american camp & harold robbins’ the carpetbaggers: “a man says a lot of things when he’s humping”

 

 

23. In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.  

 

58. The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful . . . Of course, one can’t always say that. Only under certain conditions, those which I’ve tried to sketch in these notes.

 

from Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” 1964   

 


 
From Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers:

 

Chapter 2  

  

I KEPT RAISING SMALL CLOUDS OF SAND WITH THE huarachos as I walked toward the factory. The faint clinical smell of the sulphur they used in making gunpowder came to my nose. It was the same kind of smell that was in the hospital the night I took her there. It wasn’t at all the kind of smell there was the night we made the baby.  

 

It was cool and clean that night. And there was the smell of the ocean and the surf that came in through the open windows of the small cottage I kept out at Malibu. But in the room there was nothing but the exciting scent of the girl and her wanting.

 

We had gone into the bedroom and stripped with the fierce urgency in our vitals. She was quicker than I and now she was on the bed, looking up at me as I opened the dresser drawer and took out a package of rubbers.

 

Her voice was a whisper in the night. “Don’t, Joney. Not this time.”

 

I looked at her. The bright Pacific moon threw its light in the window. Only her face was in shadows. Somehow, what she said brought the fever up.

 

The bitch must have sensed it. She reached for me and kissed me. “I hate those damn things, Joney. I want to feel you inside me.”

 

I hesitated a moment. She pulled me down on top of her. Her voice whispered in my ear.

 

“Nothing will happen, Joney. I’ll be careful.”

 

Then I couldn’t wait any longer and her whisper changed into a sudden cry of pain. I couldn’t breathe and she kept crying in my ear, “I love you, Joney. I love you, Joney.”

 

She loved me all right. She loved me so good that five weeks later she tells me we got to get married. We were sitting in the front seat of my car this time, driving back from the football game. I looked over at her. “What for?”

 

She looked up at me. She wasn’t frightened, not then. She was too sure of herself. Her voice was almost flippant. “The usual reason. What other reason does a fellow and a girl get married for?”

 

My voice turned bitter. I knew when I’d been taken. “Sometimes it’s because they want to get married.”

 

“Well, I want to get married.” She moved closer to me.

 

I pushed her back on the seat. “Well, I don’t.”

 

She began to cry then. “But you said you loved me.”

 

I didn’t look at her. “A man says a lot of things when he’s humping.” I pulled the car over against the curb and parked. I turned to her. “I thought you said you’d be careful.”

 

She was wiping at her tears with a small, ineffectual handkerchief. “I love you, Joney. I wanted to have your baby.”

 

For the first time since she told me, I began to feel better. That was one of the troubles with being Jonas Cord, Jr. Too many girls, and their mothers, too, thought that spelled money.

 

Big money. Ever since the war, when my father built an empire on gunpowder.

I looked down at her. “Then it’s simple. Have it.”

 

Her expression changed. She moved toward me. “You mean — you mean — we’ll get married?”

 

The faint look of triumph in her eyes faded quickly when I shook my head. “Uh-uh. I  meant have the baby if you want it that bad.”

 

She pulled away again. Suddenly, her face was set and cold. Her voice was calm and practical. “I don’t want it that bad. Not without a ring on my finger. I’ll have to get rid of it.”

 

I grinned and offered her a cigarette. “Now you’re talking, little girl.”

She took the cigarette and I lit it for her. “But it’s going to be expensive,” she said.

 

“How much?” I asked.

 

She drew in a mouthful of smoke. “There’s a doctor in Mexican Town. The girls say he’s very good.” She looked at me questioningly. “Two hundred?”

 

“O.K., you got it,” I said quickly. It was a bargain. The last one cost me three fifty. I flipped my cigarette over the side of the car and started the motor. I pulled the car out into traffic and headed toward Malibu.

 

“Hey, where you going?” she asked.

 

I looked over at her. “To the beach house,” I answered. “We might as well make the most of the situation.”

 

She began to laugh and drew closer to me. She looked up into my face. “I wonder what Mother would say if she knew just how far I went to get you. She told me not to miss a trick.”

 

I laughed. “You didn’t.”

 

She shook her head. “Poor Mother. She had the wedding all planned.”

 

Poor Mother. Maybe if the old bitch had kept her mouth shut her daughter might have been alive today.

 

It was the night after that about eleven thirty, that my telephone began to ring. I had just about fogged off and I cursed, reaching for the phone.

 

Her voice came through in a scared whisper. “Joney, I’m bleeding.”

 

The sleep shot out of my head like a bullet. “What’s the matter?”

 

“I went down to Mexican Town this afternoon and now something’s wrong. I haven’t stopped bleeding and I’m frightened.” I sat up in bed. “Where are you?”

 

“I checked into the Westwood Hotel this afternoon. Room nine-o-one.”

 

“Get back into bed. I’ll be right down.”

 

“Please hurry, Joney. Please.”

 

The Westwood is a commercial hotel in downtown L.A. Nobody even looked twice when I went up in the elevator without announcing myself at the desk. I stopped in front of Room 901 and tried the door. It was unlocked. I went in.

 

I never saw so much blood in my life. It was all over the cheap carpeting on the floor, the chair in which she had sat when she called me, the white sheets on the bed.

 

She was lying on the bed and her face was as white as the pillow under her head. Her eyes had been closed but they flickered open when I came over. Her lips moved but no sound came out.

 

I bent over her. “Don’t try to talk, baby. I’ll get a doctor. You’re gonna be all right.”

 

She closed her eyes and I went over to the phone. There was no use in just calling a doctor.

 

My father wasn’t going to be happy if I got our name into the papers again. I called McAllister. He was the attorney who handled the firm’s business in California.

 

His butler called him to the phone. I tried to keep my voice calm. “I need a doctor and an ambulance quick.”

 

In less than a moment, I understood why my father used Mac. He didn’t waste any time on useless questions. Just where, when and who. No why. His voice was precise. “A doctor and an ambulance will be there in ten minutes. I advise you to leave now. There’s no point in your getting any more involved than you are.”

 

I thanked him and put down the phone. I glanced over at the bed. Her eyes were closed and she appeared to be sleeping. I started for the door and her eyes opened.

 

“Don’t go, Joney. I’m afraid.”

 

I went back to the bed and sat down beside it. I took her hand and she closed her eyes again. The ambulance was there in ten minutes. And she didn’t let go of my hand until we’d reached the hospital.

 

 

On the life of Harold Robbins:

“Guy Gone Wild” — A Review of Andrew Wilson, Harold Robbins: The Man Who Invented Sex

By Tom Carson

October 21, 2007

 

“An autopsy wouldn’t make any difference now.” That marvelous line cries out to have been scripted for Leslie Nielsen in one of the Naked Gun movies. But it’s uttered by the virile, easily riled Jonas Cord, the Howard Hughes stand-in at the center of The Carpetbaggers, Harold Robbins’s fabled 1961 novel — or novel-like object, anyhow. And Cord’s real-life enabler (“creator” would be pushing it) shared his assessment, judging from Robbins’s indifference to the verdict of posterity. As the world’s best-selling speed typist told a journalist in 1970, “When I’m gone, they can grill me and throw the ashes where they please, say what they like.”

 

Nobody has seen fit to say much of anything about Robbins since his death in 1997, decades after his vogue had — how to put this? — climaxed. But doesn’t a hustling subliterate whose oeuvre changed American publishing deserve at least one kudo, to usea solecism Robbins himself would have been likely to commit to print? Crammed with moronic prurience, achieving logorrhea with the barest of resources, your average Robbins page turner read as if he’d clacked it out using 10, if not 11, thumbs, and his 20 or so engorged books sold more than 750 million copies combined. If you’ve ever wondered just when quality literature and commercial fiction parted ways for good with a shudder, call him Harold Rubicon.

 

As Robbins’s fellow Brooklyn boy and close contemporary Arthur Miller might have put it, attention must be paid. So, duly making the beast with two hardbacks, Andrew Wilson — author of a well-regarded, as they say, life of Patricia Highsmith — has given us Harold Robbins: The Man Who Invented Sex. Besides answering nearly every question about its subject that any halfway brainy reader couldn’t be bothered to ask, it’s also better written than any of Robbins’s own behemoths, something I assume Wilson can’t help: he’s British. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I doubt any future biography of Robbins will equal this one, but make of that claim what you will.

 

Wilson is impressively if inexplicably determined to uncover the reality behind Robbins’s fabulations about his early years, some of which proved sturdy enough to show up in his obituaries. Not too surprisingly, the tales he fed compliant interviewers — about growing up in a Catholic orphanage before his adoption by a Jewish family, servicing lonely men for cash during his mean-streets adolescence and the like — turn out to have been fibs. The lone seedling of fact from which these Grade-Z Scheherazadisms sprang was that, unlike his siblings, young Harold Rubin (not Robbins, just his way of going Gentile into that good night, and in the heyday of the Jewish American novel, too) was the spawn of a previous marriage his father tried to conceal after Harold’s mom died young.

 

The fuse was lit once Robbins’s first father-in-law got Harold, then a failed grocer and lowly clerk, a job at Universal Pictures, where he soon clawed his way up from shipping clerk (by some accounts) to the bookkeeping department. Thwarted in his ambition to turn producer, he started typing what became Never Love a Stranger, his scandalous 1948 debut. In Wilson’s high-flown formulation, “writing, for him, was not about creative expression or artistic ideals; rather, what fueled his ambition was a mercantile instinct, a desire to explore his dreams and fantasies and sell them off to the highest bidder.” The rude version of this aria is that Robbins was always in it for the money.

 

Nonetheless, his early novels got some halfway decent notices — A Stone for Danny Fisher, for one, the unlikely source material for the Elvis movie King Creole. In the 1940s and ’50s, outside of (mostly paperback) genre fiction, even the worst junk seldom candidly announced itself as such. Not only could “serious” mainstream novelists aim at best-sellerdom, but even hacks were presumed to covet respectability. Wonder of wonders, Robbins’s first publisher was Alfred A. Knopf, and the publishee liked to boast that he was one of only three authors with a “lifetime” Knopf contract. The other two? Thomas Mann and André Gide.

 

That changed with The Carpetbaggers, brought out, after delays and much wrangling, by Simon & Schuster. Or rather, by Trident Press, a new imprint devised by Leon Shimkin, the founder of Pocket Books and then one of Simon & Schuster’s owners, to overcome Max Schuster’s horror while guaranteeing Robbins unheard-of paperback lucre for this and future works. In the words of his later editor, Michael Korda, “Thus was the ‘hard/soft’ multibook contract born … après nous le déluge.” When Robbins sent Alfred Knopf a copy of his masterpiece, he got a frosty note back: “Thanks, but I don’t read such trash.” Rubicon!

 

All this is interesting in an archaeological way. But once The Carpetbaggers, reputedly “the fourth-most-read book in history,” transforms Robbins into, well, “Harold Robbins,” his story grows tiresome, despite Wilson’s stabs at tarting up the author’s later career with such reflections (there’s no evidence his subject shared them) as “by catering to the lowest common denominator, Robbins sacrificed his integrity.” Say what? He’d found his gimmick: exploitation, with garish facsimiles of Lana Turner (Where Love Has Gone), the South American playboy Porfirio Rubirosa (“The Adventurers”) and the Ford automobile dynasty (The Betsy), among others, paraded en déshabillé for our enjoyment. Besides churning out novel-like objects with the monotonous implacability of a batting-practice machine, Robbins never stopped trying to brand himself in other ways. These efforts included The Survivors, a notoriously wretched TV series he spitballed to ABC one day and had forgotten about by the time it was green-lighted.

 

Wilson quotes several of Robbins’s intimates as saying he behaved just like a character in his novels, and the insult, not that they mean it as one, rings drearily true. Making big bucks let him live out his grossest fantasies, like owning a yacht and having orgies. But his excesses are unlikely to fascinate any reader who isn’t a) 15 or b) Donald Trump, the first tycoon who seems to aspire to being a Robbins hero. The detail that may best evoke the milieu Robbins lived in is the “set of 14-karat-gold fingernails” he bought his second wife; according to presumably awed friends, “the effect of the sun reflecting off them was enough to nearly blind you.” There’s also something disconcerting about a biography in which George Hamilton, who starred in The Survivors, figures as a voice of reason: “I thought reading his books was as good as it got and getting to know him would not improve on that in any way.” Even the gentlemanly Korda’s verdict is blunt: “He was as disagreeable and odious in the days of his success as the days of his failure.”

 

Robbins himself once said, “I just happen to think I’ve done better than anyone else in reflecting the times in which I live,” meaning his work rather than his personality — and the claim isn’t completely absurd. If nothing else, he did know where the action was, though it took Francis Ford Coppola’s movie version of The Godfather, a novel that wouldn’t exist without Robbins’s example, to prove that greatness can be spun from sensationalist claptrap. If flimsily disguised lives of famous people strike you as meretricious by definition, remember Citizen Kane. The real pity is that, stamina aside, Robbins was talentless, and he made his preferred subject matter radioactive for more gifted novelists for a number of years. If he hadn’t gotten his mitts on Howard Hughes first, mightn’t Norman Mailer have been tempted?

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/21/books/review/Carson-t.html

 

 

another opening line from the pulps

send another hearse 

by harold q. masur 

 


 

She was vogue on the outside and vague on the inside.

She was fashionable and meticulously put together, very chic, very soignee, with deep auburn hair and wide hazel eyes that blinked at me with a bemused expression.

But despite her vague, uncertain manner, I knew instinctively that here was no standard-type, show-window mannequin, no painted posturer. Beneath the cosmetic mask I sensed an elfin quality, something alive and vibrant, all under strict discipline at the moment.

“fear was the price for living”—glimpses of the life and work of chester himes

 


the life of chester himes

 

Chester Himes, (1909–1984), novelist. A prolific writer whose career spans fifty years, Chester Himes is best known for his naturalist and detective fiction. A gambler, hustler, burglar, ex-convict, and expatriate, Himes’s Catholic experiences and peripatetic life provided him abundant material for fiction that portrays the near existential “absurdity” of blackness in America. Focusing on violence—physical, political, and psychic—as a ubiquitous dynamic in American culture, Himes’s fiction ponders the often futile struggle to resist a relentlessly hostile environment.

 —from http://www.answers.com/topic/chester-b-himes

 

Himes grew up in a middle-class home in Missouri and in Ohio. While a freshman at Ohio State University, Himes was expelled for a prank, and in late 1928 he was arrested and sentenced to jail and hard labor for 20 to 25 years for armed robbery. Imprisoned in Ohio Penitentiary, he began writing short stories which were published in national magazines. For Himes, writing and publishing was a way to earn respect from guards and fellow inmates, as well as avoid violence.

In 1934 Himes was transferred to LondonPrison Farm and in April 1936 he was released on parole into his mother’s custody. Following his release he did part time jobs and at the same time continued to write. During this period he came in touch with Langston Hughes who facilitated Himes contacts with the world of literature and publishing.

In the 1940s Himes spent time in Los Angeles, working as a screenwriter but also producing two novels, If He Hollers Let Him Go and Lonely Crusade that charted the experiences of the wave of black in-migrants, drawn by the city’s defense industries, and their dealings with the established black community, fellow workers, unions and management. 

In City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles, Mike Davis cites Himes’ brief career as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers as an example of the ongoing racism of Hollywood: he was terminated when Jack Warner heard about him and said “I don’t want no goddamned niggers on this lot.” (p 43). Himes later wrote in his autobiography:

Up to the age of thirty-one I had been hurt emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as thirty-one years can bear. I had lived in the South, I had fallen down an elevator shaft, I had been kicked out of college, I had served seven and one half years in prison, I had survived the humiliating last five years of Depression in Cleveland; and still I was entire, complete, functional; my mind was sharp, my reflexes were good, and I was not bitter. But under the mental corrosion of race prejudice in Los Angeles I became bitter and saturated with hate. 

By the 1950s Himes had decided to settle in France permanently, a country he liked in part due to his critical popularity there.

Chester Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri in 1909 and died in Spain in 1984 from Parkinson’s Disease.

—from wikipedia, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chester_Himes 

 

 
some quotations from himes’ work
 

 

 

on violence as the singular American narrative

There is no way that one can evaluate the American scene and avoid violence, because any country that was born in violence and has lived in violence always knows about violence. Anything can be initiated, enforced, contained or destroyed in the American scene through violence; it comes straight from the days of slavery, through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Indian wars, the gunslingers killing one another over fences and sheep and one goddamned thing after another; they grew up in violence …. The only people that the American community has tried to teach that it is Christian to turn the other check and live peacefully are the black people. . .   

My French editor says, the Americans have a style of writing detective stories that no one has been able to imitate …. There’s no reason why the black American, like all other Americans, and brought up in this sphere of violence which is the main sphere of American detective stories, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t write them. It’s just plain and simple violence in narrative form …. American violence is public life, it’s a public way of life; it became a form, a detective story form. 

Chester Himes, “My Man Himes” (1976)

 If I had wanted to express my revulsion for violence then I would have made the violence even more repellent, really repellent. I am simply creating stories that have a setting I know very well. 

—Nova (January 1971), 52 

 

on race 

 The American black is a new race of man; the only new race of man to come into being in modern time. And for those hackneyed, diehard, outdated, slavery-time racists to keep thinking of him as a primitive is an insult to the intelligence. In fact, intelligence isn’t required to know the black is a new man, complex, intriguing, and not particularly likeable. I find it very difficult to like American blacks myself; but I know there’s nothing primitive about us, as there is about the most sophisticated African. 

—Himes, The Quality of Hurt (1972)  

 

on writing (and race) 

 No matter what I did, or how I lived, I had considered myself a writer since I’d published my first story in Esquire when I was still in prison in 1934. Foremost a writer. Above all a writer. It was my salvation and is. The world can deny me all other employment, and stone me as an ex-convict, as a nigger, as a disagreeable and unpleasant person. But as long as I can write, whether it is published or not, I’m a writer, and no one can take that away. “A fighter fights, a writer writes”, so I must have done my writing . . .  

Himes, The Quality of Hurt 

I had the creative urge, but the old, used forms of the black American writer did not fit my creations. I wanted to break through the barrier that labeled me as a “protest writer.” I knew the life of an American black needed another image than just the victim of racism. We were more than just victims. We did not suffer, we were extroverts. We were unique individuals, funny not clowns, solemn but not serious, hurt but not suffering, sexualists but not whores in the usual sense of the word; we had tremendous love of life, a love of sex, a love of ourselves. We were absurd.

 —Himes, My Life of Absurdity

  

from his novels

 In Lonely Crusade (1947), the protagonist Lee Gordon is a man pushed to the edge. At the start of the novel the omniscient narrator observes that “Fear was the price for living”; nevertheless, after a run of unemployment, Gordon manages to become a union organizer. However, his happiness soon turns to a kind of self-fuelling fear:

… when he boarded the streetcar with white Southern war-workers that war spring of 1943, being a Negro imposed a sense of handicap that Lee Gordon could not overcome. He lost his brief happiness in the seas of white faces … he had once again crossed into the competitive white world where he would be subjected to every abuse concocted in the minds of white people to harass and intimidate Negroes ….  and to be afraid, and hate his fear himself for fearing it, and hate himself for feeling it. The fear in him was something a dog could smell … he could see the hostile faces of the white workers, their hot, hating stares; he could feel their antagonisms hard as a physical blow; hear their vile asides and abusive epithets with a reality that cut like a knife.

Of his novel The End of the Primitive (1955), Himes stated that “I put a sexually frustrated American woman and a racially-frustrated black American male together for a weekend in a New York apartment, and allowed them to soak in American bourbon. I got the result I was looking for: a nightmare of drunkenness, unbridled sexuality, and in the end, tragedy.” the doomed Jesse’s dream life is conveyed with an hallucinatory absurdity worthy of De Quincey:

He dreamed he was in a house with a thousand rooms of different sizes made entirely of distorted mirrors. There were others besides himself but he could not tell how many because their reflections went on into an infinity in the distorted mirrors. Nor could he see their true shape because in one mirror they all appeared to be obese dwarfs and in another tall, thin, cadaverous skeletons. He ran panic-stricken from room to room trying to find a familiar human shape, but he saw only the grotesque reflections, the brutal faces that leered from some distortions, the sweet smiles from others, the sad eyes, the gentle mouths, the sinister stares, the  treacherous grins, the threatening scowls, hating and bestial, suffering and saintly, gracious and kind, and he knew that none of them was the true face and he continued to run in frantic terror until he found a door and escaped.

Thus America as a deranged fun-house. When Jesse kills the white girl Kriss, he believes, paradoxically, that he has now joined the ranks of humanity:

You finally did it …. End product of Americanism on one Jesse Robinson – black man. Your answer, son. You’ve been searching for it. BLACK MAN KILLS WHITE WOMAN …. Human beings only species of animal life where males are known to kill their females. Proof beyond all doubt. Jesse Robinson joins the human race. “I’m a nigger and I’ve just killed a white woman,” Jesse said, giving the address on 21st Street and hung up. “That’ll get the lead out of his ass,” he thought half-amused.

 

the detectives Grave Digger and Coffin Ed

 An inconspicuous black sedan pulled out from the kerb and parked at the end of the block unnoticed, and the two tall, lanky colored men dressed in black mohair suits that looked as though they’d been slept in got out and walked towards the scene. Their wrinkled coals bulged beneath their left shoulders. The shiny straps of shoulder holsters showed across the fronts of their blue cotton shirts. The one with the burnt face went to the far side of the crowd; the other remained on the near side. Suddenly a loud voice shouted, “Straighten up!” An equally loud voice echoes, “Count off!”

The Crazy Kill (1959)

 

their code 

 As set out in A Rage in Harlem (1965):

Grave Digger and Coffin Ed weren’t crooked detectives, but they were tough. They had to be tough to work in Harlem. Colored folks didn’t respect colored cops. But they respected big shiny pistols and sudden death. It was said in Harlem that Coffin Ed’s pistol would kill a rock and that Gravedigger’s would bury it. They took their tribute, like all real cops, from the established underworld catering for the essential needs of the people – gamekeepers, madams, streetwalkers, numbers writers, numbers bankers. But they were rough on purse snatchers, muggers, burglars, con men, and all strangers working any racket. And they didn’t like rough stuff from anybody but themselves. “Keep it cool,” they warned, “Don’t make graves.”

 

Harlem, their patrol grounds:

 Unwed young mothers, suckling their infants, living on a prayer; fat black racketeers coasting past in big bright-colored convertibles with their solid gold babes, carrying huge sums of money on their person; hardworking men, holding up buildings with their shoulders, talking in loud voices up there in Harlem where the white bosses couldn’t hear them; teen-age gangsters grouping for a gang-fight, smoking marijuana weed to get up their courage; everybody escaping the hot-box rooms they lived in, seeking respite in a street made hotter by the automobile exhaust and the heat released by the concrete walls and walks.

The Crazy Kill

 


on violence as the singular American narrative

short fiction by brian evenson

“Prairie”

by Brian Evenson

 

Brian Evenson is the author of the books Altmann’s Tongue, Contagion, Dark Property, and Father of Lies, among others. In 2005, his collection, The Wavering Knife, won the International Horror Guild Award. Two years later, his novel The Open Curtain was also a finalist, as well as for the Edgar Award. In addition to his own fiction, Evenson has translated the work of others into English, including the novel Electric Flesh by Claro (from the original French). A media tie-in novel, Aliens: No Exit, will be released around the same time as this volume, and Evenson has a new short story collection due out in 2009, called Fugue State.
 
This story, which originally appeared in the magazine
The Silver Web, was inspired by Cabeza de Vaca’s sixteenth century account of crossing North America after being shipwrecked, and Werner Herzog’s movie Aguirre, the Wrath of God which, Evenson says, has a brilliant, mad ending. He says he was interested, too, in thinking about how certain places seem to have a dark but magical quality to them. How zombies entered into it is a mystery, however.
 

 

 

I.  

  

Early evening, still distant from the prairie, we encountered a man with skin flayed half-free of his back. He allowed us to inspect that portion of him, and we saw the underskin, purpled and creased with folds that in their convolution resembled the human brain.

 

The runds off his back he had tanned and twisted into a belt, which he wore and which our captain tried, unsuccessfully, to purchase of him. When our physician inquired after the particulars of his persecutor, the man answered by unfurling from his rucksack a flapping sheet of skin with a large and hardened callous aswash at one end of it which, upon formal inspection, proved an empty, flavid face.

 

 

II.

 

Our paroch of late has taken to baptizing all we encounter, tallying their particulars on wound scrolls before they are slaughtered. As we walk, he counts the names, phrases aloud before us the petitions he will employ before the Church as, spreading forth his lists of converts, he renders plea for sainthood.

 

 

III.

 

The air is fumid, choking. Near midday we were greeted by a man who made claim to raise the dead. Our captain bared his weapon and lopped the head from Rusk, with whom he has been at odds throughout the voyage, and then bade the man have at his task. The self-appointed Jesus sewed Rusk’s head back onto the frame and then, with shaking fingers, uttered his shallow pronouncements. After ample wait, the captain ordered this fellow’s head struck from his shoulders as well.

 

We carried the heads spikeshafted and passed onward. Nearing the prairie, they began to mumble, at which we sandsunk their shafts, abandoned them.

 

 

IV.

 

We have reached the prairie, the dead progressing in droves through shackle and quaking grass. We captured one and he was drawn forth with little struggle, falling nearly insensate once raised from the ground. His flesh was dark and stinking. We examined his armature, the way his mouth had been resewn and mandibled. Avelling the membrane lining the chest, we found the internal organs neatly removed, the lower orifices stoppered. With a sleight pressure of his palm, our physician sloughed away the skin that remnanted to the skull, then exposed the upper portion of the braincase by means of a racksaw. The brain had been removed, the emptied interior case showing in its blotchwork signs of siriasis or, as it is commonly called, sideration.

 

Our physician made severe notes and, when done, asked for the sake of experiment that the body be released. We lowered it to the earth and watched it come animate, stumble away.

 

 

V.

 

During the night, Latour harnessed a dead woman, for we have been long on the road. Devoid of resilience, she came too rapidly asunder beneath his hips. Even with eyes gritted shut he could gain no satisfaction. The paroch refused his confession.

 

 

VI.

 

At times one discovers the living hidden among the dead, the which can be discerned by the

color manifest in their flesh, the sentience of their regard. They crouch to the center of a drove, allowing the dead to sweep them along.

 

One, we managed to capture. When he made pretense of death, the physician pierced him with his instruments until the man could not but grow bloody and roar.

 

We jointed his limbs, packed them in salt. His eyes shuttered and then opened again, his torso regaining a torpid motion. We watched his body struggle out and away from us. His boxed limbs thumped against the lid, grinding the salt.

 

 

VII.

 

We have consumed the remaining provisions. We eat the living when we ferret them out, and have eaten the horses as well. Still the prairie continues without cease.

 

The dead prove too festered and rizzared to consume. Instead, we encircle them and employ them as mounts. We tie them by twos front to back and lop free the heads. Sitting on the planed necks and shoulders, we goad them to motion by prodding the forward remnant of the brain’s root.

 

 

VIII.

 

The prairie is subdued in dust and sand, footing given way. The dead are sparser and often balsamated, their armature careful and fresh. There is no sign of who has prepared them.

 

This morning we saw approaching at some distance a lone figure with a purposiveness that proved him still alive. When he came closer, he was seen to be slung with a large sack, groaning beneath its weight.

 

He attempted flight, but mounted athwart the dead we soon rode him down. Dropping the sack, he murdered Latour and Broch before being killed himself.

 

We struck a fire and ate what we could of the newly dead, then slit back the sack. Inside were two gray and curled women who stumbled away when released. We rode them down and coupled them severally. Later, we directed their movement by ropes slung about their necks. Later still, we ate their fleshly portions.

 

 

IX.

 

There is no water, no matter how deep we dig. All provision is gone, the dead here shot through with venom so that upon consuming them we die ourselves. Our paroch is mad and wandering. Our physician is dead, and all the others dead too but for five of us.

 

The physician pursues us with a sentience we have hitherto disallowed the dead. We awoke last morning to find him astraddle the captain, whom he had killed, consuming the fellow’s face. We dragged the physician off, breaking his legs and plucking free his eyes to hinder further pursuit on his behalf. We broke the captain’s legs as well.

 

There is some discouragement among the men who remain. Yet I have urged them to push forward, and for the instant they comply.

 

 

X.

 

This midday a glister at some distance and the movement of far figures like lice. We rode forward and found there what I must deem a templature for preparing the corpse, hastily abandoned, the heaped organs on its surface still spongy with blood.

 

I have examined the apparatus at length but can make nothing of it, nor of its functioning, though it has in my awkwardness contrived to lay bare my palm to the bone. The others, seeing my fate, destroyed the device before I could query it further.

 

 

XI.

 

My injured palm swells. I am without water, food. Save myself, the remainder of the party have returned, hoping to reach the edge of the prairie before dying. I have opted to continue, hoping to strive to the center and whatever is established there, if center there be.

 

There is no satisfaction anywhere. I wander among the dead, awaiting the moment when I shall pass imperceptibly from the stumbling of the living into the stumbling of the dead.

 

Avaunt.

 

—from John Joseph Adams (editor), The Living Dead (2009)

writers reading: american noir novelist michael connelly’s book picks

from http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-06-02/michael-connellys-book-picks/:

 

The author of the Harry Bosch series and, famously, one of Bill Clinton’s favorite mystery writers shares some of his favorites, from Vonnegut to a memoir that has yet to be released. Connelly’s most recent book, The Scarecrow, was released last week.

 

The Way Home

by George Pelecanos

 

Pelecanos is the master of the crime novel as social document. This time the crime story is just window-dressing for a meditation on a father-son relationship. It may be the book he leaves the most impressive mark with, because you can tell every page comes from the heart.

 

The Black Marble

by Joseph Wambaugh

 

Still a strong and vital writer after four decades of producing top-shelf cop novels, Wambaugh practically wrote the treatise that informs every cop novel since, including my own. I am revisiting this book from 1978 because it quietly set forth that the best of these stories are not about how cops work on cases but how cases work on cops.

 

Cruel Poetry

by Vicki Hendricks

 

The motors in Hendricks’ novels run on high-octane lust. She knows no boundaries. This one blends the gutter and academia into a sun-bleached masterpiece of sex and violence in hard-broiled Miami Beach.

 

The Opposite Field

by Jesse Katz

 

You can’t read this memoir yet. It won’t be published until later this year, but I got an early peek at it. Calling it a memoir is probably a disservice. It’s much, much more. It’s about baseball and it’s about love and it’s about the clashing and merging of cultures. It’s got that indescribable thing that is in all great storytelling. That glue, the juice, the stuff that captures the human experience in such a way that speaks to all of us.

 

Cat’s Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut

 

Vonnegut’s classic gem. The late, great writer did the near impossible with this book, creating a story both at once hilarious and frightening. The novel is a timeless story carrying timeless warnings about organized religion, politics, and science.

File:CatsCradle(1963).jpg

Cat’s Cradle, 1963. First Edition.

john banville on richard stark, and chapter one of the outfit

john banville: "two of the greatest writers of the 20th century are georges simenon . . . and richard stark."

 

Pulp Valentine

Donald Westlake’s Parker novels are a genre of their own.

By John Banville

Slate/Posted Wednesday, May 24, 2006, at 6:07 AM ET

 

Two of the greatest writers of the 20th century are Georges Simenon—I am not thinking of the Maigret books, which I have not read, but of what he called his "hard novels," such as Dirty Snow and Tropic Moon—and Richard Stark, real name Donald Westlake—if there is such a thing as a real name. Indeed, Westlake, born in New York in 1933, works under a clutch of pseudonyms, though it was as Donald Westlake that he wrote the masterly screenplay for Stephen Frears’ 1990 movie The Grifters, in turn based on the novel of the same name by another master of the dark fictional arts, Jim Thompson. Stark has won numerous writing awards and holds the rather splendid title of Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America. His Parker books, the best of which were written in the early 1960s, are unique in the genre of crime fiction; in fact, they form a genre all their own.

 

Parker—no first name—is one of the most fascinating and compelling fictional criminals, played to perfection by Lee Marvin in John Boorman’s film Point Blank (needlessly remade in 1999 as the Mel Gibson vehicle, Payback), which is based on Stark’s The Hunter. In Point Blank, as in the novel, Parker is double-crossed by his woman and his best friend, after which he has to take on the shadowy "Organization"—the Mafia, we suppose—in order to have revenge and, more importantly, get back the hot money the pair of betrayers cheated him out of. In his ruthlessness and unhesitating murderousness Parker is well up there with Simenon’s tormented monsters and, especially, with Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. In The Jugger, Parker forces a double-crosser to dig a hole in a basement to uncover hidden loot and then, as we are told in two brief lines, shoots the hapless fellow and buries him in the hole he had just finished digging.

 

But where Simenon’s creatures are victims of blind fate, and the dandified and sexually dubious Ripley takes risks with the insouciance of an artist, Parker is the ultimate professional, without airs or graces, a machine-man with no background and scant sensibility and yet, for all that, a peculiarly affecting figure. We admire Parker to our shame, taking a guilty pleasure in his fearless fearsomeness. This is existential man at his furthest extremity, confronting a world that is even more wicked and treacherous than he is. For a start, read The Jugger and Slayground, and then go out and buy the rest of the series. Oh, and while you’re at it, pick up some Simenons, too.

 

—from http://www.slate.com/id/2142091/

 


Cover Image

WHEN THE WOMAN screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed. He heard the plop of a silencer behind him as he rolled, and the bullet punched the pillow where his head had been.

He landed face down on the floor. His stubby, pregnant .32 was clipped to the springs under the bed like a huge black fly standing upside down, and Parker’s hand was reaching out for it before he hit the floor. He spun a half-turn away from the bed and raised the .32 so the other one would know he had it, but he didn’t fire. This was a hotel room and the .32 wasn’t silenced.

A half-turn; then he reversed his spin and rolled under the bed, hearing the second bullet thud into the floor just behind him. His arms were tucked in close to his body and he rolled all the way across and came up on the other side seeing the other one just stooping to fire under the bed. Parker threw the .32. The grip hit the other’s forehead, just above the nose. He grunted; then dropped out of sight. Parker bent and looked through under the bed. The other was lying on his face.

After the first scream the woman had been silent. Now she stared, slack-faced, as Parker got to his feet and went around the bed. He was tall and lean with corded veins and hard, tanned flesh. His torso was creased by old scars. His legs had a bony angularity to them; the muscles were etched against the bones. His hands were big, thick, knotted with veins; they were made for gripping an axe, or a rock. When he picked up the .32 again his hand made it look like a toy.

The killer lay, arms and legs splayed out, as though he’d been dropped from a height. His gun was still in his right hand. Parker stepped on the wrist, then bent and took the gun. It was a .25 calibre target pistol, useless for almost any serious work except to come up close and kill a sleeping man. The silencer had been made for a gun with a larger barrel, and a jury-rigged clamp arrangement had been fashioned to fit it to the small barrel of the .25.

Parker stuck his foot under the killer’s chest, pushed, and rolled him over. He flopped over like a fish, his right arm swinging over and thumping the floor like a sack. He had a narrow pale face, skimpy eyebrows, small nose and thin lips, prominent cheekbones and temples. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt with button-down collar, a red-and-green striped tie, with sharply creased tan trousers and no cuffs, and highly polished brown shoes with zippers instead of laces. Floppy leather fringes hid the zippers. There was a purpling bruise on his right temple, and a small cut in the middle of it gleamed carmine. Parker had never seen him before.

The woman found her voice again and half whispered, "Shouldn’t we call the police?"

"Shut up a minute! Let me think."

It was a mess. She knew him as Charles Willis, absentee businessman with an income from a few parking lots and rental properties and gas stations here and there around the country. How to be square Charles Willis and explain a silent killer in the middle of the night? He had to give her a story; she had to be convinced by it; and it had to give her a reason to keep her mouth shut. The law, too, would want to know why a professional killer had been aimed at Charles Willis.

The truth might do it, but he didn’t know her very well; nor how far he could trust her.

Her name was Elizabeth Ruth Harrow Conway. She was a good-looking woman, twenty-nine, with honey hair, golden flesh and the tall, lush, well-proportioned body of a voluptuous athlete. She lived on a combination of alimony from her ex-husband and atonement gifts from her parents. She’d always been rich, had always lived in luxury surrounded by servants, and she’d never had a problem that wasn’t fashionable. That much Parker knew about her. Also, that she was fine in bed, and that she sometimes had a panther craving for brutality. He knew little more than that, and thought there was probably little more to know.

The killer made a small sound in his throat and his head thrashed slightly on the floor. His blond hair was dry and limp. Sweat had broken out on his face, though the room was air-conditioned. He’d be waking up soon, and Parker had to have the woman squared away by then.

He saw her watching him, and was surprised at her expression. He’d expected fear and astonishment, but she looked breathless. Pleased, excited, and curious. The way she always looked when they bedded together. Expectant. So, the truth. But as little of it as possible.

There was a wooden chair with padded seat and back over by the blind window, the one with the air-conditioner in it. He got it, brought it to the bed, and sat down. "Charles Willis isn’t my name," he said. "I have another name. I use it in my work. You don’t want to know about my work."

"What?" She frowned at him, and glanced down at the man lying on the floor between them. "I don’t under — You aren’t Chuck Willis?"

"I am now, and here. When I’m not working, I’m Charles Willis. Here in Miami, or in Nevada, or out on the Coast."

"And when you are working?" She’d absorbed it faster than he’d expected.

He shook his head. "You don’t want to know about that."

"But he —" She pointed at the man who had tried to kill him. "— he’s from that other part of your life."

"That’s right."

"What’s his name?"

"I don’t know. I never saw him before."

"Oh. You mean he was just hired."

"That’s right."

"And you don’t want to turn him over to the police."

"Right again."

"I see."

She reached out for the cigarettes on the night table. She was nude and, when she leaned to reach for the cigarettes, her breasts hung heavy for a moment. As she sat back again, they became firm again. She was a good animal.

She lit a cigarette. "I don’t see. You aren’t what you seem to be, but you don’t want me to know what you really are. Whatever you really are, someone, somewhere, hired this man to kill you. Whatever you really are, it keeps you from wanting to be involved with the police. You want me to help you by being quiet, but you don’t want to tell me what’s going on."

He was silent. She studied him, frowning, but he had nothing to say. He sat and waited. While he waited he watched the killer, whose head had moved again but whose eyes hadn’t opened yet. The bruise had stopped swelling, but it was an unhealthy colour. The carmine outline of the small cut had started to dull towards maroon as the blood clotted.

After a minute Parker got to his feet. He had the .32 in his right hand, the silenced .25 in his left. He went over and put the .32 on the dresser, then went back and sat down, studying the thug again.

"All right," she said. "For now."

"Good."

She put her cigarette out, and nodded at the killer. "What about him?"

"We’ll talk to him." He kicked the killer in the ribs. "You’re awake," he said.

The killer opened his eyes. They were pale grey, gleaming faintly in the light from the table lamp on the night stand. His face was blank, as though he had no attitude about what had happened to him. He said, his voice as blank as his face, "You can’t turn me over to the law. You can’t kill me, because you can’t get rid of the body and you can’t trust the dame. And you can’t kill her because that would bring the law on you. You got to let me go."

"You can trust me, Chuck," she said. Her voice was low. She was half-smiling as she looked down at the pallid face of the killer.

Parker ignored her. He said to the killer, "Name of your contact. The guy who fingered me."

The killer shook his head, rolling it back and forth on the floor, doing it carefully, as though he were part of a balancing act. His face was still blank. "No," he said.

"And the name of your contact in New York. You work out of New York, don’t you?"

"Forget it," said the killer.

"You can’t go to the law either," Parker told him. He looked past the killer, over at the woman. "I’ve got to force the names out of him," he said. "I don’t like that kind of job. You want to try it? I’ll tie him. And gag his mouth so he can’t holler."

She smiled again, leaned far over the edge of the bed, and looked down at the killer.

"Yes," she said. "I’ve never done anything like that. I’d like to try." Her tongue peeked out past her lips. She moistened her lips, and looked down, and smiled.

Parker was pleased. He’d figured her right, every step of the way. He hadn’t figured the unloading yet, but that would come when necessary. When it was time to get rid of her, split with her, he’d find the way. Not kill her, just unload her.

He looked down to see if he’d figured the killer right, too. He had. The killer was staring up at the smiling face of the woman, balloon-like, in the air above him. His pale eyes seemed larger, and the sweat had started on his face again. His fingers were clenching and unclenching and his cheeks seemed hollower, thinner.

Parker said, "What’s your name?"

"Go to hell," said the killer. But his voice was higher and thinner and not completely under control.

Parker got to his feet. "We’ll use two of my ties," he said. "You. Get into the chair."

The killer didn’t move.

Parker stepped on his ankle. The killer gasped, and Parker stepped off the ankle again and said, "Get into the chair."

The woman said, "Tell him to take his pants off."

The killer closed his eyes. His whole face seemed sunken now, more pallid. He said, "Clint Stern. That’s my name, Clint Stern."

Parker saw the woman pouting. She leaned back against the pillow again and lit a cigarette. She wouldn’t meet Parker’s eye.

Parker asked, "Who fingered me?"

"Jake Menner."

"Who is he?"

"A collector. He collects from the books around the hotels."

"All right. Who gives you the assignments?"

"Jim St Clair."

"In New York?"

"Yes."

"Where do I get in touch with him?"

Stern’s eyes flickered and his brow creased with worry lines. "You’re making me dead, man," he said.

Parker said to the woman, "Maybe you’ll get a chance at him after all."

Stern said, "I’ll be dead anyway. What’s the difference?" He sounded bitter, as though an injustice had been done him.

"I’m not talking about dead," Parker told him. "She won’t let you die. Will you, Bett?"

She shrugged. She no longer seemed very interested. She knew Stern was going to give in without her doing anything. So did Parker. So did Stern. He said, "He runs a club in Brooklyn. On Kings Highway, near Utica Avenue."

"What’s it called?"

"The Three Kings." Stern closed his eyes again. Every time he closed them, he looked like a corpse. He said, "You’re killing me, man." He sounded tired, that was all.

"This guy Menner," said Parker. "You were supposed to call him when the job was done. Right?"

"Yes," said Stern.

Parker pointed. "There’s the phone. Call him."

Stern sat up. Then he winced and put his hand to his bruised temple. He winced again, away from the hand, and looked bleakly at the spot of blood that had come off on his palm. "Maybe I got concussion," he said.

"Move faster," said Parker.

Stern got to his feet, climbing up the chair. He moved as though he was dizzy. He stumbled when he moved away from the chair, and almost fell down. He made it to the writing desk where the phone was, and leaned against the wall. He picked up the receiver as though it was heavy, and started to dial. Then he looked over at Parker and said "What do I say?"

"Parker’s dead."

Stern finished dialling, and lifted the receiver to his ear. He waited, dull-eyed. From the middle of the room Parker heard the click and the metallic chatter when the phone was answered at the other end.

Stern said, "This is Stern. Let me talk to Menner."

There was a brief metallic chatter again, then silence. Stern leaned against the wall. Perspiration was streaming down his face, and his eyes looked heavier and heavier.

Finally, the phone chattered again, rousing him. He said, "Menner?" His eyes got brighter, feverish. He licked his lips. A kind of sick nervousness seemed to be pumping through him.

Parker watched him, and knew he was getting ready to tell Menner the truth. He whispered, "Remember the women, Stern."

Stern slumped. He said, "It’s done. He’s dead." Questioning sounds. "No. No trouble." His voice was as flat and lifeless as his eyes. "Yes. All right. Good-bye."

But he remained leaning against the wall, head bowed, phone to his ear. Parker went over and took the phone away from him and hung it up. He said, "Where did you just call?"

"Floral Court. Rampon Boulevard."

"What number?"

"Twelve. Twelve Floral Court."

"How many others there?"

"Five or six. It’s a poker game."

"All right. You got any money? Stern! You got any money?"

"Not on me."

"Where you can get it."

"Yes." He was acting now as though he’d been doped.,

"You better get it and take off. South — out of the country."

"Yes."

"It won’tdo any good to try again. It won’t work. And it wouldn’t mean anything to the Outfit anyway. They’re going to know you missed the first time, so they’ll know they can’t count on you."

"Yes."

"Take off," Parker told him.

Stern stepped away from the wall, and stopped. His eyes swivelled up in their sockets and he fell over on his face, loose and limp.

Parker shook his head, irritated. He said to Bett, "Wait here." He pulled a pair of pants on, grabbed Stern under the shoulders, and dragged him to the door. He pulled the door open and looked outside. It was a quarter to four in the morning, and the hall was empty. Parker dragged Stern down to the hall and opened the door to the interior fire stairs. He pulled Stern through and shut the door again. A dim bulb faintly illuminated each metal landing up and down the stair well.

Parker propped Stern up in the corner and checked his pulse. He was still alive, but not by much. When he’d fallen he’d hit the bruised place on his temple. It was bleeding a little bit again.

"Die some place else," Parker told him. He pinched him, and jabbed him in the ribs, then snapped his finger sharply against the underpart of Stern’s nose. Stern came out of it groggily. His eyes were unfocused, and if Parker had asked him his name he wouldn’t have known the answer. Or what the date was, or what city he was in, or where he’d been born. But he could understand simple orders, and he could make his body move.

Keeping his voice low, Parker said, "Get on your feet."

Stern tried, but he couldn’t do it alone. Parker helped him get upright. When he was up he could stay up, one hand pressed against the wall. His head was down, chin sunk in his chest, but his eyes were half-opened. He could still hear.

Parker said, "When I go out this door, go down those steps there. Do you hear me? When I go out this door, go down those steps there."

Stern nodded minutely.

Satisfied, Parker stepped back and opened the door. He stood in the doorway and watched Stern take the first step towards the descending metal stairs. He turned away, closed the door behind him, and walked back down the hall. Behind him, he could hear the muffled thumping as Stern fell.

He went back to the door and it was empty. He frowned, looked around, and saw the .32 was gone but the .25 was still there. He stood looking at the place where the .32 had been and wondered what she wanted from him that would require blackmail.

But he didn’t have time to waste on her now. When she came back he’d decide what to do.

He locked the door and dressed hurriedly. The .25 with the silencer made an awkward, bulky package inside his coat.

ballard’s terminal beach concluded

The Submarine Pens

 

This precarious existence continued for the following weeks. As he walked out to the blocks one evening, he again saw his wife and son, standing among the dunes below a solitary camera tower, their faces watching him expressionlessly. He realized that they had followed him across the island from their former haunt among the driedup lakes. At about this time he once again saw the distant light beckoning, and decided to continue his exploration of the island.

 

Half a mile further along the atoll he found a group of four submarine pens, built over an inlet, now drained, which wound through the dunes from the sea. The pens still contained several feet of water, filled with strange luminescent fish and plants. The warning light winked at intervals from the apex of a metal scaffold. The remains of a substantial camp, only recently vacated, stood on the pier outside. Greedily, Traven heaped his sledge with the provisions stored inside one of the metal shacks.

 

With this change of diet, the ben-ben receded, and during the next days he returned often to the camp. It appeared to be the site of a biological expedition. In the field office he came across a series of large charts of mutated chromosomes. He rolled them up and took them back to his bunker. The abstract patterns were meaningless, but during his recovery he amused himself by devising suitable titles for them. (Later, passing the aircraft dump on one of his forays, he found the half-buried juke-box, and tore the list of records from the selection panel, realizing that these were the most appropriate captions. Thus embroidered, the charts took on many layers of associations.)

 

 

Traven: In Parenthesis

 

Elements in a quantal world: The terminal beach.

 

The terminal bunker.

 

The blocks.

 

          ***

 

The landscape is coded.

 

Entry points into the future=Levels in a spinal landscape=zones of significant time.

 

August 5. Found the man Traven. A strange derelict figure, hiding in a bunker in the deserted interior of the island. He is suffering from severe exposure and malnutrition, but is unaware of this or, for that matter, of any other events in the world around him He maintains that he came to the island to carry out some scientific project – unstated – but I suspect that he understands his real motives and the unique role of the island… In some way its landscape seems to be involved with certain unconscious notions of time, and in particular with those that may be a repressed premonition of our own deaths. The attractions and dangers of such an architecture, as the past has shown, need no stressing.

 

August 6. He has the eyes of the possessed. I would guess that he is neither the first, nor the last, to visit the island.

 

—from Dr C. Osborne, ‘Eniwetok Diary.’

 

 

Traven lost within the Blocks

 

With the exhaustion of’his supplies, Traven remained within the perimeter of the blocks almost continuously, conserving what strength remained to him to walk slowly down their empty corridors. The infection in his right foot made it difficult for him to replenish his supplies from the stores left by the biologists, and as his strength ebbed he found progressively less incentive to make his way out of the blocks. The system of megaliths now provided a complete substitute for those functions of his mind which gave to it its sense of the sustained rational order of time and space. Without them, his awareness of reality shrank to little more than the few square inches of sand beneath his feet.

 

On one of his last ventures into the maze, he spent all night and much of the following morning in a futile attempt to escape. Dragging himself from one rectangle of shadow to another, his leg as heavy as a club and apparently inflamed to the knee, he realized that he must soon find an equivalent for the blocks or he would end his life within them, trapped inside this self-constructed mausoleum as surely as the retinue of Pharaoh.

 

He was sitting helplessly somewhere in the centre of the system, the faceless lines of tomb-booths receding from him, when the sky was slowly divided by the drone of a light aircraft. This passed overhead, and then returned five minutes later. Seizing his opportunity, Traven struggled to his feet and made his exit from the blocks, his head raised to follow the faintly glistening beacon of the exhaust trail.

 

As he lay in the bunker he dimly heard the aircraft return and carry out an inspection of the site.

 

 

A Belated Rescue

 

‘Who are you? Do you realize you’re on your last legs?’

 

‘Traven… I’ve had some sort of accident. I’m glad you flew over.’

 

‘I’m sure you are. But why didn’t you use our radio-telephone? Anyway, we’ll call the Navy and have you picked up.’

 

‘No…’ Traven sat up on one elbow and feltweakly in his hip pocket. ‘I have a pass somewhere. I’m carrying out research.’

 

‘Into what?’ The question assumed a complete understanding of Traven’s motives. He lay in the shade under the lee of the bunker, and drank weakly from a canteen as Dr Osborne dressed his foot. ‘You’ve also been stealing our stores.’

 

Traven shook his head. Fifty yards away the striped blue Cessna stood on the concrete apron like a brilliant dragonfly. ‘I didn’t realize you were coming back.’

 

‘You must be in a trance.’

 

The young woman sitting at the controls of the aircraft climbed out and walked over to them. She glanced at the grey bunkers and towers, and seemed uninterested in the decrepit figure of Traven. Osborne spoke to her and after a downward glance at Traven she went back to the aircraft. As she turned Traven rose involuntarily, recognizing the child in the photograph he had pinned to the wall of the bunker. Then he remembered that the magazine could not have been more than four or five years old.

 

The engine of the aircraft started. As Traven watched, it turned on to one of the roadways and took off into the wind.

 

Later that afternoon the young woman drove over to the blocks by jeep and unloaded a small camp-bed and a canvas awning. During the intervening hours Traven had slept. He woke refreshed when Osborne returned from his scrutiny of the surrounding dunes.

 

‘What are you doing here?’ the young woman asked as she secured the guy-ropes to the roof of the bunker.

 

Traven watched her move about. ‘I’m… searching for my wife and son.’

 

‘They’re on this island?’ Surprised, but taking the reply at face value, she looked around her. ‘Here?’

 

‘In a manner of speaking.’

 

After inspecting the bunker, Osborne joined them. ‘The child in the photograph – is she your daughter?’

 

Traven hesitated. ‘No. She’s adopted me.’

 

Unable to make any sense of his replies, but accepting his assurances that he would leave the island, Osborne and the young woman drove back to their camp. Each day Osborne returned to change the dressing, driven by the young woman, who seemed now to grasp the role cast for her by Traven. Osborne, when he learned of Traven’s previous career as a military pilot, appeared to suspect that he might be a latter-day martyr left high and dry by the moratorium on thermonuclear tests.

 

‘A guilt complex isn’t an indiscriminate supply of moral sanctions. I think you may be overstretching yours.’ When he mentioned the name Eatherly, Traven shook his head.

 

Undeterred, Osborne pressed: ‘Are you sure you’re not making similar use of the image of Eniwetok – waiting for your Pentecostal wind?’

 

‘Believe me, Doctor, no,’ Traven replied firmly. ‘For me the hydrogen bomb was a symbol of absolute freedom. I feel it’s given me the right the obligation, even – to do anything I want.’

 

‘That seems strange logic,’ Osborne commented. ‘Aren’t we at least responsible for our physical selves, if for nothing else?’

 

‘Not now, I think,’ Traven replied. ‘After all, in effect we are men raised from the dead.’

 

Often, however, he thought of Eatherly: the prototypal Pre-Third Man – dating the Pre-Third from August 6, 1945 carrying a full load of cosmic guilt.

 

Shortly after Traven was strong enough to walk, he had to be rescued from the blocks for a second time. Osborne became less conciliatory.

 

‘Our work is almost’ complete,’ he said warningly. ‘You’ll die here, Traven. What are you looking for among those blocks?’

 

To himself, Traven murmured: the tomb of the unknown civilian, Homo hydrogenensis, Eniwetok Man. ‘Doctor,’ he said, ‘your laboratory is at the wrong end of this island.’

 

Tartly, Osborne replied: ‘I’m aware of that, Traven. There are rarer fish swimming in your head than in any submarine pen.’

 

On the day before they left, the young woman drove Traven over to the lakes where he had first arrived. As a final present, an ironic gesture unexpected from the elderly biologist, she had brought from Osborne the correct list of legends for the chromosome charts. They stopped by the derelict juke-box and she pasted them on to the selection panel.

 

They wandered among the supine wrecks of the Superfortresses. Traven lost sight of her, and for the next ten minutes searched in and out of the dunes. He found her standing in a small amphitheatre formed by the sloping mirrors of a solar energy device built by one of the visiting expeditions. She smiled to Traven as he stepped through the scaffolding. A dozen fragmented images of herself were reflected in the broken panes – in some she was sans head, in others multiples of her arms circled about her like the serpent limbs of a Hindu goddess. Confused, Traven turned and walked back to the jeep.

 

As they drove away he recovered himself. He described his glimpses of his wife and son. ‘Their faces are always calm,’ he said. ‘My son’s particularly, though really he was always laughing. The only time his face was grave was when he was being born—then he seemed millions of years old.’

 

The young woman nodded. ‘I hope you find them.’ As an afterthought she added: ‘Dr Osborne is going to tell the Navy that you’re here. Hide somewhere.’

 

Traven thanked her.

 

From the centre of the blocks he waved to her the following day when she flew away for the last time.

 

 

The Naval Party

 

When the search party came for him Traven hid in the only logical place. Fortunately the search was perfunctory, and was called off after a few hours. The sailors had brought a supply of beer with them and the search soon turned into a drunken ramble.

 

On the walls of the recording towers Traven later found balloons of obscene dialogue chalked into the mouths of the shadowy figures, giving their postures the priapic gaiety of the dancers in cave drawings.

 

The climax of the party was the ignition of a store of gasoline in an underground tank near the airstrip. As he listened, first to the megaphones shouting his name, the echoes receding among the dunes like the forlorn calls of dying birds, then to the boom of the explosion and the laughter as the landing craft left, Traven felt a premonition that these were the last sounds he would hear.

 

He had hidden in oneof the target basins, lying among the broken bodies of the plastic models. In the hot sunlight their deformed faces gaped at him sightlessly from the tangle of limbs, their blurred smiles like those of the soundlessly laughing dead.

 

Their faces filled his mind as he climbed over the bodies and returned to his bunker. As he walked towards the blocks he saw the figures of his wife and son standing in his path. They were less than ten yards from him, their white faces watching him with a look of almost overwhelming expectancy. Never had Traven seen them so close to the blocks. His wife’s pale features seemed illuminated from within, her lips parted as if in greeting, one hand raised to take his own. His son’s face, with its curiously fixed expression, regarded him with the same enigmatic smile of the child in the photograph.

 

‘Judith! David!’ Startled, Traven ran forwards to them. Then, in a sudden movement of light, their clothes turned into shrouds, and he saw the wounds that disfigured their necks and chests. Appalled, he cried out. As they vanished, he ran off into the safety of the blocks.

 

 

The Catechism of Goodbye

 

This time he found himself, as Osborne had predicted, unable to leave the blocks.

 

Somewhere in the centre of the maze, he sat with his back against one of the concrete flanks, his eyes raised to the sun. Around him the lines of cubes formed the horizon of his world. At times they would appear to advance towards him, looming over him like cliffs, the intervals between them narrowing so that they were little more than an arm’s length apart, a labyrinth of corridors running between them. They then would recede from him, separating from each other like points in an expanding universe, until the nearest line formed an intermittent palisade along the horizon.

 

Time had become quantal. For hours it would be noon, the shadows contained within the blocks, the heat reflected off the concrete floor. Abruptly, he would find that it was early afternoon or evening, the shadows everywhere like pointing fingers.

 

‘Goodbye, Eniwetok,’ he murmured.

 

Somewhere there was a flicker of light, as if one of the blocks, like a counter on an abacus, had been plucked away.

 

Goodbye, Los Alamos. Again, a block seemed to vanish. The corridors around him remained intact, but somewhere in his mind had appeared a small interval of neutral space.

 

Goodbye, Hiroshima.

 

Goodbye, Alamagordo.

 

‘Goodbye, Moscow, London, Paris, New York…’

 

Shuttles flickered, a ripple of lost integers. He stopped, realizing the futility of this megathlon farewell. Such a leave-taking required him to fix his signature upon every one of the particles in the universe.

 

 

Total Noon: Eniwetok

 

The blocks now occupied positions on an endlessly revolving circus wheel. They carried him upwards into the sky, from where he could see the whole island and the sea, and then down again through the opaque disc of the concrete floor. From here he looked up at the under-surface of the concrete cap, an inverted landscape of rectilinear hollows, the dome-shaped mounds of the lake-system, the thousands of empty cubic pits of the blocks.

 

‘Goodbye, Traven.’

 

Near the end, he found to his disappointment that this ultimate rejection gained him nothing.

 

In the interval of lucidity, he looked down at his emaciated arms and legs, decorated with a lace-work of ulcers. To his right was a trail of disturbed dust, the wavering marks of slack heels.

 

To his left lay a long corridor between the blocks, joining an oblique series a hundred yards away. Among these, where a narrow interval revealed the open space beyond, was a crescent-shaped shadow, poised in the air above the ground.

 

During the next half an hour it moved slowly, turning as the sun swung, the profile of a dune.

 

 

The Crevice

 

Seizing on this cipher, which hung before him like a symbol on a shield, Traven pushed himself through the dust. He climbed precariously to his feet, and shielded his eyes from the blocks. He moved forward a few paces at a time.

 

Ten minutes later he emerged from the western perimeter of the blocks, like a tottering mendicant leaving behind a silent desert city. The dune lay fifty yards in front of him. Beyond it, bearing the shadow like a screen, was a ridge of limestone that ran away among the hillocks of the wasteland beyond this point of the atoll. The remains of an old bulldozer, bales of barbed wire and fifty-gallon drums lay half-buried in the sand. Traven approached the dune, reluctant to leave this anonymous swell of sand. He shuffled around its edges, and sat down in the mouth of a shallow crevice below the brow of the ridge.

 

After dusting his clothes, he gazed out patiently at the great circle of blocks.

 

Ten minutes later he noticed that someone was watching him.

 

 

The Marooned Japanese

 

This corpse, whose eyes stared up at Traven, lay to his left at the bottom of the crevice. That of a man of middle age and strong build, it rested on its back with its head on a pillow of stone, hands outstretched at its sides, as if surveying the window of the sky. The fabric of the clothes had rotted to a bleached grey vestment, but in the absence of any small animal predators on the island the skin and musculature of the corpse had been preserved. Here and there, at the angle of knee or wrist, a bony point glinted through the leathery integument of the skin, but the facial mask was still intact, and revealed a male Japanese of the professional classes. Looking down at the strong nose, high forehead and broad mouth, Traven guessed that the Japanese had been a doctor or lawyer.

 

Puzzled as to how the corpse had found itself here, Traven slid a few feet down the slope. There were no radiation burns on the skin, which indicated that the Japanese had been there for five years or less. Nor did he appear to be wearing a uniform, so had not been some unfortunate member of a military or scientific party.

 

To the left of the corpse, within reach of his left hand, was a frayed leather case, the remains of a map wallet. To the right was the husk of a haversack, open to reveal a canteen of water and a small mess-tin.

 

Traven slid down the slope until his feet touched the splitting soles of the corpse’s shoes, the reflex of starvation making him for the moment ignore that the Japanese had deliberately chosen to die in the crevice. He reached out and seized the canteen. A cupful of flat water swilled around the rusting bottom. Traven gulped down the water, the dissolved metal salts cloaking his lips and tongue with a bitter film. The mess-tin was empty except for a tacky coating of condensed syrup. Traven prised at this with the lid, and chewed at the tarry flakes, letting them dissolve in his mouth with an almost intoxicating sweetness. After a few moments he felt light-headed and sat back beside the corpse. Its sightless eyes regarded him with unmoving compassion.

 

 

The Fly

 

(A small fly, which Traven presumes has followed him into the fissure, now buzzes about the corpse’s face. Guiltily, Traven leans forward to kill it, then reflects that perhaps this minuscule sentry has been the corpse’s faithful companion, in return fed on the rich liqueurs and distillations of its pores. Carefully, to avoid injuring the fly, he encourages it to alight on his wrist.)

 

DR YASUDA: Thank you, Traven. In my position, you understand

 

TRAVEN: Of course, Doctor. I’m sorry I tried to kill it – these ingrained habits, you know, they’re not easy to shrug off. Your sister’s children in Osaka in ’44, the exigencies of war, I hate to plead them. Most known motives are so despicable, one searches the unknown in the hope that YASUDA: Please, Traven, do not be embarrassed. The fly is lucky to retain its identity for so long. ‘That son you mourn, not to mention my own two nieces and nephew, did they not die each day? Every parent in the world grieves for the lost sons and daughters of their earlier childhoods.

 

TRAVEN: You’re very tolerant, Doctor. I wouldn’t dare – YASUDA: Not at all, Traven. I make no apologies for you. Each of us is little more than the meagre residue of the infinite unrealized possibilities of our lives. But your son, and my nephew, are fixed in our minds forever, their identities as certain as the stars.

 

TRAVEN: (not entirely convinced) That may be so, Doctor, but it leads to a dangerous conclusion in the case of this island. For instance, the blocks – YASUDA: They are precisely what I refer to, Traven. Here among the blocks you at last find an image of yourself free of the hazards of time and space. This islandis an ontological Garden of Eden, why seek to expel yourself into a world of quantal flux?

 

TRAVEN: Excuse me (The fly has flown back to the corpse’s face and sits in one of the dried-up orbits, giving the good doctor an expression of quizzical beadiness. Reaching forward, Traven entices it on to his palm. He examines it carefully) Well, yes, these bunkers may be ontological objects, but whether this is the ontological fly is doubtful. It’s true that on this island it’s the only fly, which is the next best thing

 

YASUDA: You can’t accept the plurality of the universe – ask yourself why, Traven. Why should this obsess you? It seems to me that you are hunting for the white leviathan, zero. The beach is a dangerous zone. Avoid it. Have a proper humility, pursue a philosophy of acceptance.

 

TRAVEN: Then may I ask why you came here, Doctor?

 

YASUDA: To feed this fly. ‘What greater love – ?’

 

TRAVEN: (Still puzzling) It doesn’t really solve my problem. The blocks, you see

 

YASUDA: Very well, if you must have it that way

 

TRAVEN: But, Doctor

 

YASUDA: (Peremptorily) Kill that fly!

 

TRAVEN: That’s not an end, or a beginning.

 

(Hopelessly, he kills the fly. Exhausted, he falls asleep beside the corpse.)

 

 

The Terminal Beach

 

Searching for a piece of rope in the refuse dump behind the dunes, Traven found a bale of rusty wire. After unwinding it, he secured a harness around the corpse’s chest and dragged it from the crevice. The lid of a wooden crate made a crude sledge. Traven fastened the corpse to it in a sitting position, and set off along the perimeter of the blocks. Around him the island remained silent. The lines of palms hung in the sunlight, only his own motion varying the shifting ciphers of their criss-crossing trunks. The square turrets of the camera towers jutted from the dunes like forgotten obelisks.

 

An hour later, when Traven reached the awning by his bunker, he untied the wire cord he had fastened around his waist. He took the chair left for him by Dr Osborne and carried it to a point midway between the bunker and the blocks. Then he tied the body of the Japanese to the chair, arranging the hands so that they rested on the wooden arms giving the moribund figure a posture of calm repose.

 

This done to his satisfaction, Traven returned to the bunker and squatted under the awning.

 

As the next days passed into weeks, the dignified figure of the Japanese sat in his chair fifty yards from him, guarding Traven from the blocks. He now had sufficient strength to rouse himself at intervals and forage for food. In the hot sunlight the skin of the Japanese became more and more bleached, and Traven would wake at night and find the sepulchral figure sitting there, arms resting at its sides, in the shadows that crossed the concrete floor. At these moments he would often see his wife and son watching him from the dunes. As time passed they came closer, and he would sometimes find them only a few yards behind him.

 

Patiently Traven waited for them to speak to him, thinking of the great blocks whose entrance was guarded by the seated figure of the dead archangel, as the waves broke on the distant shore and the burning bombers fell through his dreams.

 

 

1964