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The Crying of Lot 49《拍卖第49号》


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when she got back to Echo Courts, she found Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard arranged around and on the diving board at the end of the swimming pool with all their instruments, so composed and motionless that some photographer, hidden from Oedipa, might have been shooting them for an album illustration.

"What's happening?" said Oedipa.

"Your young man," replied Miles, "Metzger, really put it to Serge, our counter-tenor. The lad is crackers with grief."

"He's right, missus," said Serge. "I even wrote a song about it, whose arrangement features none other than me, and it goes like this."

serge's song

What chance has a lonely surfer boy

For the love of a surfer chick,

With all these Humbert Humbert cats

Coming on so big and sick?

For me, my baby was a. woman,

For him she's just another nymphet;

Why did they run around, why did she put me down,

And get me so upset?

Well, as long as she's gone away-yay,

I've had to find somebody new,

And the older generation

Has taught me what to do—

I had a date last night with an eight-year-old,

And she's a swinger just like me,

So you can find us any night up on the football field,

In back of P.S. 33 (oh, yeah),

And it's as groovy as it can be.

"You're   trying   to   tell   me   something,"   said Oedipa.

They gave it to her then in prose. Metzger and Serge's chick had run off to Nevada, to get married. Serge, on close questioning, admitted the bit about the eight-year-old was so far only imaginary, but that he was hanging diligently around playgrounds and should have some news for them any day. On top of the TV set in her room Metzger had left a note telling her not to worry about the estate, that he'd turned over his execu-torship to somebody at Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus, and they should be in touch with her, and it was all squared with the probate court also. No word to recall that Oedipa and Metzger had ever been more than co-executors.

Which must mean, thought Oedipa, that that's all we were. She should have felt more classically scorned, but had other things on her mind. First thing after unpacking she was on the horn to Randolph Driblette, the director. After about ten rings an elderly lady answered. "I'm sorry, we've nothing to say."

"Well who's this," Oedipa said.

Sigh. "This is his mother. There'll be a statement at noon tomorrow. Our lawyer will read it." She hung up. Now what the hell, Oedipa wondered: what had happened to Driblette? She decided to call later. She found Professor Emory Bortz's number in the book and had better luck. A wife named Grace answered, backed by a group of children. "He's pouring a patio," she told Oedipa. "It's a highly organized joke that's been going on since about April. He sits in the sun, drinks beer with students, lobs beer bottles at seagulls. You'd better talk to him before it gets that far. Maxine, why don't you throw that at your brother, he's more mobile than I am. Did you know Emory's done a new edition of Wharfinger? It'll be out——" but the date was obliter­ated by a great crash, maniacal childish laughter, high-pitched squeals. "Oh, God. Have you ever met an in­fanticide? Come on over, it may be your only chance."

Oedipa showered, put on a sweater, skirt and sneakers, wrapped her hair in a studentlike twist, went easy on the makeup. Recognizing with a vague sense of dread that it was not a matter of Bortz's response, or Grace's, but of The Trystero's.

Driving over she passed by Zapf's Used Books, and was alarmed to find a pile of charred rubble where the bookstore only a week ago had Stood. There was still the smell of burnt leather. She stopped and went into the government surplus outlet next door. The owner in­formed her that Zapf, the damn fool, has set fire to his own store for the insurance. "Any kind of a wind," snarled this worthy, "it would have taken me with it. They only put up this complex here to last five years anyway. But could Zapf wait? Books." You had the feeling that it was only his good upbringing kept him from spitting. "You want to sell something used," he advised Oedipa, "find out what there's a demand for. This season now it's your rifles. Fella was in just this forenoon, bought two hundred for his drill team. I could've sold him two hundred of the swastika arm­bands too, only I was short, dammit."

"Government surplus  swastikas?"  Oedipa  said. "Hell no." He gave her an insider's wink. "Got this little factory down outside of San Diego," he told her, "got a dozen of your niggers, say, they can sure turn them old armbands out. You'd be amazed how that little number's selling. I took some space in a couple of the girlie magazines, and I had to hire two extra nig­gers last week just to take care of the mail." "What's your name?" Oedipa said. "Winthrop Tremaine," replied the spirited entre­preneur, "Winner, for short. Listen, now we're getting up an arrangement with one of the big ready-to-wear outfits in L.A. to see how SS uniforms go for the fall. We're working it in with the back-to-school campaign, lot of 37 longs, you know, teenage kid sizes. Next season we may go all the way and get out a modified version for the ladies. How would that strike you?"

"I'll let you know," Oedipa said. "I'll keep you in mind." She left, wondering if she should've called him something, or tried to hit him with any of a dozen surplus, heavy, blunt objects in easy reach. There had been no witnesses. Why hadn't she?

You're chicken, she told herself, snapping her seat belt. This is America, you live in it, you let it happen. Let it unfurl. She drove savagely along the freeway, hunting for Volkswagens. By the time she'd pulled into Bortz's subdivision, a riparian settlement in the style of Fangoso Lagoons, she was only shaking and a little nauseous in the stomach.

She was greeted by a small fat girl with some blue substance smeared all over her face. "Hi," said Oedipa, "you must be Maxine."

"Maxine's in bed. She threw one of Daddy's beer bottles at Charles and it went through the window and Mama spanked her good. If she was mine I'd drown her."

"Never thought of doing it that way," said Grace Bortz, materializing from the dim living room. "Come on in." With a wet washcloth she started to clean off her child's face. "How did you manage to get away from yours today?"

"I don't have any," said Oedipa, following her into the kitchen.

Grace looked surprised. "There's a certain harassed style," she said, "you get to recognize. I thought only kids caused it. I guess not."

Emory Bortz lay half in a hammock, surrounded by three graduate students, two male, one female, all sodden with drink, and an astounding accumulation of empty beer bottles. Oedipa located a full one and seated herself on the grass. "I would like to find out," she presently plunged, "something about the historical Wharfinger. Not so much the verbal one."

"The historical Shakespeare," growled one of the grad students through a full beard, uncapping another bottle. "The historical Marx. The historical Jesus."

"He's   right,"   shrugged   Bortz,   "they're   dead. What's left?" "Words."

"Pick some words," said Bortz. "Them, we can talk about."

" 'No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow,'" quoted Oedipa, " 'Who's once been set his tryst with Trystero.' Courier's Tragedy, Act IV, Scene 8."

Bortz blinked at her. "And how," he said, "did you get into the Vatican library?"

Oedipa showed him the paperback with the line in it. Bortz, squinting at the page, groped for another beer. "My God," he announced, "I've been pirated, me and Wharfinger, we've been Bowdlerized in reverse or some­thing." He flipped to the front, to see who'd re-edited his edition of Wharfinger. "Ashamed to sign it. Damn. I'll have to write the publishers. K. da Chingado and Company? You ever heard of them? New York." He looked at the sun through a page or two. "Offset." Brought his nose close to the text. "Misprints. Gah. Corrupt." He dropped the book on the grass and looked at it with loathing. "How did they get into the Vatican,

then?"

"What's in the Vatican?" asked Oedipa.

"A pornographic Courier's Tragedy. I didn't get to see it till '61, or I would've given it a note in my old edition."

"What I saw out at the Tank Theatre wasn't pornographic?"

"Randy Driblette's production? No, I thought it was typically virtuous." He looked sadly past her to­ward a stretch of sky. "He was a peculiarly moral man. He felt hardly any responsibility toward the word, really; but to the invisible field surrounding the play, its spirit, he was always intensely faithful. If anyone could have called up for you that historical Wharfinger you want, it'd've been Randy. Nobody else I ever knew was so close to the author, to the microcosm of that play as it must have surrounded Wharfinger's liv­ing mind."

"But you're using the past tense," Oedipa said, her heart pounding, remembering the old lady on the phone.

"Hadn't you heard?" They all looked at her. Death glided by, shadowless, among the empties on the grass.

"Randy walked into the Pacific two nights ago," the girl told her finally. Her eyes had been red all along. "In his Gennaro suit. He's dead, and this is a wake."

"I tried to call him this morning," was all Oedipa could think of to say.

"It was right after they struck the set of The Courier's Tragedy," Bortz said.

Even a month ago, Oedipa's next question would have been, "Why?" But now she kept a silence, waiting, as if to be illuminated.

They are stripping from me, she said subvocally— feeling like a fluttering curtain in a very high window, moving up to then out over the abyss—they are strip­ping away, one by one, my men. My shrink, pursued by Israelis, has gone mad; my husband, on LSD, gropes like a child further and further into the rooms and endless rooms of the elaborate candy house of himself and away, hopelessly away, from what has passed, I was hoping forever, for love; my one extra-marital fella has eloped with a depraved 15-year-old; my best guide back to the Trystero has taken a Brody. Where am I? "I'm sorry," Bortz had also said, watching her. Oedipa stayed with it. "Did he use only that," pointing to the paperback, "for his script?"

"No." Frowning. "He used the hardcover, my edition."

"But the night you saw the play." Too much sunlight shone on the bottles, silent all around them. "How did he end the fourth act? What were his lines, Driblette's, Gennaro's, when they're all standing around at the lake, after the miracle?"

" 'He that we last as Thurn and Taxis knew,'" recited Bortz, " 'Now recks no lord but the stiletto's Thorn,/And Tacit lies the gold once-knotted horn.' " "Right," agreed the grad students, "yeah." "That's all? What about the rest? The other cou­plet?"

"In the text I go along with personally," said Bortz, "that other couplet has the last line suppressed. The book in the Vatican is only an obscene parody. The ending 'Who once has crossed the lusts of Angelo' was put in by the printer of the 1687 Quarto. The 'White-chapel' version is corrupt. So Randy did the best thing —left the doubtful part out altogether."

"But the night I was there," said Oedipa, "Driblette did use the Vatican lines, he said the word Trystero."

Bortz's face stayed neutral. "It was up to him. He was both director and actor, right?"

"But would it be just," she gestured in circles with her hands, "just some whim? To use another couple lines like that, without telling anybody?"

"Randy," recalled the third grad student, a stocky kid with hornrims, "what was bugging him inside, usu­ally, somehow or other, would have to come outside, on stage. He might have looked at a lot of versions, to develop a feel for the spirit of the play, not necessarily the words, and that's how he came across your paper­back there, with the variation in it."

"Then," Oedipa concluded, "something must have happened in his personal life, something must have changed for him drastically that night, and that's what made him put the lines in."

"Maybe," said Bortz, "maybe not. You think a man's mind is a pool table?"

"I hope not."

"Come in and see some dirty pictures," Bortz invited, rolling off the hammock. They left the students drinking beer. "Illicit microfilms of the illustrations in that Vatican edition. Smuggled out in '61. Grace and I were there on a grant."

They entered a combination workroom and study. Far away in the house children screamed, a vacuum whined. Bortz drew shades, riffled through a box of slides, selected a handful, switched on a projector and aimed it at a wall.

The illustrations were woodcuts, executed with that crude haste to see the finished product that marks the amateur. True pornography is given us by vastly patient professionals.

"The artist is anonymous," Bortz said, "so is the poetaster who rewrote the play. Here Pasquale, remem­ber, one of the bad guys? actually does marry his mother, and there's a whole scene on their wedding night." He changed slides. "You get the general idea, notice how often the figure of Death hovers in the background. The moral rage, it's a throwback, it's mediaeval. No Puritan ever got that violent. Except possibly the Scurvhamites. D'Amico thinks this edition was a Scurvhamite project." "Scurvhamite?"

Robert Scurvham had founded, during the reign of Charles I, a sect of most pure Puritans. Their central hangup had to do with predestination. There were two kinds. Nothing for a Scurvhamite ever happened by accident, Creation was a vast, intricate machine. But one part of it, the Scurvhamite part, ran off the will of God, its prime mover. The rest ran off some opposite Principle, something blind, soulless; a brute automa­tism that led to eternal death. The idea was to woo converts into the Godly and purposeful sodality of the Scurvhamite. But somehow those few saved Scurv­hamites found themselves looking out into the gaudy clockwork of the doomed with a certain sick and fasci­nated horror, and this was to prove fatal. One by one the glamorous prospect of annihilation coaxed them over, until there was no one left in the sect, not even Robert Scurvham, who, like a ship's master, had been last to go.

"What did Richard Wharfinger have to do with them?" asked Oedipa. "Why should they do a dirty version of his play?"

"As a moral example. They were not fond of the theatre. It was their way of putting the play entirely away from them, into hell. What better way to damn it eternally than to change the actual words. Remem­ber that Puritans were utterly devoted, like literary critics, to the Word."

"But the line about Trystero isn't dirty."

He scratched his head. "It fits, surely? The 'hal­lowed skein of stars' is God's will. But even that can't ward, or guard, somebody who has an appoint­ment with Trystero. I mean, say you only talked about crossing the lusts of Angelo, hell, there'd be any number of ways to get out of that. Leave the country. Angelo's only a man. But the brute Other, that kept the non-Scurvhamite universe running like clockwork, that was something else again. Evidently they felt Trystero would symbolize the Other quite well."

She had nothing more then to put it off with. Again with the light, vertiginous sense of fluttering out over an abyss, she asked what she'd come there to ask. "What was Trystero?"

"One of several brand new areas," said Bortz, "that opened up after I did that edition in '57. We've since come across some interesting old source material. My updated edition ought to be out, they tell me, next year sometime. Meanwhile." He went looking in a glass case full of ancient books. "Here," producing one with a dark brown, peeling calf cover. "I keep my Wharfinger-iana locked in here so the kids can't get at it. Charles could ask no end of questions I'm too young to cope with yet." The book was titled An Account of the

Singular Peregrinations of Dr Diocletian Blobb among the Italians, Illuminated with Exemplary Tales from the True History of That Outlandish And Fantastical Race.

"Lucky for me," said Bortz, "Wharfinger, like Milton, kept a commonplace book, where he jotted down quotes and things from his reading. That's how we know about Blobb's Peregrinations."

It was full of words ending in e's, s's that looked like f's, capitalized nouns, y's where i's should've been. "I can't read this," Oedipa said.

"Try," said Bortz. "I have to see those kids off. I think it's around Chapter Seven." And disappeared, to leave Oedipa before the tabernacle. As it turned out it was Chapter Eight she wanted, a report of the author's own encounter with the Trystero brigands. Diocletian Blobb had chosen to traverse a stretch of desolate mountain country in a mail coach belonging to the "Torre and Tassis" system, which Oedipa figured must be Italian for Thurn and Taxis. Without warning, by the shores of what Blobb called "the Lake of Piety," they were set upon by a score of black-cloaked riders, who engaged them in a fierce, silent struggle in the icy wind blowing in from the lake. The marauders used cudgels, harquebuses, swords, stilettos, at the end silk kerchiefs to dispatch those still breathing. All ex­cept for Dr Blobb and his servant, who had dissociated themselves from the hassle at the very outset, pro­claimed in loud voices that they were British subjects, and even from time to time "ventured to sing certain of the more improving of our Church hymns." Their escape surprised Oedipa, in view of what seemed to be Trystero's passion for security.

"Was Trystero trying to set up shop in England?" Bortz suggested, days later.

Oedipa didn't know. "But why spare an insuffer­able ass like Diocletian Blobb?"

"You can spot a mouth like that a mile off," Bortz said. "Even in the cold, even with your blood-lust up. If I wanted word to get to England, to sort of pave the way, I should think he'd be perfect. Trystero enjoyed counter-revolution in those days. Look at England, the king about to lose his head. A set-up."

The leader of the brigands, after collecting the mail sacks, had pulled Blobb from the coach and ad­dressed him in perfect English: "Messer, you have wit­nessed the wrath of Trystero. Know that we are not without mercy. Tell your king and Parliament what we have done. Tell them that we prevail. That neither tempest nor strife, nor fierce beasts, nor the loneliness of the desert, nor yet the illegitimate usurpers of our rightful estate, can deter our couriers." And leaving them and their purses intact, the highwaymen, in a cracking of cloaks like black sails, vanished back into their twilit mountains.

Blobb inquired around about the Trystero organi­zation, running into zipped mouths nearly every way he turned. But he was able to collect a few fragments. So, in the days following, was Oedipa. From obscure philatelic journals furnished her by Genghis Cohen, an ambiguous footnote in Motley's Rise of the Dutch Re­public, an 8o-year-old pamphlet on the roots of mod­ern anarchism, a book of sermons by Blobb's brother Augustine also among Bortz's Wharfingeriana, along with Blobb's original clues, Oedipa was able to fit to­gether this account of how the organization began:

In 1577, the northern provinces of the Low Coun­tries, led by the Protestant noble William of Orange, had been struggling nine years for independence from Catholic Spain and a Catholic Holy Roman Emperor. In late December, Orange, de facto master of the Low Countries, entered Brussels in triumph, having been invited there by a Committee of Eighteen. This was a junta of Calvinist fanatics who felt that the Estates-General, controlled by the privileged classes, no longer represented the skilled workers, had lost touch entirely with the people. The Committee set up a kind of Brussels Commune. They controlled the police, dic­tated all decisions of the Estates-General, and threw out many holders of high position in Brussels. Among these was Leonard I, Baron of Taxis, Gentleman of the Emperor's Privy Chamber and Baron of Buysinghen, the hereditary Grand Master of the Post for the Low Countries, and executor of the Thurn and Taxis mo­nopoly. He was replaced by one Jan Hinckart, Lord of Ohain, a loyal adherent of Orange. At this point the founding figure enters the scene: Hernando Joaquin de Tristero y Calavera, perhaps a madman, perhaps an honest rebel, according to some only a con artist. Tris­tero claimed to be Jan Hinckart's cousin, from the Spanish and legitimate branch of the family, and true lord of Ohain—rightful heir to everything Jan Hinckart then possessed, including his recent appoint­ment as Grand Master.

From 1578 until Alexander Farnese took Brussels back again for the Emperor in March, 1585, Tristero kept up what amounted to a guerrilla war against his cousin—if Hinckart was his cousin. Being Spanish, he got little support. Most of the time, from one quarter or another, his life was in danger. Still, he tried four times to assassinate Orange's postmaster, though without suc­cess.

Jan Hinckart was dispossessed by Farnese, and Leonard I, the Thurn and Taxis Grand Master, rein-stated. But it had been a time of great instability for the Thurn and Taxis monopoly. Leery of strong Protestant leanings in the Bohemian branch of the family, the Emperor, Rudolph II, had for a time withdrawn his patronage. The postal operation plunged deeply into the red.

It may have been some vision of the continent-wide power structure Hinckart could have taken over, now momentarily weakened and tottering, that in­spired Tristero to set up his own system. He seems to have been highly unstable, apt at any time to appear at a public function and begin a speech. His constant theme, disinheritance. The postal monopoly belonged to Ohain by right of conquest, and Ohain belonged to Tristero by right of blood. He styled himself El Deshe-redado, The Disinherited, and fashioned a livery of black for his followers, black to symbolize the only thing that truly belonged to them in their exile: the night. Soon he had added to his iconography the muted post horn and a dead badger with its four feet in the air (some said that the name Taxis came from the Italian tasso, badger, referring to hats of badger fur the early Bergamascan couriers wore). He began a sub rosa campaign of obstruction, terror and depreda­tion along the Thurn and Taxis mail routes.

Oedipa spent the next several days in and out of libraries and earnest discussions with Emory Bortz and Genghis Cohen. She feared a little for their security in view of what was happening to everyone else she knew. The day after reading Blobb's Peregrinations she, with Bortz, Grace, and the graduate students, attended Ran­dolph Driblette's burial, listened to a younger brother's helpless, stricken eulogy, watched the mother, spectral in afternoon smog, cry, and came back at night to sit on the grave and drink Napa Valley muscatel, which Driblette in his time had put away barrels of. There was no moon, smog covered the stars, all black as a Tristero rider. Oedipa sat on the earth, ass getting cold, wondering whether, as Driblette had suggested that night from the shower, some version of herself hadn't vanished with him. Perhaps her mind would go on flexing psychic muscles that no longer existed; would be betrayed and mocked by a phantom self as the amputee is by a phantom limb. Someday she might replace whatever of her had gone away by some pros­thetic device, a dress of a certain color, a phrase in a ' letter, another lover. She tried to reach out, to what­ever coded tenacity of protein might improbably have held on six feet below, still resisting decay—any stub­born quiescence perhaps gathering itself for some last burst,  some  last  scramble  up  through  earth,  just-glimmering, holding together with its final strength a transient, winged shape, needing to settle at once in the warm host, or dissipate forever into the dark. If you come to me, prayed Oedipa, bring your memories of the last night. Or if you have to keep down your payload, the last five minutes—that may be enough. But so I'll know if your walk into the sea had any­thing to do with Tristero. If they got rid of you for the reason they got rid of Hilarius and Mucho and Metzger—maybe because they thought I no longer needed you. They were wrong. I needed you. Only bring me that memory, and you can live with me for whatever time I've got. She remembered his head, floating in the shower, saying, you could fall in love with me. But could she have saved him? She looked over at the girl who'd given her the news of his death. Had they been in love? Did she know why Driblette had put in those two extra lines that night? Had he even known why? No one could begin to trace it. A hundred hangups, permuted, combined—sex, money, illness, despair with the his­tory of his time and place, who knew. Changing the script had no clearer motive than his suicide. There was the same whimsy to both. Perhaps—she felt briefly penetrated, as if the bright winged thing had actually made it to the sanctuary of her heart—perhaps, spring­ing from the same slick labyrinth, adding those two lines had even, in a way never to be explained, served him as a rehearsal for his night's walk away into that vast sink of the primal blood the Pacific. She waited for the winged brightness to announce its safe arrival. But there was silence. Driblette, she called. The signal echoing down twisted miles of brain circuitry. Driblette!

But as with Maxwell's Demon, so now. Either she could not communicate, or he did not exist.

Beyond its origins, the libraries told her nothing more about Tristero. For all they knew, it had never survived the struggle for Dutch independence. To find the rest, she had to approach from the Thum and Taxis side. This had its perils. For Emory Bortz it seemed to turn into a species of cute game. He held, for instance, to a mirror-image theory, by which any period of insta­bility for Thum and Taxis must have its reflection in Tristero's shadow-state. He applied this to the mystery of why the dread name should have appeared in print only around the middle of the 17th century. How had the author of the pun on "this Trystero dies irae" overcome his reluctance? How had half the Vatican couplet, with its suppression of the "Trystero" line, found its way into the Folio? Whence had the daring of even hinting at a Thurn and Taxis rival come? Bortz maintained there must have been some crisis inside Tristero grave enough to keep them from retaliating. Perhaps the same that kept them from taking the life of Dr. Blobb.

But should Bortz have exfoliated the mere words so lushly, into such unnatural roses, under which, in whose red, scented dusk, dark history slithered unseen? When Leonard II-Francis, Count of Thum and Taxis, died in 1628, his wife Alexandrine of Rye succeeded him in name as postmaster, though her tenure was never con­sidered official. She retired in 1645. The actual locus of power in the monopoly remained uncertain until 1650, when the next male heir, Lamoral II-Claude-Francis, took over. Meanwhile, in Brussels and Ant­werp signs of decay in the system had appeared. Private local posts had encroached so far on the Imperial licenses that the two cities shut down their Thurn and

Taxis offices.

How, Bortz asked, would Tristero have responded? Postulating then some militant faction proclaiming the great moment finally at hand. Advocating a takeover by force, while their enemy was vulnerable. But con­servative opinion would care only to continue in op­position, exactly as the Tristero had these seventy years. There might also be, say, a few visionaries: men

above the immediacy of their time who could think historically. At least one among them hip enough to foresee the end of the Thirty Years' War, the Peace of Westphalia, the breakup of the Empire, the coming descent into particularism.

"He looks like Kirk Douglas," cried Bortz, "he's wearing this sword, his name is something gutsy like Konrad. They're meeting in the back room of a tavern, all these broads in peasant blouses carrying steins around, everybody juiced and yelling, suddenly Kon­rad jumps up on a table. The crowd hushes, 'The salvation of Europe,' Konrad says, 'depends on com­munication, right? We face this anarchy of jealous German princes, hundreds of them scheming, counter-scheming, infighting, dissipating all of the Empire's strength in their useless bickering. But whoever could control the lines of communication, among all these princes, would control them. That network some­day could unify the Continent. So I propose that we merge with our old enemy Thurn and Taxis——' Cries of no, never, throw the traitor out, till this barmaid, little starlet, sweet on Konrad, cold-conks with a stein his loudest antagonist. 'Together,' Konrad is saying, 'our two systems could be invincible. We could refuse service on any but an Imperial basis. Nobody could move troops, farm produce, anything, without us. Any prince tries to start his own courier system, we suppress it. We, who have so long been disinherited, could be the heirs of Europe!' Prolonged cheering."

"But they didn't keep the Empire from falling apart," Oedipa pointed out.

"So," Bortz backing off, "the militants and the conservatives fight to a standstill, Konrad and his little group of visionaries, being nice guys, try to mediate   , the hassle, by the time they all get squared away again, everybody's played out, the Empire's had it, Thurn and Taxis wants no deals."

And with the end of the Holy Roman Empire, the fountainhead of Thurn and Taxis legitimacy is lost   forever  among   the   other   splendid   delusions. Possibilities for paranoia become abundant. If Tristero has managed to maintain even partial secrecy, if Thurn and Taxis have no clear idea who their adversary is, or how far its influence extends, then many of them must come to believe in something very like the Scurvham-ite's blind, automatic anti-God. Whatever it is, it has the  power  to  murder  their  riders,  send landslides thundering  across   their   roads,  by   extension  bring into being new local competition and presently even state postal monopolies; disintegrate their Empire. It is their time's ghost, out to put the Thurn and Taxis ass in a sling.

But over the next century and a half the paranoia recedes, as they come to discover the secular Tristero. Power, omniscience, implacable malice, attributes of what they'd thought to be a historical principle, a Zeitgeist, are carried over to the now human enemy. So much that, by 1795, it is even suggested that Tris­tero has staged the entire French Revolution, just for an excuse to issue the Proclamation of gth Frimaire, An III, ratifying the end of the Thurn and Taxis postal monopoly in France and the Lowlands.

"Suggested by who, though," said Oedipa. "Did you read that someplace?"

"Wouldn't somebody have brought it up?" Bortz

said. "Maybe not."

She didn't press the argument. Having begun to feel reluctant about following up anything. She hadn't asked Genghis Cohen, for example, if his Expert Com­mittee had ever reported back on the stamps he'd sent them. She knew that if she went back to Vesperhaven House to talk again to old Mr Thoth about his grand­father, she would find that he too had died. She knew she ought to write to K. da Chingado, publisher of the unaccountable paperback Courier's Tragedy, but she didn't, and never asked Bortz if he had, either. Worst of all, she found herself going often to absurd lengths to avoid talking about Randolph Driblette. Whenever the girl showed up, the one who'd been at the wakes, Oedipa found excuses to leave the gathering. She felt she was betraying Driblette and herself. But left it alone, anxious that her revelation not expand beyond a certain point. Lest, possibly, it grow larger than she and assume her to itself. When Bortz asked her one evening if he could bring in D'Amico, who was at NYU, Oedipa told him no, too fast, too nervous. He didn't mention it again and neither, of course, did she.

She did go back to The Scope, though, one night, restless, alone, leery of what she might find. She found Mike Fallopian, a couple weeks into raising a beard, wearing button-down olive shirt, creased fatigue pants minus cuffs and belt loops, two-button fatigue jacket, no hat. He was surrounded by broads, drinking cham­pagne cocktails, and bellowing low songs. When he spotted Oedipa he gave her the wide grin and waved her over.

"You look," she said, "wow. Like you're all on the move. Training rebels up in the mountains." Hostile looks from the girls twined around what parts of Fal­lopian were accessible.

"It's a revolutionary secret," he laughed, throwing up his arms and flinging off a couple of camp-followers. "Go on, now, all of you. I want to talk to this one." When they were out of earshot he swiveled on her a look sympathetic, annoyed, perhaps also a little erotic. "How's your quest?"

She gave him a quick status report. He kept quiet while she talked, his expression slowly changing to something she couldn't recognize. It bothered her. To jog him a little, she said, "I'm surprised you people aren't using the system too."

"Are we an underground?" he came back, mild enough. "Are we rejects?" "I didn't mean——"

"Maybe we haven't found them yet," said Fallo­pian. "Or maybe they haven't approached us. Or maybe we are using W.A.S.T.E., only it's a secret." Then, as electronic music began to percolate into the room, "But there's another angle too." She sensed what he was going to say and began, reflexively, to grind together her back molars. A nervous habit she'd developed in the last few days. "Has it ever occurred to you, Oedipa, that / somebody's putting you on? That this is all a hoax, maybe something Inverarity set up before he died?"

It had occurred to her. But like the thought that someday she would have to die, Oedipa had been steadfastly refusing to look at that possibility directly, 01 in any but the most accidental of lights. "No," she said, "that's ridiculous."

 


 

Fallopian watched her, nothing if not compas­sionate. "You ought," quietly, "really, you ought to think about it. Write down what you can't deny. Your hard intelligence. But then write down what you've only speculated, assumed. See what you've got. At least that."

"Go ahead," she said, cold, "at least that. What else, after that?"

He smiled, perhaps now trying to salvage whatever was going soundlessly smash, its net of invisible cracks propagating leisurely though the air between them. "Please don't be mad."

"Verify my sources, I suppose," Oedipa kept on, pleasantly. "Right?"

He didn't say any more.

She stood up, wondering if her hair was in place, if she looked rejected or hysterical, if they'd been causing a scene. "I knew you'd be different," she said, "Mike, because everybody's been changing on me. But it hadn't gone as far as hating me."

"Hating you." He shook his head and laughed.

"If you need any armbands or more weapons, do try Winthrop Tremaine, over by the freeway. Tre-maine's Swastika Shoppe. Mention my name."

"We're already in touch, thanks." She left him, in his modified Cuban ensemble, watching the floor, wait­ing for his broads to come back.

Well, what about her sources? She was avoiding the question, yes. One day Genghis Cohen called, sounding excited, and asked her to come see something he'd just got in the mail, the U. S. Mail. It turned out to be an old American stamp, bearing the device of the muted post horn, belly-up badger, and the motto: we await silent tristero's empire.

"So   that's  what  it  stands  for,"   said  Oedipa. "Where did you get this?"

"A friend," Cohen said, leafing through a battered Scott catalogue, "in San Francisco." As usual she did not go on to ask for any name or address. "Odd. He said he couldn't find the stamp listed. But here it is. An addendum, look." In the front of the book a slip of paper had been pasted in. The stamp, designated 16311,1, was reproduced, under the title "Tristero Rapid Post, San Francisco, California," and should have been inserted between Local listings 139 (the Third Avenue Post Office, of New York) and 140 (Union Post, also of New York). Oedipa, off on a kind of intuitive high, went immediately to the end-paper in back and found the sticker of Zapf's Used Books.

"Sure," Cohen protested. "I drove out there one day to see Mr. Metzger, while you were up north. This is the Scott Specialized, you see, for American stamps, a catalogue I don't generally keep up on. My field being European and colonial. But my curiosity had been aroused, so——"

"Sure," Oedipa said. Anybody could paste in an addendum. She drove back to San Narciso to have another look at the list of Inverarity's assets. Sure enough, the whole shopping center that housed Zapf's Used Books and Tremaine's surplus place had been owned by Pierce. Not only that, but the Tank Theatre,

also.

OK, Oedipa told herself, stalking around the room, her viscera hollow, waiting on something truly terrible,

OK. It's unavoidable, isn't it? Every access route to the Tristero could be traced also back to the Inverarity estate. Even Emory Bortz, with his copy of Blobb's Peregrinations (bought, she had no doubt he'd tell her in the event she asked, also at Zapf's), taught now at San Narciso college, heavily endowed by the dead man.

Meaning what? That Bortz, along with Metzger, Cohen, Driblette, Koteks, the tattooed sailor in San Francisco, the W.A.S.T.E. carriers she'd seen—that all of them were Pierce Inverarity's men? Bought? Or loyal, for free, for fun, to some grandiose practical joke he'd cooked up, all for her embarrassment, or terroriz­ing, or moral improvement?

Change your name to Miles, Dean, Serge, and /or Leonard, baby, she advised her reflection in the hall; light of that afternoon's vanity mirror. Either way, they'll call it paranoia. They. Either you have stumbled indeed, without the aid of LSD or other indole alka­loids, onto a secret richness and concealed density of dream; onto a network by which X number of Ameri­cans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know, and you too, sweetie. Or you are hallucinating it. Or a plot has been mounted against you, so expensive and elaborate, in­volving items like the forging of stamps and ancient books, constant surveillance of your movements, plant­ing of post horn images all over San Francisco, bribing of librarians, hiring of professional actors and Pierce

Inverarity only knows what-all besides, all financed out of the estate in a way either too secret or too involved for your non-legal mind to know about even though you are co-executor, so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke. Or you are fantasying some such plot, in which case you are a nut, Oedipa, out of your skull.

Those, now that she was looking at them, she saw to be the alternatives. Those symmetrical four. She didn't like any of them, but hoped she was mentally ill; that that's all it was. That night she sat for hours, too numb even to drink, teaching herself to breathe in a vacuum. For this, oh God, was the void. There was no­body who could help her. Nobody in the world. They were all on something, mad, possible enemies, dead.

Old fillings in her teeth began to bother her. She would spend nights staring at a ceiling lit by the pink glow of San Narciso's sky. Other nights she could sleep for eighteen drugged hours and wake, enervated, hardly able to stand. In conferences with the keen, fast-talking old man who was new counsel for the estate, her attention span could often be measured in seconds, and she laughed nervously more than she spoke. Waves of nausea, lasting five to ten minutes, would strike her at random, cause her deep misery, then vanish as if they had never been. There were headaches, nightmares, menstrual pains. One day she drove into L.A., picked a doctor at random from the phone book, went to her, told her she thought she was pregnant. They arranged for tests. Oedipa gave her name as Grace Bortz and didn't show up for her next appointment.

Genghis Cohen, once so shy, now seemed to come up with new goodies every other day—a listing in an outdated Zumstein catalogue, a friend in the Royal Philatelic Society's dim memory of some muted post horn spied in the catalogue of an auction held at Dres­den in 1923; one day a typescript, sent him by another friend in New York. It was supposed to be a transla­tion of an article from an 1865 issue of the famous Bibliotheque    des    Timbrophiles    of    Jean-Baptiste Moens. Reading like another of Bortz's costume dra­mas, it told of a great schism in the Tristero ranks dur­ing the French Revolution. According to the recently discovered and decrypted journals of the Comte Raoul Antoine de Vouziers, Marquis de Tour et Tassis, one element among the Tristero had never accepted the passing of the Holy Roman Empire, and saw the Revo­lution as a temporary madness. Feeling obliged, as fellow aristocrats, to help Thurn and Taxis weather its troubles, they put out probes to see if the house was interested at all in being subsidized. This move split The Tristero wide open. At a convention  held in Milan, arguments raged for a week, lifelong enmities were created, families divided, blood spilt. At the end of it a resolution to subsidize Thurn and Taxis failed. Many conservatives, taking this as a Millennial judgement against them, ended their association with The Tristero. Thus, the article smugly concluded, did the organization enter the penumbra of historical eclipse. From the battle of Austerlitz until the difficulties of 1848, the Tristero drifted on, deprived of nearly all the noble patronage that had sustained them; now re­duced  to  handling  anarchist  correspondence;   only peripherally engaged—in Germany with the ill-fated Frankfurt Assembly, in Buda-Pesth at the barricades,

perhaps even among the watchmakers of the Jura, pre­paring them for the coming of M. Bakunin. By far the greatest number, however, fled to America during 1849-50, where they are no doubt at present rendering their services to those who seek to extinguish the flame

of Revolution.

Less excited than she might have been even a week ago, Oedipa showed the piece to Emory Bortz. "All the Tristero refugees from the 1849 reaction arrive in America," it seemed to him, "full of high hopes. Only what do they find?" Not really asking; it was part of his game. "Trouble." Around 1845 the U. S. govern­ment had carried out a great postal reform, cutting their rates, putting most independent mail routes out of Business. By the 'yo's and '8o's, any independent carrier that tried to compete with the government was immediately squashed. 1849-50 was no time for any immigrating Tristero to get ideas about picking up where they'd left off back in Europe.

"So they simply stay on," Bortz said, "in the con­text of conspiracy. Other immigrants come to America looking for freedom from tyranny, acceptance by the culture, assimilation into it, this melting pot. Civil War comes along, most of them, being liberals, sign up to fight to preserve the Union. But clearly not the Tristero. All they've done is to change oppositions. By  1861  they're well established, not about to be suppressed. While the Pony Express is defying deserts, savages and sidewinders, Tristero's giving its employees crash courses in Siouan and Athapascan dialects. Dis­guised as Indians their messengers mosey westward. Reach the Coast every time, zero attrition rate, not a scratch on them. Their entire emphasis now toward silence, impersonation, opposition masquerading as alle­giance."

"What about that stamp of Cohen's? We Await Silent Tristero's Empire."

"They were more open in their youth. Later, as the Feds cracked down, they went over to stamps that were almost kosher-looking, but not quite."

Oedipa knew them by heart. In the .15 dark green from the 1893 Columbian Exposition Issue ("Co­lumbus Announcing His Discovery"), the faces of three courtiers, receiving the news at the right-hand side of the stamp, had been subtly altered to express un­controllable fright. In the .03 Mothers of America Is­sue, put out on Mother's Day, 1934, the flowers to the lower left of Whistler's Mother had been re­placed by Venus's-flytrap, belladonna, poison sumac and a few others Oedipa had never seen. In the 1947 Postage Stamp Centenary Issue, commemorating the great postal reform that had meant the beginning of the end for private carriers, the head of a Pony Express rider at the lower left was set at a disturbing angle unknown among the living. The deep violet .03 regular issue of 1954 had a faint, menacing smile on the face of the Statue of Liberty. The Brussels Exhibition Issue of 1958 included in its aerial view of the U. S. pavilion at Brussels, and set slightly off from the other tiny fair-goers, the unmistakable silhouette of a horse and rider. There were also the Pony Express stamp Cohen had showed her on her first visit, the Lincoln .04 with "U. S. Potsage," the sinister .08 airmail she'd seen on the tat­tooed sailor's letter in San Francisco.

"Well, it's interesting," she said, "if the article's legitimate."

"That ought to be easy enough to check out." Bortz gazing straight into her eyes. "Why don't you?"

The toothaches got worse, she dreamed of disem­bodied voices from whose malignance there was no appeal, the soft dusk of mirrors out of which something was about to walk, and empty rooms that waited for her. Your gynecologist has no test for what she was pregnant with.

One day Cohen called to tell her that the final arrangements had been made to auction off Inverarity's stamp collection. The Tristero "forgeries" were to be sold, as lot 49. "And something rather disturbing, Miz Maas. A new book bidder has appeared on the scene, whom neither I nor any of the firms in the area have heard of before. That hardly ever happens." "A what?"

Cohen explained how there were floor bidders, who would attend the auction in person, and book bidders, who would send in their bids by mail. These bids would be entered in a special book by the auction firm, hence the name. There would be, as was customary, no public disclosure of persons for whom "the book" would be

bidding.

"Then how do you know he's a stranger?" "Word gets around. He's being super-secretive— working through an agent, C. Morris Schrift, a very reputable, good man. Morris was in touch with the auc­tioneers yesterday to tell them his client wanted to ex­amine our forgeries, lot 49, in advance. Normally there's no objection if they know who wants to see the lot, and if he's willing to pay all the postage and insur­ance, and get everything back inside of 24 hours. But Morris got quite mysterious about the whole thing, wouldn't tell his client's name or anything else about him. Except that as far as Morris knew, he was an out­sider. So being a conservative house, naturally, they apologized and said no."

"What do you think?" said Oedipa, already know­ing pretty much.

"That our mysterious bidder may be from Tris­tero," Cohen said. "And saw the description of the lot in the auction catalogue. And wants to keep evidence that Tristero exists out of unauthorized hands. I wonder what kind of a price they'll offer."

Oedipa went back to Echo Courts to drink bour­bon until the sun went down and it was as dark as it would ever get. Then she went out and drove on the freeway for a while with her lights out, to see what would happen. But angels were watching. Shortly after midnight she found herself in a phone booth, in a desolate, unfamiliar, unlit district of San Narciso. She put in a station call to The Greek Way in San Francisco, gave the musical voice that answered a de­scription of the acned, fuzz-headed Inamorato Anony­mous she'd talked to there and waited, inexplicable tears beginning to build up pressure around her eyes. Half a minute of clinking glasses, bursts of laughter, sounds of a juke box. Then he came on.

"This is Arnold Snarb," she said, choking up.

"I was in the little boys' room," he said. "The men's room was full."

She told him, quickly, using up no more than a minute, what she'd learned about The Tristero, what

had happened to Hilarius, Mucho, Metzger, Driblette, Fallopian. "So you are," she said, "the only one I have. I don't know your name, don't want to. But I have to know whether they arranged it with you. To run into me by accident, and tell me your story about the post horn. Because it may be a practical joke for you, but it stopped being one for me a few hours ago. I got drunk and went driving on these freeways. Next time I may be more deliberate. For the love of God, human life, whatever you respect, please. Help me."

"Arnold," he said. There was a long stretch of bar noise.

"It's over," she said, "they've saturated me. From here on I'll only close them out. You're free. Released. You can tell me."

"It's too late," he said. "For me?"

"For me." Before she could ask what he meant, he'd hung up. She had no more coins. By the time she could get somewhere to break a bill, he'd be gone. She stood between the public booth and the rented car, in the night, her isolation complete, and tried to face to­ward the sea. But she'd lost her bearings. She turned, pivoting on one stacked heel, could find no mountains either. As if there could be no barriers between herself and the rest of the land. San Narciso at that moment lost (the loss pure, instant, spherical, the sound of a stainless orchestral chime held among the stars and struck lightly), gave up its residue of uniqueness for her; became a name again, was assumed back into the American continuity of crust and mantle. Pierce Inverarity was really dead.

She walked down a stretch of railroad track next the highway. Spurs ran off here and there into fac­tory property. Pierce may have owned these factories too. But did it matter now if he'd owned all of San Narciso? San Narciso was a name; an incident among our climatic records of dreams and what dreams be­came among our accumulated daylight, a moment's squall-line or tornado's touchdown among the higher, more continental solemnities—storm-systems of group suffering and need, prevailing winds of affluence. There was the true continuity, San Narciso had no bounda­ries. No one knew yet how to draw them. She had dedicated herself, weeks ago, to making sense of what Inverarity had left behind, never suspecting that the legacy was America.

Might Oedipa Maas yet be his heiress; had that been in the will, in code, perhaps without Pierce really knowing, having been by then too seized by some headlong expansion of himself, some visit, some lucid instruction? Though she could never again call back any image of the dead man to dress up, pose, talk to and make answer, neither would she lose a new com­passion for the cul-de-sac he'd tried to find a way out of, for the enigma his efforts had created.

Though he had never talked Business with her, she had known it to be a fraction of him that couldn't come out even, would carry forever beyond any decimal place she might name; her love, such as it had been, remaining incommensurate with his need to possess, to alter the land, to bring new skylines, personal antago­nisms, growth rates into being. "Keep it bouncing," he'd told her once, "that's all the secret, keep it bounc­ing." He must have known, writing the will, facing the spectre, how the bouncing would stop. He might have written the testament only to harass a one-time mistress, so cynically sure of being wiped out he could throw away all hope of anything more. Bitterness could have run that deep in him. She just didn't know. He might himself have discovered The Tristero, and en­crypted that in the will, buying into just enough to be sure she'd find it. Or he might even have tried to sur­vive death, as a paranoia; as a pure conspiracy against someone he loved. Would that breed of perversity prove at last too keen to be stunned even by death, had a plot finally been devised too elaborate for the dark Angel to hold at once, in his humorless vice-president's head, all the possibilities of? Had some­thing slipped through and Inverarity by that much beaten death?

Yet she knew, head down, stumbling along over the cinderbed and its old sleepers, there was still that other chance. That it was all true. That Inverarity had only died, nothing else. Suppose, God, there really was a Tristero then and that she had come on it by accident. If San Narciso and the estate were really no different from any other town, any other estate, then by that continuity she might have found The Tristero anywhere in her Republic, through any of a hundred lightly-concealed entranceways, a hundred alienations, if only she'd looked. She stopped a minute between the steel rails, raising her head as if to sniff the air. Becom­ing conscious of the hard, strung presence she stood on —knowing as if maps had been flashed for her on the sky how these tracks ran on into others, others, know­ing they laced, deepened, authenticated the great night around her. If only she'd looked. She remembered now old Pullman cars, left where the money'd run out or the customers vanished, amid green farm flatnesses where clothes hung, smoke lazed out of jointed pipes.


 

Were the squatters there in touch with others, through Tristero; were they helping carry forward that 300 years of the house's disinheritance? Surely they'd forgot­ten by now what it was the Tristero were to have inherited; as perhaps Oedipa one day might have. What was left to inherit? That America coded in Inverarity's testament, whose was that? She thought of other, im­mobilized freight cars, where the kids sat on the floor planking and sang back, happy as fat, whatever came over the mother's pocket radio; of other squatters who stretched canvas for lean-tos behind smiling billboards along all the highways, or slept in junkyards in the stripped shells of wrecked Plymouths, or even, daring, spent the night up some pole in a lineman's tent like caterpillars, swung among a web of telephone wires, living in the very copper rigging and secular miracle of communication, untroubled by the dumb voltages flick­ering their miles, the night long, in the thousands of unheard messages. She remembered drifters she had listened to, Americans speaking their language care­fully, scholarly, as if they were in exile from some­where else invisible yet congruent with the cheered land she lived in; and walkers along the roads at night, zooming in and out of your headlights without looking up, too far from any town to have a real destination. And the voices before and after the dead man's that had phoned at random during the darkest, slowest hours, searching ceaseless among the dial's ten million possibilities for that magical Other who would reveal herself out of the roar of relays, monotone lit­anies of insult, filth, fantasy, love whose brute repeti­tion must someday call into being the trigger for the unnamable act, the recognition, the Word.  How many shared Tristero's secret, as well as its exile? What would the probate judge have to say about spreading some kind of a legacy among them all, all those nameless, maybe as a. first installment? Oboy. He'd be on her ass in a microsecond, revoke her letters testamentary,  they'd  call  her  names,  proclaim  her through all Orange County as a redistributionist and pinko, slip the old man from Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus in as administrator de bonis non and so much baby for code, constellations, shadow-legatees. Who knew? Perhaps she'd be hounded some­day as far as joining Tristero itself, if it existed, in its twilight, its aloofness, its waiting. The waiting above all; if not for another set of possibilities to replace those that had conditioned the land to accept any San Narciso among its most tender flesh without a reflex or a cry, then at least, at the very least, waiting for a sym­metry of choices to break down, to go skew. She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit, to be avoided; and how had it ever happened here, with the chances once so good for diversity? For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, may­be endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth. In the songs Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard sang was either some fraction of the truth's numinous beauty (as Mucho now believed) or only a power spectrum. Tremaine the Swastika salesman's reprieve from holo­caust was either an injustice, or the absence of a wind; the bones of the GI's at the bottom of Lake In-verarity were there either for a reason that mattered to the world, or for skin divers and cigarette smokers. Ones and zeroes. So did the couples arrange them­selves. At Vesperhaven House either an accommoda­tion reached, in some kind of dignity, with the Angel of Death, or only death and the daily, tedious prepara­tions for it. Another mode of meaning behind the ob­vious, or none. Either Oedipa in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real Tristero. For there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue, and manage to be at all relevant to it, was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia.

Next day, with the courage you find you have when there is nothing more to lose, she got in touch with C. Morris Schrift, and inquired after his mysteri­ous client.

"He decided to attend the auction in person," was all Schrift would tell her. "You might run into him there." She might.

The auction was duly held, on a Sunday afternoon, in perhaps the oldest building in San Narciso, dating from before World War II. Oedipa arrived a few minutes early, alone, and in a cold lobby of gleaming redwood floorboards and the smell of wax and paper, she met Genghis Cohen, who looked genuinely embar­rassed.

"Please don't call it a conflict of interests," he drawled earnestly. "There were some lovely Mozam­bique triangles I couldn't quite resist. May I ask if you've come to bid, Miz Maas."

"No," said Oedipa, "I'm only being a busybody."

"We're in luck. Loren Passerine, the finest auction­eer in the West, will be crying today."

"Will be what?"

"We say an auctioneer 'cries' a sale," Cohen said.

"Your fly is open," whispered Oedipa. She was not sure what she'd do when the bidder revealed him­self. She had only some vague idea about causing a scene violent enough to bring the cops into it and find out that way who the man really was. She stood in a patch of sun, among brilliant rising and falling points of dust, trying to get a little warm, wondering if she'd go through with it.

"It's time to start," said Genghis Cohen, offering his arm. The men inside the auction room wore black mohair and had pale, cruel faces. They watched her come in, trying each to conceal his thoughts. Loren Passerine, on his podium, hovered like a puppet-master, his eyes bright, his smile practiced and relentless. He stared at her, smiling, as if saying, I'm surprised you ac­tually came. Oedipa sat alone, toward the back of the room, looking at the napes of necks, trying to guess which one was her target, her enemy, perhaps her proof. An assistant closed the heavy door on the lobby windows and the sun. She heard a lock snap shut; the sound echoed a moment. Passerine spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to belong to the priesthood of some remote culture; perhaps to a descending angel. The auctioneer cleared his throat. Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49.

 

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