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The Crying of Lot 49《拍卖第49号》


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It was some such feeling that got her up early one morning to go to a Yoyodyne stockholders' meeting. There was nothing she could do at it, yet she felt it might redeem her a little from inertia. They gave her a round white visitor's  badge at one of the gates, and she parked in an enormous lot next to a quonset building painted pink and about a hundred yards long. This was the Yoyodyne Cafeteria, and scene of her meeting. For two hours Oedipa sat on a long bench between old men who might have been twins and whose hands, alter­nately (as if their owners were asleep and the moled, freckled hands out roaming dream-landscapes) kept falling onto her thighs. Around them all, Negroes carried gunboats of mashed potatoes, spinach, shrimp, zucchini, pot roast, to the long, glittering steam tables, preparing to feed a noontide invasion of Yoyodyne workers. The routine Business took an hour; for another hour the shareholders and proxies and company officers held a Yoyodyne songfest. To the tune of Cornell's alma mater, they sang:

hymn

High above the L. A. freeways, And the traffic's whine, Stands the well-known Galactronics Branch of Yoyodyne. To the end, we swear undying Loyalty to you, Pink pavilions bravely shining, Palm trees tall and true.

Being led in this by the president of the company, Mr Clayton ("Bloody") Chiclitz himself; and to the tune of "Aura Lee":

glee

Bendix guides the warheads in, Avco builds them nice. Douglas, North American, Grumman get their slice. Martin launches off a pad, Lockheed from a sub; We can't get the R&D On a Piper Cub. Convair boosts the satellite Into orbits round; Boeing builds the Minuteman, We stay on the ground. Yoyodyne, Yoyodyne, Contracts flee thee yet. DOD has shafted thee, Out of spite, I'll bet.

And dozens of other old favorites whose lyrics she couldn't remember. The singers were then formed into platoon-sized groups for a quick tour of the plant.

Somehow Oedipa got lost. One minute she was gazing at a mockup of a space capsule, safely sur­rounded by old, somnolent men; the next, alone in a great, fluorescent murmur of office activity. As far as she could see in any direction it was white or pastel: men's shirts, papers, drawing boards. All she could think of was to put on her shades for all this light, and wait for somebody to rescue her. But nobody noticed. She began to wander aisles among light blue desks, turning a corner now and then. Heads came up at the sound of her heels, engineers stared until she'd passed, but nobody spoke to her. Five or ten minutes went by this way, panic growing inside her head: there seemed no way out of the area. Then, by accident (Dr Hilar-ius, if asked, would accuse her of using subliminal cues in the environment to guide her to a particular per­son) or howsoever, she came on one Stanley Koteks, who wore wire-rim bifocals, sandals, argyle socks, and at first glance seemed too young to be working here. As it turned out he wasn't working, only doodling with a fat felt pencil this sign:

"Hello there," Oedipa said, arrested by this coinci­dence. On a whim, she added, "Kirby sent me," this having been the name on the latrine wall. It was sup­posed to sound conspiratorial, but came out silly.

"Hi," said Stanley Koteks, deftly sliding the big envelope he'd been doodling on into an open drawer he then closed. Catching sight of her badge, "You're lost, huh?"

She knew blunt questions like, what does that symbol mean? would get her nowhere. She said, "I'm a tourist, actually. A stockholder."

"Stockholder." He gave her the once-over, hooked with his foot a swivel chair from the next desk and rolled it over for her. "Sit down. Can you really influence policy, or make suggestions they won't just file in the

garbage?"

"Yes," lied Oedipa, to see where it would take them.

"See," Koteks said, "if you can get them to drop their clause on patents. That, lady, is my ax to grind."

"Patents," Oedipa said. Koteks explained how ev­ery engineer, in signing the Yoyodyne contract, also signed away the patent rights to any inventions he might come up with.

'This stifles your really creative engineer," Koteks said, adding bitterly, "wherever he may be."

"I didn't think people invented any more," said Oedipa, sensing this would goad him. "I mean, who's there been, really, since Thomas Edison? Isn't it all teamwork now?" Bloody Chiclitz, in his welcoming speech this morning, had stressed teamwork.

"Teamwork," Koteks snarled, "is one word for it, yeah. What it really is is a way to avoid responsibility. It's a symptom of the gutlessness of the whole so­ciety."

"Goodness," said Oedipa, "are you allowed to talk like that?"

Koteks looked to both sides, then rolled his chair closer. "You know the Nefastis Machine?" Oedipa only widened her eyes. "Well this was invented by John Nefastis, who's up at Berkeley now. John's somebody who still invents things. Here. I have a copy of the patent." From a drawer he produced a Xeroxed wad of papers, showing a box with a sketch of a bearded Victorian on its outside, and coming out of the top two pistons attached to a crankshaft and flywheel.

"Who's that with the beard?" asked Oedipa. James Clerk Maxwell, explained Koteks, a famous Scotch scientist who had once postulated a tiny intelligence, known as Maxwell's Demon. The Demon could sit in a box among air molecules that were moving at all differ­ent random speeds, and sort out the fast molecules from the slow ones. Fast molecules have more energy than slow ones. Concentrate enough of them in one place and you have a region of high temperature. You can then use the difference in temperature between this hot region of the box and any cooler region, to drive a heat engine. Since the Demon only sat and sorted, you wouldn't have put any real work into the system. So you would be violating the Second Law of Thermodynam­ics, getting something for nothing, causing perpetual , motion.

"Sorting isn't work?" Oedipa said. "Tell them down at the post office, you'll find yourself in a mailbag headed for Fairbanks, Alaska, without even a fragile sticker going for you."

"It's mental work," Koteks said, "But not work in the thermodynamic sense." He went on to tell how the Nefastis Machine contained an honest-to-God Max­well's Demon. All you had to do was stare at the photo of Clerk Maxwell, and concentrate on which cylinder, right or left, you wanted the Demon to raise the temperature in. The air would expand and push a piston. The familiar Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge photo, showing Maxwell in right profile, seemed to work best.

Oedipa, behind her shades, looked around carefully, trying not to move her head. Nobody paid any attention to them: the air-conditioning hummed on, IBM typewriters chiggered away, swivel chairs squeaked, fat reference manuals were slammed shut, rattling blueprints folded and refolded, while high over­head the long silent fluorescent bulbs glared merrily; all with Yoyodyne was normal. Except right here, where Oedipa Maas, with a thousand other people to choose from, had had to walk uncoerced into the presence of madness.

"Not everybody can work it, of course," Koteks, having warmed to his subject, was telling her. "Only people with the gift. 'Sensitives,' John calls them."

Oedipa rested her shades on her nose and batted her eyelashes, figuring to coquette her way off this con­versational hook: "Would I make a good sensitive, do think?"

"You really want to try it? You could write to him. He only knows a few sensitives. He'd let you try." Oedipa took out her little memo book and opened to the symbol she'd copied and the words Shall I project a world? "Box 573," said Koteks. "In Berkeley."

"No," his voice gone funny, so that she looked up, too sharply, by which time, carried by a certain momen­tum of thought, he'd also said, "In San Francisco; there's none—" and by then knew he'd made a mistake. "He's living somewhere along Telegraph," he mut­tered. "I gave you the wrong address."

She took a chance: "Then the WASTE address isn't good any more." But she'd pronounced it like a word, waste. His face congealed, a mask of distrust. "It's W.A.S.T.E., lady," he told her, "an acronym, not

'waste,' and we had best not go into it any further."

"I saw it in a ladies' John," she confessed. But Stanley Koteks was no longer about to be sweet-talked.

"Forget it," he advised; opened a book and pro­ceeded to ignore her.

She in her turn, clearly, was not about to forget it. The envelope she'd seen Koteks doodling what she'd begun to think of as the "WASTE symbol" on had come, she bet, from John Nefastis. Or somebody like him. Her suspicions got embellished by, of all people, Mike Fallopian of the Peter Pinguid Society.

"Sure this Koteks is part of some underground," he told her a few days later, "an underground of the unbalanced, possibly, but then how can you blame them for being maybe a little bitter? Look what's happening to them. In school they got brainwashed, like all of us, into believing the Myth of the American Inventor—Morse and his telegraph, Bell and his tele­phone, Edison and his light bulb, Tom Swift and his this or that. Only one man per invention. Then when they grew up they found they had to sign over all their rights to a monster like Yoyodyne; got stuck on some 'project' or 'task force' or 'team' and started being ground into anonymity. Nobody wanted them to invent —only perform their little role in a design ritual, already set down for them in some procedures handbook. What's it like, Oedipa, being all alone in a nightmare like that? Of course they stick together, they keep in touch. They can always tell when they come on another of their kind. Maybe it only happens once every five years, but still, immediately, they know."

Metzger, who'd come along to The Scope that evening, wanted to argue. "You're so right-wing you're left-wing," he protested. "How can you be against a corporation that wants a worker to waive his patent rights. That sounds like the surplus value theory to me, fella, and you sound like a Marxist." As they got drunker this typical Southern California dialogue de­generated further. Oedipa sat alone and gloomy. She'd decided to come tonight to The Scope not only be­cause of the encounter with Stanley Koteks, but also because of other revelations; because it seemed that a pattern was beginning to emerge, having to do with the mail and how it was delivered.

There had been the bronze historical marker on the other side of the lake at Fangoso Lagoons. On this site, it read, in 1853, a dozen Wells, Fargo men battled gallantly with a band of masked marauders in mysteri­ous "black uniforms. We owe this description to a post rider, the only witness to the massacre, who died shortly after. The only other clue was a cross, traced by one of the victims in the dust. To this day the identities of the slayers remain shrouded in mystery.

A cross? Or the initial T? The same stuttered by Niccol6 in The Courier's Tragedy. Oedipa pondered this. She called Randolph Driblette from a pay booth, to see it he'd known about this Wells, Fargo incident; if that was why he'd chosen to dress his bravos all in black. The phone buzzed on and on, into hollowness. She hung up and headed for Zapf's Used Books. Zapf himself came forward out of a wan cone of 15-watt il­lumination to help her find the paperback Driblette had mentioned, Jacobean Revenge Plays.

"It's been very much in demand," Zapf told her. The skull on the cover watched them, through the dim

light.

Did he only mean Driblette? She opened her mouth to ask, but didn't. It was to be the first of many demurs.

Back at Echo Courts, Metzger in L.A. for the day on other Business, she turned immediately to the single mention of the word Trystero. Opposite the line she read, in pencil, Cf. variant, 1687 ed. Put there maybe by some student. In a way, it cheered her. Another read­ing of that line might help light further the dark face of the word. According to a short preface, the text had been taken from a folio edition, undated. Oddly, the preface was unsigned. She checked the copyright page and found that the original hardcover had been a textbook, Plays of Ford, Webster, Toumeur and Wharfinger, published by The Lectern Press, Berkeley, California, back in 1957. She poured herself half a tumbler of Jack Daniels (the Paranoids having left them a fresh bottle the evening before) and called the L.A. library. They checked, but didn't have the hardcover. They could look it up on inter-library loan for her. "Wait," she said, having just got an idea, "the pub­lisher's up in Berkeley. Maybe I'll try them directly." Thinking also that she could visit John Nefastis.

She had caught sight of the historical marker only because she'd gone back, deliberately, to Lake Invera-rity one day, owing to this, what you might have to call, growing obsession, with "bringing something of herself" —even if that something was just her presence—to the scatter of Business interests that had survived Inverar-ity. She would give them order, she would create con­stellations; next day she drove out to Vesperhaven House, a Home for senior citizens that Inverarity had put up around the time Yoyodyne came to San Narciso. In its front recreation room she found sunlight coming

in it seemed through every window; an old man nod­ding in front of a dim Leon Schlesinger cartoon show on the tube; and a black fly browsing along the pink, dandruffy arroyo of the neat part in the old man's hair. A fat nurse ran in with a can of bug spray and yelled at the fly to take off so she could kill it. The cagy fly stayed where it was. "You're bothering Mr Thoth," she yelled at the little fellow. Mr Thoth jerked awake, jarring loose the fly, which made a desperate scramble for the door. The nurse pursued, spraying poison. "Hello," said Oedipa.

"I was dreaming," Mr Thoth told her, "about my grandfather. A very old man, at least as old as I am now, 91. I thought, when I was a boy, that he had been 91 all his life. Now I feel," laughing, "as if I have been 91 all my life. Oh, the stories that old man would tell. He rode for the Pony Express, back in the gold rush days. His horse was named Adolf, I remember that."

Oedipa, sensitized, thinking of the bronze marker, smiled at him as granddaughterly as she knew how and asked, "Did he ever have to fight off desperados?"

"That cruel old man," said Mr Thoth, "was an Indian killer. God, the saliva would come out in a string from his lip whenever he told about killing the Indians. He must have loved that part of it."

"What were you dreaming about him?" "Oh, that," perhaps embarrassed. "It was all mixed in with a Porky Pig cartoon." He waved at the tube. "It comes into your dreams, you know. Filthy machine. Did you ever see the one about Porky Pig and the anarch­ist?"

She had, as a matter of fact, but she said no. "The anarchist is dressed all in black. In the dark

you can only see his eyes. It dates from the 1930's. Porky Pig is a little boy. The children told me that he has a nephew now, Cicero. Do you remember, during the war, when Porky worked in a defense plant? He and Bugs Bunny. That was a good one too."

"Dressed all in black," Oedipa prompted him.

"It was mixed in so with the Indians," he tried to remember, "the dream. The Indians who wore black feathers, the Indians who weren't Indians. My grandfa­ther told me. The feathers were white, but those false Indians were supposed to burn bones and stir the boneblack with their feathers to get them black. It made them invisible in the night, because they came at night. That was how the old man, bless him, knew they weren't Indians. No Indian ever attacked at night. If he got killed his soul would wander in the dark forever. Heathen."

"If they weren't Indians," Oedipa asked, "what were they?"

"A Spanish name," Mr Thoth said, frowning, "a Mexican name. Oh, I can't remember. Did they write it on the ring?" He reached down to a knitting bag by his chair and came up with blue yam, needles, patterns, finally a dull gold signet ring. "My grandfather cut this from the finger of one of them he killed. Can you imagine a 91-year-old man so brutal?" Oedipa stared. The device on the ring was once again the WASTE symbol.

She looked around, spooked at the sunlight pour­ing in all the windows, as if she had been trapped at the centre of some intricate crystal, and said, "My God."

"And I feel him, certain days, days of a certain temperature," said Mr Thoth, "and barometric pres­sure. Did you know that? I feel him close to me."

"Your grandfather?"

"No, my God."

So she went to find Fallopian, who ought to know a lot about the Pony Express and Wells, Fargo if he was writing a book about them. He did, but not about their dark adversaries.

"I've had hints," he told her, "sure. I wrote to Sacramento about that historical marker, and they've been kicking it around their bureaucratic morass for months. Someday they'll come back with a source book for me to read. It will say, 'Old-timers remember the yam about,' whatever happened. Old-timers. Real good documentation, this Californiana crap. Odds are the author will be dead. There's no way to trace it, unless you want to follow up an accidental correlation, like you got from the old man."

"You think it's really a correlation?" She thought of how tenuous it was, like a long white hair, over a century long. Two very old men. All these fatigued brain cells between herself and the truth.

"Marauders, nameless, faceless, dressed in black. Probably hired by the Federal government. Those sup­pressions were brutal."

"Couldn't it have been a rival carrier?"

Fallopian shrugged. Oedipa showed him the WASTE symbol, and he shrugged again.

"It was in the ladies' room, right here in The Scope, Mike."

"Women," he only said. "Who can tell what goes on with them?"

If she'd thought to check a couple lines back in the Wharfinger play, Oedipa might have made the next connection by herself. As it was she got an assist from one Genghis Cohen, who is the most eminent philatelist in the L.A. area. Metzger, acting on instruc­tions in the will, had retained this amiable, slightly adenoidal expert, for a percent of his valuation, to in­ventory and appraise Inverarity's stamp collection.

One rainy morning, with mist rising off the pool, Metzger again away, the Paranoids off somewhere to a recording session, Oedipa got rung up by this Genghis Cohen, who even over the phone she could tell was disturbed.

"There are some irregularities, Miz Maas," he said. "Could you come over?"

She was somehow sure, driving in on the slick free­way, that the "irregularities" would tie in with the word Trystero. Metzger had taken the stamp albums to Cohen from safe-deposit storage a week ago in Oedipa's Impala, and then she hadn't even been interested enough to look inside them. But now it came to her, as if the rain whispered it, that what Fallopian had not known about private carriers, Cohen might.

When he opened the door of his apartment/office she saw him framed in a long succession or train of doorways, room after room receding in the general direction of Santa Monica, all soaked in rain-light. Genghis Cohen had a touch of summer flu, his fly was half open and he was wearing a Barry Goldwater sweatshirt also. Oedipa felt at once motherly. In a room perhaps a third of the way along the suite he sat her in a rocking chair and brought real Homemade dandelion wine in small neat glasses.

"I picked the dandelions in a cemetery, two years ago. Now the cemetery is gone. They took it out for the East San Narciso Freeway."

She could, at this stage of things, recognize signals like that, as the epileptic is said to—an odor, color, pure piercing grace note announcing his seizure. After­ward it is only this signal, really dross, this secular an­nouncement, and never what is revealed during the attack, that he remembers. Oedipa wondered whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed to end), she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements, intimations, but never the cen­tral truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold; which must always blaze out, destroying its own message irreversibly, leav­ing an overexposed blank when the ordinary world came back. In the space of a sip of dandelion wine it came to her that she would never know how many times such a seizure may already have visited, or how to grasp it should it visit again. Perhaps even in this last second—but there was no way to tell. She glanced down the corridor of Cohen's rooms in the rain and saw, for the very first time, how far it might be possible to get lost in this.

"I have taken the liberty," Genghis Cohen was saying, "of getting in touch with an Expert Committee. I haven't yet forwarded them the stamps in question, pending your own authorization and of course Mr Metzger's. However, all fees, I am sure, can be charged to the estate."

"I'm not sure I understand," Oedipa said.

"Allow me." He rolled over to her a small table, and from a plastic folder lifted with tweezers, deli­cately, a U. S. commemorative stamp, the Pony Express issue of 1940, .03 henna brown. Cancelled. "Look," he said, switching on a small, intense lamp, handing her an oblong magnifying glass.

"It's the wrong side," she said, as he swabbed the stamp gently with benzine and placed it on a black tray.

"The watermark."

        Oedipa peered. There it was again, her WASTE    symbol, showing up black, a little right of center.

"What is this?" she asked, wondering how much time had gone by.

"I'm not sure," Cohen said. "That's why I've referred it, and the others, to the Committee. Some friends have been around to see them too, but they're all being cautious. But see what you think of this." From the same plastic folder he now tweezed what looked like an old German stamp, with the figures 1/4 in the centre, the word Freimarke at the top, and along the right-hand margin the legend Thum und Taxis.

"They were," she remembered from the Wharfin­ger play, "some kind of private couriers, right?"

"From about 1300, until Bismarck bought them out in 1867, Miz Maas, they were the European mail service. This is one of their very few adhesive stamps. But look in the corners." decorating each corner of the stamp, Oedipa saw a horn with a single loop in it. Almost like the WASTE symbol. "A post horn," Cohen said; "the Thurn and Taxis symbol. It was in their coat of arms."

And Tacit lies the gold once-knotted horn, Oedipa remembered. Sure. 'Then the watermark you found," she said, "is nearly the same thing, except for the extra little  doojigger sort of coming out  of  the bell."

"It sounds ridiculous," Cohen said, "but my guess is it's a mute."

She nodded. The black costumes, the silence, the secrecy. Whoever they were their aim was to mute the Thurn and Taxis post horn.

"Normally this issue, and the others, are unwater-marked," Cohen said, "and in view of other details— the hatching, number of perforations, way the paper has aged—it's obviously a counterfeit. Not just an error."

"Then it isn't worth anything."

Cohen smiled, blew his nose. "You'd be amazed how much you can sell an honest forgery for. Some collectors specialize in them. The question is, who did these? They're atrocious." He flipped the stamp over and with the tip of the tweezers showed her. The picture had a Pony Express rider galloping out of a western fort. From shrubbery over on the right-hand side and possibly in the direction the rider would be heading, protruded a single, painstakingly engraved, black feather. "Why put in a deliberate mistake?" he asked, ignoring—if he saw it—the look on her face. "I've come up so far with eight in all. Each one has an error like this, laboriously worked into the design, like a taunt. There's even a transposition—U. S. Potsage, of all things."

"How recent?" blurted Oedipa, louder than she needed to be.

"Is anything wrong, Miz Maas?" She told him first about the letter from Mucho with a cancellation telling her report all obscene mail to her potsmaster.

"Odd," Cohen agreed. "The transposition," con­sulting a notebook, "is only on the Lincoln .04. Regu­lar issue, 1954. The other forgeries run back to 1893."

"That's 70 years," she said. "He'd have to be pretty old."

"If it's the same one," said Cohen. "And what if it were as old as Thurn and Taxis? Omedio Tassis, ban­ished from Milan, organized his first couriers in the Bergamo region around 1290."

They sat in silence, listening to rain gnaw languidly at the windows and skylights, confronted all at once by the marvellous possibility.

"Has that ever happened before?" she had to ask.

"An 800-year tradition of postal fraud. Not to my knowledge." Oedipa told him then all about old Mr Thoth's signet ring, and the symbol she'd caught Stan­ley Koteks doodling, and the muted horn drawn in the ladies' room at The Scope.

"Whatever it is," he hardly needed to say, "they're apparently still quite active."

"Do we tell the government, or what?"

"I'm sure they know more than we do." He sounded nervous, or suddenly in retreat. "No, I wouldn't. It isn't our Business, is it?"

She asked him then about the initials W.A.S.T.E., but it was somehow too late. She'd lost him. He said no, but so abruptly out of phase now with her own thoughts he could even have been lying. He poured her more dandelion wine.

"It's clearer now," he said, rather formal. "A few months ago it got quite cloudy. You see, in spring, when the dandelions begin to bloom again, the wine goes through a fermentation. As if they remembered."

 

No, thought Oedipa, sad. As if their Home ceme­tery in some way still did exist, in a land where you could somehow walk, and not need the East San Nar-ciso Freeway, and bones still could rest in peace, nour­ishing ghosts of dandelions, no one to plow them up. As if the dead really do persist, even in a bottle of wine.

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