You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.
—merian C. cooper to Fay Wray
This morning's streets are already clattering, near and far, with wood-soled civilian feet. Up in the wind is a scavenging of gulls, sliding, easy, side to side, wings hung out still, now and then a small shrug, only to gather lift for this weaving, unweaving, white and slow faro shuffle off invisible thumbs. . . . Yesterday's first glance, coming along the esplanade in the afternoon, was somber: the sea in shades of gray under gray clouds, the Casino Hermann Goering flat white and the palms in black sawtooth, hardly moving. . . . But this morning the trees in the sun now are back to green. Leftward, far away, the ancient aqueduct loops crumbling, dry yellow, out along the Cap, the houses and villas there baked to warm rusts, gentle corrosions all through Earth's colors, pale raw to deeply burnished.
The sun, not very high yet, will catch a bird by the ends of his wings, turning the feathers brightly there to curls of shaved ice. Slothrop rattles his teeth at the crowd of birds aloft, shivering down on his own miniature balcony, electric fire deep in the room barely touching the backs of his legs. They have filed him high on the white sea-facade, in a room to himself. Tantivy Mucker-Maffick and his friend Teddy Bloat are sharing one down the hall. He takes back his hands into ribbed cuffs of a sweatshirt, crosses his arms, watches the amazing foreign morning, the ghosts of his breathing into it, feeling first sunwarmth, wanting a first cigarette—and perversely he waits for a sudden noise to begin his day, a first rocket. Aware all the time he's in the wake of a great war gone north, and that the only explosions
around here will have to be champagne corks, motors of sleek Hispano-Suizas, the odd amorous slap, hopefully... . No London? No Blitz? Can he get used to it? Sure, and by then it'll be just time to head back.
"Well, he's awake." Bloat in uniform, sidling into the room gnawing on a smoldering pipe, Tantivy behind in a pin-striped lounge suit. "Up at the crack, reconnoitering the beach for the unattached mamzelle or two, no doubt..."
"Couldn't sleep," Slothrop yawning back down into the room, birds in the sunlight kiting behind him.
"Nor we," from Tantivy. "It must take years to adjust."
"God," Bloat really pushing the forced enthusiasm this morning, pointing theatrically at the enormous bed, collapsing onto it, bouncing vigorously. "They must have had advance word about you, Slothrop! Luxury! They gave us some disused closet, you know."
"Hey, what are you telling him?" Slothrop forages around for cigarettes. "I'm some kind of a Van Johnson or something?"
"Only that, in the matter of," Tantivy from the balcony tossing his green pack of Cravens, "girls, you know—"
"Englishmen being rather reserved," Bloat explains, bouncing for emphasis.
"Oh, raving maniacs," Slothrop mumbles, heading for his private lavatory, "been invaded by a gang of those section 8s, all right. . . ." Stands pleased, pissing no-hands, lighting up, but wondering a little about that Bloat. Supposed to be oldtime pals with Tantivy. He snaps the match into the toilet, a quick hiss: yet something about the way he talks to Slothrop, patronizing? maybe nervous . . .
"You're expecting me to fix you guys up?" he yells over the crash of the toilet flushing, "I thought the minute you guys get across that Channel, set foot on that France, you all turn into Valentinos."
"I hear there was some prewar tradition," Tantivy hanging plaintive now in the doorway, "but Bloat and I are members of the New Generation, we have to depend on Yank expertise. ..."
Whereupon Bloat leaps from the bed and seeks to enlighten Slothrop with a song:
the englishman's very shy (fox-trot)
(Bloat): The Englishman's very shy,
He's none of your Ca-sa-no-va, At bowling the ladies o-ver,
A-mericans lead the pack—
(Tantivy): —You see, your Englishman tends to lack That recklessness transatlantic, That women find so romantic Though frankly I can't see why ...
(Bloat): The polygamous Yank with his girls galore Gives your Brit-ish rake or carouser fits,
(Tantivy): Though he's secretly held in re-ve-rent awe As a sort of e-rot-ic Clausewitz. ...
(Together): If only one could al-ly
A-merican bedroom know-how
With British good looks, then oh how
Those lovelies would swoon and sigh,
Though you and I know the Englishman's very shy.
"Well you've sure come to the right place," nods Slothrop, convinced. "Only don't expect me to put it in for you."
"Just the initial approach," Bloat says.
"Moi," Tantivy has meanwhile been screaming down from the bal
"Tantivy," replies a dim girl-chorus from outside and below.
"J'ai deux amis, aussi, by an odd coincidence. Par un bizarre coincidence, or something, oui?"
Slothrop, at this point shaving, wanders out with the foamy badger brush in his fist to see what's happening, and collides with Bloat, who's dashing to peer down over his compatriot's left epaulet at three pretty girls' faces, upturned, straw-haloed each by a giant sun-hat, smiles all dazzling, eyes mysterious as the sea behind them.
"I say où," inquires Bloat, "où, you know, déjeuner?"
"Glad I could help you out," Slothrop mutters, lathering Tantivy between the shoulderblades.
"But come with us," the girls are calling above the waves, two of them holding up an enormous wicker basket out of which lean sleek green wine bottles and rough-crusted loaves still from under their white cloth steaming in little wisps feathering off of chestnut glazes and paler split-streaks, "come—sur la plage . . ."
"I'll just," Bloat half out the door, "keep them company, until you ..."
"Sur la plage," Tantivy a bit dreamy, blinking in the sun, smiling down at their good-morning's wishes come true, "oh, it sounds like a painting. Something by an Impressionist. A Fauve. Full of light. . . ."
Slothrop goes flicking witch hazel off his hands. The smell in the
room brings back a moment of Berkshire Saturdays—bottles of plum and amber tonics, fly-studded paper twists swayed by the overhead fan, twinges of pain from blunt scissors. . . . Struggling out of his sweatshirt, lit cigarette in his mouth, smoke coming out the neck like a volcano, "Hey could I bum one of your—"
"You've already got the pack," cries Tantivy—"God almighty, what is that supposed to be?"
"What's what?" Slothrop's face nothing but innocent as he slips into and begins to button the object in question.
"You're joking, of course. The young ladies are waiting, Slothrop, do put on something civilized, there's a good chap—"
"All set," Slothrop on the way past the mirror combing his hair into the usual sporty Bing Crosby pompadour.
"You can't expect us to be seen with—"
"My brother Hogan sent it to me," Slothrop lets him know, "for my birthday, all the way from the Pacific. See on the back? under the fellows in that outrigger canoe there, to the left of those hibiscus blossoms, it sez SOUVENIR OF honolulu? This is the authentic item, Mucker-Maffick, not some cheap imitation."
"Dear God," moans Tantivy, trailing him forlornly out of the room, shading his eyes from the shirt, which glows slightly in the dimness of the corridor. "At least tuck it in and cover it with something. Here, I'll even lend you this Norfolk jacket. . . ." Sacrifice indeed: the coat is from a Savile Row establishment whose fitting rooms are actually decorated with portraits of all the venerable sheep—some nobly posed up on crags, others in pensive, soft close-ups—from whom the original fog-silvered wool was sheared.
"Must be woven out of that barbed wire," is Slothrop's opinion, "what girl'd want to get near anything like that?"
"Ah, but, but would any woman in her right mind want to be within ten miles of that-that ghastly shirt, eh?"
"Wait!" From someplace Slothrop now produces a gaudy yellow, green and orange display handkerchief, and over Tantivy's groans of horror arranges it in his friend's jacket pocket so as to stick out in three points. "There!" beaming, "that's what you call real sharp!"
They emerge into sunlight. Gulls begin to wail, the garment on Slothrop blazes into a refulgent life of its own. Tantivy squeezes his eyes shut. When he opens them, the girls are all attached to Slothrop, stroking the shirt, nibbling at its collar-points, cooing in French.
"Of course." Tantivy picks up the basket. "Right."
The girls are dancers. The manager of the Casino Hermann Goe-
ring, one César Flebötomo, brought in a whole chorus-line soon as the liberators arrived, though he hasn't yet found time to change the place's occupation name. Nobody seems to mind it up there, a pleasant mosaic of tiny and perfect seashells, thousands of them set in plaster, purple, pink and brown, replacing a huge section of roof (the old tiles still lie in a heap beside the Casino), put up two years ago as recreational therapy by a Messerschmitt squadron on furlough, in German typeface expansive enough to be seen from the air, which is what they had in mind. The sun now is still too low to touch the words into any more than some bare separation from their ground, so that they hang suppressed, no relation any more to the men, the pain in their hands, the blisters that grew black under the sun with infection and blood— only receding as the party now walk down past sheets and pillowcases of the hotel, spread to dry on the slope of the beach, fine wrinkles edged in blue that will flow away as the sun climbs, six pairs of feet stirring debris never combed for, an old gambling chip half bleached by the sun, translucent bones of gulls, a drab singlet, Wehrmacht issue, torn and blotted with bearing grease. . . .
They move along the beach, Slothrop's amazing shirt, Tantivy's handkerchief, girls' frocks, green bottles all dancing, everyone talking at once, boy-and-girl lingua franca, the girls confiding quite a lot to each other with side glances for their escorts. This ought to be good for a bit of the, heh, heh, early paranoia here, a sort of pick-me-up to help face what's sure to come later in the day. But it isn't. Much too good a morning for that. Little waves are rolling in, breaking piecrust-wise along a curve of dark shingle, farther off foaming among the black rocks that poke up along the Cap. Out at sea wink twin slivers of a boat's sails being sucked along in the sun and distance, over toward Antibes, the craft tacking gradual, cockle-frail among low swells whose touch and rowdy hiss along the chines Slothrop can feel this morning, reminded of prewar Comets and Hamptons sighted from the beach at Cape Cod, among land odors, drying seaweed, summer-old cooking oil, the feel of sand on sunburn, the sharp-pointed dune grass under bare feet. . . . Closer to shore a pédalo full of soldiers and girls moves along—they dangle, splash, sprawl in green and white striped lounge chairs back aft. At the edge of the water small kids are chasing, screaming, laughing in that hoarse, helplessly tickled little-kid way. Up on the esplanade an old couple sit on a bench, blue and white and a cream-colored parasol, a morning habit, an anchor for the day. . . .
They go as far as the first rocks, finding there an inlet partly secluded from the rest of the beach, and from the looming Casino.
Breakfast is wine, bread, smiling, sun diffracting through the fine gratings of long dancers' hair, swung, flipped, never still, a dazzle of violet, sorrel, saffron, emerald. . . . For a moment you can let the world go, solid forms gone a-fracturing, warm inside of bread waiting at your fingertips, flowery wine in long, easy passage streaming downward around the root of your tongue. . . .
Bloat cuts in. "I say Slothrop, is she a friend of yours too?"
Hmm? what's happening . . . she, what? Here sits Bloat, smug, gesturing over at the rocks and a tide pool nearby. . . .
"You're getting 'the eye,' old man."
Well. . . she must have come out of the sea. At this distance, some 20 meters, she is only a dim figure in a black bombazine frock that reaches to her knees, her bare legs long and straight, a short hood of bright blonde hair keeping her face in shadow, coming up in guiches to touch her cheeks. She's looking at Slothrop, all right. He smiles, sort of waves. She only continues to stand, the breeze pushing at her sleeves. He turns back to draw the cork from a wine bottle, and its pop arrives as a grace note for a scream from one of the dancers. Tantivy's already halfway to his feet, Bloat gaping out in the girl's direction, the danseuses snapshot in defense reflexes, hair flying, frocks twisted, thighs flashing—
Holy shit it's moving—an octopus? Yes it is the biggest fucking octopus Slothrop has ever seen outside of the movies, Jackson, and it has just risen up out of the water and squirmed halfway onto one of the black rocks. Now, cocking a malignant eye at the girl, it reaches out, wraps one long sucker-studded tentacle around her neck as everyone watches, another around her waist and begins to drag her, struggling, back under the sea.
Slothrop's up, bottle in hand, running down past Tantivy who's doing a hesitant dance step, hands patting lounge-suit pockets for weapons that aren't there, more and more of the octopus revealed the closer he comes and wow it's a big one, holycow—skids to a halt alongside, one foot in the tide pool, and commences belting the octopus in the head with the wine bottle. Hermit crabs slide in death-struggle around his foot. The girl, already half in the water, is trying to cry out, but the tentacle, flowing and chilly, barely allows her windway enough to breathe. She reaches out a hand, a soft-knuckled child's hand with a man's steel ID bracelet on the wrist, and clutches at Slothrop's Hawaiian shirt, begins tightening her own grip there, and who was to know that among her last things would be vulgar-faced hula girls, ukuleles,
and surfriders all in comic-book colors . . . oh God God please, the bottle thudding again and again wetly into octopus flesh, no nicking use, the octopus gazes at Slothrop, triumphant, while he, in the presence of certain death, can't quit staring at her hand, cloth furrowing in tangents to her terror, a shirt button straining at a single last thread—he sees the name on the bracelet, scratched silver letters each one clear but making no sense to him before the slimy gray stranglehold that goes tightening, liquid, stronger than he and she together, framing the poor hand its cruel tetanus is separating from Earth—
"Slothrop!" Here's Bloat ten feet away offering him a large crab.
"What th' fuck ..." Maybe if he broke the bottle on the rock, stabbed the bastard between the eyes—
"It's hungry, it'll go for the crab. Don't kill it, Slothrop. Here, for God's sake—" and here it comes spinning through the air, legs cocked centrifugally outward: dithering Slothrop drops the bottle just before the crab smacks against his other palm. Neat catch. Immediately, through her fingers and his shirt, he can feel the reflex to food.
"O.K." Shaking Slothrop waves the crab at the octopus. "Chow time, fella." Another tentacle moves in. Its corrugated ooze touches his wrist. Slothrop tosses the crab a few feet along the beach, and what do you know, that octopus goes for it all right: dragging along the girl and Slothrop staggering for a bit, then letting her go. Slothrop quickly snatches up the crab again, dangling it so the octopus can see, and begins to dance the creature away, down the beach, drool streaming from its beak, eyes held by the crab.
In their brief time together Slothrop forms the impression that this octopus is not in good mental health, though where's his basis for comparing? But there is a mad exuberance, as with inanimate objects which fall off of tables when we are sensitive to noise and our own clumsiness and don't want them to fall, a sort of wham! ha-ha you hear that? here it is again, WHAM! in the cephalopod's every movement, which Slothrop is glad to get away from as he finally scales the crab like a discus, with all his strength, out to sea, and the octopus, with an eager splash and gurgle, strikes out in pursuit, and is presently gone.
The frail girl lies on the beach, taking in great breaths of air, surrounded now by the others. One of the dancers is holding her in her arms and speaking, r's and nasals still French, in a language Slothrop, moseying back into earshot, can't quite place.
Tantivy smiles and flips a small salute. "Good show!" cheers Teddy Bloat. "I wouldn't have wanted to try that myself!"
"Why not? You had that crab. Saaay—where'd you get that crab?"
"Found it," replies Bloat with a straight face. Slothrop stares at this bird but can't get eye contact. What th' fuck's going on?
"I better have some of that wine," Slothrop reckons. He drinks out of the bottle. Air goes splashing upward in lopsided spheres inside the green glass. The girl watches him. He stops for breath and smiles.
"Thank you, lieutenant." Not a tremor in the voice, and the accent is Teutonic. He can see her face now, soft nose of a doe, eyes behind blonde lashes full of acid green. One of those thin-lipped European mouths. "I had almost stopped breathing."
"Uh—you're not German."
Shaking her head no emphatically, "Dutch."
"And have you been here—"
Her eyes go elsewhere, she reaches, takes the bottle from his hand. She is looking out to sea, after the octopus. "They are very optical, aren't they. I hadn't known. It saw me. Me. I don't look like a crab."
"I guess not. You're a swell-looking young lady." In the background, delighted Bloat nudges Tantivy. That recklessness transatlantic. Slothrop takes her wrist, finds no problem now reading that ID bracelet. Sez KATJE BORGESIUS. He can feel her pulse booming. Does she know him from someplace? strange. A mixture of recognition and sudden shrewdness in her face . . .
So it is here, grouped on the beach with strangers, that voices begin to take on a touch of metal, each word a hard-edged clap, and the light, though as bright as before, is less able to illuminate . . . it's a Puritan reflex of seeking other orders behind the visible, also known as paranoia, filtering in. Pale lines of force whir in the sea air ... pacts sworn to in rooms since shelled back to their plan views, not quite by accident of war, suggest themselves. Oh, that was no "found" crab, Ace—no random octopus or girl, uh-uh. Structure and detail come later, but the conniving around him now he feels instantly, in his heart.
They all stay a bit longer on the beach, finishing breakfast. But the simple day, birds and sunlight, girls and wine, has sneaked away from Slothrop. Tantivy is getting drunk, more relaxed and funnier as the bottles empty. He's staked out not only the girl he first had his eye on, but also the one Slothrop would be no doubt sweet-talking right now if that octopus hadn't shown up. He is a messenger from Slothrop's innocent, pre-octopus past. Bloat, on the other hand, sits perfectly sober, mustache unruffled, regulation uniform, watching Slothrop closely. His companion Ghislaine, tiny and slender, pin-up girl legs, long hair brushed behind her ears falling all the way down her back,
shifts her round bottom in the sand, writing marginal commentaries around the text of Bloat. Slothrop, who believes that women, like Martians, have antennas men do not, keeps an eye on her. She looks over only once, and her eyes grow wide and cryptic. He'd swear she knows something. On the way back to the Casino, toting their empties, and the basket full of the debris of the morning, he manages a word with her.
"Some picnic, nessay-pah?"
Dimples appear next to her mouth. "Did you know all the time about the octopus? I thought so because it was so like a dance—all of you."
"No. Honestly, I didn't. You mean you thought it was just a practical joke or something?"
"Little Tyrone," she whispers suddenly, taking his arm with a big phony smile for the others. Little? He's twice her size. "Please—be very careful. . . ." That's all. He has Katie by the other hand, two imps, contrary, either side. The beach is empty now except for fifty gray gulls sitting watching the water. White heaps of cumulus pose out at sea, hard-surfaced, cherub-blown—palm leaves stir, all down the esplanade. Ghislaine drops away, back down the beach, to pick up prim Bloat. Katje squeezes Slothrop's arm and tells him just what he wants to hear about now: "Perhaps, after all, we were meant to meet. . . ."
From out at sea, the Casino at this hour is a blazing bijou at the horizon: its foil of palms already shadows in the dwindling light. Deepening go the yellowbrowns of these small serrated mountains, sea colored the soft inside of a black olive, white villas, perched châteaux whole and ruined, autumn greens of copses and solitary pines, all deepening to the nightscape latent across them all day. Fires are lit on the beach. A faint babble of English voices, and even occasional songs, reaches across the water to where Dr. Porkyevitch stands on deck. Below, Octopus Grigori, having stuffed himself with crab meat, frisks happily in his special enclosure. The reaching radius of the lighthouse on the headland sweeps by, as tiny Fishing craft head out to sea. Grischa, little friend, you have performed your last trick for a while. ... Is there any hope for further support from Pointsman, now that Porkyevitch and His Fabulous Octopus have done their part? He gave up questioning orders long ago—even questioning his ex-
ile. The evidence linking him to the Bukharin conspiracy, whose particulars he has never heard, might somehow be true—the Trotskyite Bloc might have known of him, by reputation, used him in ways forever secret . . . forever secret: there are forms of innocence, he knows, that cannot conceive of what that means, much less accept it as he has. For it might, after all, be only another episode in some huge pathological dream of Stalin's. At least he had physiology, something outside the party . . . those who had nothing but the party, who had built their whole lives upon it, only to be purged, must go through something very like death . . . and never to know anything for certain, never to have the precision of the laboratory . . . it's been his own sanity, God knows, for twenty years. At least they can never—
No, no they wouldn't, there's never been a case . . . unless it's been hushed up, you'd never read it in the journals of course—
He might. Yes.
Grischa, Grischa! It's come true. On us so quickly: foreign cities, comedians in broken hats, cancan girls, fountains of fire, a noisy pit band . . . Grischa, with the flags of all the nations curled in your arms . . . fresh shellfish, a warm pirozhok, hot glasses of tea in the evenings, between performances . . . learn to forget Russia, to take comfort from what mean, falsified bits of her we wander across. . . .
Now, the sky stretches to admit a single first star. But Porkyevitch makes no wish. Policy. Signs of arrival do not interest him, nor even signs of departure. ... As the boat's engine goes full ahead, their own wake goes lifting, pink with sunset, to obscure the white Casino on shore.
Electricity is on tonight, the Casino back in France's power grid. Chandeliers shaggy with crystal needles flare overhead, and softer lamps shine among the gardens outside. Going in to dinner with Tantivy and the dancers, Slothrop is brought to a round-eyed halt by the sight of Katje Borgesius, hair in one of those emerald tiaras, the rest of her rigged out in a long Medici gown of sea-green velvet. Her escort's a two-star general and a brigadier.
"RHIP," sings Tantivy, shuffling off sarcastic buffaloes along the carpet, "oh, RHIP indeed."
"You're trying to get my goat," Slothrop smiles, "but it's not working."
"I can tell." His own smile freezes. "Oh, no, Slothrop, please, no, we're going in to dinner—"
"Well, I know we're going in to dinner—"
"No, this is very embarrassing, you've got to take it off."
"You like that? She's genuine hand-painted! Look! Nice tits, huh?"
"It's the Wormwood Scrubs School Tie."
In the main dining room they merge into a great coming and going of waiters, officers and ladies. Slothrop, young dancer by the hand, caught up in the eddying, manages at last to slide with her into a pair of seats just vacated: to find who but Katje his left-hand partner. He puffs out his cheeks, crosses his eyes, brushes his hair industriously with his hands by which time the soup has showed up, which he goes at as if disarming a bomb. Katje is ignoring him, talking earnestly instead across her general with some bird colonel about his prewar profession, managing a golf course in Cornwall. Holes and hazards. Gave one a feel for terrain. But he did like most to be there at night, when the badgers came out of their sets to play. . . .
By the time the fish has come and gone, something funny is happening. Katje's knee seems to be rubbing Slothrop's, velvet-warm, under the table.
Weeell, opines Slothrop, watch this: I will employ some of that subterfuge, I mean I'm in that Europe, aren't I? He raises his wineglass and announces, " 'The Ballad of Tantivy Mucker-Maffick.' " Cheers go up, bashful Tantivy tries not to smile. It's a song everyone knows: one of the Scotsmen goes dashing down the room to the grand piano. César Flebötomo, twirling his slick mustache in a saber-point, nips behind a palm in a tub to turn the lights up a notch, sticks his head back out winking, and hisses for his maître d'hôtel. Wine is gargled, throats are cleared and a good number of the company commence singing
the ballad of tantivy mucker-maffick
Oh Italian gin is a mother's curse,
And the beer of France is septic,
Drinking Bourbon in Spain is the lonely domain
Of the saint and the epileptic.
White lightning has fueled up many a hearse
In the mountains where ridge-runners dwell—
It's a brew begot in a poison pot,
And mulled with the hammers of Hell!
(Refrain): Oh—Tantivy's been drunk in many a place, From here to the Uttermost Isle, And if he should refuse any chance at the booze, May I die with an hoary-eyed smile!
There are what sound like a hundred—but most likely only two— Welshmen singing, tenor from the south and bass from the north of the country, you see, so that all conversation sub rosa or not is effectively drowned out. Exactly what Slothrop wants. He leans in Katje's direction.
"Meet me in my room," she whispers, "306, after midnight." "Gotcha." And Slothrop is upright in time to join in again right on bar one:
He's been ossified in oceans of grog,
In the haunts of the wobbly whale— He's been half-seas over from Durban to Dover, Wiv four shaky sheets to the gale. For in London fog or Sahara's sun, Or the icebound steeps of Zermatt, Loaded up for a lark to 'is Plimsoll mark He's been game to go off on a bat!
Yes, Tantivy's been drunk in many a place . . . &c.
After dinner Slothrop gives Tantivy the high-sign. Their dancers go off arm in arm to the marble lounges where the toilet stalls are equipped with a network of brass voice-tubes, all acoustic, to make stall-to-stall conversation easier. Slothrop and Tantivy head for the nearest bar.
"Listen," Slothrop talking into his highball glass, bouncing words off of ice cubes so they'll have a proper chill, "either I'm coming down with a little psychosis here, or something funny is going on, right?"
Tantivy, who is feigning a relaxed air, breaks off humming "You Can Do a Lot of Things at the Sea-side That You Can't Do in Town" to inquire, "Ah, yes, do you really think so?"
"Come on, that octopus."
"The devilfish is found quite commonly on Mediterranean shores. Though usually not so large—is it the size that bothers you? Don't Americans like—"
"Tantivy, it was no accident. Did you hear that Bloat? 'Don't kill it!' He had a crab with him, m-maybe inside that musette bag, all set to lure that critter away with. And where'd he go tonight, anyhow?"
"I think he's out on the beach. There's a lot of drinking."
"He drinks a lot?"
"Look, you're his friend—"
Tantivy moans. "God, Slothrop, I don't know. I'm your friend too, but there's always, you know, an element of Slothropian paranoia to contend with. ..."
"Paranoia's ass. Something's up, a-and you know it!"
Tantivy chews ice, sights along a glass stirring rod, rips up a small napkin into a snowstorm, all sorts of bar Business, he's an old hand. But at last, in a soft voice, "Well, he's receiving messages in code."
"I saw one in his kit this afternoon. Just a glimpse. I didn't try to look closer. He is with Supreme Headquarters, after all—I suppose that could be it."
"No, that's not it. Now what about this—" and Slothrop tells about his midnight date with Katje. For a moment they might almost be back in the bureau at ACHTUNG, and the rockets falling, and tea in paper cups, and everything right again. ...
"Are you going?"
"Shouldn't I? You think she's dangerous?"
"I think she's delightful. If I hadn't Françoise, not to mention Yvonne to worry about, I'd be racing you to her door."
But the clock over the bar only clicks once, then presently again, ratcheting time minutewise into their past.
"Either what you've got is contagious," Tantivy begins, "or else they've an eye on me too."
They look at each other. Slothrop remembers that except for Tantivy he's all alone here. "Tell me."
"I wish I could. He's changed—but I couldn't give you a single bit of evidence. It's been since ... I don't know. Autumn. He doesn't talk politics any more. God, we used to get into these— He won't discuss his plans after he's demobbed either, it's something he used to do all the time. I thought the Blitz might have got him rattled . . . but after yesterday, I think it must be more. Damn it, it makes me sad."
"Oh. A sort of—not a threat. Or not a serious one. I mentioned, only joking, that I was keen on your Katje. And Bloat became very cold, and said, 'I'd stay clear of that one if I were you.' Tried to cover it with a laugh, as if he had his eye on her too. But that wasn't it. I-I don't have his confidence any more. I'm— I feel I'm only useful to
him in a way I can't see. Being tolerated for as long as he can use me.
The old University connection. I don't know if you ever felt it at Harvard . . . from time to time back in Oxford, I came to sense a peculiar
structure that no one admitted to—that extended far beyond Turl Street, past Cornmarket into covenants, procuring, accounts due . . . one never knew who it would be, or when, or how they'd try to collect it... but I thought it only idle, only at the fringes of what I was really up there for, you know. ..."
"Sure. In that America, it's the first thing they tell you. Harvard's there for other reasons. The 'educating' part of it is just sort of a front."
"We're so very innocent here, you see."
"Some of you, maybe. I'm sorry about Bloat."
"I still hope it's something else."
"I guess so. But what do we do right now?"
"Oh I'd say—keep your date, be careful. Keep me posted. Perhaps tomorrow I'll have an adventure or two to tell you about, for a change. And if you need help," teeth flashing, face reddening a bit, "well, I'll help you."
"Thanks, Tantivy." Jesus, a British ally. Yvonne and Françoise peek in, beckoning them outside. On to the Himmler-Spielsaal and chemin-de-fer till midnight. Slothrop breaks even, Tantivy loses, and the girls win. No sign of Bloat, though dozens of officers go drifting in and out, brown and distant as rotogravure, through the evening. Nor any sight of his girl Ghislaine. Slothrop asks. Yvonne shrugs: "Out with your friend? Who knows?" Ghislaine's long hair and tanned arms, her six-year-old face in a smile. ... If it turns out she does know something, is she safe?
At 11:59 Slothrop turns to Tantivy, nods at the two girls, tries to chuckle lewdly, and gives his friend a quick, affectionate punch in the shoulder. Once, back in prep school, just before sending him into a game, young Slothrop's football coach socked him the same way, giving him confidence for at least fifty seconds, till being trampled flat on his ass by a number of red-dogging Choate boys, each with the instincts and mass of a killer rhino.
"Good luck," says Tantivy, meaning it, hand already reaching for Yvonne's sweet chiffon bottom. Minutes of doubt, yes yes . . . Slothrop ascending flights of red-carpeted stairway (Welcome Mister Slothrop Welcome To Our Structure We Hope You Will Enjoy Your Visit Here), malachite nymphs and satyrs paralyzed in chase, evergreen, at the silent landings, upward toward a single staring bulb at the top. . . .
At her door he pauses long enough to comb his hair. Now she
wears a white pelisse, with sequins all over, padded shoulders, jagged white ostrich plumes at the neckline and wrists. The tiara is gone:
in the electricity her hair is new snowfall. But inside a single scented candle burns, and the suite is washed in moonlight. She pours brandy in old flint snifters, and as he reaches, their fingers touch. "Didn't know you were so daffy about that golf!" Suave, romantic Slothrop.
"He was pleasant. I was being pleasant to him," one eye kind of squinched up, forehead wrinkled. Slothrop wonders if his fly's open.
"And ignore me. Why?" Clever pounce there, Slothrop—but she only evaporates before the question, re-forms in another part of the room. . . .
"Am I ignoring you?" She's at her window, the sea below and behind her, the midnight sea, its individual waveflows impossible at this distance to follow, all integrated into the hung stillness of an old painting seen across the deserted gallery where you wait in the shadow, forgetting why you are here, frightened by the level of illumination, which is from the same blanched scar of moon that wipes the sea tonight. . . .
"I don't know. But you're fooling around a lot."
"Perhaps I'm supposed to be."
"As 'Perhaps we were meant to meet'?"
"Oh, you think I'm more than I am," gliding to a couch, tucking one leg under.
"I know. You're only a Dutch milkmaid or something. Closet full o' those starched aprons a-and wooden shoes, right?"
"Go and look." Spice odors from the candle reach like nerves through the room.
"O.K., I will!" He opens her closet, and in moonlight reflected from the mirror finds a crowded maze of satins, taffetas, lawn, and pongee, dark fur collars and trimming, buttons, sashes, passementerie, soft, confusing, womanly tunnel-systems that must stretch back for miles—he could be lost inside of half a minute . . . lace glimmers, eyelets wink, a crepe scarf brushes his face . . . Aha! wait a minute, the operational scent in here is carbon tet, Jackson, and this wardrobe here's mostly props. "Well. Pretty snazzy."
"If that's a compliment, thank you."
Let Them thank me, babe. "An Americanism."
"You're the first American I've met."
"Hmm. You must've got out by way of that Arnhem, then, right?"
"My, you're quick," her tone warning him not to go after it. He sighs, ringing the snifter with his fingernail. In the dark room, with the paralyzed and silent sea at his back, he tries singing:
Too soon to know (fox-trot)
It's still too soon,
It's not as if we'd kissed and kindled,
Or chased the moon
Through midnight's hush, as dancing dwindled
Into quiet dawns,
Over secret lawns ...
Too soon to know
If all that breathless conversation
A sigh ago
Was more than casual flirtation
Doomed to drift away
Into misty gray . . .
How can we tell,
What can we see?
Love works its spells in hiding,
Quite past our own deciding ...
So who's to say
If joyful love is just beginning,
Or if its day
Just turned to night, as Earth went spinning?
Darling, maybe so—
It's TOO SOON TO KNOW.
Knowing what is expected of her, she waits with a vapid look till he's done, mellow close-harmony reeds humming a moment in the air, then reaches out a hand, melting toward him as he topples in slow-motion toward her mouth, feathers sliding, sleeves furling, ascending bare arms finely moongrained slipping around and up his back, her tacky tongue nervous as a moth, his hands rasping over sequins . . . then her breasts flatten against him as her forearms and hands go away folding up behind her to find a zipper, bring it snarling down her spineline. . . .
Katie's skin is whiter than the white garment she rises from. Born again . . . out the window he can almost see the spot where the devilfish crawled in from the rocks. She walks like a ballerina on her toes, thighs long and curving, Slothrop undoing belt, buttons, shoelaces hopping one foot at a time, oboy oboy, but the moonlight only whitens her back, and there is still a dark side, her ventral side, her
face, that he can no longer see, a terrible beastlike change coming over muzzle and lower jaw, black pupils growing to cover the entire eye space till whites are gone and there's only the red animal reflection when the light comes to strike no telling when the light—
She has sunk to the deep bed, pulling him along, into down, satin, seraphic and floral embroidery, turning immediately to take his erection into her stretched fork, into a single vibration on which the night is tuning ... as they fuck she quakes, body strobing miles beneath him in cream and night-blue, all sound suppressed, eyes in crescents behind the gold lashes, jet earrings, long, octahedral, flying without a sound, beating against her cheeks, black sleet, his face above her unmoved, full of careful technique—is it for her? or wired into the Slothropian Run-together they briefed her on—she will move him, she will not be mounted by a plastic shell. . . her breathing has grown more hoarse, over a threshold into sound . . . thinking she might be close to coming he reaches a hand into her hair, tries to still her head, needing to see her face: this is suddenly a struggle, vicious and real— she will not surrender her face—and out of nowhere she does begin to come, and so does Slothrop.
For some reason now, she who never laughs has become the top surface of a deep, rising balloon of laughter. Later as she's about to go to sleep, she will also whisper, "Laughing," laughing again.
He will want to say, "Oh, They let you," but then again maybe They don't. But the Katje he's talking to is already gone, and presently his own eyes have closed.
Like a rocket whose valves, under remote control, open and close at prearranged moments, Slothrop, at a certain level of his re-entry into sleep, stops breathing through his nose and commences breathing through his mouth. This soon grows to snores that have been known to rattle storm windows, set shutters to swinging and chandeliers into violent tintinnabulation, yes indee-eed. ... At the first of these tonight, Katje wakes up belts him in the head with a pillow.
"None of that."
"I'm a light sleeper. Every time you snore, you get hit with this," waving the pillow.
No kidding, either. The routine of snore, get belted with pillow, wake up, say hmm, fall back to sleep, goes on well into the morning. "Come on," finally, "cut it out."
"Mouth-breather!" she yells. He grabs his own pillow and swings it at her. She ducks, rolls, hits the deck feinting with her pillow, backing
toward the sideboard where the booze is. He doesn't see what she has in mind till she throws her pillow and picks up the Seltzer bottle.
The what, The Seltzer Bottle? What shit is this, now? What other interesting props have They thought to plant, and what other American reflexes are They after? Where's those banana cream pies, eh?
He dangles two pillows and watches her. "One more step," she giggles. Slothrop dives in goes to hit her across the ass whereupon she lets him have it with the Seltzer bottle, natch. The pillow bursts against one marble hip, moonlight in the room is choked with feathers and down and soon with hanging spray from jets of Seltzer. Slothrop keeps trying to grab the bottle. Slippery girl squirms away, gets behind a chair. Slothrop takes the brandy decanter off of the sideboard, un-stoppers it, and flings a clear, amber, pseudopodded glob across the room twice in and out of moonlight to splash around her neck, between her black-tipped breasts, down her flanks. "Bastard," hitting him with the Seltzer again. Settling feathers cling to their skins as they chase around the bedroom, her dappled body always retreating, often in this light, even at close range, impossible to see. Slothrop keeps falling over the furniture. "Boy, when I get my hands on you!" At which point she opens the door to the sitting room, skips through, slams it again so Slothrop runs right into it, bounces off, sez shit, opens the door to find her waving a big red damask tablecloth at him.
"What's this," inquires Slothrop.
"Magic!" she cries, and tosses the tablecloth over him, precisely wrinkling folds propagating swift as crystal faults, redly through the air. "Watch closely, while I make one American lieutenant disappear."
"Quit fooling," Slothrop flailing around trying to reach the outside again. "How can I watch closely when I'm in here." He can't find an edge anyplace and feels a little panicky.
"That's the idea," suddenly inside, next to him, lips at his nipples, hands fluttering among the hairs at the back of his neck, pulling him slowly to deep carpeting, "My little chickadee."
"Where'd you see that one, hey? Remember when he gets in bed w-with that goat?
"Oh, don't ask ..." This time it is a good-natured coordinated quickie, both kind of drowsy, covered with sticky feathers . . . after coming they lie close together, too liquefied to move, mm, damask and pile, it's so cozy and just as red as a womb in here. . . . Curled holding her feet in his, cock nestled in the warm cusp between her buttocks, Slothrop trying earnestly to breathe through his nose, they drop off to sleep.
Slothrop wakes to morning sunlight off of that Mediterranean, filtered through a palm outside the window, then red through the tablecloth, birds, water running upstairs. For a minute he lies coming awake, no hangover, still belonging Slothropless to some teeming cycle of departure and return. Katje lies, quick and warm, S'd against the S of himself, beginning to stir.
From the next room he hears the unmistakable sound of an Army belt buckle. "Somebody," he observes, catching on quickly, "must be robbing my pants." Feet patter by on the carpet, close to his head. Slothrop can hear his own small change jingling in his pockets. "Thief!" he yells, which wakes up Katje, turning to put her arms around him. Slothrop, managing now to locate the hem he couldn't find last night, scoots from under the tablecloth just in time to see a large foot in a two-tone shoe, Coffee and indigo, vanish out the door. He runs into the bedroom, finds everything else he had on is gone too, down to shoes and skivvies.
"My clothes!" running back out past Katje now emerging from the damask and making a grab for his feet. Slothrop flings open the door, runs out in the hall, recollects that he is naked here, spots a laundry cart and grabs a purple satin bedsheet off of it, drapes it around him in a sort of toga. From the stairway comes a snicker and the pad-pad of crepe soles. "Aha!" cries Slothrop charging down the hall. The slippery sheet will not stay on. It flaps, slides off, gets underfoot. Up the stairs two at a time, only to find at the top another corridor, just as empty. Where is everybody?
From way down the hall, a tiny head appears around a corner, a tiny hand comes out and gives Slothrop the tiny finger. Unpleasant laughter reaches him a split second later, by which time he's sprinting toward it. At the stairs, he hears footsteps heading down. The Great Purple Kite races cursing down three flights, out a door and onto a little terrace, just in time to see somebody hop over a stone balustrade and vanish into the upper half of a thick tree, growing up from somewhere below. "Treed at last!" cries Slothrop.
First you have to get into the tree, then you can climb it easy as a ladder. Once inside, surrounded by pungent leaflight, Slothrop can't see farther than a couple of limbs. The tree is shaking though, so he reckons that that thief is in here someplace. Industriously he climbs on, sheet catching and tearing, skin stuck by needles, scraped by bark. His feet hurt. He's soon out of breath. Gradually the cone of green light narrows, grows brighter. Close to the top, Slothrop notes a saw-cut or something partway through the trunk, but doesn't stop to pon-
der what it might mean till he's reached the very top of the tree and clings swaying, enjoying the fine view of the harbor and headland, paint-blue sea, whitecaps, storm gathering off at the horizon, the tops of people's heads moving around far below. Gee. Down the trunk he hears the sound of wood beginning to crack, and feels vibration here in his slender perch.
"Aw, hey . . ." That sneak. He climbed down the tree, not up! He's down there now, watching! They knew Slothrop would choose up, not down—they were counting on that damned American reflex all right, bad guy in a chase always heads up—why up? and they sawed the trunk nearly through, a-and now—
"Well," opines Slothrop, "I had better, uh . . ." About then the point of the tree cracks through, and with a great rustle and whoosh, a whirl of dark branches and needles breaking him up into a few thousand sharp falling pieces, down topples Slothrop, bouncing from limb to limb, trying to hold the purple sheet over his head for a parachute. Oof. Nnhh. About halfway to the ground, terrace-level or so, he happens to look down, and there observes many senior officers in uniform and plump ladies in white batiste frocks and flowered hats. They are playing croquet. It appears Slothrop will land somewhere in their midst. He closes his eyes and tries to imagine a tropical island, a secure room, where this cannot be happening. He opens them about the time he hits the ground. In the silence, before he can even register pain, comes the loud thock of wood hitting wood. A bright-yellow striped ball conies rolling past an inch from Slothrop's nose and on out of sight, followed a second later by a burst of congratulations, ladies enthusiastic, footfalls heading his way. Seems he's, unnhh, wrenched his back a little, but doesn't much feel like moving anyhow. Presently the sky is obscured by faces of some General and Teddy Bloat, gazing curiously down.
"It's Slothrop," sez Bloat, "and he's wearing a purple sheet."
"What's this my lad," inquires the General, "costume theatricals, eh?" He is joined by a pair of ladies beaming at, or perhaps through, Slothrop.
"Whom are you talking to, General?"
"That blighter in the toga," replies the General, "who is lying between me and my next wicket."
"Why how extraordinary, Rowena," turning to her companion, "do you see a 'blighter in a toga'?"
"Goodness no, Jewel," replies blithe Rowena. "/ believe the General has been drinking." The ladies begin to giggle.
"If the General made all his decisions in this state," Jewel gasping for breath, "why there'd, there'd be sauerkraut in the Strand!" The two of them shriek, very loudly, for an unpleasant length of time.
"And your name would be Brunhilde," the two faces now a strangled rose, "instead of—of Jewel!" They are clutching each other for dear life. Slothrop glares up at this spectacle, augmented now by a cast of dozens.
"We-e-e-ell, you see, somebody swiped all my clothes, and I was just on my way to complain to the management—"
"But decided to put on a purple bedsheet and climb a tree instead," nods the General. "Well—I dare say we can fix you up with something. Bloat, you're nearly this man's size, aren't you?"
"Oh," croquet mallet over his shoulder, posed like an advertising display for Kilgour or Curtis, smirking down at Slothrop, "I've a spare uniform somewhere. Come along, Slothrop, you're all right, aren't you. Didn't break anything."
"Yaagghh." Wrapped in his tattered sheet, helped to his feet by solicitous croqueteers, Slothrop goes limping after Bloat, off the turf and into the Casino. They stop first at Slothrop's room. He finds it newly cleaned, perfectly empty, ready for new guests. "Hey . . ." Yanking out drawers empty as drums: every stitch of clothing he owns is gone, including his Hawaiian shirt. What the fuck. Groaning, he rummages in the desk. Empty. Closets empty. Leave papers, ID, everything, taken. His back muscles throb with pain. "What is this, Ace?" going to check out the number on the door again, everything now for form's sake. He knows. Hogan's shirt bothers him most of all.
"First put on something respectable," Bloat's tone full of head-masterish revulsion. Two subalterns come crashing in carrying their valises. They halt goggling at Slothrop. "Here mate, you're in the wrong theatre of operations," cries one. "Show a bit of respect," the other haw-haws, "it's Lawrence of Arabia!"
"Shit," sez Slothrop. Can't even lift his arm, much less swing it. They proceed to Bloat's room, where they put together a uniform.
"Say," it occurs to Slothrop, "where's that Mucker-Maffick this morning? "
"I've no idea, really. Off with his girl. Or girls. Where've you been?"
But Slothrop's looking around, tightening rectal fear belatedly tak-
ing hold now, neck and face beading in a surge of sweat, trying to find
in this room Tantivy shares with Bloat some trace of his friend. Bristly ,
Norfolk jacket, pinstripe suit, anything. ...
Nothing. "Did that Tantivy move out, or what?"
"He may have moved in, with Françoise or What's-her-name. Even gone back to London early, I don't keep a file on him, I'm not the missing-persons bureau."
"You're his friend. ..." Bloat, with an insolent shrug, for the very first time since they met, now looks Slothrop in the eyes. "Aren't you? What are you?"
The answer's in Bloat's stare, the dim room become rationalized, nothing to it of holiday, only Savile Row uniforms, silver hairbrushes and razor arranged at right angles, a shiny spike on an octagonal base impaling half an inch of pastel flimsies, all edges neatly squared ... a piece of Whitehall on the Riviera.
Slothrop drops his eyes away. "See if I can find him," he mumbles, retreating out the door, uniform ballooning at the ass and too tight at the waist. Live wi' the way it feels mate, you'll be in it for a while. . . .
He begins at the bar they talked in last night. It is empty except for a colonel with a great twisted mustache, with his hat on, sitting stiffly in front of something large, fizzing, opaque, and garnished with a white chrysanthemum. "Didn't they teach you at Sandhurst to salute?" this officer screams. Slothrop, hesitating only a moment, salutes. "Damned O.C.T.U. must be full of Nazis." No bartender in sight. Can't remember what— "Well?"
"Actually, what I am is, uh, is an American, I only borrowed the uniform, and well I was looking for a Lieutenant, or actually Lef-tenant, Mucker-Maffick. ..."
"You're a what?" roars the colonel, pulling leaves from the chrysanthemum with his teeth. "What kind of Nazi foolishness is that, eh?"
"Well, thank you," Slothrop backing out of the room, saluting again.
"This is incredible!" the echo following him down the corridors to the Himmler-Spielsaal. "It's Nazi!"
Deserted in noon's lull, here are resonant reaches of mahogany, green baize, hanging loops of maroon velvet. Long-handled wood money rakes lie fanned out on the tables. Little silver bells with ebony handles are turned mouth-down on the russet veneer. Around the tables, Empire chairs are lined up precise and playerless. But some are taller than the rest. These are no longer quite outward and visible
signs of a game of chance. There is another enterprise here, more real than that, less merciful, and systematically hidden from the likes of Slothrop. Who sits in the taller chairs? Do They have names? What lies on Their smooth baize surfaces?
Brass-colored light seeps in from overhead. Murals line the great room: pneumatic gods and goddesses, pastel swains and shepherdesses, misty foliage, fluttering scarves. . .. Everywhere curlicued gilt festoon-ery drips—from moldings, chandeliers, pillars, window frames . . . scarred parquetry gleams under the skylight . . . From the ceiling, to within a few feet of the tabletops, hang long chains, with hooks at the ends. What hangs from these hooks?
For a minute here, Slothrop, in his English uniform, is alone with the paraphernalia of an order whose presence among the ordinary debris of waking he has only lately begun to suspect.
There may, for a moment, have been some golden, vaguely root-like or manlike figure beginning to form among the brown and bright cream shadows and light here. But Slothrop isn't to be let off quite so easy. Shortly, unpleasantly so, it will come to him that everything in this room is really being used for something different. Meaning things to Them it has never meant to us. Never. Two orders of being, looking identical. . . but, but...
Oh, THE WORLD OVER THERE, it's
So hard to explain!
Just-like, a dream's-got, lost in yer brain!
Dancin' like a fool through that Forbid-den Wing,
Waitin' fer th' light to start shiver-ing—well,
Who ev-ver said ya couldn't move that way,
Who ev-ver said ya couldn't try?
Ya can al-ways-go-back-a-gain, cause
Ya don't-ev-er-real-ly-say, good-by!
Why here? Why should the rainbow edges of what is almost on him be rippling most intense here in this amply coded room? say why should walking in here be almost the same as entering the Forbidden itself—here are the same long rooms, rooms of old paralysis and evil distillery, of condensations and residues you are afraid to smell from forgotten corruptions, rooms full of upright gray-feathered statues with wings spread, indistinct faces in dust—rooms fall of dust that will cloud the shapes of inhabitants around the corners or deeper inside, that will settle on their black formal lapels, that will soften to sugar the
white faces, white shirt fronts, gems and gowns, white hands that move too quickly to be seen . . . what game do They deal? What passes are these, so blurred, so old and perfect?
"Fuck you," whispers Slothrop. It's the only spell he knows, and a pretty good all-purpose one at that. His whisper is baffled by the thousands of tiny rococo surfaces. Maybe he'll sneak in tonight—no not at night—but sometime, with a bucket and brush, paint FUCK YOU in a balloon coming out the mouth of one of those little pink shepherdesses there. . . .
He steps back out, backward out the door, as if half, his ventral half, were being struck in kingly radiance: retreating from yet facing the Presence feared and wanted.
Outside, he heads down toward the quay, among funseekers, swooping white birds, an incessant splat of seagull shit. As I walk along the Bwa-deboolong with an independent air ... Saluting everybody in uniform, getting it to a reflex, don't ask for extra trouble, try for invisible . . . bringing his arm each time a bit more stupidly to his side. Clouds now are coming up fast, out of the sea. No sign of Tantivy out here, either.
Ghosts of fishermen, glassworkers, fur traders, renegade preachers, hilltop patriarchs and valley politicians go avalanching back from Slothrop here, back to 1630 when Governor Winthrop came over to America on the Arbella, flagship of a great Puritan flotilla that year, on which the first American Slothrop had been a mess cook or something—there go that Arbella and its whole fleet, sailing backward in formation, the wind sucking them east again, the creatures leaning from the margins of the unknown sucking in their cheeks, growing crosseyed with the effort, in to black deep hollows at the mercy of teeth no longer the milky molars of cherubs, as the old ships zoom out of Boston Harbor, back across an Atlantic whose currents and swells go flowing and heaving in reverse ... a redemption of every mess cook who ever slipped and fell when the deck made an unexpected move, the night's stew collecting itself up out of the planks and off the indignant shoes of the more elect, slithering in a fountain back into the pewter kettle as the servant himself staggers upright again and the vomit he slipped on goes gushing back into the mouth that spilled it . . . Presto change-o! Tyrone Slothrop's English again! But it doesn't seem to be redemption exactly that this They have in mind. . . .
He's on a broad cobbled esplanade, lined with palms shifting now to coarse-grained black as clouds begin to come over the sun. Tantivy isn't out on the beach, either—nor are any of the girls. Slothrop sits on
a low wall, feet swinging, watching the front, slate, muddy purple, advancing from the sea in sheets, in drifts. Around him the air is cooling. He shivers. What are They doing?
He gets back to the Casino just as big globular raindrops, thick as honey, begin to splat into giant asterisks on the pavement, inviting him to look down at the bottom of the text of the day, where footnotes will explain all. He isn't about to look. Nobody ever said a day has to be juggled into any kind of sense at day's end. He just runs. Rain grows in wet crescendo. His footfalls send up fine flowers of water, each hanging a second behind his flight. It is flight. He comes in speckled, pied with rain, begins a frantic search through the great inert Casino, starting again with the same smoky, hooch-fumed bar, proceeding through the little theatre, where tonight will play an abbreviated version of L'Inutil Precauzione (that imaginary opera with which Rosina seeks to delude her guardian in The Barber of Seville), into its green room where girls, a silkenness of girls, but not the three Slothrop wants most to see, tease hair, arrange garters, glue on eyelashes, smile at Slothrop. No one has seen Ghislaine, Françoise, Yvonne. From another room the orchestra rehearses a lively Rossini tarantella. The reeds are all something like a half tone flat. At once Slothrop understands that he is surrounded by women who have lived a good fraction of their lives at war and under occupation, and for whom people have been dropping out of sight every day . . . yes, in one or two pairs of eyes he finds an old and European pity, a look he will get to know, well before he loses his innocence and becomes one of them. . . .
So he drifts, through the bright and milling gaming rooms, the dining hall and its smaller private satellites, busting up tête-à-têtes, colliding with waiters, finding only strangers wherever he looks. And if you need help, well, Til help you. . . . Voices, music, the shuffling of cards all grow louder, more oppressive, till he stands looking into the Himmler-Spielsaal again, crowded now, jewels flashing, leather gleaming, roulette spokes whirling blurring—it's here that saturation hits him, it's all this playing games, too much of it, too many games: the nasal, obsessive voice of a croupier he can't see—messieurs, mesdames, les jeux sont faits—is suddenly speaking out of the Forbidden Wing directly to him, and about what Slothrop has been playing against the invisible House, perhaps after all for his soul, all day—terrified he turns, turns out into the rain again where the electric lights of the Casino, in full holocaust, are glaring off the glazed cobbles. Collar up, Bloat's hat down over his ears, saying shit every few minutes, shivering, his back aching from that fall out of that tree, he goes stumbling along
in the rain. He thinks he might begin to cry. How did this all turn against him so fast? His friends old and new, every last bit of paper and clothing connecting him to what he's been, have just, nicking, vanished. How can he meet this with any kind of grace? Only much later, worn out, snuffling, cold and wretched in his prison of soggy Army wool, does he think of Katje.
He gets back to the Casino near midnight, her hour, tramping upstairs leaving wet footprints behind, loud as a washing machine— stops at her door, rain pattering onto the carpet, afraid even to knock. Has she been taken too? Who's waiting behind the door and what machinery have They brought with Them? But she's heard him, and opens with a dimpled, chiding smile for being so wet. "Tyrone, I missed you."
He shrugs, convulsive, helpless, showering both of them. "It's the only place I knew to come." Her smile slowly unpurses. Gingerly he steps across the sill then, not sure if it's door or high window, into her deep room.
Good mornings of good old lust, early shutters open to the sea, winds coming in with the heavy brushing of palm leaves, the wheezing break to surface and sun of porpoises out in the harbor.
"Oh," Katje groans, somewhere under a pile of their batistes and brocade, "Slothrop, you pig."
"Oink, oink, oink," sez Slothrop cheerfully. Seaglare dances up on the ceiling, smoke curls from black-market cigarettes. Given the precisions of light these mornings, there are forms of grace to be found in the rising of the smoke, meander, furl, delicate fade to clarity. . . .
At certain hours the harbor blue will be reflected up on the whitewashed sea-facade, and the tall windows will be shuttered again. Wave images will flicker there in a luminous net. By then Slothrop will be up, in British uniform, gobbling down croissants and Coffee, already busy at a refresher course in technical German, or trying to dope out the theory of arrow-stable trajectories, or tracing nearly with the end of his nose some German circuit schematic whose resistors look like coils, and the coils like resistors—"What bizarre shit," once he got hep to it, "why would they go and switch it around like that? Trying to camouflage it, or what?"
"Recall your ancient German runes," suggests Sir Stephen
Dodson-Truck, who is from the Foreign Office P.I.D. and speaks 3 3 languages including English with a strong Oxonian blither to it.
"Oh," lips compressing, some kind of brain nausea here, "that coil symbol there happens to be very like the Old Norse rune for 'S,' sol, which means 'sun.' The Old High German name for it is sigil."
"Funny way to draw that sun," it seems to Slothrop.
"Indeed. The Goths, much earlier, had used a circle with a dot in the center. This broken line evidently dates from a time of discontinuities, tribal fragmenting perhaps, alienation—whatever's analogous, in a social sense, to the development of an independent ego by the very young child, you see. ..."
Well, no, Slothrop doesn't see, not exactly. He hears this sort of thing from Dodson-Truck nearly every time they get together. The man just materialized one day, out on the beach in a black suit, shoulders starred with dandruff from thinning carrot hair, coming into view against the white face of the Casino, which trembled over him as he approached. Slothrop was reading a Plasticman comic. Katje was dozing in the sun, face-up. But when his footpads reached her hearing, she turned on one elbow to wave hello. The peer flung himself at full length, Attitude 8.11, Torpor, Undergraduate. "So this is Lieutenant Slothrop."
Four-color Plasticman goes oozing out of a keyhole, around a corner and up through piping that leads to a sink in the mad Nazi scientist's lab, out of whose faucet Plas's head now, blank carapaced eyes and unplastic jaw, is just emerging. "Yeah. Who're you, Ace?"
Sir Stephen introduces himself, freckles roused by the sun, eying the comic book curiously. "I gather this isn't a study period."
"Is he cleared?"
"He's cleared," Katje smiling/shrugging at Dodson-Truck.
"Taking a break from that Telefunken radio control. That 'Hawaii I.' You know anything about that?"
"Only enough to wonder where they got the name from."
"There's a poetry to it, engineer's poetry ... it suggests Haverie— average, you know—certainly you have the two lobes, don't you, symmetrical about the rocket's intended azimuth . . . hauen, too— smashing someone with a hoe or a club ..." off on a voyage of his own here, smiling at no one in particular, bringing in the popular wartime expression ab-hauen, quarterstaff technique, peasant humor, phallic comedy dating back to the ancient Greeks. . . . Slothrop's first impulse
is to get back to what that Plas is into, but something about the man, despite obvious membership in the plot, keeps him listening ... an innocence, maybe a try at being friendly in the only way he has available, sharing what engages and runs him, a love for the Word.
"Well, it might be just Axis propaganda. Something to do with that Pearl Harbor."
Sir Stephen considers this, seeming pleased. Did They choose him because of all those word-smitten Puritans dangling off of Slothrop's family tree? Were They trying to seduce his brain now, his reading eye too? There are times when Slothrop actually can find a clutch mechanism between him and Their iron-cased engine far away up a power train whose shape and design he has to guess at, a clutch he can disengage, feeling then all his inertia of motion, his real helplessness ... it is not exactly unpleasant, either. Odd thing. He is almost sure that whatever They want, it won't mean risking his life, or even too much of his comfort. But he can't fit any of it into a pattern, there's no way to connect somebody like Dodson-Truck with somebody like Katje. . . .
Seductress-and-patsy, all right, that's not so bad a game. There's very little pretending. He doesn't blame her: the real enemy's somewhere back in that London, and this is her job. She can be versatile, gay, and kind, and he'd rather be warm here with her than freezing back under the Blitz. But now and then . . . too insubstantial to get a fix on, there'll be in her face a look, something not in her control, that depresses him, that he's even dreamed about and so found amplified there to honest fright: the terrible chance that she might have been conned too. As much a victim as he is—an unlucky, an unaccountably futureless look. . . .
One gray afternoon in where but the Himmler-Spielsaal, where else, he surprises her alone by a roulette wheel. She's standing, head bent, gracefully hipshot, playing croupier. An employee of the House. She wears a white peasant blouse and a rainbow-striped dirndl skirt of satin, which shimmers underneath the skylight. The ball's tattoo, against the moving spokes, gathers a long, scratchy resonance here in the muraled space. She doesn't turn till Slothrop is beside her. To her breathing there is a grave slow-beating tremor: she nudges at the shutters of his heart, opening to him brief flashes of an autumn country he has only suspected, only feared, outside him, inside her. . . .
"Hey Katje ..." Making a long arm, hooking a finger on a spoke to stop the wheel. The ball drops in a compartment whose number they
never see. Seeing the number is supposed to be the point. But in the game behind the game, it is not the point.
She shakes her head. He understands that it's something back in Holland, before Arnhem—an impedance permanently wired into the circuit of themselves. How many ears smelling of Palmolive and Camay has he crooned songs into, outside-the-bowling-alley songs, behind-the-Moxie-billboard songs, Saturday-night open-me-another-quart songs, all saying, honey, it don't matter where you've been, let's not live in the past, right now's all there is. ...
Fine for back there. But not in here, tapping on her bare shoulder, peering in at her European darkness, bewildered with it, himself with his straight hair barely combable and shaven face without a wrinkle such a chaste intrusion in the Himmler-Spielsaal all crowded with German-Baroque perplexities of shape (a sacrament of hands in every last turn each hand must produce, because of what the hand was, had to become, to make it all come out exactly this way ... all the cold, the trauma, the departing flesh that has ever touched it. . . .) In the twisted gilt playing-room his secret motions clarify for him, some. The odds They played here belonged to the past, the past only. Their odds were never probabilities, but frequencies already observed. It's the past that makes demands here. It whispers, and reaches after, and, sneering disagreeably, gooses its victims.
When They chose numbers, red, black, odd, even, what did They mean by it? What Wheel did They set in motion?
Back in a room, early in Slothrop's life, a room forbidden to him now, is something very bad. Something was done to him, and it may be that Katje knows what. Hasn't he, in her "futureless look," found some link to his own past, something that connects them closely as lovers? He sees her standing at the end of a passage in her life, without any next step to take—all her bets are in, she has only the tedium now of being knocked from one room to the next, a sequence of numbered rooms whose numbers do not matter, till inertia brings her to the last. That's all.
Naive Slothrop never thought anybody's life could end like that. Nothing so bleak. But by now it's grown much less strange to him— he's been snuggling up, masturbatorily scared-elated, to the disagreeable chance that exactly such Control might already have been put over him.
The Forbidden Wing. Oh, the hand of a terrible croupier is that touch on the sleeves of his dreams: all in his life of what has looked
free or random, is discovered to've been under some Control, all the time, the same as a fixed roulette wheel—where only destinations are important, attention is to long-term statistics, not individuals: and where the House always does, of course, keep turning a profit. . . .
"You were in London," she will presently whisper, turning back to her wheel and spinning it again, face averted, womanly twisting the night-streaked yarn of her past, "while they were coming down. I was in 's Gravenhage"—fricatives sighing, the name spoken with exile's lingering—"while they were going up. Between you and me is not only a rocket trajectory, but also a life. You will come to understand that between the two points, in the five minutes, it lives an entire life. You haven't even learned the data on our side of the flight profile, the visible or trackable. Beyond them there's so much more, so much none of us know. ..."
But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice—guessed and refused to believe—that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children. . . .
As the War's front moves away from them, and the Casino becomes more and more a rear area, as the water grows more polluted and the prices rise, so the personnel coming down on leave get noisier and more dedicated to pure assholery—none of Tantivy's style about them, his habit of soft-shoe dancing when drunk, his make-believe foppishness and shy, decent impulses to conspire, however marginally, whenever possible, against power and indifference. . . . There hasn't been a word about him. Slothrop misses him, not just as an ally, but as a presence, a kindness. He continues to believe, here on his French leave, and at his ease, that the interference is temporary and paper, a matter of messages routed and orders cut, an annoyance that will end when the War ends, so well have They busted the sod prairies of his brain, tilled and sown there, and subsidized him not to grow anything of his own. . . .
No letters from London, not even news of ACHTUNG. All gone. Teddy Bloat one day just vanished: other conspirators, like a chorus line, will show up off and on behind Katje and Sir Stephen, dancing in, all with identical Corporate Smiles, the multiplication of whose glittering choppers is to dazzle him, they think, distract him from what they're taking away, his ID, his service dossier, his past. Well, fuck . . .
you know. He lets it happen. He's more interested, and sometimes a little anxious, about what they seem to be adding on. At some point, apparently on a whim, though how can a fellow be sure, Slothrop decides to raise a mustache. Last mustache he had was at age 13, he sent away to that Johnson Smith for a whole Mustache Kit, 20 different shapes from Fu Manchu to Groucho Marx. They were made of black cardboard, with hooks that fit into your nose. After a while snot would soak into these hooks, and they'd grow limp, and the mustache would fall off.
"What kind?" Katje wants to know, soon as this one is visible.
"Bad-guy," sez Slothrop. Meaning, he explains, trimmed, narrow, and villainous.
"No, that'll give you a negative attitude. Why not raise a good-guy mustache instead?"
"But good guys don't have—"
"Oh no? What about Wyatt Earp?"
To which one might've advanced the objection that Wyatt wasn't all that good. But this is still back in the Stuart Lake era here, before the revisionists moved in, and Slothrop believes in that Wyatt, all right. One day a General Wivern, of SHAEF Technical Staff, comes in and sees it. "The ends droop down," he observes.
"So did that Wyatt's," explains Slothrop. "So did John Wilkes Booth's," replies the general. "Eh?"
Slothrop ponders. "He was a bad guy."
"Precisely. Why don't you twist the ends up?"
"You mean English style. Well, I tried that. It must be the weather or something, the old duster just keeps droopin' down again, a-and I need to bite those ends off. It's really annoying."
"It's disgusting," sez Wivern. "Next time I come round I shall bring you some wax for it. They make it with a bitter taste to discourage, ah, end-chewers, you know."
So as the mustache waxes, Slothrop waxes the mustache. Every day there's something new like this. Katje's always there, slipped by Them into his bed like nickels under the pillow for his deciduous Americanism, innocent incisors 'n' Momworshiping molars just left in a clattering trail back down these days at the Casino. For some odd reason he finds himself with hardons right after study sessions. Hm, that's peculiar. There is nothing specially erotic about reading manuals hastily translated from the German—brokenly mimeographed, even a few salvaged by the Polish underground from the latrines at the training site at Blizna, stained with genuine SS shit and piss ... or memorizing
conversion factors, inches to centimeters, horsepower to Pferdestärke, drawing from memory schematics and isometrics of the snarled maze of fuel, oxidizer, steam, peroxide and permanganate lines, valves, vents, chambers—what's sexy about that? still he emerges from each lesson with great hardon, tremendous pressure inside . . . some of that temporary insanity, he reckons, and goes looking for Katje, hands to crabwalk his back and silk stockings squealing against his hipbones. . . .
During the lessons he will often look over and catch Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck consulting a stopwatch and taking notes. Jeepers. He wonders what that's all about. Never occurs to him it might have to do with these mysterious erections. The man's personality was chosen— or designed—to sidetrack suspicions before they have a chance to gather speed. Winter sunlight hitting half his face like a migraine, trouser cuffs out of press, wet and sandy because he's up every morning at six to walk along the strand, Sir Stephen makes perfectly accessible his disguise, if not his function in the conspiracy. For all Slothrop knows he's an agronomist, a brain surgeon, a concert oboist—in that London you saw all levels of command seething with these multidimensional geniuses. But as with Katje, there hangs about Dodson-Truck's well-informed zeal an unmistakable aura of the employee and loser. . . .
One day Slothrop gets a chance to check this out. Seems Dodson-Truck is a chess fanatic. Down in the bar one afternoon he gets around to asking Slothrop if he plays.
"Nope," lying, "not even checkers."
"Damn. I've hardly had time till now for a good game."
"I do know a game," has something of Tantivy been sheltering inside all this time? "a drinking game, it's called Prince, maybe the English even invented it, cause you have those princes, right? and we don't, not that that's wrong understand, but everybody takes a number, a-and you start off the Prince of Wales has lost his tails, no offense now, the numbers going clockwise around the table, and number two has found them, clockwise from that Prince, or whatever number he wants to call out actually, he, that's the Prince, six or anything, see, you pick a Prince first, he starts it off, then that number two, or whoever that Prince called, sez. but first he goes, the Prince does, Wales, tails, two sir, after saying that about how that Prince of Wales has lost his tails, and number two answers, not I, sir—"
"Yes yes but—" giving Slothrop a most odd look, "I mean I'm not quite sure I really see, you know, the point to it all. How does one win?"
Ha! How does one win, indeed. "One doesn't win," easing into it, thinking of Tantivy, one small impromptu counter-conspiracy here, "one loses. One by one. Whoever's left is the winner."
"It sounds rather negative."
"Garçon." Drinks here are always on the house for Slothrop— They are springing for it, he imagines. "Some of that champagne! Wantcha to just keep it coming, and any time we run out, go get more, comprendez?" Any number of slack-jawed subalterns, hearing the magic word, drift over and take seats while Slothrop explains the rules.
"I'm not sure—" Dodson-Truck begins.
"Baloney. Come on, do you good to get outa that chess rut."
"Right, right," agree the others.
Dodson-Truck stays in his seat, a bit tense.
"Bigger glasses," Slothrop hollers at the waiter. "How about those beer mugs over there! Yeah! They'd be just fine." The waiter unblasts a Jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot Brut, and fills everybody up.
"Well, the Prince o' Wales," Slothrop commences, "has lost his tails, and number three has found them. Wales, tails, three sir!"
"Not I, sir," replies Dodson-Truck, kind of defensive about it.
"Say what?" inquires Five, a Highlander in parade trews, with a sly look.
"You fucked up," commands princely Slothrop, "so you got to drink up. All the way now, 'n' no stopping to breathe or anything."
On it goes. Slothrop loses Prince position to Four, and all the numbers change. The Scot is first to drop, making mistakes at first deliberate but soon inevitable. Jeroboams come and go, fat, green, tattered gray foil at the necks giving back the bar's electric radiance. Corks grow straighter, less mushroomy, dates of degorgement move further into the war years as the company gets drunker. The Scot has rolled chuckling from his chair, remaining ambulatory for some ten feet, where he goes to sleep against a potted palm. At once another junior officer slides beaming into his place. The word has osmosed out into the Casino, and there is presently a throng of kibitzers gathered around the table, waiting for casualties. Ice is being hauled in by the giant block, fern-faulted inside, breathing white off of its faces, to be sledged and chipped into a great wet tub for the procession of bottles being run up from the cellar now in relays. It soon becomes necessary for the harassed waiters to stack empty tankards in pyramids and pour fountain-style from the top, the bubble-shot cascades provoking
cheers from the crowd. Some joker is sure to reach in and grab one of the mugs on the bottom, sending the whole arrangement swaying, everybody else jumping to salvage what they can before it all comes down, crashing, soaking uniforms and shoes—so that it can be set up all over again. The game has switched to Rotating Prince, where each number called out immediately becomes Prince, and all the numbers shift accordingly. By this time it is impossible to tell who's making mistakes and who isn't. Arguments arise. Half the room are singing a vulgar song:
Last night I poked the Queen of Transylvan-ia,
Tonight I'll poke the Queen of Burgundee—
I'm bordering on the State of Schizophren-ia,
But Queenie is so very nice to me. ...
It's pink champagne and caviar for break-fast,
A spot of Chateaubriand wiv me tea—
Ten-shilling panatelas now are all that I can smoke,
I laugh so much you'd think the world was just a silly joke,
So call me what you will, m' lads, but make way for the bloke
That's poked the love-ly lit-tle Queen of Transyl-vaayn-yaa!
Slothrop's head is a balloon, which rises not vertically but horizontally, constantly across the room, whilst staying in one place. Each brain cell has become a bubble: he's been transmuted to black Epernay grapes, cool shadows, noble cuvées. He looks across at Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck, who is still miraculously upright though with a glaze about the eyes. Aha, right, s'posed to be counter-conspiring here, yes yes uh, now ... he gets involved watching another pyramidal fountain, this time of sweet Taittinger with no date on the label. Waiters and off-duty dealers sit like birds along the bar, staring. Noise in the place is incredible. A Welshman with an accordion stands on a table playing "Lady of Spain," in C, just zooming up and down that wheezebox like a maniac. Smoke hangs thick and swirling. Pipes glow in the murk. At least three fist-fights are in progress. The Prince game is difficult to locate any more. Girls crowd at the door, giggling and pointing. The light in the room has gone bear-brown with swarming uniforms. Slothrop, clutching his tankard, struggles to his feet, spins around once, falls with a crash into a floating crown-and-anchor game. Grace, he warns himself: grace. . . . Roisterers pick him up by the armpits and back pockets, and fling him in the direction of Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck. He makes his way on under a table, a lieutenant or two falling over him on route, through the odd pond of spilled bubbly, the odd slough of vomit, till he finds what he imagines to be Dodson-Truck's sand-filled cuffs.
"Hey," getting himself threaded among the legs of a chair, angling his head up to locate Dodson-Truck's face, haloed by a hanging fringe-shaded lamp. "Can you walk?"
Carefully swinging his eyes down on Slothrop, "Not sure, actually, that I can stand. . . ." They spend some time at the Business of untangling Slothrop from the chair, then standing up, which is not without its complications—locating the door, aiming for it. ... Staggering, propping each other up, they push through a bottle-wielding, walleyed, unbuttoned, roaring, white-faced and stomach-clutching mob, in among the lithe and perfumed audience of girls at the exit, all sweetly high, a decompression lock for the outside.
"Holy shit." This is the kind of sunset you hardly see any more, a 19th-century wilderness sunset, a few of which got set down, approximated, on canvas, landscapes of the American West by artists nobody ever heard of, when the land was still free and the eye innocent, and the presence of the Creator much more direct. Here it thunders now over the Mediterranean, high and lonely, this anachronism in primal red, in yellow purer than can be found anywhere today, a purity begging to be polluted ... of course Empire took its way westward, what other way was there but into those virgin sunsets to penetrate and to foul?
But out at the horizon, out near the burnished edge of the world, who are these visitors standing . . . these robed figures—perhaps, at this distance, hundreds of miles tall—their faces, serene, unattached, like the Buddha's, bending over the sea, impassive, indeed, as the Angel that stood over Lübeck during the Palm Sunday raid, come that day neither to destroy nor to protect, but to bear witness to a game of seduction. It was the next-to-last step London took before her submission, before that liaison that would bring her at length to the eruption and scarring of the wasting pox noted on Roger Mexico's map, latent in this love she shares with the night-going rake Lord Death . . . because sending the RAF to make a terror raid against civilian Lübeck was the unmistakable long look that said hurry up and fuck me, that brought the rockets hard and screaming, the A4s, which were to've been fired anyway, a bit sooner instead. . . .
What have the watchmen of world's edge come tonight to look for? deepening on now, monumental beings, stoical, on toward slag,
toward ash the color the night will stabilize at, tonight . . . what is there grandiose enough to witness? only Slothrop here, and Sir Stephen, blithering along, crossing shadow after long prison-bar shadow cast by the tall trunks of palms lining the esplanade. The spaces between the shadows are washed a very warm sunset-red now, across grainy chocolate beach. There seems to be nothing happening of any moment. No traffic whispering in the circular driveways, no milliards of francs being wagered because of a woman or an entente of nations at any of the tables inside. Only the somewhat formal weeping of Sir Stephen, down now on one knee in the sand still warm from the day: soft and strangled cries of despair held in, so testifying to all the repression he ever underwent that even Slothrop can feel, in his own throat, sympathetic flashes of pain for the effort it is clearly costing the man. . . .
"Oh yes, yes you know, I, I, I can't. No. I assumed that you knew— but then why should they tell you? They all know. I'm an office joke. The people even know. Nora's been the sweetheart of the psychic crowd for years and years. That's always good for some bit of copy in the News of the World—
"Oh! Yeah! Nora—that's that dame that was caught that time with that kid who-who can change his color, right? Wow! Sure, that Nora Dodson-Truck! I knew your name was familiar—"
But Sir Stephen has gone on: "... had a son, yes we came complete with sensitive son, boy about your age. Frank ... I think they sent him to Indo-China. They're very polite when I ask, very polite but, they won't let me find out where he is. ... They're good chaps at Fitzmau-rice House, Slothrop. They mean well. It's been, most of it's been my fault. ... I did love Nora. I did. But there were other things. . . . Important things. I believed they were. I still do. I must. As she got along, you know . . . they do get that way. You know how they are, demanding, always trying to-to drag you into bed. I couldn't," shaking his head, his hair now incandescent orange in this twilight, "I couldn't. I'd climbed too far. Another branch. Couldn't climb back down to her. She-she might even have been happy with a, even a touch now and then. . . . Listen Slothrop, your girl, your Katje, sh-she's very lovely, you know."
"Th-they think I don't care, any more. 'You can observe without passion.' Bastards . . . No I didn't mean that. . . . Slothrop, we're all such mechanical men. Doing our jobs. That's all we are. Listen—how do you think I feel? When you're off with her after every lesson. I'm an impotent man—all I have to look forward to is a book, Slothrop. A report to write ..."
"Don't get angry. I'm harmless. Go ahead hit me, I'll only fall over and bounce right up again. Watch." He demonstrates. "I care about you, both of you. I do care, believe me, Slothrop."
"O.K. Tell me what's going on."
"Fine, fine ..."
"My 'function' is to observe you. That's my function. You like my function? You like it? Your 'function' ... is, learn the rocket, inch by inch, /have ... to send in a daily log of your progress. And that's all I know."
But that's not all. He's holding something back, something deep, and fool Slothrop is too drunk to get at it with any kind of style. "Me and Katje too? You looking through the keyhole?"
Sniffling, "What difference's it make? I'm the perfect man for it. Perfect. I can't even masturbate half the time ... no nasty jissom getting all over their reports, you know. Wouldn't want that. Just a neuter, just a recording eye. . . . They're so cruel. I don't think they even know, really. . . . They aren't even sadists. . . . There's just no passion at all. ..."
Slothrop puts a hand on his shoulder. The suit padding shifts and bunches over the warm bone beneath it. He doesn't know what to say, what to do: himself, he feels empty, and wants to sleep. . . . But Sir Stephen is on his knees, just about, quaking at the edge of it, to tell Slothrop a terrible secret, a fatal confidence concerning:
the penis he thought was His own
(lead tenor): 'Twas the penis, he thought-was, his own— Just a big playful boy of a bone . . . With a stout purple head, Sticking up from the bed, Where the girlies all played Telephone—
(bass): Te-le-phone. . . .
(inner voices): But They came through the hole in the night,
(inner voices): Out of sight. . .
With a heartbroken moan,
For the pe-nis, he thought-was, his, owwwwn! (inner voices): Was, his, own!
The figures out to sea have been attending, growing now even more windy and remote as the light goes cold and out. . . . They are so difficult to reach across to—difficult to grasp. Carroll Eventyr, trying to confirm the Lübeck angel, learned how difficult—he and his control Peter Sachsa both, floundering in the swamp between the worlds. Later on, in London, came the visit from that most ubiquitous of double agents, Sammy Hilbert-Spaess, whom everyone had thought in Stockholm, or was it Paraguay?
"Here then," the kindly scombroid face scanning Eventyr, quick as a fire-control dish antenna and even less mercy, "I thought I'd—
"You thought you'd just check in."
"Telepathic too, God he's amazing i'n't he." But the fishy eyes will not let up. It is a rather bare room, the address behind Gallaho Mews ordinarily reserved for cash transactions. They have summoned Eventyr up from "The White Visitation." They know in London how to draw pentacles too, and cry conjurations, how to bring in exactly the ones they want. . . . The tabletop is crowded with glasses, smudged, whitish, emptied or with residues of deep brown and red drinks, with ashtrays and with debris from artificial flowers which old Sammy here has been plucking, unpeeling, twisting into mysterious curves and knots. Trainsmoke blows in a partly opened window. One wall of the room, though blank, has been eroded at, over years, by shadows of operatives, as certain mirrors in public eating-places have been by the images of customers: a surface gathering character, like an old face. . . .
"But then you don't actually talk to him," ah, Sammy's so good at this, softly-softly, "I mean it's none of your telegraphers in the middle of the night having a bit of a chat sort of thing. ..."
"No. No." Eventyr understanding now that they've been seeing transcripts of everything that comes through from Peter Sachsa—that what Eventyr himself gets to read is already censored. And that it may have been this way for a while now. ... So relax, grow passive, watch for a shape to develop out of Sammy's talking, a shape that really Eventyr knows already, as we do working out acrostics—he's called up to London, but they aren't asking to be put in touch with anyone, so it's Sachsa himself they're interested in, and the purpose of this meeting is not to commission Eventyr, but to warn him. To put a part of his own hidden life under interdiction. Bits, tones of voice, choices of phrasing now come flying together: "... must've been quite a shock to find himself over there . . . had a Zaxa or two of me own to worry about. . . keep you out of the street at least. . . see how you're holding
up, old Zaxa too of course, need to filter out personalities you see from the data, easier for us that way. ..."
Out of the street? Everyone knows how Sachsa died. But no one knows why he was out there that day, what led up to it. And what Sammy is telling Eventyr here is: Don't ask.
Then will they try to get to Nora too? If there are analogies here, if Eventyr does, somehow, map on to Peter Sachsa, then does Nora Dodson-Truck become the woman Sachsa loved, Leni Pokier? Will the interdiction extend to Nora's smoky voice and steady hands, and is Eventyr to be kept, for the duration, perhaps for his life, under some very sophisticated form of house arrest, for crimes that will never be told him?
Nora still carries on her Adventure, her "Ideology of the Zero," firm among the stoneswept hair of the last white guardians at the last stepoff into the black, into the radiant. . . . But where will Leni be now? Where will she have wandered off to, carrying her child, and her dreams that will not grow up? Either we didn't mean to lose her—either it was an ellipsis in our care, in what some of us will even swear is our love, or someone has taken her, deliberately, for reasons being kept secret, and Sachsa's death is part of it too. She has swept with her wings another life—not husband Franz, who dreamed of, prayed for exactly such a taking but instead is being kept for something quite different—Peter Sachsa, who was passive in a different way ... is there some mistake? Do They never make mistakes, or ... why is he here rushing with her toward her own end (as indeed Eventyr has been sucked along in Nora's furious wake) her body blocking from his sight everything that lies ahead, the slender girl strangely grown oaken, broad, maternal ... all he has to go by is the debris of their time sweeping in behind from either side, looping away in long helices, into the dusty invisible where a last bit of sunlight lies on the stones of the road. . . . Yes: however ridiculously, he is acting out Franz Pokler's fantasy for him, here crouched on her back, very small, being taken: taken forward into an aether-wind whose smell ... no not that smell last encountered just before his birth . . . the void long before he ought to be remembering . . . which means, if it's here again . . . then . . . then . . .
They are being pushed backward by a line of police. Peter Sachsa is jammed inside it, trying to keep his footing, no escape possible . . . Leni's face moving, restless, against the window of the Hamburg Flyer, concrete roads, pedestals, industrial towers of the Mark flying away at over a hundred miles an hour the perfect background, brown,
blurred, any least mistake, in the points, in the roadbed at this speed and they're done for . . . her skirt is pulled up in back, the bare bottoms of her thighs, marked red from the train seat, turn toward him . . . yes ... in the imminence of disaster, yes, whoever's watching yes. . . . "Leni, where are you?" She was at his elbow not ten seconds ago. They'd agreed beforehand to try and keep together. But there are two sorts of movement out here—as often as the chance displacements of strangers, across a clear skirmish-line from the Force, will bring together people who'll remain that way for a time, in love that can even make the oppression seem a failure, so too love, here in the street, can be taken centrifugally apart again: faces seen for the last time here, words spoken idly, over your shoulder, taking for granted she's there, already last words—"Will Walter be bringing wine tonight? I forgot to—" it's a private joke, his forgetting, going around in some adolescent confusion, hopelessly in love too by now with the little girl, Use. She is his refuge from society, parties, clients . . . often she is his sanity. He's taken to sitting for a little while each night beside her bed, late at night, watching her sleep, with her bottom up in the air and face in the pillow . . . the purity, the Tightness of it... But her mother, in her own sleep, grinds her teeth often these nights, frowns, talks in a tongue he cannot admit he might, some time or place, know and speak fluently. Just in this past week . . . what does he know of politics? but he can see that she has crossed a threshold, found a branching of the time, where he might not be able to follow—
"You're her mother . . . what if they arrest you, what happens to her?"
"That's what they—Peter can't you see, they tuant a great swollen tit with some atrophied excuse for a human, bleating around somewhere in its shadows. How can I be human for her? Not her mother. 'Mother,' that's a civil-service category, Mothers work for Them! They're the policemen of the soul..." her face darkened, Judaized by the words she speaks, not because it's out loud but because she means it, and she's right. Against her faith, Sachsa can see the shallows of his own life, the bathtub stagnancy of those soirees where for years not even the faces changed . . . too many tepid years. . . .
"But I love you ..." she brushes hair back from his sweating forehead, they lie beneath a window through which street- and advertising-light blow constantly, lapping at their skins, at their roundings and shadows, with spectra colder than those of the astrologers' Moon. . .. "You don't have to be anything you aren't, Peter. I wouldn't be here if I didn't love who you are. ..."
Did she goad him into the street, was she the death of him? In his view from the other side, no. In love, words can be taken too many ways, that's all. But he does feel he was sent across, for some particular reason. . . .
And Use, vamping him with her dark eyes. She can say his name, but often, to flirt with him, she won't, or she'll call him Mama.
"No-no, that's Mama. I'm Peter. Remember? Peter."
Leni only gazes, a smile held between her lips almost, he must say, smug, allowing the mix-up in names to fall, to set up male reverberations she can't be ignorant of. If she doesn't want him out in the street, why does she only keep her silence at such moments?
"I was only glad she wasn't calling me Mama," Leni thought she'd explain. But that's too close to ideology, it's nothing he can be comfortable with yet. He doesn't know how to listen to talk like that as more than slogans strung together: hasn't learned to hear with the revolutionary heart, won't ever, in fact, be given enough time to gather a revolutionary heart from the bleak comradely love of the others, no, no time for it now, or for anything but one more breath, the rough breath of a man growing afraid in the street, not even enough time to lose his fear in the time-honored way, no, because here comes Schutzmann Joche, truncheon already in backswing, the section of Communist head moving into view for him stupidly, so unaware of him and his power . . . the Schutzmann's first clear shot all day . . . oh, his timing is perfect, he feels it in arm and out the club no longer flabby at his side but tensed back now around in a muscular curve, at the top of his swing, peak of potential energy ... far below that gray vein in the man's temple, frail as parchment, standing out so clear, twitching already with its next to last pulsebeat. . . and, SHIT! Oh—how—
During the night, Sir Stephen vanishes from the Casino.
But not before telling Slothrop that his erections are of high interest to Fitzmaurice House.
Then in the morning Katje comes storming in madder than a wet hen, to tell Slothrop that Sir Stephen's gone. Suddenly everybody is telling Slothrop things, and he's barely awake. Rain rattles at the shutters and windows. Monday mornings, upset stomachs, good-bys ... he blinks out at the misted sea, the horizon mantled in gray, palms gleaming in the rain, heavy and wet and very green. It may be that the champagne is still with him—for ten extraordinary seconds there's nothing in his field but simple love for what he's seeing.
Then, perversely aware of it, he turns away, back into the room. Time to play with Katje, now. . . .
Her face is as pale as her hair. A rain-witch. Her hat brim makes a chic creamy green halo around her face.
"Well, he's gone then." Keenness of this order might work to provoke her. "It's too bad. Then again—maybe it's good."
"Never mind him. How much do you know, Slothrop?"
"What's that mean, never mind him? What do you do, just throw people away?"
"Do you want to find out?"
He stands twisting his mustache. "Tell me about it."
"You bastard. You've sabotaged the whole thing, with your clever little collegiate drinking game."
"What whole thing, Katje?"
"What did he tell you?" She moves a step closer. Slothrop watches her hands, thinking of army judo instructors he's seen. It occurs to him he's naked and also, hmm, seems to be getting a hardon here, look out, Slothrop. And nobody here to note it, or speculate why. . . .
"Sure didn't tell me you knew any of that judo. Must of taught you it in that Holland, huh? Sure—little things," singing in descending childish thirds, "give you away, you know. ..."
"Aahh—" exasperated she rushes in, aims a chop at his head which he's able to dodge—goes diving in under her arm, lifts her in a fireman's carry, throws her against the bed and comes after her. She kicks a sharp heel at his cock, which is what she should've done in the first place. Her timing, in fact, is drastically off all through this, else she would likely be handing Slothrop's ass to him ... it may be that she wants her foot to miss, only scraping Slothrop along the leg as he swerves now, grabs her by the hair and twists an arm behind her, pushing her, face-down, on the bed. Her skirt is up over her ass, her thighs squirming underneath him, his penis in terrific erection.
"Listen, cunt, don't make me lose my temper with you, got no problems at all hitting women, I'm the Cagney of the French Riviera, so look out."
"I'll kill you—"
"What—and sabotage the whole thing?"
Katje turns her head and sinks her teeth in his forearm, up near the elbow where the Pentothal needles used to go in. "Ow, shit—" he lets go the arm he's been twisting, pulls down underwear, takes her by one hip and penetrates her from behind, reaching under to pinch nipples, paw at her clitoris, rake his nails along inside her thighs, Mister Tech-
nique here, not that it matters, they're both ready to come—Katje first, screaming into the pillow, Slothrop a second or two later. He lies on top of her, sweating, taking great breaths, watching her face turned 3/4 away, not even a profile, but the terrible Face That Is No Face, gone too abstract, unreachable: the notch of eye socket, but never the labile eye, only the anonymous curve of cheek, convexity of mouth, a noseless mask of the Other Order of Being, of Katje's being—the lifeless nonface that is the only face of hers he really knows, or will ever remember.
"Hey, Katje," 's all he sez.
"Mm." But here's only her old residual bitterness again, and they are not, after all, to be lovers in parachutes of sunlit voile, lapsing gently, hand in hand, down to anything meadowed or calm. Surprised?
She has moved away, releasing his cock into the cold room. "What's it like in London, Slothrop? When the rockets come down?"
"What?" After fucking he usually likes to lie around, just smoke a cigarette, think about food, "Uh, you don't know it's there till it's there. Gee, till after it's there. If it doesn't hit you, then you're O.K. till the next one. If you hear the explosion, you know you must be alive."
"That's how you know you're alive."
"Right." She sits up, pulling underpants back up and skirt back down, goes to the mirror, starts rearranging her hair. "Let's hear the boundary-layer temperatures. While you're getting dressed."
"Boundary-layer temperature T sub e, what is this? rises exponentially till Brennschluss, around 70 miles range, a-and then there's a sharp cusp, 1200 degrees, then it drops a little, minimum of 1050, till you get out of the atmosphere, then there's another cusp at 1080 degrees. Stays pretty steady till re-entry," blablabla. The bridge music here, bright with xylophones, is based on some old favorite that will comment, ironically but gently, on what is transpiring—a tune such as "School Days, School Days," or "Come, Josephine, in My Flying Machine," or even "There'll Be a HOT TIME in the Old Town Tonite!" take your pick—slowing and fading to a glassed-in porch downstairs, Slothrop and Katje tête-à-tête, alone except for a number of musicians in the corner groaning and shaking their heads, plotting how to get César Flebotomo to pay them for a change. Bad gig, bad gig. . . . Rain bats against the glass, lemon and myrtle trees outside shake in the wind. Over croissants, strawberry jam, real butter, real Coffee, she has him running through the flight profile in terms of wall temperature and Nusselt heart-transfer coefficients, computing in his head from Reynolds numbers she flashes him . . . equations of motion, damping,
restoring moments .. . methods of computing Brennschluss by IG and radio methods . . . equations, transformations . . .
"Now jet expansion angles. I'll give you an altitude, you tell me the angle."
"Katje, why don't you tell me the angle?"
She was pleased, once, to think of a peacock, courting, fanning his tail. . . she saw it in the colors that moved in the flame as it rose off the platform, scarlet, orange, iridescent green . . . there were Germans, even SS troops, who called the rocket Der Pfau. 'Pfau Zwei.' Ascending, programmed in a ritual of love ... at Brennschluss it is done—the Rocket's purely feminine counterpart, the zero point at the center of its target, has submitted. All the rest will happen according to laws of ballistics. The Rocket is helpless in it. Something else has taken over. Something beyond what was designed in.
Katje has understood the great airless arch as a clear allusion to certain secret lusts that drive the planet and herself, and Those who use her—over its peak and down, plunging, burning, toward a terminal orgasm . . . which is certainly nothing she can tell Slothrop.
They sit listening to gusts of rain that's nearly sleet. Winter gathers, breathes, deepens. A roulette ball goes rattling, somewhere back in another room. She's running. Why? Has he come too close again? He tries to remember if she always needed to talk this way, in draw-shots, rebounding first before she could touch him. Fine time to start asking. He's counter-conspiring in the dark, jimmying doors at random, no telling what'll come out. . . .
Dark basalt pushes up out of the sea. A vaporous scrim hangs across the headland and its châteaux, turning it all to a grainy antique postcard. He touches her hand, moves his fingers up her bare arm, reaching. . . .
"Come on upstairs," sez Slothrop.
She may have hesitated, but so briefly that he didn't notice: "What have we been talking about all this time?"
"That A4 rocket."
She looks at him for a long time. At first he thinks she's about to laugh at him. Then it looks like she'll cry. He doesn't understand. "Oh, Slothrop. No. You don't want me. What they're after may, but you don't. No more than A4 wants London. But I don't think they know . . . about other selves . .. yours or the Rocket's . . . no. No more than you do. If you can't understand it now, at least remember. That's all I can do for you."
They go back up to her room again: cock, cunt, the Monday rain at the windows. . . . Slothrop spends the rest of the morning and early afternoon studying Professors Schiller on regenerative cooling, Wagner on combustion equations, Pauer and Beck on exhaust gases and burning efficiency. And a pornography of blueprints. At noon the rain stops. Katje is off on chores of her own. Slothrop passes a few hours downstairs in the bar, waiters who catch his eye smiling, holding up bottles of champagne, wiggling them invitingly—"No, merci, non. . . ." He's trying to memorize the organization charts at that Peene-münde.
As light begins to spill from the overcast sky, he and Katje are out taking a walk, an end-of-the-day stroll along the esplanade. Her hand is gloveless and icy in his, her narrow black coat making her taller, her long silences helping to thin her for him nearly to fog. . . . They stop, lean against a railing, he watching the midwinter sea, she the blind and chilly Casino poised behind them. Colorless clouds slide by, endlessly, in the sky.
"I was thinking of the time I came in on you. That afternoon." He can't quite bring himself to get specific out loud, but she knows he means the Himmler-Spielsaal.
She has looked around sharply. "So was I."
Their breaths are torn into phantoms out to sea. She has her hair combed high today in a pompadour, her fair eyebrows, plucked to wings, darkened, eyes rimmed in black, only the outboard few lashes missed and left blonde. Cloudlight comes slanting down across her face, taking away color, leaving little more than a formal snapshot, the kind that might appear on a passport. . . .
"A-and you were so far away then ... I couldn't reach you. . . ."
Then. Something like pity comes into her face and goes again. But her whisper is lethal and bright as sudden wire: "Maybe you'll find out. Maybe in one of their bombed-out cities, beside one of their rivers or forests, even one day in the rain, it will come to you. You'll remember the Himmler-Spielsaal, and the skirt I was wearing . . . memory will dance for you, and you can even make it my voice saying what I couldn't say then. Or now." Oh what is it she smiles here to him, only for that second? already gone. Back to the mask of no luck, no future—her face's rest state, preferred, easiest. . . .
They are standing among black curly skeletons of iron benches, on the empty curve of this esplanade, banked much more steeply than the waking will ever need: vertiginous, trying to spill them into the sea and be rid of this. The day has grown colder. Neither of them can stay
balanced for long, every few seconds one or the other must find a new footing. He reaches and turns up the collar of her coat, holds her cheeks then in his palms ... is he trying to bring back the color of flesh? He looks down, trying to see into her eyes, and is puzzled to find tears coming up to fill each one, soaking in among her lashes, mascara bleeding out in fine black swirls . . . translucent stones, trembling in their sockets. . . .
Waves crash and drag at the stones of the beach. The harbor has broken out in whitecaps, so brilliant they can't be gathering their light from this drab sky. Here it is again, that identical-looking Other World—is he gonna have this to worry about, now? What th'—lookít these trees—each long frond hanging, stung, dizzying, in laborious drypoint against the sky, each so perfectly placed. . . .
She has moved her thighs and the points of her hips up to touch him, through her coat—it might still, after all, be to help bring him back—her breath a white scarf, her tear-trails, winter-lit, ice. She feels warm. But it's not enough. Never was—nope, he understands all right, she's been meaning to go for a long time. Braced for the wind the whitecaps imply, or for the tilt of the pavement, they hold each other. He kisses her eyes, feels his cock again begin to swell with good old, bad old—old, anyhow—lust.
Out at sea a single clarinet begins to play, a droll melody joined in on after a few bars by guitars and mandolins. Birds huddle bright-eyed on the beach. Katje's heart lightens, a little, at the sound. Slothrop doesn't yet have the European reflexes to clarinets, he still thinks of Benny Goodman and not of clowns or circuses—but wait . . . aren't these kazoos coming? Yeah, a lotta kazoos! A Kazoo Band!
Late that night, back in her room, she wears a red gown of heavy silk. Two tall candles burn an indefinite distance behind her. He feels the change. After making love she lies propped on an elbow watching him, breathing deep, dark nipples riding with the swell, as buoys ride on the white sea. But a patina has formed on her eyes: he can't even see her accustomed retreat, this last time, dimmed, graceful, to the corner of some inner room. . . .
"Sshh," raking dreamy fingernails down the morning, over the Cote d'Azur toward Italy. Slothrop wants to sing, decides to, but then can't think of anything that'd work. He reaches an arm, without wetting his fingers snuffs the candles. She kisses the pain. It hurts even more. He falls asleep in her arms. When he wakes she is gone, completely, most of her never-worn clothes still in the closet, blisters and a
little wax on his fingers, and one cigarette, stubbed out before its time in an exasperated fishhook. . . . She never wasted cigarettes. She must have sat, smoking, watching him while he slept . . . until something, he'll never be asking her what, triggered her, made it impossible to stay till cigarette's end. He straightens it out, finishes it, no point wasting smokes is there, with a war on. ...
"Ordinarily in our behavior, we react not singly, but complexly, to fit the ever present contents of our environment. In old people," Pavlov was lecturing at the age of 83, "the matter is altogether different. Concentrating on one stimulus we exclude by negative induction other collateral and simultaneous stimuli because they often do not suit the circumstances, are not complementary reactions in the given setting."
Thus [Pointsman never shows these excursions of his to anyone], reaching for some flower on my table,
I know the cool mosaic of my room
Begin its slow, inhibitory dissolve Around the bloom, the stimulus, the need
That brighter burns, as brightness, quickly sucked
From objects all around, now concentrates
(Yet less than blinding), focuses to flame.
Whilst there yet, in the room's hypnotic evening,
The others lurk—the books, the instruments,
The old man's clothes, an old gorodki stick,
Glazed now but with their presences. Their spirits,
Or memories I kept of where they were,
Are canceled, for this moment, by the flame:
The reach toward the frail and waiting flower ...
And so, one of them—pen, or empty glass—
Is knocked from where it was, perhaps to roll
Beyond the blank frontiers of memory ... Yet this, be clear, is no "senile distraction,"
But concentrating, such as younger men Can easily and laughing dodge, their world Presenting too much more than one mean loss— And out here, eighty-three, the cortex slack, Excitatory processes eased to cinders
By Inhibition's tweaking, callused fingers,
Each time my room begins its blur I feel
I've looked in on some city's practice blackout
(Such as must come, should Germany keep on
That road of madness). Each light, winking out. . .
Except at last for one bright, stubborn bloom
The Wardens cannot quench. Or not this time.
The weekly briefings at "The White Visitation" are all but abandoned. Hardly anyone sees the old Brigadier about these days. There is evidence of a budgetary insecurity begun to filter in among the cherub-crusted halls and nooks of the PISCES facility.
"The old man's funking," cries Myron Grunton, none too stable himself these days. The Slothrop group are gathered for their regular meeting in the ARE wing. "He'll shoot down the whole scheme, all it'll take is one bad night. ..."
A degree of well-bred panic can be observed among those present. In the background, laboratory assistants move about cleaning up dog shit and calibrating instruments. Rats and mice, white and black and a few shades of gray, run clattering on their wheels in a hundred cages.
Pointsman is the only one here maintaining his calm. He appears unruffled and strong. His lab coats have even begun lately to take on a Savile Row serenity, suppressed waist, flaring vents, finer material, rather rakishly notched lapels. In this parched and fallow time, he gushes affluence. After the baying has quieted down at last, he speaks, soothing: "There's no danger."
"No danger?" screams Aaron Throwster, and the lot of them are off again muttering and growling.
"Slothrop's knocked out Dodson-Truck and the girl in one day!"
"The whole thing's falling apart, Pointsman!"
"Since Sir Stephen came back, Fitzmaurice House has dropped out of the scheme, and there've been embarrassing inquiries down from Duncan Sandys—"
"That's the EM.'s son-in-law, Pointsman, not good, not good!"
"We've already begun to run into a deficit—"
"Funding," IF you can keep your head, "is available, and will be coming in before long . . . certainly before we run into any serious trouble. Sir Stephen, far from being 'knocked out,' is quite happily at work in Fitzmaurice House, and is At Home there should any of you wish to confirm. Miss Borgesius is still active on the program, and Mr.
Duncan Sandys is having all his questions answered. But best of all, we are budgeted well into fiscal '46 before anything like a deficit begins to rear its head."
"Your Interested Parties again?" sez Rollo Groast.
"Ah, I noticed Clive Mossmoon from Imperial Chemicals closeted with you day before yesterday," Edwin Treacle mentions now. "Clive and I took an organic chemistry course or two together back at Manchester. Is ICI one of our, ah, sponsors, Pointsman?"
"No," smoothly, "Mossmoon, actually, is working out of Malet Street these days. I'm afraid we were up to nothing more sinister than a bit of routine coordination over this Schwarzkommando Business."
"The hell you were. I happen to know Clive's at ICI, managing some sort of polymer research."
They stare at each other. One is lying, or bluffing, or both are, or all of the above. But whatever it is Pointsman has a slight advantage. By facing squarely the extinction of his program, he has gained a great bit of Wisdom: that if there is a life force operating in Nature, still there is nothing so analogous in a bureaucracy. Nothing so mystical. It all conies down, as it must, to the desires of individual men. Oh, and women too of course, bless their empty little heads. But survival depends on having strong enough desires—on knowing the System better than the other chap, and how to use it. It's work, that's all it is, and there's no room for any extrahuman anxieties—they only weaken, ef-feminize the will: a man either indulges them, or fights to win, und so weiter. "I do wish ICI would finance part of this," Pointsman smiles.
"Lame, lame," mutters the younger Dr. Groast.
"What's it matter?" cries Aaron Throwster. "If the old man gets moody at the wrong time this whole show can prang."
"Brigadier Pudding will not go back on any of his commitments," Pointsman very steady, calm, "we have made arrangements with him. The details aren't important."
They never are, in these meetings of his. Treacle has been comfortably sidetracked onto the Mossmoon Issue, Rollo Groast's carping asides never get as far as serious opposition, and are useful in presenting the appearance of open discussion, as are Throwster's episodes of hysteria for distracting the others. ... So the gathering breaks up, the conspirators head off for Coffee, wives, whisky, sleep, indifference. Webley Silvernail stays behind to secure his audiovisual gear and loot the ashtrays. Dog Vanya, back for the moment in an ordinary state of mind if not of kidneys (which are vulnerable after a while to bromide
therapy), has been allowed a short break from the test stand, and he goes sniffing now over to the cage of Rat Ilya. Ilya puts his muzzle against the galvanized wire, and the two pause this way, nose to nose, life and life. . . . Silvernail, puffing on a hook-shaped stub, lugging a 16 mm projector, leaves ARF by way of a long row of cages, exercise wheels strobing under the fluorescent lights. Careful youse guys, here comes da screw. Aw he's O.K. Looie, he's a regular guy. The others laugh. Den what's he doin' in here, huh? The long white lights buzz overhead. Gray-smocked assistants chat, smoke, linger at various routines. Look out, Lefty, dey're comin' fer you dis time. Watch dis, chuckles Mouse Alexei, when he picks me up I'm gonna shit, right'n his hand! Better not hey, ya know what happened ta Slug, don'tcha? Dey fried him when he did dat, man, da foist time he fucked up run-nin' dat maze. A hundrit volts. Dey said it wuz a "accident." Yeah . . . sure it wuz!
From overhead, from a German camera-angle, it occurs to Webley Silvernail, this lab here is also a maze, i'n't it now . . . behaviorists run these aisles of tables and consoles just like rats 'n' mice. Reinforcement for them is not a pellet of food, but a successful experiment. But who watches from above, who notes their responses? Who hears the small animals in the cages as they mate, or nurse, or communicate through the gray quadrilles, or, as now, begin to sing . . . come out of their enclosures, in fact, grown to Webley Silvernail-size (though none of the lab people seem to be noticing) to dance him down the long aisles and metal apparatus, with conga drums and a peppy tropical orchestra taking up the very popular beat and melody of:
It was spring in Pavlovia-a-a, I was lost, in a maze ... Lysol breezes perfumed the air, I'd been searching for days. I found you, in a cul-de-sac, As bewildered as I— We touched noses, and suddenly My heart learned how to fly!
So, together, we found our way, Shared a pellet, or two ...
Like an evening in some cafe,
Wanting nothing, but you . . .
Autumn's come, to Pavlovia-a-a, Once again, I'm alone— Finding sorrow by millivolts, Back to neurons and bone. And I think of our moments then, Never knowing your name— Nothing's left in Pavlovia, But the maze, and the game. ...
They dance in flowing skeins. The rats and mice form circles, curl their tails in and out to make chrysanthemum and sunburst patterns, eventually all form into the shape of a single giant mouse, at whose eye Silvernail poses with a smile, arms up in a V, sustaining the last note of the song, along with the giant rodent-chorus and orchestra. One of PWD's classic propaganda leaflets these days urges the Volks-grenadier: SETZT V-2 ein!, with a footnote, explaining that "V-2" means to raise both arms in "honorable surrender"—more gallows-humor—and telling how to say, phonetically, "ei ssörrender." Is Web-ley's V here for victory, or ssörrender?
They have had their moment of freedom. Webley has only been a guest star. Now it's back to the cages and the rationalized forms of death—death in the service of the one species cursed with the knowledge that it will die. ... "I would set you free, if I knew how. But it isn't free out here. All the animals, the plants, the minerals, even other kinds of men, are being broken and reassembled every day, to preserve an elite few, who are the loudest to theorize on freedom, but the least free of all. I can't even give you hope that it will be different someday—that They'll come out, and forget death, and lose Their technology's elaborate terror, and stop using every other form of life without mercy to keep what haunts men down to a tolerable level—and be like you instead, simply here, simply alive. .. ." The guest star retires down the corridors.
Lights, all but a sprinkling, are out at "The White Visitation." The sky tonight is deep blue, blue as a Navy greatcoat, and the clouds in it are amazingly white. The wind is keen and cold. Old Brigadier Pudding, trembling, slips from his quarters down the back stairs, by a route only he knows, through the vacant orangery in the starlight, along a gallery hung to lace dandies, horses, ladies with hard-boiled eggs for eyes, out a small entresol (point of maximum danger . . .) and into a lumber-room, whose stacks of junk and random blacknesses, even this far from his childhood, are good for a chill, out again and down a set of metal steps, singing, he hopes quietly, for courage:
Wash me in the water
That you wash your dirty daughter,
And I shall be whiter than the whitewash on the wall. . . .
at last to D Wing, where the madmen of the '30s persist. The night attendant is asleep under the Daily Herald. He is a coarse-looking fellow, and has been reading the leader. Is it an indication of things to come, next election? Oh, dear . . .
But orders are to let the Brigadier pass. The old man tiptoes by, breathing fast. Mucus rattles back in his throat. He's at the age where mucus is a daily companion, a culture of mucus among the old, mucus in a thousand manifestations, appearing in clots by total surprise on a friend's tablecloth, rimming his breath-passages at night in hard ven-turi, enough to darken the outlines of dreams and send him awake, pleading. . . .
A voice from some cell too distant for us to locate intones: "I am blessed Metatron. I am keeper of the Secret. I am guardian of the Throne. ..." In here, the more disturbing Whig excesses have been chiseled away or painted over. No point disturbing the inmates. All is neutral tones, soft draperies, Impressionist prints on the walls. Only the marble floor has been left, and under the bulbs it gleams like water. Old Pudding must negotiate half a dozen offices or anterooms before reaching his destination. It hasn't yet been a fortnight, but there is already something of ritual to this, of iteration. Each room will hold a single unpleasantness for him: a test he must pass. He wonders if Pointsman hasn't set these up too. Of course, of course he must . . . how did the young bastard ever find out? Have I been talking in m' sleep? Have they been slipping in at night with their truth serums to—and just at the clear emergence of the thought, here is his first test tonight. In the first room: a hypodermic outfit has been left lying on a table. Very clear and shining, with the rest of the room slightly out of focus. Yes mornings I felt terribly groggy, couldn't wake, after dreaming—were they dreams? I was talking. . . . But it's all he remembers, talking while someone else was there listening. . . . He is shivering with fear, and his face is whiter than whitewash.
In the second antechamber is an empty red tin that held Coffee. The brand name is Savarin. He understands that it means to say "Sev-erin." Oh, the filthy, the mocking scoundrel. . . . But these are not malignant puns against an intended sufferer so much as a sympathetic magic, a repetition high and low of some prevailing form (as, for instance, no sane demolition man at his evening dishwater will wash a
spoon between two cups, or even between a glass and a plate, for fear of the Trembler it implies . . . because it's a trembler-tongue he really holds, poised between its two fatal contacts, in fingers aching with having been so suddenly reminded). ... In the third, a file drawer is left ajar, a stack of case histories partly visible, and an open copy of Krafft-Ebing. In the fourth, a human skull. His excitement grows. In the fifth, a Malacca cane. I've been in more wars for England than I can remember . . . haven't I paid enough? Risked it all for them, time after time. .. . Why must they torment an old man? In the sixth chamber, hanging from the overhead, is a tattered tommy up on White Sheet Ridge, field uniform burned in Maxim holes black-rimmed as the eyes of Cléo de Mérode, his own left eye shot away, the corpse beginning to stink ... no ... no! an overcoat, someone's old coat that's all, left on a hook in the wall. . . but couldn't he smell it? Now mustard gas comes washing in, into his brain with a fatal buzz as dreams will when we don't want them, or when we are suffocating. A machine-gun on the German side sings dum diddy da da, an English weapon answers dum dum, and the night tightens coiling around his body, just before H-Hour. . . .
At the seventh cell, his knuckles feeble against the dark oak, he knocks. The lock, remotely, electrically commanded, slams open with an edge of echo trailing. He enters, and closes the door behind him. The cell is in semidarkness, with only a scented candle burning back in a corner that seems miles away. She waits for him in a tall Adam chair, white body and black uniform-of-the-night. He drops to his knees.
"Domina Nocturna . . . shining mother and last love . . . your servant Ernest Pudding, reporting as ordered."
In these war years, the focus of a woman's face is her mouth. Lipstick, among these tough and too often shallow girls, prevails like blood. Eyes have been left to weather and to tears: these days, with so much death hidden in the sky, out under the sea, among the blobs and smears of recco photographs, most women's eyes are only functional. But Pudding conies out of a different time, and Pointsman has considered this detail too. The Brigadier's lady has spent an hour at her vanity mirror with mascara, liner, shadow, and pencil, lotions and rouges, brushes and tweezers, consulting from time to time a looseleaf album filled with photographs of the reigning beauties of thirty and forty years ago, so that her reign these nights may be authentic if not—it is for her state of mind as well as his—legitimate. Her blonde hair is tucked and pinned beneath a thick black wig. When she sits with her head down, forgetting the regal posture, the hair comes forward, over
her shoulders, below her breasts. She is naked now, except for a long sable cape and black boots with court heels. Her only jewelry is a silver ring with an artificial ruby not cut to facets but still in the original boule, an arrogant gout of blood, extended now, waiting his kiss.
His clipped mustache bristles, trembling, across her fingers. She has filed her nails to long points and polished them the same red as her ruby. Their ruby. In this light the nails are almost black. "That's enough. Get ready."
She watches him undress, medals faintly jingling, starch shirt rattling. She wants a cigarette desperately, but her instructions are not to smoke. She tries to keep her hands still. "What are you thinking, Pudding?"
"Of the night we first met." The mud stank. The Archies were chugging in the darkness. His men, his poor sheep, had taken gas that morning. He was alone. Through the periscope, underneath a star shell that hung in the sky, he saw her . . . and though he was hidden, she saw Pudding. Her face was pale, she was dressed all in black, she stood in No-man's Land, the machine guns raked their patterns all around her, but she needed no protection. "They knew you, Mistress. They were your own."
"And so were you."
"You called to me, you said, 'I shall never leave you. You belong to me. We shall be together, again and again, though it may be years between. And you will always be at my service.' "
He is on his knees again, bare as a baby. His old man's flesh creeps coarse-grained in the light from the candle. Old scars and new welts group here and there over his skin. His penis stands at present arms. She smiles. At her command, he crawls forward to kiss her boots. He smells wax and leather, and can feel her toes flexing beneath his tongue, through the black skin. From the corner of his eye, on a little table, he can see the remains of her early evening meal, the edge of a plate, the tops of two bottles, mineral water, French wine. . . .
"Time for pain now, Brigadier. You shall have twelve of the best, if your offering tonight pleases me."
Here is his worst moment. She has refused him before. His memories of the Salient do not interest her. She doesn't seem to care for mass slaughter as much as for myth, and personal terror . . . but please . . . please let her accept. . . .
"At Badajoz," whispering humbly, "during the war in Spain ... a bandera of Franco's Legion advanced on the city, singing their regi-
mental hymn. They sang of the bride they had taken. It was you, Mistress: they-they were proclaiming you as their bride. . . ."
She's silent for a bit, making him wait. At last, eyes holding his, she smiles, the component of evil in it she has found he needs taking care of itself as usual: "Yes. . . . Many of them did become my bridegrooms that day," she whispers, flexing the bright cane. There seems to be a winter wind in the room. Her image threatens to shake apart into separate flakes of snow. He loves to listen to her speak, hers is the voice that found him from the broken rooms of the Flemish villages, he knows, he can tell from the accent, the girls who grew old in the Low Countries, whose voices went corrupted from young to old, gay to indifferent, as that war drew out, season into ever more bitter season. ... "I took their brown Spanish bodies to mine. They were the color of the dust, and the twilight, and of meats roasted to a perfect texture . . . most of them were so very young. A summer day, a day of love: one of the most poignant I ever knew. Thank you. You shall have your pain tonight."
It's a part of her routine she can enjoy, at least. Though she has never read any classic British pornography, she does feel herself, sure as a fish, well in the local mainstream. Six on the buttocks, six more across the nipples. Whack where's that Gourd Surprise now? Eh? She likes the way the blood leaps to cross last night's welts. Often it's all she can do to keep from moaning herself at each of his grunts of pain, two voices in a dissonance which would be much less accidental than it sounded. . . . Some nights she's gagged him with a ceremonial sash, bound him with a gold-tasseled fourragère or his own Sam Browne. But tonight he lies humped on the floor at her feet, his withered ass elevated for the cane, bound by nothing but his need for pain, for something real, something pure. They have taken him so far from his simple nerves. They have stuffed paper illusions and military euphemisms between him and this truth, this rare decency, this moment at her scrupulous feet... no it's not guilt here, not so much as amazement—that he could have listened to so many years of ministers, scientists, doctors each with his specialized lies to tell, when she was here all the time, sure in her ownership of his failing body, his true body: undisguised by uniform, uncluttered by drugs to keep from him her communiques of vertigo, nausea and pain. . . . Above all, pain. The clearest poetry, the endearment of greatest worth. . . .
He struggles to his knees to kiss the instrument. She stands over him now, legs astride, pelvis cocked forward, fur cape held apart on her hips. He dares to gaze up at her cunt, that fearful vortex. Her pubic hair has been dyed black for the occasion. He sighs, and lets escape a small shameful groan.
"Ah . . . yes, I know." She laughs. "Poor mortal Brigadier, I know. It is my last mystery," stroking with fingernails her labia, "you cannot ask a woman to reveal her last mystery, now, can you?"
"No. Not tonight. Kneel here and take what I give you."
Despite himself—already a reflex—he glances quickly over at the bottles on the table, the plates, soiled with juices of meat, Hollandaise, bits of gristle and bone. . . . Her shadow covers his face and upper torso, her leather boots creak softly as thigh and abdominal muscles move, and then in a rush she begins to piss. He opens his mouth to catch the stream, choking, trying to keep swallowing, feeling warm urine dribble out the corners of his mouth and down his neck and shoulders, submerged in the hissing storm. When she's done he licks the last few drops from his lips. More cling, golden clear, to the glossy hairs of her quim. Her face, looming between her bare breasts, is smooth as steel.
She turns. "Hold up my fur." He obeys. "Be careful. Don't touch my skin." Earlier in this game she was nervous, constipated, wondering if this was anything like male impotence. But thoughtful Pointsman, anticipating this, has been sending laxative pills with her meals. Now her intestines whine softly, and she feels shit begin to slide down and out. He kneels with his arms up holding the rich cape. A dark turd appears out the crevice, out of the absolute darkness between her white buttocks. He spreads his knees, awkwardly, until he can feel the leather of her boots. He leans forward to surround the hot turd with his lips, sucking on it tenderly, licking along its lower side ... he is thinking, he's sorry, he can't help it, thinking of a Negro's penis, yes he knows it abrogates part of the conditions set, but it will not be denied, the image of a brute African who will make him behave. . . . The stink of shit floods his nose, gathering him, surrounding. It is the smell of Passchendaele, of the Salient. Mixed with the mud, and the putrefaction of corpses, it was the sovereign smell of their first meeting, and her emblem. The turd slides into his mouth, down to his gullet. He gags, but bravely clamps his teeth shut. Bread that would only have floated in porcelain waters somewhere, unseen, untasted—risen now and baked in the bitter intestinal Oven to bread we know, bread that's light as domestic comfort, secret as death in bed . . . Spasms in his
throat continue. The pain is terrible. With his tongue he mashes shit against the roof of his mouth and begins to chew, thickly now, the only sound in the room. . . .
There are two more turds, smaller ones, and when he has eaten these, residual shit to lick out of her anus. He prays that she'll let him drop the cape over himself, to be allowed, in the silk-lined darkness, to stay a while longer with his submissive tongue straining upward into her asshole. But she moves away. The fur evaporates from his hands. She orders him to masturbate for her. She has watched Captain Blicero with Gottfried, and has learned the proper style.
The Brigadier comes quickly. The rich smell of semen fills the room like smoke.
"Now go." He wants to cry. But he has pleaded before, offered her—absurdly—his life. Tears well and slide from his eyes. He can't look into hers. "You have shit all over your mouth now. Perhaps I'll take a photograph of you like that. In case you ever get tired of me."
"No. No, I'm only tired of that," jerking his head back out of D Wing to encompass the rest of "The White Visitation." "So bloody tired. . . ."
"Get dressed. Remember to wipe your mouth off. I'll send for you when I want you again."
Dismissed. Back in uniform, he closes the cell door and retraces his way in. The night attendant is still asleep. Cold air hits Pudding like a blow. He sobs, bent, alone, cheek resting a moment against the rough stone walls of the Palladian house. His regular quarters have become a place of exile, and his real Home is with the Mistress of the Night, with her soft boots and hard foreign voice. He has nothing to look forward to but a late-night cup of broth, routine papers to sign, a dose of penicillin that Pointsman has ordered him to take, to combat the effects of E. coli. Perhaps, though, tomorrow night . . . perhaps then. He can't see how he can hold out much longer. But perhaps, in the hours just before dawn . . .
The great cusp—green equinox and turning, dreaming fishes to young ram, watersleep to firewaking, bears down on us. Across the Western Front, up in the Harz in Bleicheröde, Wernher von Braun, lately wrecked arm in a plaster cast, prepares to celebrate his 33rd birthday.
Artillery thunders through the afternoon. Russian tanks raise dust phantoms far away over the German leas. The storks are Home, and the first violets have appeared.
At "The White Visitation," days along the chalk piece of seacoast now are fine and clear. The office girls are bundling into fewer sweaters, and breasts peaking through into visibility again. March has come in like a lamb. Lloyd George is dying. Stray visitors are observed now along the still-forbidden beach, sitting among obsolescent networks of steel rod and cable, trousers rolled to the knee or hair unsnooded, chilly gray toes stirring the shingle. Just offshore, underwater, run miles of secret piping, oil ready at a valve-twist to be released and roast German invaders who belong back in dreams already old . . . fuel waiting hypergolic ignition that will not come unless now as some junior-bureaucratic rag or May uprising of the spirit, to Bavarian tunesmith Carl Orff's lively
To-tus flore-o! lam amore virginali Totus ardeo ...
all this fortress coast alight, Portsmouth to Dungeness, blazing for the love of spring. Plots to this effect hatch daily among the livelier heads at "The White Visitation"—the winter of dogs, of black snowfalls of issueless words, is ending. Soon it will be behind us. But once there, behind us—will it still go on emanating its hooded cold, however the fires burn at sea?
At the Casino Hermann Goering, a new regime has been taking over. General Wivern's is now the only familiar face, though he seems to've been downgraded. Slothrop's own image of the plot against him has grown. Earlier the conspiracy was monolithic, all-potent, nothing he could ever touch. Until that drinking game, and that scene with that Katje, and both the sudden good-bys. But now—
Proverbs for Paranoids, 1: You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
And then, well, he is lately beginning to find his way into one particular state of consciousness, not a dream certainly, perhaps what used to be called a "reverie," though one where the colors are more primaries than pastels . . . and at such times it seems he has touched, and stayed touching, for a while, a soul we know, a voice that has more than once spoken through research-facility medium Carroll Eventyr: the late Roland Feldspath again, long-co-opted expert on control sys-
terns, guidance equations, feedback situations for this Aeronautical Establishment and that. Seems that, for personal reasons, Roland has remained hovering over this Slothropian space, through sunlight whose energy he barely feels and through storms that tickled his back with static electricity has Roland been whispering from eight kilometers, the savage height, stationed as he has been along one of the Last Parabolas—flight paths that must never be taken—working as one of the invisible Interdictors of the stratosphere now, bureaucratized hopelessly on that side as ever on this, he keeps his astral meathooks in as well as can be expected, curled in the "sky" so tense with all the frustrations of trying to reach across, with the impotence of certain dreamers who try to wake or talk and cannot, who struggle against weights and probes of cranial pain that it seems could not be borne waking, he waits, not necessarily for the aimless entrances of boobs like Slothrop here—
Roland shivers. Is this the one? This? to be figurehead for the latest passage? Oh, dear. God have mercy: what storms, what monsters of the Aether could this Slothrop ever charm away for anyone?
Well, Roland must make the best of it, that's all. If they get this far, he has to show them what he knows about Control. That's one of his death's secret missions. His cryptic utterances that night at Snoxall's about economic systems are merely the folksy everyday background chatter over here, a given condition of being. Ask the Germans especially. Oh, it is a real sad story, how shoddily their Schwärmerei for Control was used by the folks in power. Paranoid Systems of History (PSH), a short-lived periodical of the 1920s whose plates have all mysteriously vanished, natch, has even suggested, in more than one editorial, that the whole German Inflation was created deliberately, simply to drive young enthusiasts of the Cybernetic Tradition into Control work: after all, an economy inflating, upward bound as a balloon, its own definition of Earth's surface drifting upward in value, uncontrolled, drifting with the days, the feedback system expected to maintain the value of the mark constant having, humiliatingly, failed. . . . Unity gain around the loop, unity gain, zero change, and hush, that way, forever, these were the secret rhymes of the childhood of the Discipline of Control—secret and terrible, as the scarlet histories say. Diverging oscillations of any kind were nearly the Worst Threat. You could not pump the swings of these playgrounds higher than a certain angle from the vertical. Fights broke up quickly, with a smoothness that had not been long in coming. Rainy days never had much lightning or thunder to them, only a haughty glass grayness collecting in
the lower parts, a monochrome overlook of valleys crammed with mossy deadfalls jabbing roots at heaven not entirely in malign playfulness (as some white surprise for the elitists up there paying no mind, no . . .), valleys thick with autumn, and in the rain a withering, spin-sterish brown behind the gold of it... very selectively blighted rainfall teasing you across the lots and into the back streets, which grow ever more mysterious and badly paved and more deeply platted, lot giving way to crooked lot seven times and often more, around angles of hedge, across freaks of the optical daytime until we have passed, fevered, silent, out of the region of streets itself and into the countryside, into the quilted dark fields and the wood, the beginning of the true forest, where a bit of the ordeal ahead starts to show, and our hearts to feel afraid . . . but just as no swing could ever be thrust above a certain height, so, beyond a certain radius, the forest could be penetrated no further. A limit was always there to be brought to. It was so easy to grow up under that dispensation. All was just as wholesome as could be. Edges were hardly ever glimpsed, much less flirted at or with. Destruction, oh, and demons—yes, including Maxwell's—were there, deep in the woods, with other beasts vaulting among the earthworks of your safety. . . .
So was the Rocket's terrible passage reduced, literally, to bourgeois terms, terms of an equation such as that elegant blend of philosophy and hardware, abstract change and hinged pivots of real metals which describes motion under the aspect of yaw control:
preserving, possessing, steering between Scylla and Charybdis the whole way to Brennschluss. If any of the young engineers saw correspondence between the deep conservatism of Feedback and the kinds of lives they were coming to lead in the very process of embracing it, it got lost, or disguised—none of them made the connection, at least not while alive: it took death to show it to Roland Feldspath, death with its very good chances for being Too Late, and a host of other souls feeling themselves, even now, Rocketlike, driving out toward the stone-blue lights of the Vacuum under a Control they cannot quite name . . . the illumination out here is surprisingly mild, mild as heavenly robes, a feeling of population and invisible force, fragments of "voices," glimpses into another order of being. . . .
Afterward, Slothrop would be left not so much with any clear symbol or scheme to it as with some alkaline aftertaste of lament, an irreducible strangeness, a self-sufficiency nothing could get inside. . . .
Yes, sort of German, these episodes here. Well, these days Slothrop is even dreaming in the language. Folks have been teaching him dialects, Plattdeutsch for the zone the British plan to occupy, Thur-ingian if the Russians happen not to drive as far as Nordhausen, where die central rocket works is located. Along with the language teachers come experts in ordnance, electronics, and aerodynamics, and a fellow from Shell International Petroleum named Hilary Bounce, who is going to teach him about propulsion.
It seems that early in 1941, the British Ministry of Supply let a £10,000 research contract to Shell—wanted Shell to develop a rocket engine that would run on something besides cordite, which was being used in those days to blow up various sorts of people at the rate of oodles 'n' oodles of tons an hour, and couldn't be spared for rockets. A team ramrodded by one Isaac Lubbock set up a static-test facility at Langhurst near Horsham, and began to experiment with liquid oxygen and aviation fuel, running their first successful test in August of '42. Engineer Lubbock was a double first at Cambridge and the Father of British Liquid Oxygen Research, and what he didn't know about the sour stuff wasn't worth knowing. His chief assistant these days is Mr. Geoffrey Gollin, and it is to Gollin that Hilary Bounce reports.
"Well, I'm an Esso man myself," Slothrop thinks he ought to mention. "My old short was a gasgobbler all right, but a gourmet. Any time it used that Shell I had to drop a whole bottle of that Bromo in the tank just to settle that poor fucking Terraplane's plumbing down."
"Actually," the eyebrows of Captain Bounce, a 110% company man, going up and down earnestly to help him out, "we handled only the transport and storage end of things then. In those days, before the Japs and the Nazis you know, production and refining were up to the Dutch office, in The Hague."
Slothrop, poor sap, is remembering Katje, lost Katje, saying the name of her city, whispering Dutch love-words as they moved down sea-mornings now another age, another dispensation. . . . Wait a minute. "That's Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij, N.V?"
It's also the negative of a recco photograph of the city, darkbrown, festooned with water-spots, never enough time to let these dry out
"Are you blokes aware" they're trying to teach him English En-
glish too, heaven knows why, and it keeps coming out like Gary Grant, "that Jerry—old Jerry, you know—has been in that The Hague there, shooting his bloody rockets at that London, a-and using, the . . . Royal Dutch Shell headquarters building, at the Josef Israelplein if I remember correctly, for a radio guidance transmitter? What bizarre shit is that, old man?"
Bounce stares at him, jingling his gastric jewelry, not knowing what to make of Slothrop, exactly.
"I mean," Slothrop now working himself into a fuss over something that only disturbs him, dimly, nothing to kick up a row over, is it? "doesn't it strike you as just a bit odd, you Shell chaps working on your liquid engine your side of the Channel you know, and their chaps firing their bloody things at you with your own . . . blasted . . . Shell transmitter tower, you see."
"No, I can't see that it makes—what are you getting at? Surely they'd simply have picked the tallest building they could find that's in a direct line from their firing sites to London."
"Yes, and at the right distance too, don't forget that—exactly twelve kilometers from the firing site. Hey? That's exactly what I mean." Wait, oh wait. Is that what he means?
"Well, I'd never thought of it that way."
Neither have I, Jackson. Oh, me neither folks. . . .
Hilary Bounce and his Puzzled Smile. Another innocent, a low-key enthusiast like Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck. But:
Proverbs for Paranoids, 2: The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.
"I hope I haven't said anything wrong."
"You look—" Bounce aspirating what he means to be a warm little laugh, "worried."
Worried, all right. By the jaws and teeth of some Creature, some Presence so large that nobody else can see it—there! that's that monster I was telling you about. —That's no monster, stupid, that's clouds! —No, can't you see? It's his feet— Well, Slothrop can feel this beast in the sky: its visible claws and scales are being mistaken for clouds and other plausibilities ... or else everyone has agreed to call them other names when Slothrop is listening. ...
"It's only a 'wild coincidence,' Slothrop."
He will learn to hear quote marks in the speech of others. It is a bookish kind of reflex, maybe he's genetically predisposed—all those earlier Slothrops packing Bibles around the blue hilltops as part
of their gear, memorizing chapter and verse the structures of Arks, Temples, Visionary Thrones—all the materials and dimensions. Data behind which always, nearer or farther, was the numinous certainty of God.
Well, what more appropriate way for Tyrone to Get It one cold morning than this:
It's a blueprint of a German parts list, reproduced so crummy he can hardly read the words—"Vorrichtung fur die Isolierung, 0011-5565/43," now what's this? He knows the number by heart, it's the original contract number for the A4 rocket as a whole. What's an "insulation device" doing with the Aggregat's contract number? And a DE rating too, the highest Nazi priority there is? Not good. Either a clerk at OKW fucked up, which is not unheard-of, or else he just didn't know the number, and put the rocket's in as the next best thing. Claim, part and work numbers all have the same flagnote, which directs Slothrop to a Document SG-1. Flagnote on the flagnote sez "Geheime Kommandosache! This is a state secret, in the meaning of §35R5138."
"Say," he greets General Wìvern nipping in through the door, "like to get ahold of a copy of that Document SG-1."
"Haw, haw," replies the General. "So would our chaps, I imagine."
"Quit fooling." Every piece of Allied intelligence on the A4, however classified, gets stuffed into a secret funnel back in London and all comes out in Slothrop's fancy cell at the Casino. So far they've held back nothing.
"Slothrop, there are no'SG'documents."
First impulse is to rattle the parts list in the man's face, but today he is the shrewd Yankee foxing the redcoats. "Oh. Well, maybe I read it wrong," making believe look around the paper-littered room, "maybe it was a '56' or something, jeepers it was just here. . . ."
The General goes away again. Leaving Slothrop with a puzzle, kind of a, well not an obsession really . . . not yet . . . Opposite the parts listing, over in the Materials column now, here's "Imipolex G." Oh really. Insulation device made of Imipolex G eh? He kicks around the room looking for his handbook of German trade names. Nothing even close to it there ... he locates next a master materials list for the A4 and all its support equipment, and there's sure no Imipolex G in that either. Scales and claws, and footfalls no one else seems to hear. ...
"Something wrong?" Hilary Bounce again, with his nose in the doorway.
"It's about this liquid oxygen, need some more of that specific impulse data, there."
"Specific ... do you mean specific thrust?"
"Oops, thrust, thrust," English English to the rescue, Bounce diverted:
"For LOX and alcohol it's about 200. What more do you need to know?"
"But didn't you chaps use petrol at Langhurst?"
"Among other things, yes."
"Well it's about those other things. Don't you know there's a war on? You can't be proprietary about stuff like that."
"But all our company reports are back in London. Perhaps my next time out—"
"Shit, this red tape. I need it now, Cap'n!" He goes around assuming they've assigned him a limitless Need To Know, and Bounce confirms it:
"I could send back by teletype, I suppose. ..."
"Now yer talkin'!" Teletype? Yes, Hilary Bounce has his own, private, Shell International network Teletype Rig or Terminal, just what Slothrop was hoping for, right in his hotel room, back in the closet behind a rack of Alkit uniforms and stiff shirts. Slothrop finesses his way in with the help of his friend Michele, whom he's noticed Bounce has an eye on. "Howdy babe," up in a brown stocking-hung garret where the dancing girls sleep, "how'd you like to get fixed up with a big oilman tonight?" Some language problem here, she's thinking of getting connected through metal fittings to a gross man dripping somehow with crude oil, a sex angle she's not sure she'd enjoy, but they get that one straightened out, and presently Michele is raring to go sweet-talk the man away from his teletype long enough for Slothrop to get on to London and ask about Imipolex G. Indeed, she has noted Captain Bounce now and then among her nightly admirers, noted in particular an item of belly-brass that Slothrop's seen too: a gold benzene ring with a formée cross in the center—the IG Farben Award for Meritorious Contributions to Synthetics Research. Bounce got that one back in '32. The industrial liaison it suggests was indeed dozing at the bottom of Slothrop's mind when the Rocket Guidance Transmitter Question arose. It has even, in a way, inspired the present teletype plot. Who'd know better than an outfit like Shell, with no real country, no side in any war, no specific face or heritage: tapping instead out of that global Stratum, most deeply laid, from which all the appearances of corporate ownership really spring?
Okay. Now there is a party tonight over on the Cap, chez Raoul de la Perlimpinpin, young madcap heir of the Limoges fireworks magnate Georges ("Poudre") de la Perlimpinpin—if "party" is the word for something that's been going on nonstop ever since this piece of France was liberated. Slothrop is allowed—under the usual surveillance—to drop in to RaouPs whenever the mood strikes him. It's a giddy, shiftless crowd out there—they drift in from all corners of Allied Europe, linked by some network of family, venery and a history of other such parties whose complexity his head's never quite been able to fit around. Here and there faces will go by, old American faces from Harvard or from SHAEF, names he's lost—they are revenants, maybe accidental, maybe . . .
It is to this party that Michele has seduced Hilary Bounce, and for which Slothrop, soon as his reply from London has come nattering through, in clear, on Bounce's machine, now proceeds to dude himself up for. He'll read the information through later. Singing,
With my face shined up-like a microphone And uh Sta-Comb on my hair, I'm just as suave-as, an ice-cream cone, say, I'm Mis-ter Debo-nair. . . .
and turned out in a green French suit of wicked cut with a subtle pur
Turns out that some merrymaker has earlier put a hundred grams of hashish in the Hollandaise. Word of this has got around. There has been a big run on broccoli. Roasts lie growing cold on the room-long buffet tables. A third of the company are already asleep, mostly on the floor. It is necessary to thread one's way among bodies to get to where anything's happening.
What's happening is not clear. There are the usual tight little
groups out in the gardens, dealing. Not much spectacle tonight. A homosexual triangle has fizzed over into pinches and recriminations, so as to block the door to the bathroom. Young officers are outside vomiting among the zinnias. Couples are wandering. Girls abound, velvet-bowed, voile-sleeved, underfed, broad-shouldered and permed, talking in half a dozen languages, sometimes brown from the sun here, others pale as Death's Vicar from more eastern parts of the War. Eager young chaps with patent-leather hair rush about trying to vamp the ladies, while older heads with no hair at all prefer to wait, putting out only minimal effort, eyes and mouths across the rooms, talking Business in the meantime. One end of the salon is occupied by a dance band and an emaciated crooner with wavy hair and very red eyes, who is singing:
Would you think me pe-cul-iar,
If I should fool ya,
In-to givin' me—just-a-little-kiss?
No one else could love you tru-lier,
How I'd worship and bejewel ya,
If you'd on-ly give-me just-a-little-kiss!
My poor heart grows un-ru-lier,
No one oolier or droolier,
Could I be longing for—
I would shout hallelujah,
To have my Jool-yaaahh, In-my-arms forevermore.
Saxophony and Park Lane kind of tune, perfect for certain states of mind. Slothrop sees Hilary Bounce, clearly a victim of the hallucinogenic Hollandaise, nodded out on a great pouf with Michele, who's been fondling his IG Farben trinket for the past two or three hours. Slothrop waves, but neither one notices him.
Dopers and drinkers struggle together without shame at the buffet and in the kitchens, ransacking the closets, licking out the bottoms of casseroles. A nude bathing party passes through on the way down the
sea-steps to the beach. Our host, that Raoul, is roaming around in a ten-gallon hat, Tom Mix shirt and brace of sixguns with a Percheron horse by the bridle. The horse is leaving turds on the Bokhara rug, also on the odd supine guest. It is all out of shape, no focus to it until a sarcastic flourish from the band, and here comes the meanest customer Slothrop has seen outside of a Frankenstein movie—wearing a white zoot suit with reet pleats and a long gold keychain that swings in flashing loops as he crosses the room with a scowl for everybody, in something of a hurry but taking the time to scan faces and bodies, head going side to side, methodical, a little ominous. He stops at last in front of Slothrop, who's putting together a Shirley Temple for himself.
"You." A finger the size of a corncob, an inch from Slothrop's nose.
"You bet," Slothrop dropping a maraschino cherry on the rug then squashing it as he takes a step backward, "I'm the man all right. Sure. What is it? Anything."
"Come on." They proceed outside to a eucalyptus grove, where Jean-Claude Gongue, notorious white slaver of Marseilles, is busy white-slaving. "Hey you," hollering into the trees, "you wanna be a white slave, huh?" "Shit no," answers some invisible girl, "I wanna be a green slave!" "Magenta!" yells somebody from up in an olive tree. "Vermilion!" "Think I'll take up dealing dope," sez Jean-Claude.
"Look," Slothrop's friend producing a kraft-paper envelope that even in the gloom Slothrop can tell is fat with American Army yellow-seal scrip, "I want you to hold this for me, till I ask for it back. It looks like Italo is going to get here before Tamara, and I'm not sure which one—"
"At this rate, Tamara's gonna get here before tonight," Slothrop interjects in a Groucho Marx voice.
"Don't try to undermine my confidence in you," advises the Large One. "You're the man."
"Right," Slothrop tucking envelope inside pocket. "Say, where'd you get that zoot you're wearing, there?"
"What's your size?"
"You shall have one," and so saying he rumbles off back inside.
"A-and a sharp keychain!" Slothrop calls after. What th' heck's going on? He wanders around asking a question or two. The fella turns out to be Blodgett Waxwing, well-known escapee from the Caserne Martier in Paris, the worst stockade in the ETO. Waxwing's specialty is phonying documents of various sorts—PX ration cards, passports,
Soldbücher—whilst dealing in Army hardware also as a sideline. He has been AWOL off and on since the Battle of the Bulge, and with a death rap for that over his head he still goes into U.S. Army bases at night to the canteens to watch the movies—provided they're westerns, he loves those shit-kickers, the sound of hoofbeats through a metal speaker across a hundred yards of oildrums and deuce 'n' a half ruts in the foreign earth makes his heart stir as if a breeze blew there, he's got some of his many contacts to run him off a master schedule of every movie playing in every occupation town in the Theatre, and he's been known to hot-wire a general's jeep just to travel up to that Poitiers for the evening to see a good old Bob Steele or Johnny Mack Brown. His picture may hang prominently in all the guardrooms and be engraved in thousands of snowdrops' brains, but he has seen The Return of Jack Slade twenty-seven times.
The story here tonight is a typical WWII romantic intrigue, just another evening at Raoul's place, involving a future opium shipment's being used by Tamara as security against a loan from Italo, who in turn owes Waxwing for a Sherman tank his friend Theophile is trying to smuggle into Palestine but must raise a few thousand pounds for purposes of bribing across the border, and so has put the tank up as collateral to borrow from Tamara, who is using part of her loan from Italo to pay him. But meantime the opium deal doesn't look like it's going to come through, because the middleman hasn't been heard from in several weeks, along with the money Tamara fronted him, which she got from Raoul de la Perlimpinpin through Waxwing, who is now being pressured by Raoul for the money because Italo, deciding the tank belongs to Tamara now, showed up last night and took it away to an Undisclosed Location as payment on his loan, thus causing Raoul to panic. Something like that.
Slothrop's tail is being made indecent propositions by two of the homosexuals who've been fighting in the bathroom. Bounce and Michele are nowhere in sight, and neither's that Waxwing. Raoul is talking earnestly to his horse. Slothrop is just settling down next to a girl in a prewar Worth frock and with a face like Tenniel's Alice, same forehead, nose, hair, when from outside comes this most godawful clanking, snarling, crunching of wood, girls come running terrified out of the eucalyptus trees and into the house and right behind them what comes crashing now into the pallid lights of the garden but— why the Sherman Tank itself! headlights burning like the eyes of King Kong, treads spewing grass and pieces of flagstone as it manoeuvres around and comes to a halt. Its 75 mm cannon swivels until it's pointing through the French windows right down into the room. "An-toine!" a young lady focusing in on the gigantic muzzle, "for heaven's sake, not now. ..." A hatch flies open and Tamara—Slothrop guesses: wasn't Italo supposed to have the tank?—uh—emerges shrieking to denounce Raoul, Waxwing, Italo, Theophile, and the middleman on the opium deal. "But now," she screams, "I have you all! One coup de foudre!" The hatch drops—oh, Jesus—there's the sound of a 3-inch shell being loaded into its breech. Girls start to scream and make for the exits. Dopers are looking around, blinking, smiling, saying yes in a number of ways. Raoul tries to mount his horse and make his escape, but misses the saddle and slides all the way over, falling into a tub of black-market Jell-o, raspberry flavor, with whipped cream on top. "Aw, no . . ." Slothrop having about decided to make a flanking run for the tank when YYYBLAAANNNGGG! the cannon lets loose an enormous roar, flame shooting three feet into the room, shock wave driving eardrums in to middle of brain, blowing everybody against the far walls.
A drape has caught fire. Slothrop, tripping over partygoers, can't hear anything, knows his head hurts, keeps running through the smoke at the tank—leaps on, goes to undog the hatch and is nearly knocked off by Tamara popping up to holler at everybody again. After a struggle which shouldn't be without its erotic moments, for Tamara is a swell enough looking twist with some fine moves, Slothrop manages to get her in a come-along and drag her down off of the tank. But loud noise and all, look—he doesn't seem to have an erection. Hmm. This is a datum London never got, because nobody was looking.
Turns out the projectile, a dud, has only torn holes in several walls, and demolished a large allegorical painting of Virtue and Vice in an unnatural act. Virtue had one of those dim faraway smiles. Vice was scratching his shaggy head, a little bewildered. The burning drape's been put out with champagne. Raoul is in tears, thankful for his life, wringing Slothrop's hands and kissing his cheeks, leaving trails of Jell-o wherever he touches. Tamara is escorted away by Raoul's bodyguards. Slothrop has just disengaged himself and is wiping the Jell-o off of his suit when there is a heavy touch on his shoulder.
"You were right. You are the man."
"That's nothing." Errol Flynn frisks his mustache. "I saved a dame from an octopus not so long ago, how about that?"
"With one difference," sez Blodgett Waxwing. "This really happened tonight. But that octopus didn't."
"How do you know?"
"I know a lot. Not everything, but a few things you don't. Listen Slothrop—you'll be needing a friend, and sooner than you think. Don't come here to the villa—it may be too hot by then—but if you can make it as far as Nice—" he hands over a Business card, embossed with a chess knight and an address on Rue Rossini. "I'll take the envelope back. Here's your suit. Thanks, brother." He's gone. His talent is just to fade when he wants to. The zoot suit is in a box tied with a purple ribbon. Keychain's there too. They both belonged to a kid who used to live in East Los Angeles, named Ricky Gutierrez. During the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, young Gutierrez was set upon by a carload of Anglo vigilantes from Whittier, beaten up while the L.A. police watched and called out advice, then arrested for disturbing the peace. The judge was allowing zoot-suiters to choose between jail and the Army. Gutierrez joined up, was wounded on Saipan, developed gangrene, had to have his arm amputated, is Home now, married to a girl who works in the kitchen at a taco place in San Gabriel, can't find any work himself, drinks a lot during the day. . . . But his old zoot, and those of thousands of others busted that summer, hanging empty on the backs of all the Mexican L.A. doors, got bought up and have found their way over here, into the market, no harm turning a little profit, is there, they'd only have hung there in the fat smoke and the baby smell, in the rooms with shades pulled down against the white sun beating, day after day, on the dried palm trees and muddy culverts, inside these fly-ridden and empty rooms. ...
Imipolex G has proved to be nothing more—or less—sinister than a new plastic, an aromatic heterocyclic polymer, developed in 1939, years before its time, by one L. Jamf for IG Farben. It is stable at high temperatures, like up to 900°C., it combines good strength with a low power-loss factor. Structurally, it's a stiffened chain of aromatic rings, hexagons like the gold one that slides and taps above Hilary Bounce's navel, alternating here and there with what are known as heterocyclic rings.
The origins of Imipolex G are traceable back to early research done at du Pont. Plasticity has its grand tradition and main stream, which happens to flow by way of du Pont and their famous employee Carothers, known as The Great Synthesist. His classic study of large molecules spanned the decade of the twenties and brought us directly
to nylon, which not only is a delight to the fetishist and a convenience to the armed insurgent, but was also, at the time and well within the System, an announcement of Plasticity's central canon: that chemists were no longer to be at the mercy of Nature. They could decide now what properties they wanted a molecule to have, and then go ahead and build it. At du Pont, the next step after nylon was to introduce aromatic rings into the polyamide chain. Pretty soon a whole family of "aromatic polymers" had arisen: aromatic polyamides, polycarbonates, polyethers, polysulfanes. The target property most often seemed to be strength—first among Plasticity's virtuous triad of Strength, Stability and Whiteness (Kraft, Standfestigkeit, Weiße: how often these were taken for Nazi graffiti, and indeed how indistinguishable they commonly were on the rain-brightened walls, as the busses clashed gears in the next street over, and the trams creaked of metal, and the people were mostly silent in the rain, with the early evening darkened to the texture of smoke from a pipe, and the arms of young passersby not in the sleeves of their coats but inside somewhere, as if sheltering midgets, or ecstatically drifted away from the timetable into a tactile affair with linings more seductive even than the new nylon . . .). L. Jamf, among others, then proposed, logically, dialectically, taking the parental polyamide sections of the new chain, and looping them around into rings too, giant "heterocyclic" rings, to alternate with the aromatic rings. This principle was easily extended to other precursor molecules. A desired monomer of high molecular weight could be synthesized to order, bent into its heterocyclic ring, clasped, and strung in a chain along with the more "natural" benzene or aromatic rings. Such chains would be known as "aromatic heterocyclic polymers." One hypothetical chain that Jamf came up with, just before the war, was later modified into Imipolex G.
Jamf at the time was working for a Swiss outfit called Psycho-chemie AG, originally known as the Grössli Chemical Corporation, a spinoff from Sandoz (where, as every schoolchild knows, the legendary Dr. Hofmann made his important discovery). In the early '20s, Sandoz, Ciba, and Geigy had got together in a Swiss chemical cartel. Shortly after, Jamf's firm was also absorbed. Apparently, most of Grössli's contracts had been with Sandoz, anyway. As early as 1926 there were oral agreements between the Swiss cartel and IG Farben. When the Germans set up their cover company in Switzerland, IG Chemie, two years later, a majority of the Grössli stock was sold to them, and the company reconstituted as Psychochemie AG. The patent for Imipolex G was thus cross-filed for both the IG and for
Psychochemie. Shell Oil got into it through an agreement with Imperial Chemicals dated 1939. For some curious reason, Slothrop will discover, no agreements between ICI and the IG seem to be dated any later than '39. In this Imipolex agreement, Icy Eye could market the new plastic inside the Commonwealth in exchange for one pound and other good and valuable consideration. That's nice. Psychochemie AG is still around, still doing Business at the same old address in the Schokoladestrasse, in that Zurich, Switzerland.
Slothrop swings the long keychain of his zoot, in some agitation. A few things are immediately obvious. There is even more being zeroed in on him from out there than he'd thought, even in his most paranoid spells. Imipolex G shows up on a mysterious "insulation device" on a rocket being fired with the help of a transmitter on the roof of the headquarters of Dutch Shell, who is co-licensee for marketing the Imipolex—a rocket whose propulsion system bears an uncanny resemblance to one developed by British Shell at around the same time . . . and oh, oh boy, it just occurs to Slothrop now where all the rocket intelligence is being gathered—into the office of who but Mr. Duncan Sandys, Churchill's own son-in-law, who works out of the Ministry of Supply located where but at Shell Mex House, for Christ's sake. . . .
Here Slothrop stages a brilliant Commando raid, along with faithful companion Blodgett Waxwing, on Shell Mex House itself—right into the heart of the Rocket's own branch office in London. Mowing down platoons of heavy security with his little Sten, kicking aside nubile and screaming WRAC secretaries (how else is there to react, even in play?), savagely looting files, throwing Molotov cocktails, the Zoot-suit Zanies at last crashing into the final sanctum with their trousers up around their armpits, smelling of singed hair, spilled blood, to find not Mr. Duncan Sandys cowering before their righteousness, nor open window, gypsy flight, scattered fortune cards, nor even a test of wills with the great Consortium itself—but only a rather dull room, Business machines arrayed around the walls calmly blinking, files of cards pierced frail as sugar faces, frail as the last German walls standing without support after the bombs have been and now twisting high above, threatening to fold down out of the sky from the force of the wind that has blown the smoke away. . . . The smell of firearms is in the air, and there's not an office dame in sight. The machines chatter and ring to each other. It's time to snap down your brims, share a postviolence cigarette and think about escape ... do you remember the way in, all the twists and turns? No. You weren't looking. Any of these doors might open you to safety, but there may not be time. . . .
But Duncan Sandys is only a name, a function in this, "How high does it go?" is not even the right kind of question to be asking, because the organization charts have all been set up by Them, the titles and names filled in by Them, because
Proverbs for Paranoids, 3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.
Slothrop finds he has paused in front of the blue parts list that started all this. How high does it go . . . ahhhh. The treacherous question is not meant to apply to people after all, but to the hardware! Squinting, moving a finger carefully down the columns, Slothrop finds that Vor-richtung fur die Isolierung's Next Higher Assembly.
If this number is the serial number of a rocket, as its form indicates, it must be a special model—Slothrop hasn't even heard of any with four zeroes, let alone five . . . nor an S-Gerät either, there's an I- and a J-Gerät, they're in the guidance . . . well, Document SG-1, which isn't supposed to exist, must cover that. ...
Out of the room: going noplace special, moving to a slow drumbeat in his stomach muscles see what happens, be ready. ... In the Casino restaurant, not the slightest impedance at all to getting in, no drop in temperature perceptible to his skin, Slothrop sits down at a table where somebody has left last Tuesday's London Times. Hmmm. Hasn't seen one of them in a while. . . . Leafing through, dum, dum, de-doo, yeah, the War's still on, Allies closing in east and west on Berlin, powdered eggs still going one and three a dozen, "Fallen Officers," MacGregor, Mucker-Maffick, Whitestreet, Personal Tributes . . . Meet Me in St. Louis showing at the Empire Cinema (recalls doing the penis-in-the-popcorn-box routine there with one Madelyn, who was less than—)—
Tantivy . . . Oh shit no, no wait—
"True charm . . . humble-mindedness . . . strength of character . . . fundamental Christian cleanness and goodness ... we all loved Oliver . . . his courage, kindness of heart and unfailing good humour were an inspiration to all of us ... died bravely in battle leading a gallant attempt to rescue members of his unit who were pinned down by German artillery ..." And signed by his most devoted comrade in arms, Theodore Bloat. Major Theodore Bloat now—
Staring out the window, staring at nothing, gripping a table knife so hard maybe some bones of his hand will break. It happens sometimes to lepers. Failure of feedback to the brain—no way to know how fiercely they may be making a fist. You know these lepers. Well—
Ten minutes later, back up in his room, he's lying face-down on the bed, feeling empty. Can't cry. Can't do anything.
They did it. Took his friend out to some deathtrap, probably let him fake an "honourable" death . . . and then just closed up bis file. . . .
It will occur to him later that maybe the whole story was a lie. They could've planted it easy enough in that London Times, couldn't they? Left the paper for Slothrop to find? But by the time he figures that one out, there'll be no turning around.
At noon Hilary Bounce comes in rubbing his eyes wearing a shit-eating grin. "How was your evening? Mine was remarkable."
"Glad to hear it." Slothrop is smiling. You're on my list too, pal. This smile asks from him more grace than anything in his languid American life ever has, up till now. Grace he always imagined himself short on. But it's working. He's surprised, and so grateful that he almost starts crying then. The best part of all is not that Bounce appears fooled by the smile, but that Slothrop knows now that it will work for him again. . . .
So he does make it to Nice, after a fast escape down the Corniche through the mountains fishtailing and rubber softly screeching at the sun-warmed abysses, tails all shaken back on the beach where he was thoughtful enough to lend his buddy Claude the assistant chef, about the same height and build, his own brand-new pseudo-Tahitian bathing trunks, and while they're all watching that Claude, find a black Citroen with the keys left in, nothing to it, folks—rolling into town in his white zoot, dark glasses, and a flopping Sydney Green-street Panama hat. He's not exactly inconspicuous among the crowds of military and the mamzelles already shifted into summer dresses, but he ditches the car off Place Garibaldi, heads for a bistro on the old-Nice side of La Porte Fausse and takes time to nab a roll and Coffee before setting out to find the address Waxwing gave him. It turns out to be an ancient four-story hotel with early drunks lying in the hallways, eyelids like tiny loaves brushed with a last glaze of setting sun, and summertime dust in stately evolutions through the taupe light, summertime ease to the streets outside, April summertime as the great vortex of redeployment from Europe to Asia hoots past leaving many souls each night to cling a bit longer to the tranquillities here, this close to the drain-hole of Marseilles, this next-to-last stop on the paper cyclone that sweeps them back from Germany, down the river-valleys, beginning to drag some from Antwerp and the northern ports too now as the vortex grows more sure, as preferential paths are set up. . . . Just for the knife-edge, here in the Rue Rossini, there comes to
Slothrop the best feeling dusk in a foreign city can bring: just where the sky's light balances the electric lamplight in the street, just before the first star, some promise of events without cause, surprises, a direction at right angles to every direction his life has been able to find up till now.
Too impatient to wait for the first star, Slothrop enters the hotel. The carpets are dusty, the place smells of alcohol and bleach. Sailors and girls come ambling through, together and separate, as Slothrop paranoids from door to door looking for one that might have something to tell him. Radios play in the heavy wood rooms. The stairwell doesn't appear to be plumb, but tilted at some peculiar angle, and the light running down the walls is of only two colors: earth and leaf. Up on the top floor Slothrop finally spots an old motherly femme de chambre on the way into a room carrying a change of linen, very white in the gloom.
"Why did you leave," the sad whisper ringing as if through a telephone receiver from someplace far away, "they wanted to help you. They wouldn't have done anything bad. . . ." Her hair is rolled up, George Washington style, all the way around. She gazes at 45° to Slothrop, a patient, parkbench chessplayer's gaze, very large, arching kindly nose and bright eyes: she is starch, sure-boned, the toes of her leather shoes turn up slightly, she's wearing red-and-white striped socks on enormous feet that give her the look of a helpful critter from one of the other worlds, the sort of elf who'd not only make shoes while you slept but also sweep up a little, have the pot on when you awoke, and maybe a fresh flower by the window—
"I beg your pardon?"
"There's still time."
"You don't understand. They've killed a friend of mine." But seeing it in the Times that way, so public . . . how could any of that be real, real enough to convince him Tantivy won't just come popping in the door some day, howdyfoax and a bashful smile . . . hey, Tantivy. Where were you?
"Where was I, Slothrop? That's a good one." His smile lighting the time again, and the world all free. . . .
He flashes Waxwing's card. The old woman breaks into an amazing smile, the two teeth left in her head beam under the night's new bulbs. She thumbs him upstairs and then gives him either the V-for-victory sign or some spell from distant countryside against the evil eye that sours the milk. Whichever it is, she is chuckling sarcastically.
Upstairs is a roof, a kind of penthouse in the middle. Three young
men with Apache sideburns and a young woman packing a braided leather sap are sitting in front of the entrance smoking a thin cigarette of ambiguous odor. "You are lost, mon ami."
"Uh, well," out with Waxwing's card again.
"Ah, bien. ..." They roll aside, and he passes into a bickering of canary-yellow Borsalini, corksoled comicbook shoes with enormous round toes, lotta that saddle-stitching in contrasting colors (such as orange on blue, and the perennial favorite, green on magenta), workaday groans of comforted annoyance commonly heard in public toilets, telephone traffic inside clouds of cigar smoke. Waxwing isn't in, but a colleague interrupts some loud dealing soon as he sees the card.
"What do you need?"
"Carte d'identité, passage to Zurich, Switzerland."
"Place to sleep."
The man hands over a key to one of the rooms downstairs. "Do you have any money?"
"Not much. I don't know when I could—"
Count, squint, riffle, "Here."
"It's all right, it's not a loan. It comes out of overhead. Now, don't go outside, don't get drunk, stay away from the girls who work here."
"See you tomorrow." Back to Business.
Slothrop's night passes uncomfortably. There is no position he can manage to sleep in for more than ten minutes. The bugs sally out onto his body in skirmish parties not uncoordinated with his level of wake-fulness. Drunks come to the door, drunks and revenants.
" 'Rone, you've gotta let me in, it's Dumpster, Dumpster Vìllard."
"It's really bad tonight. I'm sorry. I shouldn't impose this way, I'm more trouble than I'm worth . . . listen . . . I'm cold . . . I've been a long way. ..."
A sharp knock. "Dumpster—"
"No, no, it's Murray Smile, I was next to you in basic, company 84, remember? Our serial numbers are only two digits apart."
"I had to let... let Dumpster in ... where'd he go? Was I asleep?"
"Don't tell them I was here. I just came to tell you you don't have to go back."
"Really? Did they say it was all right?"
"It's all right."
"Yeah, but did they say it was?" Silence. "Hey? Murray?" Silence.
The wind is blowing in the ironwork very strong, and down in the street a vegetable crate bounces end over end, wooden, empty, dark. It must be four in the morning. "Got to get back, shit I'm late. ..."
"No." Only a whisper. . . . But it was her "no" that stayed with him.
"Whozat. Jenny? That you, Jenny?"
"Yes it's me. Oh love I'm so glad I found you."
"But I have to ..." Would They ever let her live with him at the Casino . . . ?
"No. I can't." But what's wrong with her voice?
"Jenny, I heard your block was hit, somebody told me, the day after New Year's ... a rocket. . . and I meant to go back and see if you were all right, but... I just didn 't. . . and then They took me to that Casino. ..."
"It's all right."'
"But not if I didn't—"
"Just don't go back to them."
And somewhere, dark fish hiding past angles of refraction in the flow tonight, are Katje and Tantivy, the two visitors he wants most to see. He tries to bend the voices that come to the door, bend them like notes on a harmonica, but it won't work. What he wants lies too deep... .
Just before dawn knocking comes very loud, hard as steel. Slothrop has the sense this time to keep quiet.
"Come on, open up."
"MPs, open up."
American voices, country voices, high-pitched and without mercy. He lies freezing, wondering if the bedsprings will give him away. For possibly the first time he is hearing America as it must sound to a non-American. Later he will recall that what surprised him most was the fanaticism, the reliance not just on flat force but on the Tightness of what they planned to do ... he'd been told long ago to expect this sort of thing from Nazis, and especially from Japs—we were the ones who always played fair—but this pair outside the door now are as demoralizing as a close-up of John Wayne (the angle emphasizing how slanted his eyes are, funny you never noticed before) screaming "BANZAI!"
"Wait a minute Ray, there he goes—"
"Hopper! You asshole, come back here—"
"You'll never get me in a strait jacket agaaaaain. . . ." Hopper's voice goes fading around the corner as the MPs take off in pursuit.
It dawns on Slothrop, literally, through the yellowbrown window shade, that this is his first day Outside. His first free morning. He doesn't have to go back. Free? What's free? He falls asleep at last. A little before noon a young woman lets herself in with a passkey and leaves him the papers. He is now an English war correspondent named Ian Scuffling.
"This is the address of one of our people in Zurich. Waxwing wishes you good luck and asks what kept you so long."
"You mean he wants an answer?"
"He said you'd have to think about it."
"Sa-a-a-ay." It's just occurred to him. "Why are all you folks helping me like this? For free and all?"
"Who knows? We have to play the patterns. There must be a pattern you're in, right now."
"Uh . . ."
But she's already left. Slothrop looks around the place: in the daylight it's mean and anonymous. Even the roaches must be uncomfortable here. ... Is he off so quickly, like Katje on her wheel, off on a ratchet of rooms like this, to be in each one only long enough to gather wind or despair enough to move on to the next, but no way backward now, ever again? No time even to get to know the Rue Rossini, which faces holler from the windows, where's a good place to eat, what's the name of the song everybody's whistling these premature summer days. ...
A week later he's in Zurich, after a long passage by train. While the metal creatures in their solitude, days of snug and stable fog, pass the hours at mime, at playing molecules, imitating industrial synthesis as they are broken up, put together, coupled and recoupled, he dozes in and out of a hallucination of Alps, fogs, abysses, tunnels, bone-deep la-borings up impossible grades, cowbells in the darkness, in the morning green banks, smells of wet pasture, always out the windows an unshaven work crew on the way to repair some stretch of track, long waits in marshaling-yards whose rails run like layers of an onion cut end to end, gray and desolate places, nights of whistles, coupling, crashes, sidings, staring cows on the evening hillsides, army convoys waiting at the crossings as the train puffs by, never a clear sense of nationality anywhere, nor even of belligerent sides, only the War, a single damaged landscape, in which "neutral Switzerland" is a rather stuffy convention, observed but with as much sarcasm as "liberated France" or "totalitarian Germany," "Fascist Spain," and others. ...
The War has been reconfiguring time and space into its own image. The track runs in different networks now. What appears to be destruction is really the shaping of railroad spaces to other purposes, intentions he can only, riding through it for the first time, begin to feel the leading edges of. ...
He checks in to the Hotel Nimbus, in an obscure street in the Niederdorf or cabaret section of Zurich. The room's in an attic, and is reached by ladder. There's also a ladder outside the window, so he reckons it'll be O.K. When night comes down he goes out looking for the local Waxwing rep, finds him farther up the Limmatquai, under a bridge, in rooms full of Swiss watches, clocks and altimeters. He's a Russian named Semyavin. Outside boats hoot on the river and the lake. Somebody upstairs is practicing on a piano: stumbling, sweet lieder. Semyavin pours gentian brandy into cups of tea he's just brewed. "First thing you have to understand is the way everything here is specialized. If it's watches, you go to one cafe. If it's women, you go to another. Furs are subdivided into Sable, Ermine, Mink, and Others. Same with dope: Stimulants, Depressants, Psychomimetics. . . . What is it you're after?"
"Uh, information?" Gee, this stuff tastes like Moxie. ...
"Oh. Another one." Giving Slothrop a sour look. "life was simple before the first war. You wouldn't remember. Drugs, sex, luxury items. Currency in those days was no more than a sideline, and the term 'industrial espionage' was unknown. But I've seen it change— oh, how it's changed. The German inflation, that should've been my clue right there, zeros strung end to end from here to Berlin. I would have stern talks with myself. 'Semyavin, it's only a temporary lapse away from reality. A small aberration, nothing to worry about. Act as you always have—strength of character, good mental health. Courage, Semyavin! Soon all will be back to normal.' But do you know what?"
"Let me guess."
A tragic sigh. "Information. What's wrong with dope and women? Is it any wonder the world's gone insane, with information come to be the only real medium of exchange?"
"I thought it was cigarettes."
"You dream." He brings out a list of Zurich cafes and gathering spots. Under Espionage, Industrial, Slothrop finds three. Ultra, Licht-spiel, and Sträggeli. They are on both banks of the Limmat, and widely spaced.
"Footwork," folding the list in an oversize zoot-suit pocket.
"It'll get easier. Someday it'll all be done by machine. Information machines. You are the wave of the future."
Begins a period of shuttling among the three cafes, sitting a few hours over Coffee at each one, eating once a day, Zurich baloney and rösti at the People's Kitchens . . . watching crowds of Businessmen in blue suits, sun-black skiers who've spent the duration schussing miles of glacier and snow hearing nothing of campaigns or politics, reading nothing but thermometers and weathervanes, finding their atrocities in avalanches or toppling séracs, their victories in layers of good powder . . . ragged foreigners in oil-stained leather jackets and tattered fatigues, South Americans bundled in fur coats and shivering in the clear sunlight, elderly hypochondriacs who were caught out lounging at some spa when the War began and have been here since, women in long black dresses who don't smile, men in soiled overcoats who do ... and the mad, down from their fancy asylums on weekend furlough—oh, the mental cases of Switzerland: Slothrop is known to them, all right, among all the somber street faces and colors only he is wearing white, shoes zoot 'n' hat, white as the cemetery mountains here. . . . He's also the New Mark In Town. It's difficult for him to sort out the first wave of corporate spies from the
loonies on leave!
(The Chorus line is divided not into the conventional Boys and Girls but into Keepers and Nuts, without regard to sex, though all four pos-; sibilitíes are represented on stage. Many are wearing sunglasses with black lenses and white rims, not so much to be fashionable as to suggest snow-blindness, the antiseptic white of the Clinic, perhaps even the darkness of the mind. But all seems happy, relaxed, informal ... no sign of repression, not even a distinction in costume so that at first there is some problem telling Nuts from Keepers as they all burst in from the wings dancing and singing):
Here we come foax—ready or not! Put your mask on, and plot your plot, We're just laughin' and droolin', all—over
the sleigh, Like a buncha happy midgets on a holiday!
Oh we're the LOONIES ON LEAVE, and We haven't a care—
Our brains at the cleaners, our souls at the Fair, Just freaks on a fur-lough, away from the blues,
As daffy and sharp as—the taps on our shoes! Hey, we're passin' the hat for—your frowns and
And the fears you thought'd never go'way— Oh take it from a loony, life's so dear and swoony, So just hug it and kiss it to-day! La-da-da, ya-ta ya-ta ta-ta &c . . . (They go on
humming the tune behind what follows):
First Nut (or maybe Keeper): Got an amazing deal for you here, American? I thought so, always tell a face from Home, saaay, like your suit there, go far enough up the glacier 'n' nobody'd be able to see ya! Well yes now, I know how you feel about these street-vendors keep coming by, it's the old three-card monte on the sidewalk [trucks across the stage for a while, back and forth, waving his finger in the air, singing "Three-card monte on-the side, walk," over and over in the same obsessive monotone, for as many repetitions as he can get away with] and you can spot right away what's wrong, every one promises ya somethin' fer nothin', right? yes now oddly enough, that's the main objection engineers and scientists have always had to the idea of [lowering his voice] perpetual motion or as we like to call it Entropy management—here, here's our card—well, sure, they've got a point. At least they had a point. Up till now. ...
Second Nut or Keeper: Now you've heard about the two-hundred-mile-per-gallon carburetor, the razor edge that never gets dull, the eternal bootsole, the mange pill that's good to your glands, engine that'll run on sand, ornithopters and robobopsters—you heard me, got a little goatee made out of steel wool—jivey, that's fine, but here's one for yo' mind! Are you ready? It's Lightning-Latch, The Door That Opens You!
Slothrop: Think I'll go take my nap now. ...
Third N. or K.: Transmogrify common air into diamonds through Cataclysmic Carbon Dioxide Reducti-o-o-o-o-n-n-n. . . .
If he were sensitive about such things, it'd all be pretty insulting, this first wave. It passes, gesturing, accusative, pleading. Slothrop manages to stay calm. There is a pause—then on come the real ones, slowly at first but gathering, gathering. Synthetic rubber or gasoline, electronic calculators, aniline dyes, acrylics, perfumes (stolen essences
in vials in sample cases), sexual habits of a hundred selected board members, layouts of plants, codebooks, connections and payoffs, ask for it, they can get it.
At last, one day at the Sträggeli, Slothrop eating on a bratwurst and hunk of bread he's been toting around all morning in a paper bag, suddenly from noplace appears one Mario Schweitar in a green frogged waistcoat, just popped out of the echoing cuckoo clock of Dubya Dubya Two here, the endless dark corridors at his back, with a change of luck for Slothrop. "Pssst, Joe," he begins, "hey, mister."
"Not me," replies Slothrop with his mouth full.
"You interested in some L.S.D.?"
"That stands for pounds, shillings, and pence. You got the wrong cafe, Ace."
"I think I've got the wrong country," Schweitar a little mournful. "I'm from Sandoz."
"Aha, Sandoz!" cries Slothrop, and pulls out a chair for the fella.
Turns out Schweitar is very tight indeed with Psychochemie AG, being one of those free-floating trouble-shooters around the Cartel, working for them on a per diem basis and spying on the side.
"Well," Slothrop sez, "I'd sure like anything they got on L. Jamf, a-and on that Imipolex G."
"That stuff. Forget it. It's not even our line. You ever try to develop a polymer when there's nothing but indole people around? With our giant parent to the north sending in ultimatums every day? Imipolex G is the company albatross, Yank. They have vice-presidents whose only job is to observe the ritual of going out every Sunday to spit on old Jamf's grave. You haven't spent much time with the indole crowd. They're very elitist. They see themselves at the end of a long European dialectic, generations of blighted grain, ergotism, witches on broomsticks, community orgies, cantons lost up there in folds of mountain that haven't known an unhallucinated day in the last 500 years—keepers of a tradition, aristocrats—"
"Wait a minute. . . ."Jamf dead? "You say Jamf's grave, now?" It ought to be making more of a difference to him, except that the man was never really alive so how can he be really—
"Up in the mountains, toward the Uetliberg."
"Did you ever meet him?"
"Before my time. But I know that there's a lot of data on him in the classified files at Sandoz. It would be some job getting you what you want. ..."
"Five hundred what?"
Swiss francs. Slothrop hasn't got 500 anything, unless it's worries. The money from Nice is almost gone. He heads toward Semyavin's, across the Gemüse-Brücke, deciding he'll walk everywhere from now on, chewing his white sausage and wondering when he'll see another.
"First thing you want to do," Semyavin advises him, "is go to a pawnshop and raise a few francs on that, ah," pointing at the suit. Aw no, not the suit. Semyavin goes rummaging in a back room, comes out with a bundle of workmen's clothes. "You should start thinking more about your visibility. Come back tomorrow, I'll see what else I can find."
White zoot in a bundle under his arm, a less visible Ian Scuffling goes back outside, down into the mediaeval afternoon of the Nieder-dorf, stone walls now developing like baking bread in the failing sun, oboy oboy he can see it now: gonna turn into another of them Tamara/Italo drills here, 'n' then he'll be in so deep he'll just never get out. . . .
At the entrance to his street, in the wells of shadow, he notes a black Rolls parked, motor idling, its glass tinted and afternoon so dark he can't see inside. Nice car. First one he's seen in a while, should be no more than a curiosity, except for
Proverbs for Paranoids, 4: You hide, they seek.
Zunnggg! diddilung, diddila-ta-ta-ta, ya-ta-ta-ta William Tell Overture here, back in the shadows, hope nobody was looking through that one-way glass—zoom, zoom, dodging around corners, scooting down alleys, no sound of pursuit but then it's the quietest engine on the road except for the King Tiger tank. . . .
Forget that Hotel Nimbus, he reckons. His feet are already starting to bother him. He gets to the Luisenstrasse and the hockshop just before closing time, and manages to raise a little, baloney for a day or two maybe, on the zoot. So long zoot.
This town sure closes up early. What does Slothrop do tonight for a bed? He has a moment's relapse into optimism: ducks in a restaurant and rings up the desk at the Hotel Nimbus. "Ah, yes," English English, "can you possibly tell me if the British chap who's been waiting in the foyer is still there, you know ..."
In a minute on conies a pleasant, awkward voice with an are-you-there. Oh, so seraphic. Slothrop funks, hangs up, stands looking at all the people at dinner staring at him—blew it, blew it, now They know he's on to Them. There is the usual chance his paranoia's just out of hand again, but the coincidences are running too close. Besides, he knows the sound of Their calculated innocence by now, it's part of Their style. . . .
Out again in the city: precision banks, churches, Gothic doorways drilling by ... he must avoid the hotel and the three cafes now, right, right. . . . The permanent Zürchers in early-evening blue stroll by. Blue as the city twilight, deepening blue. . . . The spies and dealers have all gone indoors. Semyavin's place is out, the Waxwing circle have been kind, no point bringing any heat down on them. How much weight do the Visitors have in this town? Can Slothrop risk checking in to another hotel? Probably not. It's getting cold. A wind is coming in now off the lake.
He finds that he has drifted as far as the Odeon, one of the great world cafes, whose specialty is not listed anywhere—indeed has never been pinned down. Lenin, Trotsky, James Joyce, Dr. Einstein all sat out at these tables. Whatever it was they all had in common: whatever they'd come to this vantage to score . . . perhaps it had to do with the people somehow, with pedestrian mortality, restless crisscrossing of needs or desperations in one fateful piece of street. . . dialectics, matrices, archetypes all need to connect, once in a while, back to some of that proletarian blood, to body odors and senseless screaming across a table, to cheating and last hopes, or else all is dusty Dracularity, the West's ancient curse. . . .
Slothrop finds he has enough spare change for Coffee. He goes sits inside, choosing a seat that'll face the entrance. Fifteen minutes and he's getting the spy-sign from a swarthy, curly-headed alien in a green suit a couple tables away. Another front-facer. On his table is an old newspaper that appears to be in Spanish. It is open to a peculiar political cartoon of a line of middle-aged men wearing dresses and wigs, inside the police station where a cop is holding a loaf of white ... no it's a baby, with a label on its diaper sez LA REVOLUCIÓN . . . oh, they're all claiming the infant revolution as their own, all these politicians bickering like a bunch of putative mothers, and somehow this cartoon here is supposed to be some kind of a touchstone, this fella in the green suit, who turns out to be an Argentine named Francisco Squalidozzi, is looking for a reaction . . . the key passage is at the very end of the line where the great Argentine poet Leopoldo Lugones is saying, "Now
I'm going to tell you, in verse, how I conceived her free from the stain of Original Sin.. . ," It is the Uriburu revolution of 1930. The paper is fifteen years old. There is no telling what Squalidozzi is expecting from Slothrop, but what he gets is pure ignorance. This seems to be acceptable, and presently the Argentine has loosened up enough to confide that he and a dozen colleagues, among them the international eccentric Graciela Imago Portales, hijacked an early-vintage German U-boat in Mar de Plata a few weeks ago, and have sailed it back across the Atlantic now, to seek political asylum in Germany, as soon as the War's over there. . . .
"You say Germany? You gone goofy? It's a mess there, Jackson!" "Not nearly the mess we left back Home," the sad Argentine replies. Long lines have appeared next to his mouth, lines learned from living next to thousands of horses, watching too many doomed colts and sunsets south of Rivadavia, where the true South begins. . . . "It's been a mess since the colonels took over. Now, with Perón on his way . . . our last hope was Acción Argentina," what's he talking about, Jesus I'm hungry, "... suppressed it a month after the coup . . . now everybody waits. Attending the street actions out of habit. No real hope. We decided to move before Perón got another portfolio. War, most likely. He already has the descamisados, this will give him the Army too you see . . . it's only a matter of time . . . we could have gone to Uruguay, waited him out—it's a tradition. But perhaps he will be in for a long time. Montevideo is swarming with failed exiles, and failed hopes. ..."
"Yeah, but Germany—that's the last place you want to go." "Pero ché, no sós argentino. . . ."A long look away, down the engineered scars of Swiss avenues, looking for the South he left. Not the same Argentine, Slothrop, that that Bob Eberle's seen toasts to Tangerine raised in ev-ry bar across, now. . . . Squalidozzi wants to say: We of all magical precipitates out of Europe's groaning, clouded alembic, we are the thinnest, the most dangerous, the handiest to secular uses. . . . We tried to exterminate our Indians, like you: we wanted the closed white version of reality we got—but even into the smokiest labyrinths, the furthest stacked density of midday balcony or courtyard and gate, the land has never let us forget. . . . But what he asks aloud is: "Here—you look hungry. Have you eaten? I was about to go to supper. Would you do me the honor?"
In the Kronenhalle they find a table upstairs. The evening rush is tapering off. Sausages and fondue: Slothrop's starving.
"In the days of the gauchos, my country was a blank piece of paper. The pampas stretched as far as men could imagine, inexhaustible,
fenceless. Wherever the gaucho could ride, that place belonged to him. But Buenos Aires sought hegemony over the provinces. All the neuroses about property gathered strength, and began to infect the countryside. Fences went up, and the gaucho became less free. It is our national tragedy. We are obsessed with building labyrinths, where before there was open plain and sky. To draw ever more complex patterns on the blank sheet. We cannot abide that openness: it is terror to us. Look at Borges. Look at the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The tyrant Rosas has been dead a century, but his cult flourishes. Beneath the city streets, the warrens of rooms and corridors, the fences and the networks of steel track, the Argentine heart, in its perversity and guilt, longs for a return to that first unscribbled serenity . . . that anarchic oneness of pampas and sky. ..."
"But-but bobwire," Slothrop with his mouth full of that fondue, just gobblin' away, "that's progress—you, you can't have open range forever, you can't just stand in the way of progress—" yes, he is actually going to go on for half an hour, quoting Saturday-afternoon western movies dedicated to Property if anything is, at this foreigner who's springing for his meal.
Squalidozzi, taking it for mild insanity instead of rudeness, only blinks once or twice. "In ordinary times," he wants to explain, "the center always wins. Its power grows with time, and that can't be reversed, not by ordinary means. Decentralizing, back toward anarchism, needs extraordinary times . . . this War—this incredible War—just for the moment has wiped out the proliferation of little states that's prevailed in Germany for a thousand years. Wiped it clean. Opened it."
"Sure. For how long?"
"It won't last. Of course not. But for a few months . . . perhaps there'll be peace by the autumn—discúlpeme, the spring, I still haven't got used to your hemisphere—for a moment of spring, perhaps. . . ."
"Yeah but—what're you gonna do, take over land and try to hold it? They'll run you right off, podner."
"No. Taking land is building more fences. We want to leave it open. We want it to grow, to change. In the openness of the German Zone, our hope is limitless." Then, as if struck on the forehead, a sudden fast glance, not at the door, but up at the ceiling—"So is our danger."
The U-boat right now is cruising around somewhere off of Spain, staying submerged for much of the day, spending nights on the surface to charge batteries, sneaking in now and then to refuel. Squalidozzi
won't go into the fueling arrangements in much detail, but there are apparently connections of many years' standing with the Republican underground—a community of grace, a gift of persistence. . . . Squali-dozzi is in Zurich now contacting governments that might be willing, for any number of reasons, to assist his anarchism-in-exile. He must get a message to Geneva by tomorrow: from there word is relayed to Spain and the submarine. But there are Peronist agents here in Zurich. He is being watched. He can't risk betraying the contact in Geneva.
"I can help you out," Slothrop licking off his fingers, "but I'm short of cash and—"
Squalidozzi names a sum that will pay off Mario Schweitar and keep Slothrop fed for months to come.
"Half in front and I'm on the way."
The Argentine hands over message, addresses, money, and springs for the check. They arrange to meet at the Kronenhalle in three days. "Good luck."
A last sad look from Squalidozzi alone at his table. A toss of forelock, a fading of light.
The plane is a battered DC-3, chosen for its affinity for moonlight, the kind expression on its windowed face, its darkness inside and outside. He wakes up curled among the cargo, metal darkness, engine vibration through his bones . . . red light filtering very faint back through a bulkhead from up forward. He crawls to a tiny window and looks out. Alps in the moonlight. Kind of small ones, though, not as spectacular as he figured on. Oh, well. . . . He settles back down on a soft excelsior bed, lighting up one of Squalidozzi's corktips thinking, Jeepers, not bad, guys just jump in the airplane, go where they want. . . why stop at Geneva? Sure, what about—well, that Spain? no wait, they're Fascists. South Sea Islands! hmm. Full of Japs and GIs. Well Africa's the Dark Continent, nothing there but natives, elephants, 'n' that Spencer Tracy. . . .
"There's nowhere to go, Slothrop, nowhere." The figure is huddled against a crate, and shivering. Slothrop squints through the weak red light. It is the well-known frontispiece face of insouciant adventurer Richard Halliburton: but strangely altered. Down both the man's cheeks runs a terrible rash, palimpsested over older pockmarks, in whose symmetry Slothrop, had he a medical eye, could have read drug reaction. Richard Halliburton's jodhpurs are torn and soiled, his bright hair greasy now and hanging. He appears to be weeping silently, bending, a failed angel, over all these second-rate Alps, over
all the night skiers far below, out on the slopes, crisscrossing industriously, purifying and perfecting their Fascist ideal of Action, Action, Action, once his own shining reason for being. No more. No more.
Slothrop reaches, puts the cigarette out on the deck. How easy these angel-white wood shavings can go up. Lie here in this rattling and wrenched airplane, lie still as you can, damn fool, yup they've conned you—conned you again. Richard Halliburton, Lowell Thomas, Rover and Motor Boys, jaundiced stacks of National Geographies up in Hogan's room must've all lied to him, and there was no one then, not even a colonial ghost in the attic, to tell him different. . . .
Bump, skid, slew, pancake landing, fucking washouts from kiteflying school, gray Swiss dawn light through little windows and every joint, muscle, and bone in Slothrop is sore. It's time to punch back in.
He gets off of the plane without incident, mingling into a yawning, sour flock of early passengers, delivery agents, airfield workers. Coin-trin in the early morning. Shocking green hills one side, brown city on the other. Pavements are slick and wet. Clouds blow slowly in the sky. Mont Blanc sez hi, lake sez howdy too, Slothrop buys 20 cigarettes and a local paper, asks directions, gets in a tram that comes and with cold air through doors and windows to wake him up goes rolling into the City of Peace.
He's to meet his Argentine contact at the Cafe 1'Éclipse, well off the trolley lines, down a cobblestone street and into a tiny square surrounded by vegetable and fruit stalls under beige awnings, shops, other cafes, window-boxes, clean hosed sidewalks. Dogs go running in and out of the alleys. Slothrop sits with Coffee, croissants, and newspaper. Presently the overcast burns off. The sun throws shadows across the square nearly to where he's sitting with all antennas out. Nobody seems to be watching. He waits. Shadows retreat, sun climbs then begins to fall, at last his man shows up, exactly as described: suit of Buenos Aires daytime black, mustache, goldrim glasses, and whistling an old tango by Juan d'Arienzo. Slothrop makes a show of searching all his pockets, comes up with the foreign bill Squalidozzi told him to use: frowns at it, gets up, goes over.
Como no, señor, no problem changing a 50-peso note—offering a seat, coming out with currency, notebooks, cards, pretty soon the tabletop's littered with pieces of paper that eventually get sorted back into pockets so that the man has Squalidozzi's message and Slothrop has one to bring back to Squalidozzi. And that's that.
Back to Zurich on an afternoon train, sleeping most of the way. He
gets off at Schlieren, some ungodly dark hour, just in case They're watching the Bahnhof in town, hitches a ride in as far as the St. Peter-hofstatt. Its great clock hangs over him and empty acres of streets in what he now reads as dumb malignity. It connects to Ivy League quadrangles in his distant youth, clock-towers lit so dim the hour could never be read, and a temptation, never so strong though as now, to surrender to the darkening year, to embrace what he can of real terror to the hour without a name (unless it's ... no ... NO . . .): it was vanity, vanity as his Puritan forerunners had known it, bones and heart alert to Nothing, Nothing underneath the college saxophones melding sweetly, white blazers lipsticked about the lapels, smoke from nervous Fatimas, Castile soap vaporizing off of shining hair, and mint kisses, and dewed carnations. It was being come for just before dawn by pranksters younger than he, dragged from bed, blindfolded, Hey Reinhardt, led out into the autumnal cold, shadows and leaves underfoot, and the moment then of doubt, the real possibility that they are something else—that none of it was real before this moment: only elaborate theatre to fool you. But now the screen has gone dark, and there is absolutely no more time left. The agents are here for you at last. . . .
What better place than Zurich to find vanity again? It's Reformation country, Zwingli's town, the man at the end of the encyclopedia, and stone reminders are everywhere. Spies and big Business, in their element, move tirelessly among the grave markers. Be assured there are ex-young men, here in this very city, faces Slothrop used to pass in the quads, who got initiated at Harvard into the Puritan Mysteries: who took oaths in dead earnest to respect and to act always in the name of Vanitas, Emptiness, their ruler . . . who now according to life-plan such-and-such have come here to Switzerland to work for Allen Dulles and his "intelligence" network, which operates these days under the title "Office of Strategic Services." But to initiates OSS is also a secret acronym: as a mantra for times of immediate crisis they have been taught to speak inwardly oss . . . oss, the late, corrupt, Dark-age Latin word for bone. . . .
Next day, when Slothrop meets Mario Schweitar at the Sträggeli to front him half his fee, he asks also for the location of Jamf's grave. And that's where they arrange to close the deal, up in the mountains.
Squalidozzi doesn't show up at the Kronenhalle, or the Odeon, or anyplace Slothrop will think to look in the days that follow. Disappearances, in Zurich, are not unheard of. But Slothrop will keep going back, just in case. The message is in Spanish, he can't make out more
than a word or two, but he'll hold on to it, there might be a chance to pass it on. And, well, the anarchist persuasion appeals to him a little. Back when Shays fought the federal troops across Massachusetts, there were Slothrop Regulators patrolling Berkshire for the rebels, wearing sprigs of hemlock in their hats so you could tell them from the Government soldiers. Federals stuck a tatter of white paper in theirs. Slothrops in those days were not yet so much involved with paper, and the wholesale slaughtering of trees. They were still for the living green, against the dead white. Later they lost, or traded away, knowledge of which side they'd been on. Tyrone here has inherited most of their bland ignorance on the subject.
Back behind him now, wind blows through Jamf's crypt. Slothrop's been camped here these past few nights, nearly out of money, waiting for word from Schweitar. Out of the wind, huddled inside a couple of Swiss army blankets he managed to promote, he's even been able to sleep. Right on top of Mister Imipolex. The first night he was afraid to fall asleep, afraid of a visit from Jamf, whose German-scientist mind would be battered by Death to only the most brute reflexes, no way to appeal to the dumb and grinning evil of the shell that was left . . . voices twittering with moonlight around his image, as step by step he, It, the Repressed, approaches. . . . -waitaminute up out of sleep, face naked, turning to the foreign gravestones, the what? what was it . . . back again, almost to it, up again . . . up, and back, that way, most of the early night.
There's no visit. It seems Jamf is only dead. Slothrop woke next morning feeling, in spite of an empty stomach and a runny nose, better than he had in months. Seemed like he'd passed a test, not somebody else's test, but one of his own, for a change.
The city below him, bathed now in a partial light, is a necropolis of church spires and weathercocks, white castle-keep towers, broad buildings with mansard roofs and windows glimmering by thousands. This forenoon the mountains are as translucent as ice. Later in the day they will be blue heaps of wrinkled satin. The lake is mirror-smooth but mountains and houses reflected down there remain strangely blurred, with edges fine and combed as rain: a dream of Atlantis, of the Suggenthal. Toy villages, desolate city of painted alabaster. . . . Slothrop hunkers down here in the cold curve of a mountain trail, packing and lobbing idle snowballs, not much to do around here but
smoke the last butt of what for all he knows is the last Lucky Strike in
all Switzerland. . . .
Footfalls down the trail. Clinking galoshes. It is Mario Schweitar's
delivery boy, with a big fat envelope. Slothrop pays him, chisels a cigarette and some matches, and they part. Back at the crypt Slothrop relights a small pile of kindling and pine boughs, warms up his hands, and begins to thumb through the data. The absence of Jamf surrounds him like an odor, one he knows but can't quite name, an aura that threatens to go epileptic any second. The information is here—not as much as he wanted (aw, how much was that?) but more than he hoped, being one of those practical Yankees. In the weeks ahead, in those very few moments he'll be allowed to wallow in his past, he may even have time to wish he hadn't read any of it. . . .
D D O D D D D
Mr. Pointsman has decided to spend Whitsun by the sea. Feeling a bit megalo these days, nothing to worry about really, never gets worse than, oh perhaps the impression, whilst zooming along through the corridors of "The White Visitation," that all the others seem to be frozen in attitudes of unmistakable parkinsonism, with himself the only alert, unpalsied one remaining. It is peacetime again now, no room for the pigeons in Trafalgar Square on V-E Night, everyone at the facility that day mad drunk and hugging and kissing, except for the Blavatskian wing of Psi Section, who were off on a White Lotos Day pilgrimage to 19 Avenue Road, St. John's Wood.
Now there's time again for holidays. Though Pointsman does feel a certain obligation to go relax, there is also, of course, The Crisis. A leader must show self-possession, up to and including a holiday mood, in the midst of Crisis.
There's now been no word of Slothrop for nearly a month, since the fumbling asses in military intelligence lost him in Zurich. Pointsman is a bit browned-off with the Firm. His clever strategy appears to've failed. In first discussions with Clive Mossmoon and the others, it seemed foolproof: to let Slothrop escape from the Casino Hermann Goering, and then rely on Secret Service to keep him under surveillance instead of PISCES. An economy move. The surveillance bill is the most excruciating thorn in the crown of funding problems he seems condemned to wear for the duration of this project. Damned funding is going to be his downfall, if Slothrop doesn't drive him insane first.
Pointsman has blundered. Hasn't even the Tennysonian comfort of saying "someone" has blundered. No, it was he and he alone who au-
thorized the Anglo-American team of Harvey Speed and Floyd Per-doo to investigate a random sample of Slothropian sex adventures. Budget was available, and what harm could it do? They went off practically skipping, obsessive as Munchkins, out into the erotic Poisson. Don Giovanni's map of Europe—640 in Italy, 231 in Germany, 100 in France, 91 in Turkey but, but, but—in Spain! in Spain, 1003!—is Slothrop's map of London, and the two gumshoes become so infected with the prevailing fondness out here for mindless pleasures that they presently are passing whole afternoons sitting out in restaurant gardens dawdling over chrysanthemum salads and mutton casseroles, or larking at the fruit monger's—"Hey Speed, look, canteloupes! I haven't seen one of them since the Third Term—wow, smell this one, it's beautiful! Say, how about a canteloupe, Speed? Huh? Come on."
"Excellent idea, Perdoo, excellent."
"Uh . . . Oh, well you pick out the one you want, okay?"
"Yeah. This is the one," turning it to show him as the faces of threatened girls are roughly turned by villains, "that / picked out, see?"
"But but I thought we were both going to—" gesturing feebly toward what he still cannot quite accept as Perdoo's melon, in whose intaglio net now, as among craters of the pale moon, a face is indeed emerging, the face of a captive woman with eyes cast downward, lids above as smooth as Persian ceilings. . . .
"Well, no, I usually, uh—" this is embarrassing for Perdoo, it's like being called on to, to justify eating an apple, or even popping a grape into your mouth—"just, well, sort of, eat them . . . whole, you know," chuckling in what he hopes is a friendly way, to indicate politely the social oddness of this discussion—
—but the chuckle is taken the wrong way by Speed: taken as evidence of mental instability in this slightly bucktoothed and angular American, who is dancing now from stoop to English stoop, lank as a street-puppet in the wind. Shaking his head, he nevertheless selects his own whole canteloupe, realizes he's been left to pay the bill, which is exorbitant, and goes skipping off after Perdoo, hippety hop both of them, tra-la-la-la slam right into another dead end:
"Jenny? No—no Jenny here. ..."
"A Jennifer, perhaps? Genevieve?"
"Ginny" (it could've been misspelled), "Virginia?"
"If you gentlemen are looking for a good time—" Her grin, her
red, maniacally good-morning-and-I-mean-good! grin, is wide enough to hold them both right, shivering, smiling, here, and she's old enough to be their Mother—their joint Mother, combining the worst traits of Mrs. Perdoo and Mrs. Speed—in fact she is turning now into just that, even as they watch. These wrecked seas are full of temptresses—it's watery and wanton out here all right. As the two gawking soft-boiled shamuses are drawn along into her aura, winking right here in the street, brassy with henna-glare, with passion-flowers on rayon—just before the last stumbling surrender into the lunacy of her purple eyes, they allow themselves, for the sinful tickle of it, a last thought of the project they're supposed to be here on—Slothropian Episodic Zone, Weekly Historical Observations (SEZ WHO)—a thought that comes running out in the guise of a clown, a vulgar, loose-ends clown bespangled with wordless jokes about body juices, bald-headed, an amazing fall of nose-hair out both nostrils which he has put into braids and tied with acid-green bows—a scrabbling dash now out past sandbags and falling curtain, trying to get back his breath, to garble to them in a high unpleasant screech: "No Jenny. No Sally W No Cybele. No Angela. No Catherine. No Lucy. No Gretchen. When are you going to see it? When are you going to see it?"
No "Darlene" either. That came in yesterday. They traced the name as far as the residence of a Mrs. Quoad. But the flashy young divorcee never, she declared, even knew that English children were named "Darlene." She was dreadfully sorry. Mrs. Quoad spent her days lounging about a rather pedicured Mayfair address, and both investigators felt relieved to be out of the neighborhood. . . .
When are you going to see it? Pointsman sees it immediately. But he "sees" it in the way you would walking into your bedroom to be jumped on, out of a bit of penumbra on your ceiling, by a gigantic moray eel, its teeth in full imbecile death-smile, breathing, in its fall onto your open face, a long human sound that you know, horribly, to be a sexual sigh. . . .
That is to say, Pointsman avoids the matter—as reflexively as he would any nightmare. Should this one turn out not to be a fantasy but real, well. . .
"The data, so far, are incomplete." This ought to be prominently stressed in all statements. "We admit that the early data seem to show," remember, act sincere, "a number of cases where the names on Slothrop's map do not appear to have counterparts in the body of fact we've been able to establish along his time-line here in London. Es-
tablish so far, that is. These are mostly all first names, you see, the, the Xs without the Ys so to speak, ranks without files. Diíficult to know how far into one 'far enough' really is.
"And what if many—even if most—of the Slothropian stars are proved, some distant day, to refer to sexual fantasies instead of real events? This would hardly invalidate our approach, any more than it did young Sigmund Freud's, back there in old Vienna, facing a similar violation of probability—all those Papi-has-raped-me stories, which might have been lies evidentially, but were certainly the truth clinically. You must realize: we are concerned, at PISCES, with a rather strictly defined, clinical version of truth. We seek no wider agency in this."
So far, it is Pointsman's burden alone. The solitude of a Führer: he feels himself growing strong in the rays of this dark companion to his public star now on the rise . . . but he doesn't want to share it, no not just yet. . . .
Meetings of the staff, his staff, grow worse and worse than useless. They bog down into endless arguments about trivia—whether or not to rename PISCES now that the Surrender has been Expedited, what sort of letterhead, if any, to adopt. The representative from Shell Mex House, Mr. Dennis Joint, wants to put the program under Special Projectiles Operations Group (SPOG), as an adjunct of the British rocket-scavenging effort, Operation Backfire, which is based out of Cuxhaven on the North Sea. Every other day brings a fresh attempt, from some quarter, to reconstitute or even dissolve PISCES. Pointsman is finding it much easier of late to slip into a 1'état c'est moí frame of mind—who else is doing anything? isn 't he holding it all together, often with nothing beyond his own raw will . . . ?
Shell Mex House, naturally, is frantic about Slothrop's disappearance. Here's a man running loose who knows everything it's possible to know—not only about the A4, but about what Great Britain knows about the A4. Zurich teems with Soviet agents. What if they've already got Slothrop? They took Peenemünde in the spring, it appears now they will be given the central rocket works at Nordhausen, another of the dealings at Yalta. ... At least three agencies, VIAM, TsAGI, and NISO, plus engineers working out of other commissariats, are even now in Soviet-occupied Germany with lists of personnel and equipment to be taken east. Inside the SHAEF sphere of influence, American Army Ordnance, and a host of competing research teams, are all busy collecting everything in sight. They've already rounded up von Braun and 500 others, and interned them at Gar-misch. What if they get hold of Slothrop?
There have also been, aggravating the Crisis, defections: Rollo
So. A holiday by the sea. For political reasons, the party is made up of Pointsman, Mexico, Mexico's girl, Dennis Joint, and Katje Borgesius. Pointsman wears rope-soled shoes, his prewar bowler, and a rare smile. The weather is not ideal. An overcast, a wind that will be chilly by mid-afternoon. A smell of ozone blows up from the Dodgem cars out of the gray steel girderwork along the promenade, along with smells of shellfish on the barrows, and of salt sea. The pebbled beach is crowded with families: shoeless fathers in lounge suits and high white collars, mothers in blouses and skirts startled out of war-long camphor sleep, kids running all over in sunsuits, nappies, rompers, short pants, knee socks, Eton hats. There are ice cream, sweets, Cokes, cockles, oysters and shrimps with salt and sauce. The pinball machines writhe under the handling of fanatical servicemen and their girls, throwing body-english, cursing, groaning as the bright balls drum down the wood obstacle courses through ka-chungs, flashing lights, thudding flippers. The donkeys hee-haw and shit, the children walk in it and their parents scream. Men sag in striped canvas chairs talking Business, sports, sex, but most usually politics. An organ grinder plays Rossini's overture to La Gazza Ladra (which, as we shall see later, in Berlin, marks a high point in music which everybody ignored, preferring Beethoven, who never got further than statements of intention), and here without snaredrums or the sonority of brasses the piece is mellow, full of hope, promising lavender twilights, stainless steel pavilions and everyone elevated at last to aristocracy, and love without payment of any kind. . . .
It was Pointsman's plan today not to talk shop, but to let the conversation flow more or less organically. Wait for others to betray themselves. But there is shyness, or constraint, among them all. Talk is minimal. Dennis Joint is watching Katje with a horny smile, with now and then a suspicious stare for Roger Mexico. Mexico meantime has his troubles with Jessica—more and more often these days—and at the moment the two aren't even looking at each other. Katje Borgesius has her eyes far out to sea, and there is no telling what is going on with
this one. In some dim way, Pointsman, though he can't see that she has any leverage at all, is still afraid of her. There is still a lot he doesn't know. Perhaps what's bothering him most right now is her connection, if any, with Pirate Prentice. Prentice has been down to "The White Visitation" several times asking rather pointed questions about her. When PISCES recently opened its new branch office in London (which some wag, probably that young imbecile Webley Silvernail, has already dubbed "Twelfth House") Prentice began hanging heavily around up there, romancing secretaries, trying for a peep into this file or that... . What's up? What afterlife have the Firm found, this side of V-E Day? What does Prentice want. . . what's his price? Is he in love with La Borgesius here? Is it possible for this woman to be in love? Love? Oh, it's enough to make you scream. What would her idea of love be. ...
"Mexico," grabbing the young statistician's arm.
"Eh?" Roger interrupted eying a lovely looks a bit like Rita Hay-worth in a one-piece floral number with straps that X across her lean back. ...
"Mexico, I think I am hallucinating."
"Oh, really? You think you are? What are you seeing?"
"Mexico, I see ... I see. . . . What do you mean, what am I seeing, you nit? It's what I'm hearing."
"Well, what are you hearing, then." A touch of peevishness to Roger now.
"Right now I'm hearing you, saying, 'What are you hearing, then.' And I don't like it!"
"Because: unpleasant as this hallucination is, I find I still much prefer it to the sound of your voice."
Now this is odd behavior from anybody, but from usually correct Mr. Pointsman, it is enough to stop this mutually-paranoid party in their tracks. Nearby is a Wheel of Fortune, with Lucky Strike packs, kewpie dolls and candy bars stuffed among the spokes.
"I say, what d'you think?" blond, hale-fellow Dennis Joint nudges Katje with an elbow as broad as a knee. In his profession he has learned to make instant evaluations of those with whom he deals. He judges old Katje here to be a jolly girl, out for a spot of fun. Yes, leadership material here, definitely. "Hasn't he gone a bit mental suddenly?" Trying to keep his voice down, grinning in athletic paranoia vaguely over in the peculiar Pavlovian's direction—not right at him
you understand, eye contact might be suicidal folly given his state of mind. . . .
Meantime, Jessica has gone into her Fay Wray number. This is a kind of protective paralysis, akin to your own response when the moray eel jumps you from the ceiling. But this is for the Fist of the Ape, for the lights of electric New York white-waying into the room you thought was safe, could never be penetrated . . . for the coarse black hair, the tendons of need, of tragic love. . . .
"Yeah well," as film critic Mitchell Prettyplace puts it in his definitive 18-volume study of King Kong, "you know, he did love her, folks." Proceeding from this thesis, it appears that Prettyplace has left nothing out, every shot including out-takes raked through for every last bit of symbolism, exhaustive biographies of everyone connected with the film, extras, grips, lab people .. . even interviews with King Kong Kult-ists, who to be eligible for membership must have seen the movie at least 100 times and be prepared to pass an 8-hour entrance exam. . . . And yet, and yet: there is Murphy's Law to consider, that brash Irish proletarian restatement of Gödel's Theorem—when everything has been taken care of, when nothing can go wrong, or even surprise us. . . something will. So the permutations 'n' combinations of Pudding's Things That Can Happen in European politics for 1931, the year of Gödel's Theorem, don't give Hitler an outside chance. So, when laws of heredity are laid down, mutants will be born. Even as determinist a piece of hardware as the A4 rocket will begin spontaneously generating items like the "S-Gerät" Slothrop thinks he's chasing like a grail. And so, too, the legend of the black scapeape we cast down like Lucifer from the tallest erection in the world has come, in the fullness of time, to generate its own children, running around inside Germany even now—the Schwarzkommando, whom Mitchell Prettyplace, even, could not anticipate.
At PISCES it is widely believed that the Schwarzkommando have been summoned, in the way demons may be gathered in, called up to the light of day and earth by the now defunct Operation Black Wing. You can bet Psi Section was giggling about this for a while. Who could have guessed there'd be real black rocket troops? That a story made up to scare last year's enemy should prove to be literally true—and no way now to stuff them back in the bottle or even say the spell backward: no one ever knew the complete spell—different people knew different parts of it, that's what teamwork is. . . . By the time it occurs to them to look back through the Most Secret documentation sur-
rounding Operation Black Wing, to try and get some idea of how this all might've happened, they will find, curiously, that certain critical documents are either missing or have been updated past the end of the Operation, and that it is impossible at this late date to reconstruct the spell at all, though there will be the usual elegant and bad-poetic speculation. Even earlier speculation will be lopped and tranquilized. Nothing will remain, for example, of the tentative findings of Freudian Edwin Treacle and his lot, who toward the end even found themselves at odds with their own minority, the psychoanalytic wing of Psi Section. It began as a search for some measurable basis for the common experience of being haunted by the dead. After a while colleagues began to put in chits requesting they be transferred out. Un-pleasantries such as "It's beginning to sound like the Tavistock Institute around here" began muttering up and down the basement halls. Palace revolts, many of them conceived in ornamentally splendid flashes of paranoia, brought locksmiths and welders in by droves, led to mysterious shortages of office supplies, even of water and heat. . . none of which kept Treacle and lot from carrying on in a Freudian, not to mention Jungian frame of mind. Word of the Schwarzkom-mando's real existence reached them a week before V-E Day. Individual events, who really said what to whom, have been lost in the frenzy of accusation, crying, nervous breakdowns, and areas of bad taste that followed. Someone remembers Gavin Trefoil, face as blue as Krishna, running through the topiary trees stark naked, and Treacle chasing him with an ax, screaming "Giant ape? I'll show you a giant ape all right!"
Indeed he would show the critter to many of us, though we would not look. In his innocence he saw no reason why co-workers on an office project should not practice self-criticism with the same rigor as revolutionary cells do. He had not meant to offend sensibilities, only to show the others, decent fellows all, that their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit, and feelings about shit to feelings about putrefaction and death. It seemed to him so clear . . . why wouldn't they listen? Why wouldn't they admit that their repressions had, in a sense that Europe in the last weary stages of its perversion of magic has lost, had incarnated real and living men, likely (according to the best intelligence) in possession of real and living weapons, as the dead father who never slept with you, Penelope, returns night after night to your bed, trying to snuggle in behind you ... or as your unborn child wakes you, crying in the night and you feel its ghost-lips at your breast. . . they are real, they are living, as you pretend to scream
inside the Fist of the Ape . . . but looking over now at the much more likely candidate, cream-skinned Katje under the Wheel of Fortune, who is herself getting ready now to bolt down the beach and into the relative calm of the switchback railway. Pointsman is hallucinating. He has lost control. Pointsman is supposed to have absolute control over Katje. Where does this leave her? In a control that is out of control. Not even back in the leather and pain of gemütlich Captain Blicero's world has she felt as terrified as now.
Roger Mexico is taking it personally, oh-I-say, only trying to help. . . .
What the somewhat disconnected Mr. Pointsman has been hearing all this time is a voice, strangely familiar, a voice he once imagined a face in a well-known news photograph from the War to have:
"Here is what you have to do. You need Mexico now, more than ever. Your winter anxieties about the End of History seem now all well comforted to rest, part of your biography now like any old bad dream. But like Lord Acton always sez, History is not woven by innocent hands. Mexico's girl friend there is a threat to your whole enterprise. He will do anything to hold on. Scowling and even cursing him she will nevertheless seduce him away, into a civilian fogbank in which you will lose him and never find him—not unless you act now, Pointsman. Operation Backfire is sending ATS girls out to the Zone now. Rocket girls: secretarial and even minor technical duties at the Cuxhaven test range. You have only to drop a word to SPOG, through Dennis Joint here, and Jessica Swanlake is out of your way. Mexico may complain for a while, but all the more reason for him, given the proper direction, to Lose Himself In His Work, eh? Remember the eloquent words of Sir Dennis Nayland Smith to young Alan Sterling, whose fiancee is in the clutches of the insidious yellow Adversary: 'I have been through the sort of fires which are burning you now, Sterling, and I have always found that work was the best ointment for the burns.' And we both know what Nayland Smith represents, mm? don't we."
"I do," sez Pointsman, aloud, "but I can't really say that you do, can I, if I don't even know who you are, you see."
This strange outburst does not reassure Pointsman's companions. They begin to edge away, in definite alarm. "We should find a doctor," murmurs Dennis Joint, winking at Katje like a blond crewcut Groucho Marx. Jessica, forgetting her sulk, takes Roger's arm.
"You see, you see," the voice starts up again, "she feels that she's protecting him, against you. How many chances does one get to be a synthesis, Pointsman? East and West, together in the same bloke? You
can not only be Nayland Smith, giving a young lad in a íiink wholesome advice about the virtues of work, but you also, at the same time, get to be Fu Manchu! eh? the one who has the young lady in his power! How's that? Protagonist and antagonist in one. I'd jump at it, if I were you."
Pointsman is about to retort something like, "But you're not me," only he sees how the others all seem to be goggling at him. "Oh, ha, ha," he sez instead. "Talking to myself, here. Little—sort of—eccentricity, heh, heh."
"Yang and Yin," whispers the Voice, "Yang and Yin. ..."