nasty, brutish and short fiction from the late, great Derek Raymond

The shorter man put his lips to Gust’s ear. ‘Pain,’ he whispered. ‘You got any idea what pain is?’

‘You bet,’ said Gust. ‘It’s like bad breath or an old pouf, and it hangs around too long the same way you do.

—from Derek Raymond, “Brand New Dead”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Derek Raymond (real name Robin Cook) was born to privilege and by his 20s had sunk to the bottom, whereupon he began recording the manners and mores of the English from the 1950s to the 1990s, often in the form of crime fiction. According to his Wikipedia entry, Raymond/Cook was the eldest son of a textile magnate and attended Eton, which he later characterized as “an excellent preparation for vice of any kind”.  He spent most of the 1950s abroad, including residency in the Beat Hotel in Paris, where William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were his neighbours. His entire artistic output can be summed up thusly:

Existence is sometimes what a forward artillery observer sees of enemy lines through field glasses. A distant and troubling view brought suddenly into focus with a wealth of obscene detail.

The Hidden Files, p. 121

The first and last spot to go to for information about Raymond on the Web is this excellent post from Dennis Cooper (a writer who, like Raymond, has the eye for the essential, existential detail).

Published as a stand-alone story in London Noir, ed. Maxim Jakubowski, (Serpent’s Tail, 1995), the following originally appeared in Raymond’s novel Not Till the Red Fog Rises (Time Warner Books UK, 1994).

 

Derek Raymond, “Brand New Dead

At about midnight two men suddenly came up and stood right beside Gust at the bar in Marly’s club, pressing against him as close as they could get. The place was packed out and after a while both of them started looking at him sidelong, nudging each other in a snide sort of way and laughing half in his direction as if his cock was hanging out or something. Only it happened to be a night when Gust didn’t want any interruptions; he had a lot to think about and so he paid no attention to the men which seemed to get them choked, because finally one of them, suppressing his laughter, gave him a good shove. Whether that was intentional or not Gust couldn’t say, it could have been just the domino effect of various drunken dancers, but Gust took a hard look at the man all the same whereupon they both turned away, but not in a manner to indicate they were bothered.

Gust reckoned that in their place he would have been bothered on the whole, even though they both looked heavy. One of them was taller than the other with red hair, a rash and love/hate tattoos across his knuckles; the other had straight brown hair and eyebrows that met across the bridge of his nose like Hess. They both wore tired blue jeans, their boots were on their second lap round the clock and Gust had never seen either of them before; the only thing he was certain of was that they had both done bird.

The taller man nudged Gust again and this time he actually said something. He said: ‘Is your name Gust?’

‘Yes that’s me all right,’ said Gust pleasantly, ‘what about it?’

‘Well it’s this,’ said the man. ‘We’d like to let you live if we could, we’ve no personal grudge, see, only we can’t, so instead we’re going to give you a terrific beating and then you’re going to die outside round the back would you believe?’

‘Sounds great,’ said Gust, ‘cheaper than going down to the gym for a work-out anyway.’ He didn’t move except to set down his glass; he always liked to see what other people did first in case what they did was a mistake. Anyway there was no room for him to move yet; a dozen bottoms were squeezing hotly into the three of them and everyone was drinking and looking at the dancers and the music. The music was blasting out in a way fit to rupture an eardrum; you couldn’t have heard a lion roar six inches away.

The shorter man put his lips to Gust’s ear. ‘Pain,’ he whispered. ‘You got any idea what pain is?’

‘You bet,’ said Gust. ‘It’s like bad breath or an old pouf, and it hangs around too long the same way you do.’

The taller man stared at Gust. ‘You’ve just asked to be taken apart,’ he whispered. A reverent look came over him. ‘Massacred.’ He had large dark eyes like pits with a lot of shit floating at the bottom of them.

Around them, meantime, life in the place was cheerfully continuing the way it does. Marly was singing, and two travelos up on the stage were having a cuddle against the gold tinsel curtain behind the piano, one of them with the seams of his net stockings askew. Someone photographed them from the floor; the flash and a champagne cork popped together. Marly was drunk; the crazy song he was singing chain-sawed through the crowd, and the minute he finished it he sat down with a bump by the piano. Someone got barred on the door and burst into tears on a gorilla’s chest; outside in Brewer Street a squad car screamed its way through a siren and a set of tyres and a Colombian crack dealer left suddenly with his driver. The scene was set; the music was turned all the way up for trouble.

The phone on the bar rang. One of the naked waiters scooped it up and stood on tiptoe, looking inquiringly over two hundred or so heads. ‘Chris?’ he trilled in a high contralto. ‘Is there anybody here called Chris? Phone call for Chris.’ No one wanted to know, so he banged the phone down. He said to an old queen: ‘My poor voice, this sort of work is agony for it, my voice is the same as it was when I was ten, did you know, it’s simply never broken.’

‘Working in here’ll break your fucking heart, darling,’ said the old has-been, ‘never mind your voice.’

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deleuze on crime fiction: the brilliance of james gunn’s deadlier than the male

Bookseller Photo

Gilles Deleuze, The Philosophy of Crime Novels1


La
Série Noire is celebrating a momentous occasion—its release of #1000. The coherence, the idea of this collection owes everything to its editor. Of course everyone knew something about cops, criminals, and their relationship, even if it was only from reading the papers, or the knowledge of special reports. But literature is like consciousness, it always lags behind. These things had not yet found their contemporary literary expression, or they hadn’t attained the status of common-place in literature. The credit for closing this gap at a particularly favorable moment goes to Marcel Duhamel.2 Malraux had this insight to offer in his preface to the translation of Sanctuary: "Faulkner knows very well that detectives don’t exist; that police power stems neither from psychology nor from clarity of vision, but from informants; and that it’s not Moustachu or Tapinois, the modest thinkers of the Quai des Orfevres, who bring about the apprehension of the murderer on the loose, but rank-and-file cops"…. La Série Noire was above all an adaptation of Sanctuary for a mass market (look at Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish), and a generalization of Malraux’s preface.

In the old conception of the detective novel, we would be shown a genius detective devoting the whole power of his mind to the search and discovery of the truth. The idea of truth in the classic detective novel was totally philosophical, that is, it was the product of the effort and the operations of the mind. So it is that police investigation modeled itself on philosophical inquiry, and conversely, gave to philosophy an unusual object to elucidate: crime.

 

There were two schools of truth: 1) the French school (Descartes), where truth is a question of some fundamental intellectual intuition, from which the rest is rigorously deduced; and 2) the English school (Hobbes), according to which truth is always induced from something else, interpreted from sensory indices. In a word, deduction and induction. The detective novel reproduced this duality, though in a movement which was proper to the literary genre, and has produced famous examples of each. The English school: Conan Doyle gave us Sherlock Holmes, the masterful interpreter of signs, the inductive genius. The French school: Gaboriau gave us Tabaret and Lecoq; and Gaston Leroux, Rouletabille, who with "a circle between the two lobes of his forehead," is always invoking "the right track of reason" and explicitly opposing his theory of certainty to the inductive method, the Anglo-Saxon theory of signs.

 

The criminal side of the affair can also be quite interesting. By a metaphysical law of reflection, the cop is no more extraordinary than the criminal—he, too, professes allegiance to justice and truth and the powers of deduction and induction. And so you have the possibility of two series of novels: the hero of the first is the detective, and the hero of the second is the criminal. With Rouletabille and Cheri-Bibi, Leroux brought each series to its perfection. But never the twain shall meet: they are the motors for two different series (they could never meet without one of them looking ridiculous; cf Leblanc’s attempt to put Arsene Lupin together with Sherlock Holmes).’ Rouletabille and Cheri-Bibi: Each is the double of the other, they have the same destiny, the same pain, the same quest for the truth. This is the destiny and quest of Oedipus (Rouletabille is destined to kill his father; Cheri-Bibi attends a performance of Oedipus and shouts: "He’s just like me!"). After philosophy, Greek tragedy.

 

Still we mustn’t be too surprised that the crime novel so faithfully reproduces Greek tragedy, since Oedipus is always called on to indicate any such coincidence. While it is the only Greek tragedy that already has this detective structure, we should marvel that Sophocles’s Oedipus is a detective, and not that the detective novel has remained Oedipal. We should give credit where credit is due: to Leroux, a phenomenal novelist in French literature, who had a genius for striking phrases: "not the hands, not the hands," "the ugliest of men," "Fatal-itas," "men who open doors and men who shut traps," "a circle between two lobes," etc.

 

But the birth of La Série Noire has been the death of the detective novel, properly speaking. To be sure, the great majority of novels in the collection have been content to change the detective’s way of doing things (he drinks, he’s in love, he’s restless) but keep the same structure: the surprise ending that brings all the characters together for the final explanation that fingers one of them as the guilty party. Nothing new there.

 

What the new literary use and exploitation of cops and criminals taught us is that police activity has nothing to do with a metaphysical or scientific search for the truth. Police work no more resembles scientific inquiry than a telephone call from an informant, inter-police relations, or mechanisms of torture resemble metaphysics. As a general rule, there are two distinct cases: 1) the professional murder, where the police know immediately more or less who is responsible; and 2) the sexual murder, where the guilty party could be anyone. But in either case the problem is not framed in terms of truth. It is rather an astonishing compensation of error. The suspect, known to the cops but never charged, is either nabbed in some other domain than his usual sphere of criminal activity (whence the American schema of the untouchable gangster, who is arrested and deported for tax fraud); or he is provoked, forced to show himself, as they lie in wait for him.

 

With La Série Noire, we’ve become accustomed to the sort of cop who dives right in, come what may, regardless of the errors he may commit, but confident that something will emerge. At the other extreme, we’ve been allowed to watch the meticulous preparation of a sting operation, and the domino effect of little errors that loom ever larger as the moment of reckoning approaches (it’s in this sense that La Série Noire influenced cinema). The totally innocent reader is shocked in the end by so many errors committed on both sides. Even when the cops themselves are hatching a nasty plot, they make so many blunders, they defy belief.

 

This is because the truth is in no way the ambient element of the investigation: not for a moment does one believe that this compensation of errors aims for the discovery of the truth as its final objective. On the contrary, this compensation has its own dimension, its own sufficiency, a kind of equilibrium or the reestablishment of it, a process of restitution that allows a society, at the limits of cynicism, to hide what it wants to hide, reveal what it wants to reveal, deny all evidence, and champion the improbable. The killer still at large may be killed for his own errors, and the police may have to sacrifice one of their own for still other errors, and so it is that these compensations have no other object than to perpetuate an equilibrium that represents a society in its entirety at the heights of its power of falsehood.

 

This same process of restitution, equilibrium or compensation also appears in Greek tragedy (Aeschylus, for example). The greatest novel of this kind, and the most admirable in every respect, is not part of La Série Noire: it’s Robbe-Grillet’s Les Gommes, which develops an incredible compensation of errors whose keynotes are an Aeschylean equilibrium and an Oedipal quest.

 

From a literary point of view, La Série Noire made the power of falsehood the primary detective element. And this entails another consequence: clearly, the relation between cop and criminal is no longer one of metaphysical reflection. The interpenetration is real, and the complicity deep and compensatory. Fair’s fair, quid pro quo, they exchange favors and no less frequently betrayals on the one side and the other. We are always led back to the great trinity of falsehood: informant-corruption-torture. But it goes without saying that the cops do not of their own accord initiate this disquieting complicity. The metaphysical reflection of the old detective novel has given way to a mirroring of the other. A society indeed reflects itself to itself in its police and its criminals, even while it protects itself from them by means of a fundamental deep complicity between them.

 

We know that a capitalist society more willingly pardons rape, murder, or kidnapping than a bounced check, which is its only theological crime, the crime against spirit. We know very well that important political dealings entail any number of scandals and real crimes; conversely, we know that crime is organized in business-like fashion, with structures as precise as a board of directors or managers. La Série Noire introduced us to a politics-crime combo that, despite the evidence of History past and present, had not been given a contemporary literary expression.

 

The Kefauver report,4 and especially the book by Turkus, Societe anonyme pour assassinats, were the source of inspiration for many of the texts in La Série Noire. Many writers did little more than plagiarize them, or rather they turned them into popular novels. Whether it’s the Trujillo regime, or Battista, or Hitler, or Franco—what will be next when everyone is talking about Ben Barka—that begets a hybrid that is properly Série Noire; whether it’s Asturias writing a novel of genius: M. le President,5 or whether it’s people sitting around trying to figure out the secret of this unity of the grotesque and the terrifying, the terrible and the clownish, which binds together political power, economic power, crime and police activity—it’s all already in Suetonius, Shakespeare, Jarry, Asturias: La Série Noire has recycled it all. Have we really made any progress in understanding this hybrid of the grotesque and terrifying which, under the right circumstances, could determine the fate of us all?

 

So it is that La Série Noire has transformed our imaginings, our evaluations of the police. It was high time. Was it good for us to participate as "active readers" in the old detective novel, and thereby lose our grip on reality and thus our power of indignation? Indignation wells up in us because of reality, or because of masterful works of art. La Série Noire indeed seems to have pastiched every great novelist: imitation Faulkner, but also imitation Steinbeck, imitation Caldwell, imitation Asturias. And it followed the trends: first American, then it rediscovered French crime.

 

True, La Série Noire is full of stereotypes: the puerile presentation of sexuality, or what about the eyes of the killers (only Chase managed to lend a particular cold life to his killers, who are headstrong and non-conformist). But its greatness belongs to Duhamel’s idea, which remains the driving force behind recent releases: a reorganization of the vision of the world that every honest person has concerning cops and criminals.

 

Clearly, a new realism is insufficient to make good literature. In bad literature, the real as such is the object of stereotypes, puerile notions, and cheap fantasies, worse than any imaginative imbecile could dream up. But more profound than either the real or the imaginary is parody. La Série Noire may have suffered from an over-abundant production, but it has kept a unity, a tendency, which periodically found expression in a beautiful work (the contemporary success of James Bond, who was never integrated into La Série Noire, seems to represent a serious literary regression, though compensated for by the cinema, a return to a rosy conception of the secret agent).

 

The most beautiful works of La Série Noire are those in which the real finds its proper parody, such that in its turn the parody shows us directions in the real which we would not have found otherwise. These are some of the great works of parody, though in different modes: Chase’s Miss Shumway Waves a Wand; Williams’s The Diamond Bikini; or Hime’s negro novels, which always have extraordinary moments. Parody is a category that goes beyond real and imaginary. And let’s not forget #50: James Gunn’s Deadlier than the Male.

 

The trend in those days was American: it was said that certain novelists were writing under American pseudonyms. Deadlier than the Male is a marvelous work: the power of falsehood at its height, an old woman pursuing an assassin by smell, a murder attempt in the dunes—what a parody, you would have to read it—or reread it—to believe it. Who is James Gunn anyway? Only a single work in La Série Noire appeared under his name. So now that La Série Noire is celebrating the release of #1000, and is re-releasing many older works, and as a tribute to Marcel Duhamel, I humbly request the re-release of my personal favorite: #50.

 

Notes:

 

1. Arts et Loisirs, no. 18, 26 janvier-1 fevrier, 1966.

2. In 1945, the novelist Marcel Duhamel created "La Série Noire" at Gallimard; it is a series dedicated to the crime novel, which he headed till 1977.

3. Maurice Leblanc, Arsene Lupin contre Sherlock Holmes, 1908, reedited by Livre de Poche.

4. In 1952, a democratic senator issued a report on organized crime in America.

5. M. le President (Paris: Flammarion, 1987).

 

—from Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974. Edited by David Lapoujade. Translated by Michael Taormina. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series (2004), pp 81–85.


 

lines from the pulps: james gunn’s deadlier than the male


"She had a full-breasted figure in the Biblical style, the kind that suggests camels and water-jars."

 

There’s sex-talk!

Mrs. Krantz perked up. "About the new one?" she asked avidly.

Mrs. Pollicker nodded. "He smells," she said. "All the time. Like an animal."

Mrs. Krantz opened her mouth with a wet smack of ecstasy. "Oh, my, ain’t you human!”

Mrs. Pollicker stood up straight. "I rather think it is primitive," she said, pleased.

Plus there’s violence! 


Danny took his knife out of his pocket. He had something to say and he meant to move quickly, but his reactions were slow. The red-headed man struck him full in his open mouth, so hard that he smashed his jaw and teeth, and Danny’s mind was full of flashes and darkness. His head hit against the wall, and the red-headed man hit him again. Danny fell forward with his arms around the man’s legs, and the red-headed man brought his arm up in almost an incidental gesture to the side of Danny’s head. After that Danny did not think any more at all, not just because he was unconscious, but because he was dead.

—from James Gunn, Deadlier Than The Male (1950), the source for the legendary 1947 Robert Wise film noir Born to Kill, starring Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney.

cain’s credo


Son of a college dean, newspaperman, novelist,
screenwriter & Shakespeare worshipper.

I belong to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise, and I believe these so-called schools exist mainly in the imagination of critics…. Schools don’t help the novelist but they do the critic; using as mucilage the simplifications that the school hypothesis affords him, he can paste labels wherever convenience is served by pasting labels, and although I have read less than twenty pages of Mr. Dashiell Hammet in my whole life, Mr. Clifton Fadiman can refer to my hammet-and-tongs style and make things easy for himself.


“holed up in the library with a bottle of wine and read books”—james ellroy’s road to writing


ellroy.jpg image by tomasutpen

Portrait of the artist as a young dipshit.

INTERVIEWER


Is that when you started writing—after your father died?


ELLROY


The first thing I did after he died was snag his last three Social Security checks, forge his signature, and cash them at a liquor store. From ’65 to ’75, I drank and used drugs. I fantasized. I swallowed amphetamine inhalers. I masturbated compulsively. I got into fights. I boxed—though I was terrible at it—and I broke into houses. I’d steal girls’ panties, I’d jack off, grab cash out of wallets and purses. The method was easy: you call a house and if nobody answers, that means nobody’s home. I’d stick my long, skinny arms in a pet access door and flip the latch, or find a window that was loose and raise it open. Everybody has pills and alcohol. I’d pop a Seconal, drink four fingers of Scotch, eat some cheese out of the fridge, steal a ten-dollar bill, then leave a window ajar and skedaddle. I did time in county jail for useless misdemeanors. I was arrested once for burglary, but it got popped down to misdemeanor trespassing.


The press thinks that I’m a larger-than-life guy. Yes, that’s true. But a lot of the shit written about me discusses this part of my life disproportionately.


INTERVIEWER


Aren’t you responsible for this? You’ve written a lot about this period, and you frequently talk about it in interviews.


ELLROY


I’ve told many journalists that I’ve done time in county jail, that I’ve broken and entered, that I was a voyeur. But I also told them that I spent much more time reading than I ever did stealing and peeping. They never mention that. It’s a lot sexier to write about my mother, her death, my wild youth, and my jail time than it is to say that Ellroy holed up in the library with a bottle of wine and read books.


INTERVIEWER


Still, writing couldn’t have been exactly in the forefront of your mind at the time.


ELLROY


But it was. I was always thinking about how I would become a great novelist. I just didn’t think that I would write crime novels. I thought that I would be a literary writer, whose creative duty is to describe the world as it is. The problem is that I never enjoyed books like that. I only enjoyed crime stories. So more than anything, this fascination with writing was an issue of identity. I had a fantasy of what it meant to be a writer: the sports cars, the clothes, the women.


But I think what appealed to me most about it was that I could assume the identity of what I really loved to do, which was to read. Nobody told me I couldn’t write a novel. I didn’t live in the world of graduate writing schools. I wasn’t part of any scene or creative community. I happened to love crime novels more than anything, so I wrote a crime novel first. I didn’t buy the old canard that you had to start by writing short stories, and only later write a novel. I never liked reading short stories, so why the fuck should I want to write one? I only wanted to write novels.


—from “James Ellroy, The Art of Fiction No. 201.” Interviewed by Nathaniel Rich. The Paris Review. Issue 190, Fall 2009

lines from the pulps: “her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her”

The opening chapter of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice:

[postman-always-rings-cain-def-8834613.jpg]

They threw me off the hay truck about noon. I had swung on the night before, down at the border, and as soon as I got up there under the canvas, I went to sleep. I needed plenty of that, after three weeks in Tia Juana, and I was still getting it when they pulled off to one side to let the engine cool. Then they saw a foot sticking out and threw me off. I tried some comical stuff, but all I got was a dead pan, so that gag was out. They gave me a cigarette, though, and I hiked down the road to find something to eat.

That was when I hit this Twin Oaks Tavern. It was nothing but a roadside sandwich joint, like a million others in California. There was a lunchroom part, and over that a house part, where they lived, and off to one side a filling station, and out back a half dozen shacks that they called an auto court. I blew in there in a hurry and began looking down the road. When the Greek showed, I asked if a guy had been by in a Cadillac. He was to pick me up here, I said, and we were to have lunch. Not today, said the Greek. He layed a place at one of the tables and asked me what I was going to have. I said orange juice, corn flakes, fried eggs and bacon, enchilada, flapjacks, and coffee. Pretty soon he came out with the orange juice and the corn flakes.


"Hold on, now. One thing I got to tell you. If this guy don’t show up, you’ll have to trust me for it. This was to be on him, and I’m kind of short, myself."


"Hokay, fill’m up."


I saw he was on, and quit talking about the guy in the Cadillac. Pretty soon I saw he wanted something.


"What you do, what kind of work, hey?"


"Oh, one thing and another, one thing and another. Why?"


"How old you?"


"Twenty-four."


"Young fellow, hey? I could use young fellow right now. In my business."


"Nice place you got here."


"Air. Is a nice. No fog, like in a Los Angeles. No fog at all. Nice, a clear, all a time nice a clear."


"Must be swell at night. I can smell it now."

"Sleep fine. You understand automobile? Fix’m up?"


"Sure. I’m a born mechanic."


He gave me some more about the air, and how healthy he’s been since he bought this place, and how he can’t figure it out, why his help won’t stay with him. I can figure it out, but I stay with the grub.


"Hey? You think you like it here?"


By that time I had put down the rest of the coffee, and lit the cigar he gave me. "I tell you how it is. I got a couple of other propositions, that’s my trouble. But I’ll think about it. I sure will do that all right."


Then I saw her. She had been out back, in the kitchen, but she came in to gather up my dishes. Except for the shape, she really wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.


"Meet my wife."


She didn’t look at me. I nodded at the Greek, gave my cigar a kind of wave, and that was all. She went out with the dishes, and so far as he and I were concerned, she hadn’t even been there. I left, then, but in five minutes I was back, to leave a message for the guy in the Cadillac. It took me a half hour to get sold on the job, but at the end of it I was in the filling station, fixing flats.


"What’s your name, hey?"


"Frank Chambers."


"Nick Papadakis, mine."


We shook hands, and he went. In a minute I heard him singing. He had a swell voice. From the filling station I could just get a good view of the kitchen.

lines from pulp fiction: “outside was the city, and it had halitosis”

Donald E. Westlake, The Mercenaries (1960)

Clay is a hit man – he organizes ‘accidents’ for his boss Ed Ganolese. Ed is into vice and drugs, lining his pockets every time anyone wants a girl or a fix. Trouble hits Ed when his pusher, Billy-Billy, gets himself hooked. And goes on the run. Clay must arrange an ‘accident’, but first he has to find him. But there’s someone else looking for Billy-Billy. Someone even bigger and with more muscle than Ed. Which causes Ed even bigger problems… (from the jacket copy)  

 

 

 

Outside was the city, and it had halitosis. The air was hot and damp, and breathing was a conscious matter. 

I thought about Grimes, and the boys he would probably have somewhere across the street, waiting for me to lead them to Billy-Billy Cantell. I was the only one moving on either sidewalk, and most of the windows across the way were dark, except for a couple of night owls on the upper floors. Cars were parked along both sides of the street, though they’d all be gone in a little over four hours, at eight in the morning, when the no-parking ban goes into effect. In daylight, most of these cars would be two or three different colors, pastels, pinks and blues and all the other nursery shades, but now, in the hot darkness of almost-four in the morning, they were all black. Even the chrome spattered all over them looked subdued. 

There was one street light on this side, way down to my left, and one across the street, off to my right. Grimes’ boys would probably be in one of the cars parked directly across the way, in the blackness just out of reach of both street lights. 

My street, in the West 80’s, is a one-way east. The parking garage where I keep my Mercedes is down at the western end of the block, with entrances both on my street and on Columbus Avenue. If a cop was planning to tail me, and he was in the middle of this block, aimed at Central Park, and I was to go out the Columbus Avenue way and head straight downtown, that cop would have to circle all the way around the block to get where I’d started from. It shouldn’t be too tough to avoid being tailed.

I plodded down the street toward the garage, and as soon as I moved, the sweat broke out all over me. I could feel the drops gathering on my forehead, getting ready for the straight run down through my eyebrows and into my eyes. Under the charcoal grayness of my suit, my white shirt was already sticking to me, and my tie was a hunk of warm rope around my neck. It was too hot and muggy to move, or to think, or to go running out of an air-conditioned apartment and look all over New York for a two-bit hophead with friends. 

An orange cab cruised by, the dim yellow vacancy light lit on its top, and it looked like a big, wide-mouth, toothy fish, mooching around in the seaweed at the ocean’s floor. That was a nice cooling thought, and I clung to it for a minute, until I got a look at the cabby behind the wheel. He looked twice as hot as I felt, and my shirt, in sympathy with him, got a tighter grip on my back. 

 I walked into the garage office, and the Puerto Rican kid who works nights was sitting there behind the desk, reading a comic book. He grinned and nodded at me and went away, without having said a word, to get my car. 

The office was hot and bright yellow. The kid had left the comic book open on the desk and I leafed through it while I waited for him to come back. The lettering in the balloons was all in Spanish, but you don’t need the lettering to read a comic book. What was that the comic-book publisher was quoted as saying? “We are retooling for illiteracy.” I flipped the pages over and looked at the pictures. 

The Mercedes hummed down the ramp and the kid climbed out, looking happy. It didn’t matter to him that he didn’t own any of the cars in this building. Just so he got the chance to drive them up and down the ramps, he was happy. How many Puerto Rican kids get the opportunity to drive a Mercedes-Benz 190SL?