The Whole Sick Crew
Profane, Angel and Geronimo gave up girl-watching about noon and left the park in search of wine. An hour or so later, Rachel Owlglass, Profane's Rachel, passed by the spot they'd abandoned, on her way Home.
There is no way to describe the way she walked except as a kind of brave sensual trudging: as if she were nose-deep in snowdrifts, and yet on route to meet a lover. She came up the dead center of the mall, her gray coat fluttering a little in a breeze off the
Rachel worked as an interviewer or personnel girl at a downtown employment agency; was at the moment returning from an appointment on the
She had arrived at ten in the morning.
It disgusted Rachel, her theory being that it was not for cosmetic reasons these girls got operated on so much as that the hook nose is traditionally the sign of the Jew and the retrousse nose the sign of the WASP or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant in the movies and advertisements.
She sat back, watching the patients come through the outer office, not particularly anxious to see Schoenmaker. One youth with a wispy beard which did nothing to hide a weak chin kept glancing at her embarrassed from moist eyes, across a wide stretch of neutral carpeting. A girl with a gauze beak, eyes closed, lay slumped on a sofa, flanked by her parents, who conferred in whispers about the price.
Directly across the room from Rachel was a mirror, hung high on the wall, and under the mirror a shelf which held a turn-of-the-century clock. The double face was suspended by four golden flying buttresses above a maze of works, enclosed in clear Swedish lead glass. The pendulum didn't swing back and forth but was in the form of a disc, parallel to the floor and driven by a shaft which paralleled the hands at six o'clock. The disc turned a quarter-revolution one way, then a quarter-revolution the other, each reversed torsion on the shaft advancing the escapement a notch. Mounted on the disc were two imps or demons, wrought in gold, posed in fantastic attitudes. Their movements were reflected in the mirror along with the window at Rachel's back, which extended from floor to ceiling and revealed the branches and green needles of a pine tree. The branches whipped back and forth in the February wind, ceaseless and shimmering, and in front of them the two demons performed their metronomic dance, beneath a vertical array of golden gears and ratchet wheels, levers and springs which gleamed warm and gay as any ballroom chandelier.
Rachel was looking into the mirror at an angle of 45 degrees, and so had a view of the face turned toward the room and the face on the other side, reflected in the mirror; here were time and reverse-time, co-existing, cancelling one another exactly out. Were there many such reference points, scattered through the world, perhaps only at nodes like this room which housed a transient population of the imperfect, the dissatisfied; did real time plus virtual or mirror-time equal zero and thus serve some half-understood moral purpose? Or was it only the mirror world that counted; only a promise of a kind that the inward bow of a nose-bridge or a promontory of extra cartilage at the chin meant a reversal of ill fortune such that the world of the altered would thenceforth run on mirror-time; work and love by mirror-light and be only, till death stopped the heart's ticking (metronome's music) quietly as light ceases to vibrate, an imp's dance under the century's own chandeliers ....
"Count them," she said. "This is the balance."
"Later," the doctor said. "Sit down, Miss Owlglass."
"Esther is flat broke," Rachel said, "and she is going through hell. What you are running here -"
"- is a vicious racket," he said dryly. "Cigarette."
"I have my own." She sat on the edge of the chair, pushed away a strand or two of hair hanging over her forehead, searched for a cigarette.
"Trafficking in human vanity," Schoenmaker continued, "propagating the fallacy that beauty is not in the soul, that it can be bought. Yes -" his arm shot out with a heavy silver lighter, a thin flame, his voice barked - "it can be bought, Miss Owlglass, I am selling it. I don't even look on myself as a necessary evil."
"You are unnecessary," she said, through a halo of smoke. Her eyes glittered like the slopes of adjacent sawteeth.
"You encourage them to sell out," she said.
He watched the sensual arch of her own nose. "You're Orthodox? No. Conservative? Young people never are. My parents were Orthodox. They believe, I believe, that whatever your father is, as long as your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish too because we all come from our mother's womb. A long unbroken chain of Jewish mothers going all the way back to Eve."
She looked "hypocrite" at him.
"No," he said, "Eve was the first Jewish mother, the one who set the pattern. The words she said to Adam have been repeated ever since by her daughters: 'Adam,' she said, 'come inside, have a piece fruit.'"
"Ha, ha," said Rachel.
"What about this chain, what of inherited characteristics. We've come along, become with years more sophisticated, we no longer believe now the earth is flat. Though there's a man in England, president of a Flat Earth society, who says it is and is ringed by ice barriers, a frozen world which is where all missing persons go and never return from. So with Lamarck, who said that if you cut the tail off a mother mouse her children will be tailless also. But this is not true, the weight of scientific evidence is against him, just as every photograph from a rocket over White Sands or Cape Canaveral is against the Flat Earth Society. Nothing I do to a Jewish girl's nose is going to change the noses of her children when she becomes, as she must, a Jewish mother. So how am I being vicious. Am I altering that grand unbroken chain, no. I am not going against nature, I am not selling out any Jews. Individuals do what they want, but the chain goes on and small forces like me will never prevail against it. All that can is something which will change the germ plasm, nuclear radiation, maybe. They will sell out the Jews, maybe give future generations two noses or no nose, who knows, ha, ha. They will sell out the human race."
Behind the far door came the thud of Trench's knife practice. Rachel sat with her legs crossed tightly.
"Inside," she said, "what does it do to them there. You alter them there, too. What kind of Jewish mother do they make, they are the kind who make a girl get a nose job even she doesn't want one. How many generations have you worked on so far, how many have you played the dear old family doctor for."
"You are a nasty girl," said Schoenmaker, "and so pretty,too. Why yell at me, all I am is one plastic surgeon. Not a psychoanalyst. Maybe someday there will be special plastic surgeons who can do brain jobs too, make some young kid an Einstein, some girl an Eleanor Roosevelt. Or even make people act less nasty. Till then, how do I know what goes on inside. Inside has nothing to do with the chain."
"You set up another chain." She was trying not to yell. "Changing them inside sets up another chain which has nothing to do with germ plasm. You can transmit characteristics outside, too. You can pass along an attitude . . ."
"Inside, outside," he said, "you're being inconsistent, you lose me."
"I'd like to," she said, rising. "I have bad dreams about people like you."
"Have your analyst tell you what they mean," he said.
"I hope you keep dreaming." She was at the door, half-turned to him.
"My bank balance is big enough so I don't get disillusioned." he said.
Being the kind of girl who can't resist an exit line: "I heard about a disillusioned plastic surgeon," she said, "who hung himself." She was gone, stomping out past the mirrored clock, out into the same wind that moved the pine tree leaving behind the soft chins, warped noses and facial scars of what she feared was a sort of drawing-together or communion.
Now having left the grating behind she walked over the dead grass of Riverside Park under leafless trees and even more substantial skeletons of apartment houses on the Drive, wondering about Esther Harvitz, her long-time roommate, whom she had helped out of more financial crises than either could remember. An old rusty beer can lay in her path; she kicked it viciously. What is it, she thought, is this the way Nueva York is set up, then, freeloaders and victims? Schoenmaker freeloads off my roommate, she freeloads off me. Is there this long daisy chain of victimizers and victims, screwers and screwees? And if so, who is it I am screwing. She thought first of Slab, Slab of the Raoul-Slab-Melvin triumvirate, between whom and a lack of charity toward all men she'd alternated ever since coming to this city.
"What do you let her take for," he had said, "always take." It was in his studio, she remembered, back during one of those Slab-and-Rachel idylls that usually preceded a Slab-and-Esther Affair. Con Edison had just shut off the electricity so all they had to look at each other by was one gas burner on the stove, which bloomed in a blue and yellow minaret, making the faces masks, their eyes expressionless sheets of light.
"Baby," she said, "Slab, it is only that the kid is broke, and if I can afford it why not."
"No," Slab said, a tic dancing high on his cheekbone - or it might only have been the gaslight - "no. Don't you think I see what this is, she needs you for all the money she keeps soaking you for, and you need her in order to feel like a mother. Every dime she gets out of your pocketbook adds one more strand to this cable that ties you two together like an umbilical cord, making it that much harder to cut, making her survival that much more in danger if the cord ever is cut. How much has she ever paid you back."
"She will," Rachel said.
"Sure. Now, $800 more. To change this." He waved his arm at a small portrait, leaning against the wall by the garbage can. He reached over, picked it up, tilted it toward the blue flame so they both could see. "Girl at a party." The picture, perhaps, was meant to be looked at only under hydrocarbon light. It was Esther, leaning against a wall, looking straight out of the picture, at someone approaching her. And there, that look in the eyes - half victim, half in control.
"Look at it, the nose," he said. "Why does she want to get that changed. With the nose she is a human being."
"Is it only an artist's concern," Rachel said. "You object on pictorial, or social grounds. But what else."
"Rachel," he yelled, "she takes Home
"She has been right on time," Rachel said, frosty, "in case you are worrying."
"Baby," suddenly ail wistful and boyish, "you are a good woman, member of a vanishing race. It is right you should help the less fortunate. But you reach a point."
The argument had gone back and forth with neither of them actually getting mad and at three in the morning the inevitable terminal point - bed - to caress away the headaches both had developed. Nothing settled, nothing ever settled. That had been back in September. The gauze beak was gone, the nose now a proud sickle, pointing, you felt, at the big Westchester in the sky where all God's elect, soon or late, ended up.
She turned out of the park and walked away from the Hudson on 112th Street. Screwer and screwee. On this foundation, perhaps, the island stood, from the bottom of the lowest sewer bed right up through the streets to the tip of the TV antenna on top of the Empire State Building.
She entered her lobby, smiled at the ancient doorman; into the elevator, up seven flights to
In the shower Rachel sang a torch song, in a red-hot-mama voice which the tile chamber magnified. She knew it amused people because it came from such a little girl:
Say a man is no good
For anything but jazzing around.
He'll go live in a cathouse,
He'll jazz it all over town.
And all kinds of meanness
To put a good woman down.
Now I am a good woman
Because I'm telling you I am
And I sure been put down
But honey, I don't give a damn.
You going to have a hard time
Finding you a kind hearted man.
Because a kind hearted man
Is the kind who will . . .
Presently the light in Paola's room began to leak out the window, up the air shaft and into the sky, accompanied by clinking bottles, running water, flushing toilet in the bathroom. And then the almost imperceptible sounds of Rachel fixing her long hair.
When she left, turning off all the lights, the hands on an illuminated clock near Paola Maijstral's bed stood near six o'clock. No ticking: the clock was electric. Its minute hand could not be seen to move. But soon the hand passed twelve and began its course down the other side of the face; as if it had passed through the surface of a mirror, and had now to repeat in mirror-time what it had done on the side of real-time.
The party, as if it were inanimate after all, unwound like a clock's mainspring toward the edges of the chocolate room, seeking some easing of its own tension, some equilibrium. Near its center Rachel Owlglass was curled on the pine floor, legs shining pale through black stockings.
You felt she'd done a thousand secret things to her eyes. They needed no haze of cigarette smoke to look at you out of sexy and fathomless, but carried their own along with them. New York must have been for her a city of smoke, its streets the courtyards of limbo, its bodies like wraiths. Smoke seemed to be in her voice, in her movements; making her all the more substantial, more there, as if words, glances, small lewdnesses could only become baffled and brought to rest like smoke in her long hair; remain there useless till she released them, accidentally and unknowingly, with a toss of her head.
Young Stencil the world adventurer, seated on the sink, waggled his shoulderblades like wings. Her back was to him; through the entrance to the kitchen he could see the shadow of her spine's indentation snaking down a deeper black along the black of her sweater, see the tiny movements of her head and hair as she listened.
She didn't like him, Stencil had decided.
"It's the way he looks at Paola," she'd told Esther. Esther of course had told Stencil.
But it wasn't sexual, it lay deeper. Paola was Maltese.
Born in 1901, the year Victoria died, Stencil was in time to be the century's child. Raised motherless. The father, Sidney Stencil, had served the Foreign Office of his country taciturn and competent. No facts on the mother's disappearance. Died in childbirth, ran off with someone, committed suicide: some way of vanishing painful enough to keep Sidney from ever referring to it in all the correspondence to his son which is available. The father died under unknown circumstances in 1919 while investigating the June Disturbances in Malta.
On an evening in 1946, separated by stone balusters from the Mediterranean, the son had sat with one Margravine di Chaive Lowenstein on the terrace of her villa on the western coast of Mallorca; the sun was setting into thick clouds, turning all the visible sea to a sheet of pearl-gray. Perhaps they may have felt like the last two gods - the last inhabitants - of a watery earth; or perhaps - but it would be unfair to infer. Whatever the reason, the scene played as follows:
MARG: Then you must leave?
STEN: Stencil must be in Lucerne before the week is out.
MARG: I dislike premilitary activity.
STEN: It isn't espionage.
MARG: What then?
(Stencil laughs, watching the twilight.)
MARG: You are so close.
STEN: To whom? Margravine, not even to himself. This place, this island: all his life he's done nothing but hop from island to island. Is that a reason? Does there have to be a season? Shall he tell you: he works for no Whitehall, none conceivable unless, ha ha, the network of white halls in is own brain: these featureless corridors he keeps swept and correct for occasional visiting agents. Envoys from the zones of human crucified, the fabled districts of human love. But in whose employ? Not his own: it would be lunacy, the lunacy of any self-appointed prophet. . .
(There is a long pause, as the light reaching them through e clouds weakens or thins out to wash over them enervated and ugly.)
STEN: Stencil reached his majority three years after old Stencil died. Part of the estate that came to him then was a number of manuscript books bound in half-calf and warped by the humid air of many European cities. His journals, his unofficial log of an agent's career. Under "Florence, April, 1899" is a sentence, young Stencil has memorized it: "There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she. God grant that I may never called upon to write the answer, either here or in any official report."
MARG: A woman.
STEN: Another woman.
MARG: It is she you are pursuing? Seeking?
STEN: You'll ask next if he believes her to be his mother. The question is ridiculous.
Since 1945, Herbert Stencil had been on a conscious campaign to do without sleep. Before 1945 he had been slothful, accepting sleep as one of life's major blessings. He'd spent the time between wars footloose, the source of his income then, as now, uncertain. Sidney hadn't left much in the way of pounds and shillings, but had generated good will in nearly every city in the western world among those of his own generation. This being a generation which still believed in The Family, it meant a good lookout for young Herbert. He didn't freeload all the time: he'd worked as croupier in southern France, plantation foreman in East Africa, bordello manager in Greece; and in a number of civil service positions back Home. Stud poker could be depended on to fill in the low places - though an occasional mountain or two had also been leveled.
In that interregnum between kingdoms-of-death Herbert just got by, studying his father's journals only by way of learning how to please the blood-conscious "contacts" of his legacy. The passage on V. was never noticed.
In 1939 he was in London, working far the Foreign Office. September came and went: it was as if a stranger, located above the frontiers of consciousness, were shaking him. He didn't particularly care to wake; but realized that if he didn't he would soon be sleeping alone. Being the sociable sort, Herbert volunteered his services. He was sent to North Africa, in some fuzzily defined spy/interpreter/liaison capacity and seesawed with the rest from Tobruk to El Agheila, back through Tobruk to El Alamein, back again to Tunisia. At the end of it he had seen more dead than he cared to again. Peace having been won he flirted with the idea of resuming that prewar sleepwalk. Sitting at a cafe in Oran frequented largely by American ex-GI's who'd decided not to return to the States just yet, he was leafing through the Florence journal idly, when the sentences on V. suddenly acquired a light of their own.
"V. for victory," the Margravine had suggested playfully.
"No." Stencil shook his head. "It may be that Stencil has been lonely and needs something for company."
Whatever the reason, he began to discover that sleep was taking up time which could be spent active. His random movements before the war had given way to a great single movement from inertness to - if not vitality, then at least activity. Work, the chase - for it was V. he hunted - far from being a means to glorify God and one's own godliness (as the Puritans believe) was for Stencil grim, joyless; a conscious acceptance of the unpleasant for no other reason than that V. was there to track down.
Finding her: what then? Only that what love there was to Stencil had become directed entirely inward, toward this acquired sense of animateness. Having found this he could hardly release it, it was too dear. To sustain it he had to hunt V.; but if he should find her, where else would there be to go but back into half-consciousness? He tried not to think, therefore, about any end to the search. Approach and avoid.
Here in New York the impasse had become acute. He'd come to the party at the invitation of Esther Harvitz, whose plastic surgeon Schoenmaker owned a vital piece of the V. jigsaw, but protested ignorance.
Stencil would wait. He'd taken over a low-rent apartment in the 30's (East Side), temporarily vacated by an Egyptologist named Bongo-Shaftsbury, son of an Egyptologist Sidney had known. They had been opponents once, before the first war, as had been Sidney and many of the present "contacts"; which was curious, certainly, but lucky for Herbert because it doubled his chances of subsistence. He had been using the apartment for a pied-a-terre this last month; snatching sleep between interminable visits among his other "contacts"; a population coming more and more to comprise sons and friends of the originals. At each step the sense of "blood" weakened. Stencil could see a day when he would only be tolerated. It would then be he and V. all alone, in a world that somehow had lost sight of them both.
Until such tune there were Schoenmaker to wait for; and Chiclitz the munitions king and Eigenvalue the physician (epithets characteristically stemming from Sidney's day though Sidney had known neither of the men personally) to fill up the time. It was dithering, it was a stagnant period and Stencil knew it. A month was too long to stay in any city unless there were something tangible to investigate. He'd taken to roving the city, aimlessly, waiting for a coincidence. None came. He'd snatched at Esther's invitation, hoping to come across some clue, trace, hint. But the Whole Sick Crew had nothing to offer.
The owner of this apartment seemed to express a prevailing humor common to them all. As if he were Stencil's prewar self he presented to Stencil a horrifying spectacle.
Fergus Mixolydian the Irish Armenian Jew and universal man laid claim to being the laziest living being in Nueva York. His creative ventures, all incomplete, ranged from a western in blank verse to a wall he'd had removed from a stall in the Penn Station men's room and entered in an exhibition as what the old Dadaists called a "ready-made." Critical comment was not kind. Fergus got so lazy that his only activity (short of those necessary to sustain life) was once a week to fiddle around at the kitchen sink with dry cells, retorts, alembics, salt solutions. What he was doing, he was generating hydrogen; this went to fill a sturdy green balloon with a great Z printed on it. He would tie the balloon by a string to the post of the bed whenever he plane to sleep, this being the only way for visitors to tell which side of consciousness Fergus was on.
His other amusement was watching the TV. He'd devised an ingenious sleep-switch, receiving its signal from two electrodes placed on the inner skin of his forearm. When Fergus dropped below a certain level of awareness, the skin resistance increased over a preset value to operate the switch. Fergus thus became an extension of the TV set.
The rest of the Crew partook of the same lethargy. Raoul wrote for television, keeping carefully in mind, and complaining bitterly about, all the sponsor-fetishes of that industry. Slab painted in sporadic bursts, referring to himself as a Catatonic Expressionist and his work as "the ultimate in non-communication." Melvin played the guitar and sang liberal folk songs. The pattern would have been familiar - bohemian, creative, arty - except that it was even further removed from reality, Romanticism in its furthest decadence, being only an exhausted impersonation of poverty, rebellion and artistic "soul." For it was the unhappy fact that most of them worked for a living and obtained the substance of their conversation from the pages of Time magazine and like publications.
Perhaps the only reason they survived, Stencil reasoned, was that they were not alone. God knew how many more there were with a hothouse sense of time, no knowledge of life, and at the mercy of Fortune.
The party itself, tonight, was divided in three parts. Fergus, and his date, and another couple had long retreated into the bedroom with a gallon of wine; locked the door, and let the Crew do what they could in the way of chaos to the rest of the place. The sink on which Stencil now sat would become Melvin's perch: he would play his guitar and there would be horahs and African fertility dances in the kitchen before midnight. The lights in the living room would go out one by one, Schoenberg's quartets (complete) would go on the record player/changer, and repeat, and repeat; while cigarette coals dotted the room like watchfires and the promiscuous Debby Sensay (e.g.) would be on the floor, caressed by Raoul, say, or Slab, while she ran her hand up the leg of another, sitting on the couch with her roommate - and on, in a kind of love feast or daisy chain; wine would spill, furniture would be broken; Fergus would awake briefly next morning, view the destruction and residual guests sprawled about the apartment; cuss them all out and go back to sleep.
Stencil shrugged irritably, rose from the sink and found his coat. On the way out he touched a knot of six: Raoul, Slab, Melvin and three girls.
"Man," said Raoul.
"Scene," said Slab, waving his arm to indicate the unwinding party.
"Later," Stencil said and moved on out the door.
The girls stood silent. They were camp followers of a sort and expendable. Or at least could be replaced.
"Oh yes," said Melvin.
"Uptown," Slab said, "is taking over the world."
"Ha, ha," said one of the girls.
"Shut up," said Slab. He tugged at his hat. He always wore a hat, inside or outside, in bed or dead drunk. And George Raft suits, with immense pointed lapels. Pointed, starched, non-button-down collars. Padded, pointed shoulders: he was all points. But his face, the girl noticed, was not: rather soft, like a dissolute angel's: curly hair, red and purple rings slung looped in twos and threes beneath the eyes. Tonight she would kiss beneath his eyes, one by one, these sad circles.
"Excuse me," she murmured, drifting away toward the fire escape. At the window she gazed out toward the river, seeing nothing but fog. A hand touched her spine, exactly that spot every man she ever knew had been able to flag sooner or later. She straightened up, squeezing her shoulder blades together, moving her breasts taut and suddenly visible toward the window. She could see his reflection watching their reflection. She turned. He was blushing. Crew cut Harris tweed. "Say, you are new," she smiled. "I am Esther."
He blushed and was cute. "Brad," he said. "I'm sorry I made you jump."
She knew instinctively: he will be fine as the fraternity boy just out of an Ivy League school who knows he will never stop being a fraternity boy as long as he lives. But who still feels he is missing something, and so hangs at the edges of the Whole Sick Crew. If he is going into management, he writes. If he is an engineer or architect why he paints or sculpts. He will straddle the line aware up to the point of knowing he is getting the worst of both worlds, but never stopping to wonder why there should ever have been line, or even if there is a line at all. He will learn how to be a twinned man and will go on at the game, straddling until he splits up the crotch and in half from the prolonged tension, and then he will be destroyed. She assumed ballet fourth position, moved her breasts at a 45 degree angle to his line-of-sight, pointed her nose at his heart, looked up at him through her eyelashes.
"How long have you been in New York?"
Outside the V-Note a number of bums stood around the front windows looking inside, fogging the glass with their breath. From time to time a collegiate-looking type, usually with a date, would emerge from the swinging doors and they would ask him, one by one in a line down that short section of Bowery sidewalk, for a cigarette, subway fare, the price of a beer. All night the February wind would come barreling down the wide keyway of Third Avenue, moving right over them all: the shavings, cutting oil, sludge of New York's lathe.
Inside McClintic Sphere was swinging his ass off. His skin was hard, as if it were part of the skull: every vein and whisker on that head stood out sharp and clear under the green baby spot: you could see the twin lines running down from either side of his lower lip, etched in by the force of his embouchure, looking like extensions of his mustache.
He blew a hand-carved ivory alto saxophone with a 4-1/2 reed and the sound was like nothing any of them had heard before. The usual divisions prevailed: collegians did not dig, and left after an average of 1-1/2 sets. Personnel from other groups, either with a night off or taking a long break from somewhere crosstown or uptown, listened hard, trying to dig. "I am still thinking," they would say if you asked. People at the bar all looked as if they did dig in the sense of understand, approve of, empathize with: but this was probably only because people who prefer to stand at the bar have, universally, an inscrutable look.
At the end of the bar in the V-Note is a table which is normally used by customers to put empty beer bottles and glasses on, but if somebody grabs it early enough nobody minds and the bartenders are usually too busy anyway to yell at them to get off. At the moment the table was occupied by Winsome, Charisma and Fu. Paola had gone to the ladies' room. None of them were saying anything.
The group on the stand had no piano: it was bass, drums, McClintic and a boy he had found in the Ozarks who blew a natural horn in F. The drummer was a group man who avoided pyrotechnics, which may have irritated the college crowd. The bass was small and evil-looking and his eyes were yellow with pinpoints in the center. He talked to his instrument. It was taller than he was and didn't seem to be listening.
Horn and alto together favored sixths and minor fourths and when this happened it was like a knife fight or tug of war: the sound was consonant but as if cross-purposes were in the air. The solos of McClintic Sphere were something else. There were people around, mostly those who wrote for Downbeat magazine or the liners of LP records, who seemed to feel he played disregarding chord changes completely. They talked a great deal about soul and the anti-intellectual and the rising rhythms of African nationalism. It was a new conception, they said, and some of them said: Bird Lives.
Since the soul of Charlie Parker had dissolved away into a hostile March wind nearly a year before, a great deal of nonsense had been spoken and written about him. Much more was to come, some is still being written today. He was the greatest alto on the postwar scene and when he left it some curious negative will - a reluctance and refusal to believe in the final, cold fact - possessed the lunatic fringe to scrawl in every subway station, on sidewalks, in pissoirs, the denial: Bird Lives. So that among the people in the V-Note that night were, at a conservative estimate, a dreamy 10 per cent who had not got the word, and saw in McClintic Sphere a kind of reincarnation.
"He plays all the notes Bird missed," somebody whispered in front of Fu. Fu went silently through the motions of breaking a beer bottle on the edge of the table, jamming it into the speaker's back and twisting.
It was near closing time, the last set.
"It's nearly time to go," Charisma said. "Where is Paola."
"Here she comes," said Winsome.
Outside the wind had its own permanent gig. And was still blowing.