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Chapter Fifteen

 Sahha

 I

 Sunday morning around nine the Rollicking Boys arrived at Rachel's after  their night of burglary and lounging in the park. Neither had slept. On the  wall was a sign:

I am heading for the Whitney. Kisch mein tokus, Profane.

"Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin," said Stencil.

"Ho, hum," said Profane, preparing to sack out on the floor. In came Paola  with a babushka over her head and a brown paper bag which clinked in her  arms.

"Eigenvalue got robbed last night," she said. "It made the front page of the  Times." They all attacked the brown bag at once, coming up with the Times in  sections and four quarts of beer.

"How about that," Profane said, scrutinizing the front page. "Police are  expecting to make an arrest any time now. Daring early morning burglary."

"Paola," said Stencil, behind him. Profane flinched. Paola, holding the  church key, turned to gaze past Profane's left ear at what glittered in  Stencil's hand. She kept quiet, eyes motionless.

"Three are in it. Now."

At last she looked back at Profane: "You're coming to Malta, Ben?"

"No," but weak.

"Why?" he said. "Malta never showed me anything. Anywhere you care to go in  the Med there is a Strait Street, a Gut."

"Benny, if the cops -"

"Who are the cops to me? Stencil's got the teeth." He was terrified. It had  only now occurred to him that he'd broken the law.

"Stencil, buddy, what do you say to one of us - going back there with a  toothache and figuring out a way . . ." He tapered off. Stencil kept quiet.

"Was all that rigmarole with the rope just a way to get me to come along?  What's so special about me?"

Nobody said anything. Paola looked about ready to burst from her tracks,  bawling and looking to be held by Profane.

All of a sudden there was noise in the hallway. Somebody began banging on  the door. "Police," a voice said.

Stencil, jamming the teeth into one pocket, dashed away for the fire escape.  "Now, what the hell," Profane said. By the time Paola did open up Stencil  was long gone. The same Ten Eyck who had broken up the orgy at Mafia's stood  there with one arm slung under a sodden Roony Winsome.

"Is this here Rachel Owlglass at Home," he said. Explained he'd found Roony  drunk on the stoop of St. Patrick's Cathedral, fly open, face awry, scaring  little kids and offending the solid citizens. "Here was all he wanted to  come," Ten Eyck almost pleaded, "he wouldn't go Home. They released him from  Bellevue last night."

"Rachel will be back soon," said Paola gravely. "We'll take him till then."

"I got his feet," Profane said. They hauled Roony into Rachel's room and  dumped him on the bed.

"Thank you, officer." Cool as any old-movie's international jewel thief,  Profane wished he had a mustache.

Ten Eyck left, deadpan.

"Benito, things are falling apart. The sooner I get Home -"

"Good luck."

"Why won't you come?"

"We're not in love."

"No."

"No debts outstanding, either way, not even au old romance to flare up  again."

Shook her head: real tears now.

"Why then."

"Because we left Teflon's place in Norfolk."

"No, no."

"Poor Ben." They ail called him poor. But to save his feelings never  explained, let it stand as an endearment.

"You are only eighteen," he said, "and have this crush on me. You will see  by the time you get to be my age -" She interrupted him by rushing at him as  you would rush at a tackling dummy, surrounding him, beginning to soak the  suede jacket with all those overdue tears. He thumped her back, bewildered. 

So it was of course then that Rachel walked in. Being a girl who recovered  fast, fast thing she said was:

"Oho. So this is what happens behind my back. While I was at church, praying  for you, Profane. And the children."

He had the common sense to go along with her. "Believe me, it was all  perfectly innocent." Rachel shrugged, meaning the two-line act was over,  she'd had a few seconds to think. "You didn't go to St. Patrick's, did you?  You should of." Waggling a thumb at what was now snoring in the next room:  "Dig."

And we know who it was Rachel spent the rest of the day with, and the night.  Holding his head, tucking him in, touching the beard-stubble and dirt on his  face; watching him sleep and the frown lines there relax slowly.

After a while Profane went off to the Spoon. Once there he announced to the  Crew that he was going to Malta. Of course they held a going-away party.  Profane ended up with two adoring camp followers working him over, eyes  shining with a kind of love. You got the idea they were like prisoners in  stir, vicariously happy to see any of their number reach the outside again.

Profane saw no street ahead but the Gut; thought that it would have to go  some to be worse than East Main.

There was also the sea's highway. But that was a different kind entirely.

 

II

 Stencil, Profane and Pig Bodine made a flying visit to Washington, D. C.,  one weekend: the world-adventurer to expedite their coming passage, the  schlemihl to spend a last liberty; Pig to help him. They chose for  pied-a-terre a flophouse in Chinatown and Stencil nipped over to the State  Department to see what he could see.

"I don't believe any of it," said Pig. "Stencil is a fake."

"Stand by," was all Profane said.

"I suppose we ought to go out and get drunk," Pig said. So they did. Either  Profane was growing old and losing his capacity, or it was the worst drunk  he had ever thrown. There were blank spaces, which are always, of course,  frightening. As near as Profane could remember afterward they had headed  first for the National Gallery, Pig having decided they ought to have  company. Sure enough, in front of Dali's Last Supper they found two  government girls.

"I'm Flip," said the blonde, "and this is Flop."

Pig groaned momentarily nostalgic for Hanky and Panky. "Fine," he said,  "That is Benny and I am - hyeugh, hyeugh - Pig."

"Obviously," said Flop. But the girl/boy ratio in Washington has been  estimated as high as 8 to 1. She grabbed Pig's arm, looking around the room  as if those other spectral sisters were lurking somewhere among the  statuary.

Their place was near P Street, and they had amassed every Pat Boone record  in existence. Before Pig had even set down the large paper bag containing  the fruits of their afternoon's sortie among the booze outlets of the  nation's capital - legal and otherwise - 25 watts of that worthy, singing Be  Bop A Lula, burst on them unaware.

After this overture, the weekend proceeded in flashes: Pig going to sleep  halfway up the Washington Monument and falling half a flight into a  considerate troop of Boy Scouts; the four of them in Flip's Mercury, riding  round and round Dupont Circle at three in the morning and being joined  eventually by six Negroes in an Oldsmobile who wanted to race; the two cars  then proceeding to an apartment on New York Avenue occupied only by one  inanimate audio system, fifty jazz enthusiasts and God knows how many  bottles of circulating and communal wine; being awakened, wrapped with Flip  in a Hudson Bay blanket on the steps of a Masonic Temple somewhere in  Northwest Washington, by an insurance executive named Iago Saperstein, who  wanted them to come to another party.

"Where is Pig," Profane wondered.

"He stole my Mercury and he and Flop are on the way to Miami," said Flip.

"Oh."

"To get married:"

"It's a hobby of mine," continued Iago Saperstein, "to find young people  like this, who would be interesting to bring along to a party."

"Benny is a schlemihl," said Flip.

"Schlemihls are very interesting," said Iago.

The party was out near the Maryland line; in attendance Profane found an  escapee from Devil's Island, who was on route to Vassar under the alias of  Maynard Basilisk to teach beekeeping; an inventor celebrating his  seventy-second rejection by the U. S. Patent Office, this time on a  coin-operated whorehouse for bus and railway stations which he was  explaining with blueprints and gestures to a small group of Tyrosemiophiles  (collectors of labels on French cheese boxes) kidnaped by Iago from their  annual convention; a gentle lady plant pathologist, originally from the Isle  of Man, who had the distinction of being the only Manx monoglot in the world  and consequently spoke to no one; an unemployed musicologist named Petard  who had dedicated his life to finding the lost Vivaldi Kazoo Concerto, first  brought to his attention by one Squasimodeo, formerly a civil servant under  Mussolini and now lying drunk under the piano, who had heard not only of its  theft from a monastery by certain Fascist music-lovers but also about twenty  bars from the slow movement, which Petard would from time to time wander  round the party blowing on a plastic kazoo; and other "interesting" people.  Profane, who only wanted to sleep, talked to none of them. He woke up in  Iago's bathtub around dawn to the gigglings of a blonde clad only in an  enlisted man's white hat, who was pouring bourbon on Profane out of a gallon  Coffee pot. Profane was about to open his mouth and try to put it in the way  of the descending stream when who should come in but Pig Bodine.

"Give me back my white hat," said Pig.

"I thought you were in Florida," said Profane.

"Ha, ha," said the blonde, "you will have to catch me." And away they went,  satyr and nymph.

The next Profane knew they were all back in Flip and Flop's apartment, his  head in Flip's lap and Pat Boone on the turntable. "You have the same  initials," Flop cooed from across the room. "Pat Boone, Pig Bodine." Profane  arose, stumbled to the kitchen and vomited in the sink.

"Out," screamed Flip.

"Indeed," said Profane. At the bottom of the stairs were two bicycles which  the girls rode to work to save bus fare. Profane grabbed one and carried it  down the stoop to the street. A mess - fly unzipped, crew cut matted down  both sides of his head, beard let go for two days, holed skivvy shirt pushed  by his beer belly through a few open buttons on his shirt - he pedaled away  wobbly for the flophouse.

He hadn't gone two blocks when there were yells behind him. It was Pig on  the other bike, chasing him with Flop on the handlebars. Far behind was  Flip, on foot.

"Oh-oh," said Profane. He fiddled with the gears, and promptly dropped into  low.

"Thief," yelled Pig, laughing his obscene laugh. "Thief." A prowl car  materialized out of nowhere and moved in to intercept Profane. Profane  finally got the bike in high and whizzed round a corner. Thus they chased  about the city, in fall's cold in a Sunday street deserted except for them.  The cops and Pig finally caught up.

"It's all right officer," said Pig. "He's a friend, I won't press charges."

"Fine," said the cop. "I will." They were hauled down to the precinct and  put in the drunk tank. Pig fell asleep and two of the occupants of the tank  set to work removing his shoes. Profane was too tired to interrupt.

"Hey," said a cheerful wino from across the room, "you want to play hits and  cuts?"

Under the blue stamp on a pack of Camels is either an H or a C, followed by  a number. You take turns guessing which it is. If you guess wrong the other  gets to Hit (with the fist) or Cut (with the edge of the hand) you across  the bicep, for the number of times indicated by the number. The wino's hands  looked like small boulders. "I don't smoke," said Profane.

"Oh," said the wino. "What about rock, scissors and paper?"

Just about then a detail of Shore Patrolmen and civilian police entered,  dragging a boatswain's mate about seven feet tall who had run amok, under  the impression he was King Kong, the well-known ape.

"Aiyee!" he screamed. "Me King Kong. Don't screw with me."

"There, there," an SP said, "King Kong doesn't talk. He growls."

So the boatswain's mate growled, and made a leap for an old electric fan  overhead. Round and round he went, uttering ape yells and pounding his  chest. SP's and cops milled around down below, bewildered, some of the  braver making grabs for his feet.

"Now what?" said one cop. This was answered by the fan, which gave way,  dumping the boatswain's mate in their midst. They jumped on and managed to  secure him with three or four guard belts. A cop brought in a small dolly  from the garage next door, loaded the boatswain's mate on and rolled him  off.

"Hey," said one of the SP's. "Lookit there in the drunk tank. That is Pig  Bodine that's wanted down in Norfolk for desertion."

Pig opened an eye at them. "Oh well," he said, closed the eye and went back  to sleep.

The cops came around to tell Profane he could go. "So long, Pig," said  Profane.

"Give Paola six for me," Pig grunted, shoeless, half asleep.

Back at the flophouse Stencil had a poker game going which was about to  break up because of the next shift coming on. "Just as well," Stencil said,  "they've about cleaned Stencil out."

"You're soft," Profane said, "you let them win on purpose."

"No," Stencil said. "Money will be needed for the trip."

"It's set?"

"All set."

Somehow, it seemed to Profane, things never should have come this far.

 

III

 Now there was a private going-away party, just Profane and Rachel, about two  weeks later. After the passport photos and the booster shots and the rest  Stencil acted like his valet, removing all official roadblocks by some magic  of his own.

Eigenvalue kept cool. Stencil even went to see him - perhaps as a test of  the guts he'd need to confront whatever of V. was still on Malta. They  discussed the concept of property and agreed that a true owner need not have  physical possession. If the soul-dentist knew (as Stencil was nearly sure he  did), then "owner," Eigenvalue - defined, was Eigenvalue; Stencil - defined,  V. It was a complete failure of communication. They parted friends.

Sunday night Profane spent in Rachel's room with one sentimental magnum of  champagne. Roony slept in Esther's room. For two weeks he'd done little else  but sleep.

Later Profane lay with his head in her lap, her long hair falling over to  cover him and keep him warm. It being September the landlord was still  reluctant about heat. They were both naked. Profane rested his ear near her  labia majora, as if it were a mouth there, which could speak to him. Rachel  was absently listening to the champagne bottle.

"Listen," she whispered, holding the mouth of the bottle near his free ear.  He heard carbon dioxide coming out of solution, magnified in a  false-bottomed echo chamber.

"It's a happy sound."

"Yes." What percentage was there in telling her what it really sounded like?  At Anthroresearch Associates there'd been radiation counters - and  radiation - enough to make the place sound like a locust-season gone mad.

Next day they sailed. Fulbright types crowded them at the rail of the  Susanna Squaducci. Coils of crepe, showers of confetti and a band, all  rented, made things look festive. "Ciao," the Crew called. "Ciao."

"Sahha," said Paola.

"Sahha," echoed Profane.

 

 

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