up.

On or about March 1973, human nature changed forever. Do you know why? I do, ’cause I was there-the world premiere of Deep Throat in Times Square! Oh, to be alive then was bliss, and to be hung was very heaven . . . Forgive me for that. And for this. For this is in many ways an insult, an extended insult, a nasty story, a bad joke. It’s about pornography, about sex, or I guess I mean that kind of wilful degradation of the body and of the soul, that exotic mode of anti-love, the anti-matter of the heart, that so many Americans strive so mightily towards. And most of them never get there. Always becoming, never being. Except for me. I got there. I did it. You know what? Don’t do it. That’s my advice. Take it from me, buddy-don’t bother. Listen to me, Sis, it ain’t worth it. Honey, it’ll cost you too much.

But why do I bother? Nobody every listens.
Shut up and listen.

He doesn’t mind you reading over his shoulder. Well it ain’t half-bad, you think, the guy’s still got at least some of his marbles. Remarkable, after all he’s been through. After all you’ve put him through.
He flips down the screen, pops the disc out, tosses it into his suitcase, snaps it shut, stares out the window a while, shrugs and turns to face you. Moment-of-truth time.He looks you up and down, grins at you with his hospital-reconstucted teeth, and says, “Well, they sent me a redhead this time.”

That means you’ve passed-not a hint of recognition in his clear baby blues.

“Just give me a sec to change and I’m all yours.”

You nod and step back into the hallway, knowing the real test will come when you have to speak. But your Brooklynese is so dense, so perfectly idiotic, [Bonfire of the Vanities] you begin to think you’re unbeatable on this one. You’ve fooled all of the people all of the time, again. You’re home free, for sure, maybe your’e even free to go home you begin to wonder, but no, you can never go home, you know that, deep down you’ve always known it. Look homeward, fallen angel, and eat your heart out while you’re at it, you jest to yourself. Mental reveries like these are as close as you ever come to thinking about your childhood, that helter-skelter march of days, that welter of creaking floors at midnight, the dark-and-stormy-night feeling in your little girl’s tummy every time your Mom and Dad found themselves under the same roof together . . .
A door shuts, you look up, and there’s Mickey, inches from your face, a scent of Polo Sport or some such confection flooding your olfactory nerves, reaching right up into your brain, mingling with all the other smells and memories of your secret life [smell, Updike, Toward The End of Time] and-again with the grin, he must be feeling better by the minute-Mickey asks you, “Do I know you? Maybe we met someplace before?”

Uh-oh. Just remember, you’re not Daddy’s little girl, you’re a tough babe now.

Poor Mickey Goes Crazy
That evening he abandons these fragments, his efforts at a personal history. He is alone in bed. In the window are moonlit clouds, softly marbled grey and black. His mind is aswim with night thoughts, the walls alive with the shadow motions of the night’s traffic. Sounds from the street rise muffled to his ears. He cannot keep his eyes shut. His memory of the day is jerky, like a silent art film he studied in college. He struggles to hold on to the day’s events, to retain their order, their sequence, but a new series of scenes form in his mind. Her eyes. He tries to run through the narrative of events again, but cannot find where to begin. He fears he has lost whatever meanings were intended in them. Later, before he sleeps, he wonders: When will this feeling leave me, this exhaustion, this sense of things having finally been played out? It is as if the night is proposing to him that he is himself but not himself, whole yet split and fractured, fluctuating nervously between fear and some as yet unknown, unrevealed awareness.
Night dissolves all the old colours and then paints freshly the faces and minds of its dreamers. That night he dreams heavily, of old school friends and forgotten girlfriends, all lost now, whirling in the darkness beyond his head. He dreams that he would never wake up. Across the night he dreams fantastic hallucinations, abortive colours, all of which he knew were beyond the quick eyes of the waking and the settled eyes of the dead.
In his dreams echo the last words he wrote: “When my father was dying, a week ago today, or was it yesterday?, he told me that the worst thing a man can do is to try to imagine a better life he might have had. I wish he had told me that when I was ten… It occurs to me that for countries, and for people, each year seems worse than the previous.”
The next morning he lies immobile, the sun slowly breaking through the blinds in dust-mottled splinters. Outside he can see the wings of the lonely sea birds glinting in the rising light, their harsh cries putting to him the question, Do only the ruder sensibilities, the rougher forms, survive? Alone, he answers: They do.
They do.
The next day Mickey is walking the streets of New Yourk, the ten million moments of his life running in fastforward in his head. [R. Stone, A Hall of Mirrors, pp. 22-30].

City Life
Mickey enjoyed walking in the city. WARD JUST

The city streets were submerged in a watrey gloom. Soon the street lights would come on. Solitary walkers would soon enjoy the company of artificial shadows. It was that moment just after sunsight when men turn their gazes inward, seeking brighter light from their hearts. Valentine had stop seeking after that light long ago. He parked the car and removed his 9mm from the glove compartment.

Bellow quotep111
A gray beat-up city. No matter what time of day it was the street was always in shadows. Straight overhead you could see the sun, floating between the tops of the skyscrapers, but at the level of the sidewalk everything was twilight. By the late afternoon a terrible darkness covered the street, like a judgment that would never find its words.

Tristan walked into the Last Dance. Phil the Creep the Barkeep grinned at him. You’re looking good, Mickey baby. You giving your lady friends that vaginal deoderant I done tole you ’bout?
Mickey winked and said if anyone calls for me, for Mr. Superman, tell them’ll be out on the patio.

The fag fortune-teller had a voice that made Tristan think that the guy was the daughter of some sort of unholy reproductive act conducted between Quentin Crisp and Mel Torme.

Let’s get one thing straight at the outset-the city was talking to Mickey. The city was talking to him. It said things to him-it whispered sometimes, while at others it shouted and shreiked. Sometimes it cooed to him, like a lover, but mostly it scolded him, like a mother. [N. Christopher, p. 62]

Mickey walked past a movie theatre. Carol Baker in Baby Doll. And Woman Trouble at 11:30. Not bad, maybe he’s got time to catch the first one.

Mickey was strolling along in his Harry Winston’s, on this a beautiful New York City spring day. He couldn’t believe that girls’ tits, which were supposed to be one basic shape, round, actually came in so many different living forms, that that one Platonic shape had so many real world variations.

Tristan’s heart was going boom-boom-boom: all that pent-up lust had put our boy into a kind of cardiac carnality frenzy. Tristan had it bad. He had it bad, all right. Walking by a video store he heard Richard Gere shout with an infectious exuberance “Love is the power supreme!” and against his will his inner voice kept repeating this to Tristan over and over again. But then so many things that were happening toTristan these days were against his will.

The will, the self-those twinned foundation stones of western civ-fucking hell, man, they had gone right out the window for Mickey Tristan. For Mickey Tristan was no longer his own man. He was someone else’s. This much he knew. But whose? He thought he probably belonged to Cherry, maybe even to Kiss. He thought this over for a long time. Yes, no. No, wait. Yeah, now he’s got it-he belonged to love. Love.
Love is gonna getchya, Mickey, she used to sing. Sooner or later. . . He should have listened to his Mom. Now it was his Mom and Richard Gere talking.

Love had him, all right. Love had him bad. You could even say, if you’re the kind of person who says such things, that Love had him by the short-hairs. Love had Mickey. And Mickey, in consequence, had it bad. He had the hot fevers, the cold sweats, the tender daydreams, the anxiety nightmares, the panic attacks, and of course the painfully big erections. And he had the drizzling shits, though that was probably because of how much coffee Mickey was drinking these days. He ws drinking a lot of coffee to stay awake during the day, ’cause during the night Mickey lay awake. How could he not? After all, he was in love.

And all this over that incandescent little pink fissure he had glimpsed that day . . .

Mickey turned to Phil the Creep barkeep and said, “Surprised? Nothing’s surprised me since I found out that my sister didn’t have a weenie.”
“Just how old were you when ya found that out, Mickey?”

Men of every age and color, every manner of dress and habit of speech, glided by Tristan, men careful not to touch him, men without souls [Goytisolo], but men who still somehow knew enough to avoid him, Mickey Tristan, plague-carrier for the love-sick.

The schematic cityscape, its predictable financial towers and public squares, reinforced Tristan’s sense that everything had already been written down, had already been decided. The programmatic city, its decaying inner core and its expanding peripheries, dead inside like Tristan, but still growing somehow, like nails on a corpse, Tristan could feel city life in all its sadness, even the trees looked unhappy.

But the look on your face, Tristan, that look, that look’s called acting!”

The Erasers, pp. 46, 48: Wallas’ [Tristan’s] free will: The city is awake. Mickey can hear it.

A Mirror for Larks: Mickey and Cherry on the roof: “I’m not saying They don’t exist.”

Cherry was dead. Mickey couldn’t believe it. The cop named Kiss broadly hinted that he was being paranoid. The nice guy cop named Mother came over and took him downstairs and showed him the mutilated body.

Mickey met her at a local gallery. That’s when he fell in love with her. And when he saw that other painting in L.A., of the little girl and boy in their yard, the kids looking like Francis Bacon adults and the suburban air full of a kind of Eric Fischl menace, that’s when he knew she was still alive.

The fat guy with tits was telling Tristan that if he tried real hard then he could remember his birth. Ahh, those legs. You remember? The labia majora and minora. The gates of life, boy. The first thing you saw when you came into this world, and you’ve been trying to get back in ever since . . .

Mickey was drinking in the Last Dance, as usual.
Two guys behind him, laughing it up. But at him?
“I want to get some Cherry.” His friend thought this was hilarious. “Yeah, you need Cherry.”
Mickey turned around-oh, the guy meant cherry.

A teenaged girl sat down in front of Mickey. She started to suck her middle finger. She turned to look at him. This drove Mickey crazy.

Then again, everything about women drove Mickey crazy these days. [see girl in station, Toward The End of Time].

Mickey finally tracked her down, the first great love of his life since he was a boy. Miss July ’75 was now a two-hundred pound fortune teller.

Tristan in the city, walking and walking.

Tristan sees a man on the street-does he know him, or not (Daddy’s Girl, p. 3).

Tristan turns and sees a priest loitering in a doorway. He pulls out a flask and takes a swig, then offers it to Mickey, saying [Latin quote: Et in Arcadia ego, then in Irish-inflected English, eh, you young guys don’t have a clue, do ya?].

Tristan walked by a Rabbi smoking a cigar, and then a man in a mufti selling used Penthouses. Only Slightly Soiled, his hand-lettered sign proclaimed.

The city had eyes, millions of eyes, ever alert, always watching him.

That sharp little face, clear, clever, and imperious.

Please God, don’t let me put my hand on her thigh.

He put her sunglasses on. Instantly the world went cool and dark-but he could still see her.
Tristan could hear the crowd roaring his name, voicing its approval. He sliced a Kiss. Tremendous applause.

[from Moseby’s Memoirs & Mr. Sammler] This was the library, the room where he was born. His eyes scanned across the shelves. Were they the wrong books, and did the wrong books make for the wrong life?

When the doctor said that Freudian thing to Mickey about his falling upwards in his dreams, upwards to heaven, he knew then that his life was already over.

Mickey walking in the city
Schizophrenia homeless beggar insanity Tiresias

The indigo glow of the city’s signs, blinking and flashing, bleeding into the night, cyphers, forever on the brink of delivering a message, yielding a meaning. But there’s no message for Mickey tonight.

Behind Mickey a pair of cripples in the corner resume their conversation.

“Last night I had that dream again. I was at a restaurant, no, I was at my Mom’s house, and I was sitting there at the kitchen table, watching my Mom serve me and my sister lunch. “

“Hey, were they naked? That’s really fucked up. Everyone was naked, right?”

“No. Fuck. Shut up. Nobody was naked.”

“Who? You. Me?”

“Me. You. No. You? Us.”

“Naked!”

Then a third voice: “There’s two me’s!”

Then the second voice: “There still is.”

Mickey turned around. A giggling, grey-skinned man sat by himself in rags and papers. Stoic comedian.

Mickey’s childhood

The town I grew up in had an insane asylum and a prison. For a long time I assumed that all towns everywhere had them. I thought that every town had to have them¾that you couldn’t have people living together in a group unless there was a way to look them up one way or another.

Mickey driving

He out the Mustang’s top down. He drive up a steep straight hill. It seemed that he was driving straight into the night sky. An observer, had anyone deemed Mickey worthy of observation, would have seen his car disintegrate into the vast northern night.

And had the observer waited another few minutes, he would have seen the first of the night’s stars light up in the sky. Or was that only Venus up there? Venus, all alone.

No matter. In another minute a long hard rain began to fall, obscuring everything.

Beware of Fallen Angels
“Know no other god than this,” Kiss advised, pulling a Glock 19 from the front of his pants. He put a bullet in the chamber and grinned.

Tristan Sets it Up For Kiss
Tristan was staring away from the table, absent-minded. When he spoke he gave the appearance of merely thinking aloud, his voice barely above a whisper. “What you guys need is a lawyer to go in, a chump, a guy they’ll never suspect. Guy they’ll think is a natural-born patsy.”
Mother Dick put down his beer and smiled. He turned at looked hard at Tristan. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly fucking right.”
The Lieutenant didn’t even bother to look at either of them. On his way out the door he said, “You, Mickey. You do it. Fix it up, Mother.”

The Trial
Tristan delivered a speech about self-defense. About being in prison, and how things there were different, about self-defense, proportionality of response, being on the inside versus the outside world, the real world versus the state of nature.
The judge looked at Tristan, and then at Kiss. “I find no fault in this man,” nodding at Tristan.
Kiss turned to the D.A. and shrugged, “Dese Jewboys, dey stick together, whaddya `spect?” On the way out he caught Tristan’s eye and winked. “See ya, sport.”

The Second Fight
Kiss: “Well, you know women. Give’em six inches and they’ll take a mile.”
Mickey: “You fucking animal. She’s just a little girl inside.
Kiss snorted: “A little girl, hah. You make me laugh.”
Mickey: “She’s still looking for her Daddy-”
Kiss: “Aren’t we all?”
Mickey: “She’s got a real sweet spot inside her.”
Kiss: “Yeah. It’s somewhere between her navel and her knees.”
I said to him, “Well now, you can’t tell me that, you’re so much bigger than me.”
His eyebrows arched-totally puzzled. They were like little McDonald’s arched-crisp, brown, and greasy. This guy had his own barber to clip, dye and jell them. Big-shouldered, bearded, pot-bellied. I was betting that the shoulders were a function of skeletal structure-all bone, no muscle.
I had my maximum target-ground zero. I flexed my ankles-get my heels nestled in for maximum comfort. Three taps to each side, and with the old flat feet we’re ready to dance.
“Sweetheart, when I look at you I get happy feet.”
“What?”
Detonation time, Amrican-style.
Dig it, baby-your own personal Enola Gay, with Little Boy and Fat Man primed and ready to go. [Ellroy, LA Quartet]
Mickey could feel that ol’ killer inside him wake up, stretch his legs, and walk right up to the plate. Yep, that bad guy from the limbic part of his brain had taken over now-it was like that Star Trek episode with the alternative anti-matter universe when anti-Kirk tried to take control of the Enterprise.

The Subway Chase

At the subway entrance Mickey paused to listen to the music. When it was done he gave the man a twenty. “I’ve heard many, many renditions of Charlie Parker’s “Love Story,” but that, that was the best.” The guy started to play it again. Kiss stepped down the stairs. He thought he heard someone call his name, but he didn’t bother to look back. No, he thought, never look back.

[Kiss chasing Tristan]Kiss was surrounded by yawning Chinese, a veritable Red Army platoon of them, all of them with buck teeth, big yellow chops too big for their mouths, the smallest set among them too outsized for any conceivable human being’s mouth, all of them with papery-textured skin the color of your three-in-the-morning beer piss, all of them regarding him with their famed inscrutability, with their reptile eyes behind the Coke-bottle bottom glasses. Christ, but he hated New York. Within their midst he could make out a single family unit-Mom, Dad, and a daughter who surely belonged in a fuck film with JFK Jr., she was so ugly. With a suddeness that made Kiss jump to his feet and reach for his revolver the mother snatched her husband’s toothpick from his mouth. She sniffed the piece of brown pork gristle impaled on its end, and swallowed it. She then returned the toothpick to Dad’s mouth. Were all families this weird? Good thing I was an orphan. All three of them, Kiss realized, smelled like cat food. Pray for their souls, Ivan, the Father had said. Pray for them. Well, why the fuck not? They were jus’ folks, is all. Then again, he’d killed better people than these, people he actually liked. So how could you tell if killing such creatures was really good or bad? The whole issues was moot for Kiss by this point. There was no turning back. Not now. He’d killed his own friend, his mentor, the closest thing he’d ever had to a father. It’s not that I loved them less, Father, he could hear himself saying, its just that I liked killing them more. A lot more, it turned out.
CONCEPTION OF A CHARACTER

Her father . . . dig it, cats, it’s 1963, Castro’s in Cuba, JFK’s in the White House, and Cherry’s Dad, that irrepressible creative spirit, is about to get together with her Mom and create a little girl . . .
He’s alone on an island. Shipwrecked. All he’s got is the ship’s cargo. Bottles and bottles of everything. You name it-water, pop, liquor, salad dressing. Bottles of every size, shape and colour. But what’s he to do?
This was the premise that Harry, the screenwriter, had been given by the studio, to go with his working vacation at the resort where he now sat poolside. Do a story about a modern-day Robinson Crusoe. As Harry saw it, the guy didn’t have it so bad. He’s got all the necessities of life and is more or less at leisure on his island. It’s just that he’s lonely. Just like Harry himself.
But every time Harry sat down to type, he just couldn’t get it down onto the page. Every time he tried to work he kept noticing all the couples about him, splashing in the pool, or strolling hand-in-hand in the Sunday afternoon sunlight.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, he typed. Hardly an original thought. But then he was a screenwriter, and it was getting harder by the day to be original. He needed something that would let him see things anew. Make the world look fresh to him again, like when he was in college, like when he was in love . . .
Harry spent the day by the hotel pool, typing in the heat under a perfect powder blue sky. He’d only a few scenes down. He was supposed to have the story outlined by now. Unfortunately he’d gotten stuck, hit a bottleneck in the story, and decided to come in for a drink. The hotel bar was slowly filling up, well-dressed and thirsty people coming in to cool off from the heat of the day.
He saw a girl he knew from film school across the bar, reading a newspaper. He remembered her from his college days. She turned and looked straight at him, her eyebrows raised as if in astonishment. He looked straight back. A smile of recognition passed across her face, but she went back to her paper. She looked like a million dollars, a perfect shape. Sinatra was singing “Desert Island.” It had been six years, seven months, and five days since they’d split up. In fact, he could pin it down to the hour. He looked down at his watch. No, he couldn’t. His watch had stopped.
She came over, saying “Hi, I remember you.”
Please God, he thought, don’t let me blow this. Not again. The girl. I mean the story. No, I mean both.
“Of course I remember you. What are you doing now?” he asked.
“I work for a production company. I cast people in the movies. But I’m on holidays now. And how about you? Are you finally doing scripts?”
“That’s what I’m working on right now. A screenplay.”
“Really! What’s it about?”
“A guy’s stranded alone on a desert island.”
“Oh no. What’s he drink?”
“Water, I guess. Anyway, he meets a girl.”
“How does he do that, if he’s alone?”
“He sends out messages in bottles. You see, the girl lives on a populated island just over the horizon, and she likes the shape of them so much she doesn’t tell anyone there’s a poor man marooned there. She wants to keep getting the bottles. She likes how they look when they have flowers in them, when they’re lined up on a shelf, you know-a girl’s home-making touch. Anyway, now I’m stumped.”
“What exactly are you stuck on?”
“I need a title, and I need to figure out how it ends.”
“She sends him messages back. In bottles.”
“And then?”
“He tells her he loves her.” He thought she smiled when she said this. “She says she loves him too, but she needs something more. She needs security.”
“But he lives on an island!”
“So he sends her the last twenty-two dollars and sixty-eight cents in his wallet.”
“And?”
“She sends a message back saying ‘It’s a start, but you’re going to have to do better than that.”
“Then what?”
“He sends her his lottery ticket. The numbers are based on his birthday, which is her birthday too.”
“This is getting good.”
“So she plays the ticket, it wins, and she’s suddenly a millionaire!”
“And then? Does she leave him, or does she send a rescue team for him?”
“Well, you tell me. You’re the screenwriter.”
“O.K. She comes to live with him on the island. Happily ever after. Like it?”
“Very much.”
“But what should I call it?”
She laughed. “That’s easy. Message in a Bottle. What else?”
“Good, good. But who’s going to be in it? After all, you’re the casting agent.”
“Let’s try those two from The Titanic.”
“That’s great.” He toasted her. “To my muse.”
She smiled at him, then frowned at her crossword. “I’m stuck too. On my crossword. I need twelve letters. The clue says it’s for a fabled object of magic and luck. Two words, starting with an “A.”
“Aladdin’s Lamp,” offered the bartender. He had a thick Swedish accent Harry hadn’t noticed before.
“No. It ends in an ‘a’. ” She appealed to Harry with those blue eyes.
Harry was stumped again. He was never any good at puzzles. The bartender caught his eye and pulled a bottle down from the shelf. Suddenly, a feeling of inspiration hit him.
“Absolut Vodka.”
She looked at the puzzle. “That’s it!,” she cried. She looked at him with the bemused and unfocussed brightness of someone finding something precious they’d lost. She smiled again.
“Well, we’re done. We finished the puzzle.” She stood up and made as if to leave. The bartender stepped over to them double-time fast. “Well,” he said, “ with that finished, why don’t you each have some of the same? These are on the house.” The bartender pushed over two cool glasses filled with ice and a clean, clear liquid. He winked at each of them in turn. She sat back down and sipped her drink. There was that smile again.
He could smell her. The faint scent of a far away country, pure, delicious, and unforgettable. Like the drinks, he thought. Anyway, it’s closing time and I finally got that work finished. At least there’s that. He started to thank her for her help, but she waved him off.
“When we’re done here, maybe we could go for a walk,” she offered. “Get re-acquainted.”
He started to answer. “Absolut-”
Now she waved him off. “Let’s not talk.”
They walked out into the cool evening, the path ahead of them lit by moonlight. Their arms went around each other’s waists. He looked at his watch. It was working again. And so was he, for that matter. It was midnight. He wondered if this Cinderella beside him would disappear again.
“Do you like happy endings?,” he asked her.
“Always,” she replied.
They fell into each others’ arms, reunited, and immensely happy.

Tell me a story, you say. Please, you say. It’s been a long time since I heard that. You want a story? About me? I’m just another accident of the Divinity, that’s my story. Inside and outside, top to bottom. In here there is guilt. In here, nicotine and gin, Valium and whiskey. In here, in my maritime garret, are all my books, published and otherwise. Three-foot stacks of manuscript. And even more books, better books, by other people. Upon all these achievements I stamp nihil.
In our safe, secular society there is still to be found a certain kind of person who has the power of those fabled Dostoyevskian men who were granted reprieve from condemnation. Something almost holy surrounds them. At parties, their utterances are gnomic and disturbing. This is how I like to see myself. After a party the guests will remember what I said long after the party, place, and host are forgotten. Or so I hope.
There is a certain kind of minor writer who is never known except when he or she is finally dead, and then is only knowable through catalogues, auctions, estate sales, local museums. They try grandly to make art their religion, their destiny, and, finally, their point of departure from all that is felt to be commonplace, quotidian. Perhaps perversely, they themselves become the subject and object of their quest. Among their idols are the Kandinsky who wrote On The Spiritual In Art, the Van Gogh who painted the doomed sky in Crows Flying Over A Corn Field. Their favourite colour is, obviously, blue. A pure blue, hard to find in nature, common amongst the nobility, the true colour of the artistic imagination. Or so they believe.

I read the last few pages, written in a fever scrawl. Details of subcommittee intrigue. Cuba. The Berlin Wall. Safe houses. The last 30 pages were blank, except the final page, on which was scrawled in screaming inch-high letters:

JFK/Marilyn Monroe blue movie

To the uninitiated, this was no doubt very interesting. But California is full of documents like this-faux-diaries written by Howard Hughes, porno movies starring a drugged-out Bill Gates, lesbian love letters written by Pat Nixon. While shake-down artists dupe the gullible for thousands of dollars, I wanted no part of Ms. -’s scheme. I gave here the document and told her as much.
Meanwhile I was back working with Mr. Drexler, hot on the trail of Mr. Kiss.

Epilogue: Instinct For A Rainless Land

Two solitary figures are motionless on a vast and dusty plain. The man’s posture suggests his belief that if he stands dead still he will feel fully the cool breeze that blows through those evening lands. The man stands to the west, to face the empty sky, by now growing red at its horizon. After several minutes, he turns around, so that the wind can cool his neck and back. By now the sun is setting quickly and realizing this he mounts the horse. They resume their movement, man and horse, across the darkening plain, followed by the gigantic rippling shadow of themselves. A moment later, the man stops the horse to look back at the blood-shot sky. Though it holds nothing concrete of what has passed, it strikes him as a belated intimation of what he knows is to come. As they ride through the night, this image of sunset returns to his mind, like the sudden reminder of a promise overdue.

They move through the cold of the valley in near silence, thrown into a grotesque relief against the walls of rock by the pale even blanket of moonlight which suffuses the crater. No inhabitant of that place beckons to them; all of them instead choosing to watch in silence this strange procession picking its way through that alien thoroughfare. To man and horse, the ground beneath them seems lunar in character, a undeniable proof of the otherworldly nature of their journey. They ride up out of the cold lowlands, into cooler air on a higher plain. Here all is suffused with an even sliver glow from the full moon. Neither of them sleeps, and they stop just once, so that they may drink side-by-side at a small stream the horse had heard and moved towards long before the man was aware of it. Then they ride on, a pair of strange outlanders alone on that blasted plain.

Morning the next day finds them at the edge of the city. Upon looking the man realized that the settlement spread out before them guaranteed no end to the riot of circumstance and event they had endured. He nudged the animal on down a narrow and forgetten path that led to the outskirts of the city, a retirement home for rich Americans. He checks his gun, jams the cartridge home. One more. Pay back time. Despite the oppressive blankness of the skies overhead, the pedesterians were dressed as in anticipation for a torrential storm.

If you could hear his thoughts, that pantomime figure, what would you hear?
Time to redeem. Redemption time. The truth can redeem time.
In time the truth. The truth.
In truth, I can never die.
And why not?
Life is a dream.
Come on now. Admit it. Isn’t he just a bit like you?

Cop Life

Mother Dick and Kiss were talking while the guys filed out of the squad room.
Hey-see that guy?
That guy? I hate that fucking guy?
Yeah, me too.
Here he comes.
Hey, how’s it going?
Okay, Mother, it’s okay. How about, Kiss?
Hey, Vinnie the Guinea, he of the gigawatt smile.
[use Italian cop from Amis’ Night Train]
[conversation about kids, then Kiss changes the look on his face]
Okay, you fat dago fuck, fuck off and say hi to your wife for me. Thank her for the cock ring.

Kiss began to outline to Mother Dick his idea of applying the famous Turing test for intelligence to inner city blacks. “If it talks like a person, is it a person?” Kiss giggled. Mother Dick turned away shaking his head. “You’re disgusting, Mickey.”
Kiss said lightly, “Oh, Anita Bryant, thou should’st be living at this hour!”
In truth Mother Dick was, besides Kiss, the only cop in the building who could catch the drift of these insults. It gave them a special bond, Kiss felt, something to build on.

When questioning people Kiss could display at will a weird kind of anti-charm, an invidious social negativity so persuasive that most people would quickly tell him what he wanted to know, so as to be done with him.

Mother Dick was a big soft-spoken guy. The other cops thought he was a fag, until they found out he was married to a tough little Polack broad with a heart-breaking upturned little nut of a nose. She was a social worker who counselled the great mass of unfortunates who streamed in and out of the station house all day [Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities]. Mother Dick used to appear in her instructional videos-When Your Client is a Teenage Arsonist-but the cops told him not to. “You’re making us all look like a bunch of bleeding-heart faggots, Mother. Uh, no offence.” Mother Dick used his soft girlishly soft voice and faggy manner and his wife’s social work interveiwing techniques to get guys to confess.

Mother Dick and Kiss have been sitting in the car for the last five hours, and the joint fag anxiety is in full swing.
“Look at that fruit cake.”
“Christ Jesus.”
“I can’t believe that someone isn’t knocking the shit out of him as we speak.”

Dumpster Debbie had cracked the case of the guy who had strangled three women and left them in dumpsters. The guys all thought she was a big lesbian.

Interrogation

They had this Tristan fuck in the Interrogation Room. [Amis, Night Train].
“You know who much you know about physics?”Kiss pinched his forefinger and thumb together. “Dick all.”
“You know how much there is to know about physics?” Kiss flung his arms apart.
“Boy, you know how much you know about human nature?”
Kiss pinched his forefinger and thumb together. “Sweet dick all.”
“You know how much there is to know about human nature?” Kiss flung his arms apart. “Cube that by x, shitbird.”
Kiss shooked his head and with a wan smile he hadn’t felt on his face in decades punched him square in the nose. A nice little jab, Kiss thought. Now it’s back to the real world out the door.

Epilogue
And I, the Writer, the Author of this Sorry Tale, I alone lived to tell thee. I, Milton Tolstoy, writer of pornographis fotonovels- pen name, obviously-I alone am left, you Fucker.
But I have gone by so many names, what does it matter?
Right now, I’m a cop. I set Mickey free way back at the start of all this. And now I’m going to find him. After all, I’m his sister.

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