فصل 12کتاب: اتحادیه ابلهان / فصل 12
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There had been a flurry of excitement. The wild blowing of the postman’s whistle, the chugging postal truck out on Constantinople Street, his mother’s excited screaming, Miss Annie’s calling to the postman that his whistle had frightened her — all had interrupted Ignatius’s dressing for the kickoff rally. He signed the postal delivery receipt and rushed back to his room, locking his door.
“What is it, boy?” Mrs. Reilly asked in the hall.
Ignatius looked at the AIR MAIL SPECIAL DELIVERY stamping on the manila envelope and at the little hand-written pleas, “Urgent” and “Rush.”
“Oh, my goodness,” he said happily. “The Minkoff minx must be beside herself.”
He tore open the envelope and pulled out the letter.
Did you really send me this telegram, Ignatius?
MYRNA FORM PEACE PARTY CENTRAL COMMITTEE NORTHEASTERN ZONE AT ONCE STOP ORGANIZE AT EVERY LEVEL STOP RECRUIT SODOMITES ONLY STOP s@x IN POLITICS STOP DETAILS WILL FOLLOW STOP IGNATIUS NATIONAL CHAIRMAN STOP What does this mean, Ignatius? Do you really want me to recruit fags? Who wants to be a registered Sodomite? Ignatius, I am very worried. Are you hanging around with some queers? I could have guessed that this would happen. The paranoid fantasy of the arrest and accident was the first clue. Now the whole thing is out in the open. Your normal s@xual outlets have been blocked for so long that now the s@xual overflow is seeping out into the wrong channels. Since the fantasy, which was the beginning of it all, you have been undergoing a period of crisis which is culminating in overt s@xual aberration. I could tell that you were going to flip sooner or later. Now it has happened. My group therapy group will really be depressed when they hear that your case has taken a turn for the worse. Please leave that decaying city and come north. Call me collect if you want to and we can talk over this problem of s@xual orientation that you are having. You must have therapy soon or you will become a screaming queen.
“How dare she?” Ignatius bellowed.
Whatever happened to the Divine Right party? I had several people who were all ready to join. I don’t know if they’ll go for this Sodomite business, although I can see that we might use this Sodomite party to drain off the fringe-group fascists. Maybe we could split the right wing in half. Still I don’t think this is a good idea at all. Suppose non-Sodomites want to join and we refuse. We will be accused of being prejudiced, and the whole thing will flop. The lecture was not exactly a success, I’m afraid. It went over all right — right over the people’s heads. There were two or three middle aged people in the audience who tried to heckle me with these very hostile remarks, but a couple of my friends from the group therapy group challenged them hostility for hostility and finally drove those reactionaries out of the auditorium. Just as I suspected, I was a little too advanced for the neighborhood audience. Ongah did not show up, that crumb. As far as I’m concerned, they can send him back to Africa. I really thought that guy had something on the ball. Apparently he’s very apathetic politically. He promised me he would be there, that schmuck. Ignatius, this Sodomite plan does not sound very practical at all. In addition, I think it is only a dangerous manifestation of your declining mental health. I don’t know how I can tell my group therapy group about this weird development — however predictable it might have been. The group has been really pulling for you all along. Some are even identifying with you. If you go, they might go, too. I need immediate communication from you. Please call collect anytime after 6 P.M. I am very, very worried.
“She’s totally confounded,” Ignatius said happily. “Wait until she hears of my apocalyptic meeting with Miss O’Hara.”
“Ignatius, what’s that you got?”
“A communication from Myrna minx.”
“What that girl wants?”
“She’s threatening suicide unless I swear that my heart is hers alone.”
“Ain’t that awful. I bet you been telling that poor girl a lota lies. I know you, Ignatius.”
Behind the door there were sounds of dressing; something that sounded like a piece of metal fell to the floor.
“Where you going to?” Mrs. Reilly asked the peeling paint.
“Please, Mother,” a basso profundo voice answered. “I’m rather rushed. Stop bothering me, please.”
“You might as well stay at home all day long for all the money you bringing in,” Mrs. Reilly screamed at the door. “How I’m gonna meet the note I gotta pay that man?” “I wish that you would let me alone. I am addressing a political meeting tonight, and I must organize my thoughts.”
“A political meeting? Ignatius! Ain’t that wonderful. Maybe you’ll make good in politics, boy. You got you a fine voice. What club, honey? The Crescent City Democrats? The Old Regulars?” “The party is secret at the moment, I’m afraid.”
“What kinda political party’s a secret?” Mrs. Reilly asked suspiciously “Are you gonna talk with a buncha communiss?”
“Somebody gimme some pamphlets on the communiss, boy. I been reading all about the communiss. Don’t try to fool me, Ignatius.”
“Yes, I saw one of those pamphlets in the hall this afternoon. You either dropped it there on purpose so that I could benefit from its message or you tossed it there accidentally during your regular afternoon wine orgy in the belief that it was a particularly elephantine bit of confetti. I imagine that your eyes have some trouble focusing at about two in the afternoon. Well, I read through the pamphlet. It’s almost completely illiterate. Goodness knows where you get such garbage. Probably from the old woman who sells pralines at the cemetery. Well, I am not a communist, so let me alone.” “Ignatius, don’t you think maybe you’d be happy if you went and took you a little rest at Charity?”
“Are you referring to the psychiatric ward by any chance?” Ignatius demanded in a rage. “Do you think that I am insane? Do you suppose that some stupid psychiatrist could even attempt to fathom the workings of my psyche?” “You could just rest, honey. You could write some stuff in your little copybooks.”
“They would try to make me into a moron who liked television and new cars and frozen food. Don’t you understand? Psychiatry is worse than communism. I refuse to be brainwashed. I won’t be a robot!” “But, Ignatius, they help out a lot of people got problems.”
“Do you think that I have a problem?” Ignatius bellowed. “The only problem that those people have anyway is that they don’t like new cars and hair sprays. That’s why they are put away. They make the other members of the society fearful. Every asylum in this nation is filled with poor souls who simply cannot stand lanolin, cellophane, plastic, television, and subdivisions.” “Ignatius, that ain’t true. You remember old Mr. Becnel used to live down the block? They locked him up because he was running down the street naked.”
“Of course he was running down the street naked. His skin could not bear any more of that dacron and nylon clothing that was clogging his pores. I’ve always considered Mr. Becnel one of the martyrs of our age. The poor man was badly victimized. Now run along to the front door and see if my taxi has arrived.” “Where you getting money for a taxi?”
“I keep a few pennies stuffed in my mattress,” Ignatius answered. He had blackmailed another ten dollars out of the urchin, also forcing the waif to watch the wagon while he spent the afternoon at Loew’s State watching a film about drag-racing teenagers. The guttersnipe was definitely a discovery, a gift sent by Fortuna to make amends for all of her bad spins. “Go peek through the shutters.” The door creaked open and Ignatius appeared in his pirate finery.
“I thought that you might react like that. Therefore I have kept all of this paraphernalia stashed at Paradise Vendors, Incorporated.”
“Angelo was right,” Mrs. Reilly cried. “You been out on the streets dressed up like a Mardi Gras all this time.”
“A scarf here. A cutlass there. One or two deft and tasteful suggestions. That’s all. The total effect is rather fetching.”
“You can’t go out like that,” Mrs. Reilly hollered.
“Please. Not another hysterical scene. You’ll dislodge all of the thoughts which are developing in my mind in connection with the lecture.”
“Get back in that room, boy.” Mrs. Reilly began beating Ignatius on the arms. “Get back in there, Ignatius. I ain’t fooling this time, boy. You can’t disgrace me like that.” “Good heavens! Mother, stop that. I’ll be in no condition for my speech.”
“What kinda speech you gonna make? Where you going to, Ignatius? Tell me, boy?” Mrs. Reilly slapped her son flatly in the face. “You ain’t leaving this house, crazy.” “Oh, my God, are you going mad? Get away from me this instant. I hope that you’ve noticed that scimitar dangling from my uniform.”
A slap struck Ignatius in the nose: another landed on his right eye. He waddled down the hall, pushed the long shutters open, and ran out into the yard.
“Come back in this house,” Mrs. Reilly screamed from the front door. “You ain’t going nowhere, Ignatius.”
“I dare you to come out in that shredded nightgown and get me!” Ignatius answered defiantly and stuck out his massive pink tongue.
“Get back in here, Ignatius.”
“Hey, knock it off, you two,” Miss Annie shouted from behind her front shutters. “My nerves is shot to hell.”
“Take a look at Ignatius,” Mrs. Reilly called to her. “Ain’t that awful?”
Ignatius was waving to his mother from the brick sidewalk, his earring catching the rays of the streetlight.
“Ignatius, come in here like a good boy,” Mrs. Reilly pleaded.
“I awready got me a headache from the goddam postman’s whistle,” Miss Annie threatened loudly. “I’m gonna ring up the cops in about one minute.”
“Ignatius,” shouted Mrs. Reilly, but it was too late. A taxi was cruising down the block. Ignatius flagged it down just as his mother, forgetting the disgrace of the shredded nightgown, ran down to the curb. Ignatius slammed the rear door right in his mother’s maroon hair and barked an address at the driver. He stabbed at his mother’s hands with the cutlass and ordered the driver to move along immediately. The taxi sped off, churning up some pebbles in the gutter that stung Mrs. Reilly’s legs through the torn rayon gown. She watched the red taillights for a moment, then she ran back into the house to telephone Santa.
“Going to a costume party, pal?” the driver asked Ignatius as they turned onto St. Charles Avenue.
“Watch where you’re going and speak when you’re spoken to,” Ignatius thundered.
During the ride the driver said nothing else, but Ignatius practiced his speech loudly in the back seat, rapping his cutlass against the front seat to emphasize certain key points.
At St. Peter Street he got out and first heard the noise, dim yet frenetic singing and laughing coming from the three-story stucco building. Some prosperous Frenchman had built the house in the late 1700s to house a menage of wife, children, and spinster tantes. The tantes had been stored up in the attic along with the other excess and unattractive furniture, and from the two little dormer windows in the roof they had seen what little of the world they believed existed outside of their own monde of slanderous gossip, needlework, and cyclical recitations of the rosary. But the hand of the professional decorator had exorcised whatever ghosts of the French bourgeoisie might still haunt the thick brick walls of the building. The exterior was painted a bright canary yellow; the gas jets in the reproduction brass lanterns mounted on either side of the carriageway flickered softly, their amber flames rippling in reflection on the black enamel of the gate and shutters. On the flagstone paving beneath both lanterns there were old plantation pots in which Spanish daggers grew and extended their sharply pointed stilettos.
Ignatius stood before the building regarding it with extreme distaste. His blue and yellow eyes denounced the resplendent façade. His nose rebelled against the very noticeable odor of fresh enamel. His ears shrank from the bedlam of singing, cackling, and giggling that was going on behind the closed black patent leather shutters.
Testily clearing his throat, he looked at the three brass doorbells and at the little white cards above each:
Raoul Frayle -3A
Liz Steele -2A
Dorian Greene -1A
He jabbed a finger into the bottom bell and waited. The frenzy behind the shutters abated very slightly. A door opened somewhere down the carriageway, and Dorian Greene came walking toward the gate.
“Oh, dear,” he said when he saw who was out on the sidewalk. “Where in the world have you been? I’m afraid that the kickoff rally is fast getting out of hand. I have tried unsuccessfully once or twice to call the group to order, but apparently feelings are running rather high.” “I hope you’ve done nothing to dampen their morale,” Ignatius said gravely, tapping his cutlass impatiently on the iron gate. He noticed somewhat angrily that Dorian was walking toward him a little unsteadily; this was not what he had expected.
“Oh, what a gathering,” Dorian said as he opened the gate. “Everyone is simply letting his hair down.”
Dorian did a rapid and uncoordinated pantomime to illustrate this.
“Oh, my God!” Ignatius said. “Stop that appalling obscenity.”
“Several people will be completely ruined after this evening. There’s going to be a mass exodus for Mexico City in the morning. But then Mexico City is so wonderfully wild.” “I certainly hope that no one has tried to inflict any warmongering resolutions upon the gathering.”
“Oh, goodness, no.”
“I’m relieved to hear that. Heaven knows what opposition we may have to face even at the outset. We may have some ‘enemy within.’ Word may have leaked out to the whole military combine of the nation and, for that matter, the world.” “Well, come along, Gypsy Queen, let’s get inside.”
As they walked down the carriageway, Ignatius said, “This building is repellingly flamboyant.” He looked at the pastel lamps concealed behind the palms along the walls. “Who’s responsible for this abortion?” “I, of course, Magyar Maiden. I own the building.”
“I should have known. May I ask where the money comes from to support this decadent whimsy of yours?”
“From my dear family out there in the wheat,” Dorian sighed. “They send me large checks every month. In return I simply guarantee them that I’ll stay out of Nebraska. I left there under something of a cloud, you see. All that wheat and those endless plains. I can’t tell you how depressing it all was. Grant Wood romanticized it, if anything. I went East for college and then came here. Oh, New Orleans is such freedom.” “Well, at least we have a gathering place for our coup. Now that I’ve seen the place, however, I would have preferred your renting an American Legion hall or something equally appropriate. This place looks more like the setting for some perverted activity like a tea dance or a garden party.” “Do you know that a national home decorating magazine wants to do a four-page color spread on this building?” Dorian asked.
“If you had any sense, you would realize that that is the ultimate insult,” Ignatius snorted.
“Oh, Girl with the Golden Earring, you are driving me out of my mind. Look, here’s the door.”
“Just a moment,” Ignatius said cautiously. “What is that awful noise? It sounds as if someone’s being sacrificed.”
They stood in the pastel light of the carriageway listening. Somewhere in the patio a human was crying in distress.
“Oh, dear, what are they doing now?” Dorian’s voice was impatient. “Those little fools. They never can behave themselves.”
“I would suggest that we investigate,” Ignatius said, his voice a conspiratorial whisper. “Some obsessed military officer may have slipped into the meeting incognito and may be trying to extricate our secrets from some faithful party member by means of torture. The dedicated military will stoop to anything. It could even be some foreign agent.” “Oh, what fun!” Dorian shrieked.
He and Ignatius tripped and waddled to the patio. There someone was crying for help in the slave quarters. The door of the slave quarters was slightly ajar, but Ignatius threw himself against it anyway, shattering several panes of glass.
“Oh, my God!” he screamed when he saw what was before him. “They’ve struck!”
He looked at the little sailor shackled and chained to the wall. It was Timmy.
“Do you see what you’ve done to my door?” Dorian was asking behind Ignatius.
“The enemy is among us,” Ignatius said wildly. “Who tattled? Tell me. Someone is on to us.”
“Oh, get me out of here,” the little sailor pleaded. “It’s awfully dark.”
“You little fool,” Dorian spat at the sailor. “Who chained you in here?”
“It was that terrible Billy and Raoul. They’re so awful, those two. They brought me out here to show me how you’re redecorating the slave quarters, and the next thing I knew they locked me in these dirty chains and ran back into the party.” The little sailor rattled his chains.
“I’ve just had this place redone,” Dorian said to Ignatius. “Oh, my door.”
“Where are those agents?” Ignatius demanded, unpinning his cutlass and waving it about. “We must apprehend them before they leave this building.”
“Please get me out. I can’t stand the dark.”
“It’s your fault that this door is broken,” Dorian hissed at the deranged mariner. “Playing games with those two tramps from upstairs.”
“He broke the door.”
“What can you expect from him? Just look at him.”
“Are you two deviates talking about me?” Ignatius asked angrily. “If you’re going to get this excited about a door, I seriously doubt whether you’ll survive for long in the vicious arena of politics.” “Oh, get me out of here. I’m going to scream if I stay in these tacky chains much longer.”
“Oh, shut up, Nellie,” Dorian snapped, slapping Timmy across his pink cheeks. “Get out of my house and go back on the streets where you belong.”
“Oh!” the sailor cried. “What a terrible thing to say.”
“Please,” Ignatius cautioned. “The movement must not be sabotaged by internal strife.”
“I did think that I had at least one friend left,” the sailor said to Dorian. “I see I was wrong. Go ahead. Slap me again if it gives you so much pleasure.”
“I wouldn’t even touch you, you little tramp.”
“I doubt whether any hack, under pressure, could pen such atrocious melodrama,” Ignatius observed. “Now stop all of this, you two degenerates. Exercise at least a little taste and decency.” “Slap me!” the sailor shrieked. “I know you’re dying to do it. You’d love to hurt me, wouldn’t you?”
“Apparently he won’t settle down until you’ve agreed to inflict at least a little physical injury upon him,” Ignatius told Dorian.
“I wouldn’t put a finger on his stupid slut body.”
“Well, we must do something to silence him. My valve can take only so much of this deranged mariner’s neuroses. We shall have to politely drop him from the movement. He simply does not measure up. Anyone can smell that heavy musk of masochism which he exudes. It’s stinking up the slave quarters at this very moment. In addition, he appears rather drunk.” “You hate me, too, you big monster,” the sailor screamed at Ignatius.
Ignatius tapped Timmy soundly on the head with his cutlass, and the seafarer emitted a little moan.
“Goodness knows what debased fantasy he’s having,” Ignatius commented.
“Oh, hit him again,” Dorian chirped happily. “What fun!”
“Please let me out of these awful chains,” the sailor pleaded. “My sailor suit’s getting all rusty.”
While Dorian was unlocking the shackles with a key he took from over the door, Ignatius said, “You know, manacles and chains have functions in modern life which their fevered inventors must never have considered in an earlier and simpler age. If I were a suburban developer, I would attach at least one set to the walls of every new yellow brick ranch style and Cape Cod split level. When the suburbanites grew tired of television and Ping-Pong or whatever they do in their little homes, they could chain one another up for a while. Everyone would love it. Wives would say, ‘My husband put me in chains last night. It was wonderful. Has your husband done that to you lately?’ And children would hurry eagerly home from school to their mothers who would be waiting to chain them. It would help the children to cultivate the imagination denied them by television and would appreciably cut down on the incidence of juvenile delinquency. When father came in from work, the whole family could grab him and chain him for being stupid enough to be working all day long to support them. Troublesome old relatives would be chained in the carport. Their hands would be released only once a month so they could sign over their Social Security checks. Manacles and chains could build a better life for all. I must give this some space in my notes and jottings.” “Oh, my dear,” Dorian sighed. “Don’t you ever shut up?”
“My arms are all rusty,” Timmy said. “Just wait till I get my hands on that Billy and Raoul.”
“Our little convention seems to be getting rather unwieldy,” Ignatius said of the mad noises issuing from Dorian’s apartment. “Apparently feeling about the issues is striking more than one nerve center.” “Oh, heavens, I’d rather not look,” Dorian said, pushing the glass-paneled wisp of a French provincial door open.
Inside Ignatius saw a seething mass of people. Cigarettes and cocktail glasses held like batons flew in the air directing the symphony of chatter, shrieking, singing, and laughing. From the bowels of a huge stereophonic phonograph the voice of Judy Garland was fighting its way through the din. A small band of young men, the only stationary ones in the room, stood before the phonograph as if it were an altar. “Divine!” “Fantastic!” “So human!” they were saying of the voice from their electric tabernacle.
His blue and yellow eyes traveled from this rite to the rest of the room, where the other guests were attacking one another with conversation. Herringbones and madras and lamb’s wool and cashmere flashed past in a blur as hands and arms rent the air in a variety of graceful gestures. Fingernails, cuff links, pinky rings, teeth, eyes — all glittered. In the center of one knot of elegant guests a cowboy with a little riding crop flicked the crop at one of his fans, producing a response of exaggerated screaming and pleased giggling. In the center of another knot stood a lout in a black leather jacket who was teaching judo holds, to the great delight of his epicene students. “Oh, do teach me that,” someone near the wrestler screamed after an elegant guest had been twisted into an obscene position and then thrown to the floor to land with a crash of cuff links and other, assorted jewelry.
“I only invited the better people,” Dorian said to Ignatius.
“Good gracious,” Ignatius spluttered. “I can see that we’re going to have a great deal of trouble capturing the conservative rural red-neck Calvinist vote. We are going to have to rebuild our image along lines other than those I see here.” Timmy, who was watching the black leather lout twist and dump eager partners sighed, “How fun.”
The room itself was what decorators would probably call severe. The walls and high ceilings were white, and the room itself was sparsely furnished with a few pieces of antique furniture. The only voluptuous element in the large room was the champagne-colored velvet drapes tied back with white ribbons. The two or three antique chairs had apparently been chosen for their bizarre design and not for their ability to seat anyone, for they were delicate suggestions, hints at furniture with cushions barely capable of accommodating a child. A human in such a room was expected not to rest or sit or even relax, but rather pose, thereby transforming himself into a human furnishing that would complement the decor as well as possible.
After Ignatius had studied the decor, he said to Dorian, “The only functional item in here is that phonograph, and that is obviously being misused. This is a room with no soul.” He snorted loudly, in part over the room and in part over the fact that no one in the room had even noticed him, even though he complemented the decor as well as a neon sign would have. The participants in the kickoff rally seemed much more concerned about their own private fates this evening than they were about the fate of the world. “I notice that no one in this whitened sepulcher of a room has so much as even looked at us. They haven’t even nodded to their host, whose liquor they are consuming and whose year-round air conditioning they are taxing with all of those overpowering colognes. I feel rather like an observer at a catfight.” “Don’t worry about them. They’ve been simply dying for a good party for months. Come. You must see the decoration that I’ve made.” He took Ignatius over to the mantelpiece and showed him a bud vase containing one red, one white, and one blue rose. “Isn’t that wild? It’s better than all of that tacky crepe paper. I did buy some crepe paper, but nothing that I could do with it satisfied me.” “This is a floral abortion,” Ignatius commented irritably and tapped the vase with his cutlass. “Dyed flowers are unnatural and perverse and, I suspect, obscene also. I can see that I am going to have my hands full with you people.” “Oh, talk, talk, talk,” Dorian moaned. “Then let’s go into the kitchen. I want you to meet the ladies’ auxiliary.”
“Is that true? An auxiliary?” Ignatius asked greedily. “Well, I must compliment you upon your foresightedness.”
They entered the kitchen where, except for two young men who were having an emotional argument in a corner, all was quiet. Seated at a table were three women drinking from beer cans. They regarded Ignatius squarely. The one who was crushing a beer can in her hand stopped and tossed the can into a potted plant next to the sink.
“Girls,” Dorian said. The three beer girls raised a raucous Bronx cheer. “This is Ignatius Reilly, a new face.”
“Put it there, Fats,” the girl who had been crushing the can said. She grabbed Ignatius’s paw and worked it over as if it, too, were a prospect for crushing.
“Oh, my God!” Ignatius screamed.
“That’s Frieda,” Dorian explained. “And they’re Betty and Liz.”
“How do you do,” Ignatius said, slipping his hands into the pockets of his smock to prevent any further handshaking. “I’m sure that you’ll be of invaluable help to our cause.” “Where did you pick him up?” Frieda asked Dorian while her two companions studied Ignatius and nudged each other.
“Mr. Greene and I met through my mother,” Ignatius answered grandly for Dorian.
“No kidding,” Frieda said. “Your mother must be a very interesting person.”
“Hardly,” Ignatius replied.
“Well, grab yourself a beer, Tubby,” Frieda said. “I wish we had it in bottles. Betty here could open you one with her teeth. She’s got teeth like an iron claw.” Betty made an obscene gesture at Frieda. “And one of these days she’s going to get them all knocked down her fu@king throat.” Betty hit Frieda on the head with an empty can.
“You’re asking for it,” Frieda said, raising one of the kitchen chairs.
“Now stop it,” Dorian spat. “If you three can’t behave, you can just leave right now.”
“Personally,” Liz said, “we’re getting very bored just sitting here in the kitchen.”
“Yeah,” Betty screamed. She grabbed a rung of the chair that Frieda was holding over her head, and she and Frieda began wrestling for possession of it. “How come we have to sit out here?” “Put that chair down this minute,” Dorian said.
“Yes, please,” Ignatius added. He had retreated to a corner. “Someone will be injured.”
“Like you,” Liz said. She heaved an unopened beer can at Ignatius, who ducked.
“Good heavens!” Ignatius said. “I think I shall return to the other room.”
“Beat it, bigass,” Liz said to him. “You’re using up all the air in here.”
“Girls!” Dorian was screaming at the wrestling Frieda and Betty, whose T-shirts were growing damp. They were huffing and heaving around the room with the chair, mashing each other against the wall and sink.
“Okay, cut it out,” Liz screamed at her friends. “These people are going to think you’re crude.”
She picked up another chair and got between the two contestants. Then she slammed her chair down onto the one that Frieda and Betty were wrestling over, knocking the girls aside. The two chairs rattled and clattered to the floor.
“Who told you to butt in?” Frieda demanded of Liz, grabbing her by her cropped hair.
Dorian, stumbling over the chairs, tried to push the girls back to the table, snapping, “Now sit down there and be decent.”
“This party stinks,” Betty said. “Where’s the action?”
“How come you invited us down here if all we’re gonna do is sit here in this frigging kitchen?” Frieda demanded.
“You’ll only start brawling in there. You know it. I thought it would be a neighborly thing to do to ask you down out of courtesy. I don’t want any trouble. This is the nicest party we’ve had in months.” “Okay,” Frieda growled. “We’ll sit out here like ladies.” The girls punched one another about the arms in agreement. “After all, we’re only paying tenants. Go in there and be nice to that phony cowboy, the one that sounds like Jeanette MacDonald, the one that tried to bit@h us on Chartres Street the other day.” “He’s a very fine and friendly person,” Dorian said. “I’m sure he didn’t see you girls.”
“He saw us all right,” Betty said. “We copped him on the head.”
“I’d like to kick his superior balls in,” Liz said.
“Please,” Ignatius said importantly. “All I see about me is strife. You must close ranks and present a unified front.”
“What’s with him?” Liz asked, opening the beer can she had thrown at Ignatius. A spray of foam shot out and wet Ignatius on his distended Paradise product stomach.
“Well, I’ve had enough of this,” Ignatius said angrily.
“Good,” Frieda said. “Shove off.”
“The kitchen is our territory tonight,” Betty said. “We decide who uses it.”
“I certainly am interested in seeing the first sherry party that the auxiliary gives,” Ignatius snorted and lumbered to the door. As he was exiting, an empty beer can struck the door frame near his earring. Dorian followed him out and closed the door. “I can’t imagine how you decided to besmirch the movement by inviting those rowdies here.” “I had to,” Dorian explained. “If you don’t invite them to a party, they break in anyway. Then they’re even worse. They’re really fun girls when they’re in a good mood, but they had some trouble with the police recently, and they’re taking it out on everyone.” “They shall be dropped from the movement immediately!”
“Anything you say, Magyara,” Dorian sighed. “I myself feel a little sorry for the girls. They used to live in California, where they had a grand time. Then there was an incident about assaulting a bodybuilder at Muscle Beach. They had been Indian arm wrestling with the boy, or so they say, and then it seems that things got out of hand. They literally had to flee southern California and dash across the desert in that magnificent German automobile of theirs. I have given them sanctuary. In many respects they’re wonderful tenants. They guard my building better than any watchdog could. They have loads of money that they get from some aging movie queen.” “Really?” Ignatius asked with interest. “Perhaps I was hasty about dropping them. Political movements must get their money from whatever source they can. The girls have, no doubt, a charm which their blue jeans and boots obscure.” He looked over the seething mass of guests. “You must get these people quiet. We must bring them to order. There is crucial business at hand.” The cowboy, the phony bit@h, was tickling an elegant guest with his riding crop. The black leather lout was pinning an ecstatic guest to the floor. Everywhere there were screams, sighs, shrieks. Lena Horne was now singing within the phonograph. “Clever,” “Crisp,” “Terribly cosmo,” the group around the phonograph was saying reverently. The cowboy broke away from his aroused fans and began to synchronize his lips to the lyrics on the record, slinking around the floor like a chanteuse in boots and Stetson. With a barrage of squeals, the guests gathered around him, leaving the black leather lout with no one to torture.
“You must stop all of this,” Ignatius shouted to Dorian, who was winking at the cowboy. “Aside from the fact that I am witnessing a most egregious offense against taste and decency, I am also beginning to smother from the stench of glandular emissions and cologne.” “Oh, don’t be so drab. They’re just having fun.”
“I am very sorry,” Ignatius said in a businesslike tone. “I am here tonight on a mission of the utmost seriousness. There is a girl who must be attended to, a bold and forward minx of a trollop. Now turn off that offensive music and quiet these sodomites. We must get down to brass tacks.” “I thought you were going to be fun. If you’re just going to be tacky and dreary, then you’d better leave.”
“I shall not leave! No one can deter me. Peace! Peace! Peace!”
“Oh, dear. You are serious about this, aren’t you?”
Ignatius broke away from Dorian and rushed across the room, pushing through the elegant guests, and unplugged the phonograph. As he turned around, he was greeted by the guests’ emasculated version of an Apache war cry.
“Beast.” “Madman.” “Is this what Dorian promised?” “That fantastic Lena.” “The outfit — grotesque. And that earring. Oh, my.” “That was my very favorite song.” “Horrible.” “How unbelievably gross.” “So monstrously huge.” “A bad, bad dream.” “Silence!” Ignatius bellowed over their enraged babbling. “I am here tonight my friends, to show you how you may save the world and bring peace.”
“He’s truly mad.” “Dorian, what a bad joke.” “Where in the world did he come from?” “Not even vaguely attractive.” “Filthy.” “Depressing.” “Someone turn on that delicious record again.” “The challenge,” Ignatius’s continued at full volume, “Is placed before you. Will you turn your singular talents to saving the world, or will you simply turn your backs on your fellow man?” “Oh, how awful!” “Not at all amusing.” “I’ll have to leave if this tacky charade continues.” “In such poor taste.” “Someone turn on that record again. Dear, dear Lena.” “Where is my coat?” “Let’s go to a smart bar.” “Look, I’ve spilled my martini on my most priceless jacket.” “Let’s go to a smart bar.” “The world today is in a state of grave unrest,” Ignatius screamed against the mewing and hissing. He paused for a moment to glance down in his pocket at some notes he had scribbled on a piece of Big Chief paper. Instead he pulled out the torn and dogeared photograph of Miss O’Hara. Several guests saw it and shrieked. “We must prevent the apocalypse. We must fight fire with fire. Therefore, I turn to you.” “Oh, what in heaven’s name is he talking about?” “This is making me so depressed.” “Those eyes, they’re frightening.” “Let’s go to a smart bar.” “Let’s go to San Francisco.” “Silence, you perverts!” Ignatius cried. “Listen to me.”
“Dorian,” the cowboy pleaded in a lyric soprano. “Make him keep quiet. We were having such fun, such a grand, gay time. Oh, he’s not even amusing.”
“That’s right,” an extremely elegant guest, whose taut face was brown with suntan makeup, said. “He’s truly awful. So depressing.”
“Must we listen to all of this?” another guest asked, waving his cigarette as if it were a magic wand which would make Ignatius disappear. “Is this a trick of some kind, Dorian? You know that we dearly love parties with a motif, but this. I mean, I never even watch the news on television. I’ve been working all day in that shop, and I don’t want to come to a party and have to hear all of this sort of thing. Let him talk later if he really has to. His remarks are in such terrible taste.” “So inappropriate,” the black leather lout sighed, turning suddenly fey.
“All right,” Dorian said. “Turn on the record. I thought it might be fun.” He looked at Ignatius, who was snorting loudly. “I’m afraid, my dears, that it turned out to be a terrible, terrible bomb.” “Wonderful.” “Dorian’s magnificent.” “There’s the plug.” “I love Lena.” “I truly think that this is her very best recording.” “So smart. Those special lyrics.” “I saw her in New York once. Magnificent.” “Play Gypsy next. I adore Ethel.” “Oh, good, it’s coming on.” There Ignatius stood like the boy on the burning deck. The music rose from the tabernacle once again. Dorian fled to speak with a group of his guests, actively ignoring Ignatius, as was everyone else in the room. Ignatius felt as alone as he had felt on that dark day in high school when in a chemistry laboratory his experiment had exploded, burning his eyebrows off and frightening him. The shock and terror had made him wet his pants, and no one in the laboratory would notice him, not even the instructor, who hated him sincerely for similar explosions in the past. For the remainder of that day, as he walked soggily around the school, everyone had pretended that he was invisible. Ignatius, feeling just as invisible standing there in Dorian’s living room, began feinting at some imaginary opponent with his cutlass to relieve his self-consciousness.
Many were now singing with the record. Two began dancing near the phonograph. The dancing spread like a forest fire, and soon the floor was filled with couples who swayed and dipped around the Gibraltar of a wallflower, Ignatius. As Dorian swept past in the arms of the cowboy, Ignatius tried futilely to attract his attention. He attempted even to stick the cowboy with his cutlass, but the two were a wily and elusive dance team. Just as he was about to evanesce completely, Frieda, Liz, and Betty burst in from the kitchen.
“We couldn’t take that kitchen anymore,” Frieda said to Ignatius. “After all, we’re human beings, too.” She gave Ignatius a light punch to the stomach. “Looks like you’re left out, Fats.” “Just what do you mean?” Ignatius asked haughtily.
“Looks like your costume’s not going over too well,” Liz observed.
“Pardon me, ladies. I must leave.”
“Hey, don’t go, Tubby,” Betty said. “Somebody’ll ask you. They’re just trying to bit@h you. Don’t give up the ship. They’d bit@h their own mother.”
At that moment, Timmy, who had slipped out to the slave quarters again to look for his missing charm bracelet and, he hoped, more games with the chains, appeared in the living room. He wandered over to Ignatius and asked wistfully, “Do you want to dance?” “There. You see?” Frieda said to Ignatius.
“I want to see this,” Liz shouted. “Let’s see you two do the limbo. Come on. I’ll get a broom we can use for the pole.”
“Oh, my God!” Ignatius said. “Please. I don’t dance.”
“Oh, come on,” Timmy said. “I can teach you. I love to dance. I’ll lead.”
“Go ahead, bigass,” Betty threatened.
“No. It would be impossible. The cutlass, the smock. Someone would be injured. I came here to speak, not dance. I don’t dance. I never dance. I have never danced in my life.” “Well, you’re going to dance now,” Frieda told him. “You don’t want to hurt this sailor’s feelings.”
“I am not dancing!” Ignatius barked. “I have never danced, and I certainly am not going to begin with some drunken deviate.”
“Oh, don’t be so straight,” Timmy sighed.
“I have always had a rather substandard sense of balance,” Ignatius explained. “We will plunge to the floor in a broken heap. This deranged mariner will be crippled or worse.” “Tubby looks like a troublemaker,” Frieda said to her friends. “Right?”
With a wink from Frieda, the three girls attacked Ignatius. One wrapped a square leg around his; the other kicked him in the back of the knee; the third pushed him backward onto the cowboy, who was whirling in the vicinity. Ignatius steadied himself by grabbing the cowboy, who broke from Dorian’s horrified grasp and toppled to the floor. As the cowboy landed, the needle jumped from the record and the music stopped. But in its place there began a chorus of shrieking and screaming from the guests.
“Oh, Dorian, get him out!” an elegant shrieked in panic.
There was a metallic crash of rings, bracelets, and cuff links as some of the guests pressed together in a corner.
“Hey, you knocked that bit@h of a cowboy over like a tenpin,” Frieda screamed admiringly at Ignatius, who was still flailing his arms to regain his balance.
“Nice work, Fats,” Liz said.
“Let’s aim him at somebody else,” Betty said to her companions.
“What have you done, you huge beastly thing?” Dorian cried at Ignatius.
“This is an outrage,” Ignatius was shouting. “I have not only been ignored and vilified at this gathering. I have been viciously attacked within the walls of your cobweb of a home. I hope that you carry liability insurance. If not, you may well lose this flamboyant property once my legal advisors have attended to you.” Dorian was down on his knees, fanning the cowboy, whose lids were beginning to flutter.
“Make him leave, Dorian,” the cowboy sobbed. “He almost killed me.”
“I had thought you might be different and funny,” Dorian hissed at Ignatius. “As it is, you have proved to be the most awful thing that has ever been in my house. From the moment that you broke the door, I should have realized that it would end like this. What did you do to this dear boy?” “My trousers are filthy,” the cowboy shrieked.
“I was savagely attacked and pushed onto that coxcomb cowpoke.”
“Don’t try to lie, Fats,” Frieda said. “We saw the whole thing. He was jealous, Dorian. He wanted to dance with you.”
“Awful.” “Make him go.” “Ruining the party.” “So monstrous.” “Dangerous.” “Total loss.”
“Get out!” Dorian cried.
“We’ll handle him,” Frieda said.
“All right,” Ignatius said grandly as the three girls sank their stubby hands into his smock and started propelling him toward the door. “You have made your choice. Live in a world of war and bloodshed. When the bomb drops, do not come to me. I shall be in my shelter!” “Can it,” Betty said.
The three girls hustled Ignatius through the door and down the carriageway.
“Thank Fortuna I’m dissociating myself from this movement,” Ignatius thundered. The girls had knocked the scarf down over one eye and he was having trouble seeing where he was going. “You distempered people hardly have voter appeal.” They pushed him through the gate and onto the sidewalk. The Spanish dagger plants at the gate pricked his calves painfully and he stumbled forward.
“Okay, buster,” Frieda called through the gate as she closed it. “We’re giving you a ten minutes headstart. Then we start combing the Quarter.”
“We better not find your fat ass,” Liz said.
“Shove off, Tubby,” Betty added. “We haven’t had a good fight in a long time. We’re ready for one.”
“Your movement is doomed,” Ignatius slobbered after the girls, who were pushing one another down the carriageway. “Do you hear me? D-o-o-m-e-d. You know nothing about politics and voter persuasion. You will not carry a single ward in the nation. You won’t even carry the Quarter!” The door slammed and the girls were back in the party, which seemed to have regained its momentum. The music had started again, and Ignatius heard the squealing and shrieking growing louder than before. He knocked on the black shutters with his cutlass, screaming, “You will lose!” The tap and slide of many dancing feet answered his cry.
A man wearing a silk suit and a homburg came out of the shadow of an adjoining doorway for a moment to see whether the girls had gone. Then the man slipped back into the darkness, watching Ignatius, who was waddling back and forth before the building furiously.
Ignatius’s valve responded to his emotions by plopping closed. His hands sympathized by sprouting a rich growth of tiny white bumps that itched maddeningly. What could he tell Myrna about the movement for peace now? Now, like the abortive Crusade for Moorish Dignity, he had another debacle on his itching hands. Fortuna, that vicious slut. The evening had hardly begun; he couldn’t return to Constantinople Street and a variety of assaults from his mother, not now that his emotions had been stimulated toward a climax that had been snatched from his grasp. For almost a week he had been preoccupied with the kickoff rally, and now, ejected from the political arena by three dubious girls, he stood frustrated and furious on the damp flagstones of St. Peter Street.
Looking at his Mickey Mouse wristwatch which was, as usual, moribund, he wondered what time it was. Perhaps it was still early enough to see the first show at the Night of Joy. Perhaps Miss O’Hara had opened. If he and Myrna were not destined to joust on the field of political action, then it would have to be the field of s@x. What a lance Miss O’Hara could be to hurl right between Myrna’s offensive eyes. Ignatius looked at the photograph once more, salivating slightly. What kind of pet? The evening could still be wrenched from the jaws of failure.
Scratching one paw with the other, he decided that safety at least dictated his moving along. Those three savage girls might make good their threat. He billowed off down St. Peter toward Bourbon. The man in the silk suit and homburg came out of the shadow of the doorway and followed him. At Bourbon, Ignatius turned and began walking up toward Canal through the night’s parade of tourists and Quarterites, among whom he did not look particularly strange. He shoved through the crowd on the narrow sidewalk, his hips swinging each way free and slamming people aside. When Myrna read of Miss O’Hara, she would spew espresso all over the letter in consternation.
As he crossed onto the Night of Joy’s block, he heard the doped Negro calling, “Whoa! Come in, see Miss Harla O’Horror dancin with her pet. Guarantee one hunner percent real plantation dancin. Ever motherfu@kin drink got a guarantee knockout drop. Whoa! Everybody guarantee to catch them some clap off they glass. Hey! Nobody never see nothin like Miss Harla O’Horror Old South pet dancin. Opening night tonight, maybe this be your one and only chance to catch this act. Ooo-wee.” Ignatius saw him through the crowd that was hurrying past the Night of Joy. Apparently no one was heeding the barker’s plea. The barker himself had paused in his calling to emit a nimbus formation of smoke. He was wearing tails and a stovepipe hat that rested at an angle above his dark glasses, smiling through the smoke at the people who resisted his appeals.
“Hey! All you peoples draggin along here. Stop and come stick your ass on a Night of Joy stool,” he started again. “Night of Joy got genuine color peoples workin below the minimal wage. Whoa! Guarantee plantation atmosphere, got cotton growin right on the stage right in front your eyeball, got a civil right worker gettin his ass beat up between show. Hey!” “Is Miss O’Hara on yet?” Ignatius slobbered at the barker’s elbow.
“Oo-wee!” The fat mother had arrived. In person. “Hey, man, how come you still warin that earrin and scarve? What you suppose to be anyway?”
“Please.” Ignatius rattled his cutlass a bit. “I haven’t time to chat. I have no success pointers for you tonight, I’m afraid. Has Miss O’Hara begun?”
“She be startin in a few minute. You better get your ass in there and get you a ringside seat. I talk to the head waiter, he say he have a table all reserve for you.” “Is that true?” Ignatius asked eagerly. “The Nazi proprietress is gone, I hope.”
“She jet away to Califonia this afternoon, say Harla O’Horror so good she gonna go dip her ass in the ocean a while and stop worryin about her club.”
“Come on, man, get inside before the show start. Whoa! You don wanna miss one minute. sh@t. Harla comin on in a few seconds, go get yourself right down by that motherfu@kin stage, see ever goosebump on Miss O’Horror bum.” Jones propelled Ignatius rapidly through the padded door.
Ignatius stumbled into the Night of Joy with such momentum that his smock swirled around his ankles. Even in the darkness he noticed that the Night of Joy was somewhat dirtier than it had been on his previous visit. There was certainly enough dirt on the floor to permit a very limited cotton crop; but he saw no cotton. That must have been one of the Night of Joy’s vicious come-ons. He looked about for the headwaiter and saw none, so he lumbered through the few old men scattered about at tables in the gloom and seated himself at a small table directly beneath the stage. His cap looked like a solitary green footlight. At this close range he could perhaps make some gesture to Miss O’Hara or whisper something about Boethius that would attract her attention. She would be overwhelmed when she realized that there was a kindred spirit in the audience. Ignatius glanced about at the handful of empty-eyed men seated in the place. Miss O’Hara certainly had to cast her pearls before a dismal lot of swine, who looked like the type of vague, drawn old men who molested children at matinees.
A three-piece band in the wings of the tiny stage was beginning to thump through You Are My Lucky Star. At the moment the stage, which itself looked a bit dirty, was empty of orgiasts. Ignatius looked over at the bar to try to attract some sort of service and caught the eye of the bartender who had served his mother and him. The bartender pretended not to see him. Then Ignatius winked wildly at a woman leaning on the bar, a fortyish Latin who leered a terrifying response with a gold tooth or two. She pried herself loose from the bar before the bartender could stop her and came over to Ignatius, who was huddled against the stage as if it were a warm stove.
“You wanna dreenk, chico?”
Some halitosis filtered through his moustache. He ripped the scarf from his cap and shielded his nostrils with it.
“Thank you, yes,” he said in a muffled voice. “A Dr. Nut, if you please. And be certain that it’s frosty cold.”
“I see what we have,” the woman said enigmatically and clopped back to the bar in her straw sandals.
Ignatius watched her speak to the bartender in pantomime. They made a variety of gestures, most of which were directed at Ignatius. At least, Ignatius thought, he would be safe in this den if the sinewy girls were out prowling the Quarter. The bartender and the woman made some more signs; then she clopped back to Ignatius with two bottles of champagne and two glasses.
“We no have Dr. Nut,” she said and slammed the tray on the table. “Mira, you are owe twenty-four dollar for these champagne.”
“This is an outrage!” He directed a few swipes of the cutlass at the woman. “Bring me a coke.”
“No coke. No nawtheen. Only champagne.” The woman took a seat at the table. “Come on, hawny. Open the champagne. I am very thirsty.”
Again the breath wafted toward Ignatius, who pressed the scarf to his nose so tightly that he felt he would suffocate. He would catch some germ from this woman that would speed to his brain and transform him into a mongoloid. Misused Miss O’Hara. Trapped with subhuman women as co-workers. Of necessity, Miss O’Hara’s Boethian detachment must be rather lofty. The Latin woman dropped the check in Ignatius’s lap.
“Don’t you dare touch me!” he bellowed through the scarf.
“Ave Maria! Que pato!” the woman said to herself. Then she said, “Mira, you are pay now, maricon. We throw you out on your big culo.”
“Such grace,” Ignatius mumbled. “Well, I did not come here to drink with you. Now get away from my table.” He breathed deeply through the mouth. “And take your champagne with you.” “Oye, loco, you are…”
The woman’s threat was submerged by the band, which emitted a debilitated fanfare of sorts. Lana Lee appeared on the stage in what looked like gold lame overalls.
“Oh, my God!” Ignatius spluttered. The doped Negro had tricked him. He wanted to bolt from the club, but realized that it would be wiser to wait until the woman had finished and left the stage. In a moment, he was crouched down against the side of the stage. Over his head, the Nazi proprietress was saying, “Welcome, ladies and genitals.” It was so dreadful a beginning that Ignatius almost knocked over the table.
“You are pay me now,” the woman was demanding, sticking her head under the table to find the face of her customer.
“Shut up, you slut,” Ignatius hissed.
The band stumbled into a four-count version of Sophisticated Lady. The Nazi woman was screaming, “And now that pure Virgin-ny Belle, Miss Harlett O’Hara.” An old man at one of the tables clapped feebly, and Ignatius peered over the rim of the stage and saw that the proprietress was gone. In her place stood a stand decorated with rings. What was Miss O’Hara up to?
Then Darlene swept onstage in a ball gown that trailed yards of nylon net. On her head was a monstrous picture hat and on her arm a monstrous bird. Someone else clapped.
“Mira, you are pay me now or else, cabron.”
“There sure was plenty balls at that ball, but I still got my honor,” Darlene said carefully to the bird.
“Oh, my God!” Ignatius bellowed, unable to remain silent any longer. “Is this cretin Harlett O’Hara?”
The cockatoo noticed him before Darlene did, for its beads of eyes had been focusing on Ignatius’s hoop of a novelty earring ever since it had come onstage. When Ignatius bellowed, it flapped from Darlene’s arm to the stage and squawking, hopping, dashed for Ignatius’s head.
“Hey,” Darlene cried. “It’s the crazyman.”
As Ignatius was about to dash from the club, the bird hopped from the stage to his shoulder. It sank its claws into his smock and snagged his earring with its beak.
“Good heavens!” Ignatius leaped up and beat at the bird with his itching paws. What avian menace had depraved Fortuna spun his way? The champagne bottles and the glasses shattered on the floor as he sprang and began staggering to the door.
“Come back here with my cockatoo,” Darlene cried.
Lana Lee was on the stage now, screaming. The band had stopped. The few old male patrons moved out of the way of Ignatius, who was floundering around among the little tables making moose calls and beating at the mass of rose feathers welded to his ear and shoulder.
“How in the hell did that character get in here?” Lana Lee asked the confused septuagenarians in the audience. “Where’s Jones? Somebody get me that Jones.”
“Come here, you big crazyman,” Darlene hollered. “On opening night. Why you hadda come here on opening night?”
“Good grief,” Ignatius gasped, feeling for the door. In his wake he had left a trail of overturned tables. “How dare you fiends inflict a rabid bird upon your unsuspecting customers? You may expect to be sued in the morning.” “Come! You are owe twenty-four dollar to me. You are pay right now.”
Ignatius knocked over another table as he and the cockatoo lurched forward. Then he felt the earring loosening, and the cockatoo, the earring firmly in its beak, fell from his shoulder. Terrorized, Ignatius bounced out of the door just ahead of the Latin woman, who was waving the check with great determination.
Ignatius stumbled past Jones, who had never expected the sabotage to assume such dramatic proportions. Gasping, clutching his cemented valve, Ignatius continued forward onto the street and into the path of an oncoming Desire bus. He first heard the people on the sidewalk screaming. Then he heard the pounding tires and the crying brakes, and when he glanced up he was blinded by headlights a few feet from his eyes. The headlights swam and faded from his sight as he fainted.
He would have fallen directly before the bus if Jones hadn’t leaped into the street and pulled at the white smock with his two large hands. Ignatius instead fell backward, and the bus, exhaling diesel exhaust, rumbled past an inch or two from his desert boots.
“Is he dead?” Lana Lee asked hopefully, studying the mound of white material lying in the street.
“I am hope not. He is owe twenty-four dollar, the maricon.”
“Hey, wake up, man,” Jones said, blowing some smoke over the inert figure.
The man in the silk suit and homburg stepped from an alleyway, where he had hidden himself when he saw Ignatius enter the Night of Joy. Ignatius’s departure from the club had been so violent and rapid that the man had been too startled to act until now.
“Let me take a look at him,” the man in the homburg said, bending over and listening to Ignatius’s heart. A kettledrum of a thump told him that life still breathed within the yards of white smock. He held Ignatius’s wrist. The Mickey Mouse watch was smashed. “He’s okay. He just passed out.” The man cleared his throat and ordered weakly, “Everybody back. Give him air.” The street was filled with people and the bus had stopped a few yards down the street, blocking traffic. Suddenly it looked like Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras.
Through the darkness of his glasses Jones looked at the stranger. He looked familiar, like a well-dressed version of someone Jones had seen before. The weak eyes were most familiar. Jones remembered the same weak eyes on top of a red beard. Then he remembered the same eyes under a blue cap in the precinct on the day of the cashew nut incident. He said nothing. A policeman was a policeman. It was always best to ignore them unless they bothered you.
“Where he came from?” Darlene was asking the crowd. The rose cockatoo rested once again on her arm, the earring dangling from its beak like a golden worm. “What a opening night. What we gonna do, Lana?” “Nothing,” Lana said angrily. “Let that character lay there till the street sweeper comes around. Then let me get my hands on Jones.”
“Whoa! Hey! That cat force his way in. We was fightin and grapplin, but that mother seem determine to get in the Night of Joy. I was ascare I be rippin this costume you rentin, you be havin to pay for it, Night of Joy be goin broke. Whoa!” “Shut your smart mouth. I think I’m gonna have to call up all my pals at the precinct. You’re fired. Darlene, too. I knew I shouldna let you get on my stage. Get that goddam bird off my sidewalk.” Lana turned to the crowd. “Well, folks, now that you’re all here, how’s about coming into the Night of Joy? We got a class show.” “Mira, Lee.” The Latin woman inflicted a little halitosis on Lana Lee. “Who is pay the twenty-four dollar for champagne?”
“You’re fired, too, you dumb spic.” Lana smiled. “Come on in folks, and enjoy a good drink made by our expert mixologists to your exact specifications.”
The crowd, however, was craning at the white mound, which was wheezing loudly, and declined the invitation to elegance.
Lana Lee was about to go over and kick the mound into consciousness and get it out of her gutter when the man in the homburg said politely, “I’d like to use your telephone. Maybe I’d better call a ambulance.” Lana looked at the silk suit, the hat, the weak, insecure eyes. She could spot a safe one, a soft touch all right. A rich doctor? A lawyer? She might be able to turn this little fiasco into a profit.
“Sure,” she whispered. “Look, you don’t wanna waste your evening messing with that character laying in the street. He’s some kinda bum. You look like you could use you some fun.” She stepped around the white mountain of smock, which was wheezing and snorting volcanically. Somewhere in fantasyland Ignatius was dreaming of a terrified Myrna Minkoff being tried by a court of Taste and Decency and found wanting. A dreadful sentence was about to be pronounced, something guaranteeing physical injury to her person as penance for innumerable offenses. Lana Lee got close to the man and reached into her gold lame overalls. She squatted next to him and surreptitiously flashed the Boethian photograph cupped in her hand. “Take a look at this, baby. How’d you like to spend the evening with that?” The man in the homburg turned his eyes from Ignatius’s whitened face and looked at the woman, the book, the globe, the chalk. He cleared his throat once more and said, “I’m Patrolman Mancuso. Undercover agent. You’re under arrest for soliciting and for possession of @@@ography.” Just then the three members of the defunct ladies’ auxiliary, Frieda, Betty, and Liz, stomped into the crowd surrounding Ignatius.
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