فصل 13کتاب: اتحادیه ابلهان / فصل 13
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متن انگلیسی فصل
Ignatius opened his eyes and saw white floating above him. He had a headache and his ear was throbbing. Then his blue and yellow eyes focused slowly, and, through his headache, he realized that he was looking at a ceiling.
“So you finally woke up, boy,” his mother’s voice said near him. “Just take a look at this. Now we really ruined.”
“Where am I?”
“Don’t start acting smart with me, boy. Don’t start with me, Ignatius. I’m warning you. I had enough. I mean it. How I’m gonna face people after this?”
Ignatius turned his head and looked about him. He was lying in a little cell formed by screens on either side. He saw a nurse pass by the foot of the bed.
“Good heavens! I’m in a hospital. Who is my doctor? I hope that you have been selfless enough to secure the services of a specialist. And a priest. Have one come. I’ll see whether he’s acceptable.” Ignatius sprayed a little nervous saliva on the sheet that snowcapped the peak of his stomach. He touched his head and felt a bandage plastered over his headache. “Oh, my God! Don’t be afraid to tell me, Mother. I can tell from the pain that it must be rather fatal.” “Shut up and take a look at this,” Mrs. Reilly almost shouted, throwing a newspaper on Ignatius’s bandage.
Mrs. Reilly tore the newspaper from his face and slapped her hand over his moustache.
“Now shut up, crazy, and take a look at this here paper.” Her voice was cracking. “We ruined.”
Under the headline that said, WILD INCIDENT ON BOURBON STREET, Ignatius saw three photographs lined up together. On the right Darlene with her ball gown was holding the cockatoo and smiling a starlet’s smile. On the left Lana Lee covered her face with her hands as she climbed into the rear seat of a squad car already filled with the three cropped heads of the members of the ladies’ auxiliary of the Peace Party. Patrolman Mancuso, in a torn suit and a hat with a bent rim, purposefully held open the door of the car. In the center the doped Negro was grinning at what looked like a dead cow lying in the street. Ignatius scrutinized the center photograph through slitted eyes.
“Just look at that,” he thundered. “What sort of clods does that newspaper employ on its photographic staff? My features are barely distinguishable.”
“Read what it says underneath the pictures, boy.” Mrs. Reilly stuck a finger into the newspaper as if she meant to lance the photograph. “Just read it, Ignatius. What you think people are saying on Constantinople Street? Go on, read that out loud to me, boy. A big brawl out on the street, dirty pictures, ladies of the evening. It’s all there. Read it, boy.” “I’d rather not. It’s probably full of falsification and smear. The yellow journalists doubtlessly suggested all sorts of lip-smacking innuendoes.” Nevertheless, Ignatius treated the story to a desultory reading.
“Do you mean to tell me that they claim that that wayward bus did not hit me?” he asked angrily. “The very first comment is a lie. Contact Public Service. We must sue.”
“Shut up. Read the whole thing.”
A stripper’s bird had attacked a hot dog vendor wearing a costume. A. Mancuso, undercover, had arrested Lana Lee for soliciting and for possession of and posing for @@@ography. Burma Jones, porter, had led A. Mancuso to a cabinet under the bar where @@@ographic materials were discovered. A. Mancuso told reporters that he had been working on the case for some time, that he had already contacted one of the Lee woman’s agents. Police suspect that the arrest of the Lee woman broke a citywide high school @@@ography distribution syndicate. Police found a list of schools in the bar. A. Mancuso said that the agent would be sought. While A. Mancuso was performing the arrest, three women, Club, Steele, and Bumper, emerged from the large crowd before the club and assaulted him. They were also booked. Ignatius Jacques Reilly, thirty, was removed to a hospital to be treated for shock.
“It’s our bad luck they had a photographer hanging around doing nothing they could send out to take a picture of you laying in the street like a drunk bum.” Mrs. Reilly began to sniffle. “I shoulda known something like this was gonna happen with your dirty pictures and running off dressed up like a Mardi Gras.” “I ran off into the most dismal night of my life,” Ignatius sighed. “Fortuna was really spinning drunkenly last night. I doubt whether I can go much farther down.” He belched. “May I ask what that cretin nemesis of a policeman was doing on the scene?” “Last night after you run off I rung up Santa and told her to get Angelo at the precinct and for him to go see what you was doing down on St. Peter Street. I heard you give a address to that taxi man.”
“I thought you was going to a meeting with a buncha communiss. Was I wrong. Angelo says you was hanging around with some funny people.”
“In other words, you were having me trailed,” Ignatius screamed. “My own mother!”
“Attacked by a bird,” Mrs. Reilly wept. “That hadda happen to you, Ignatius. Nobody never gets attacked by a bird.”
“Where is that bus driver? He must be indicted immediately.”
“You just fainted, stupid.”
“Then why this bandage? I don’t feel at all well. I must have damaged some vital part when I fell to the street.”
“You just scraped your head a little. They’s nothing wrong with you. They took Xrays.”
“Have people been fooling with my body while I was unconscious? You might have had the good taste to stop them. Heaven knows where these salacious medical people have been probing.” Ignatius now realized that in addition to the head and ear, an erection had been bothering him ever since he had awakened. It was demanding attention. “Would you mind leaving my booth for a moment while I inspect myself to see whether I’ve been mishandled? Five minutes should be sufficient.” “Look, Ignatius.” Mrs. Reilly rose from the chair and grabbed Ignatius by the collar of the clownlike dotted pajamas that had been put on him. “Don’t act smart with me or I’ll slap your face off. Angelo told me all about it. A boy with your education bumming around with funny people down in the Quarter, going into a barroom to look for a lady of the evening.” Mrs. Reilly cried anew. “We just lucky the whole thing’s not in the paper. We’d have to move outta town.” “You’re the one who introduced my innocent being to that den of a bar. Actually, it’s all the fault of that dreadful girl, Myrna. She must be punished for her misdeeds.”
“Myrna?” Mrs. Reilly sobbed. “She ain’t even in town. I heard enough of your crazy stories already about how she got you fired outta Levy Pants. You can’t do this to me no more. You’re crazy, Ignatius. Even if I gotta say it, my own child’s out his mind.” “You look rather haggard. Why don’t you push someone aside and crawl into one of the beds around here and take a nap. Call again in about an hour.”
“I been up all night. When Angelo rang me up and said you was in the hospital, I almost took a stroke. I almost fell down on the kitchen floor right on my head. I coulda split my skull wide open. Then I run into my room to get dressed and I sprain my ankle. I almost got in a wreck driving over here.” “Not another wreck,” Ignatius gasped. “I would have to go to work in the salt mines this time.”
“Here, stupid. Angelo says to give this to you.”
Mrs. Reilly reached down next to her chair and picked from the floor the large volume of The Consolation of Philosophy. She aimed one of its corners at Ignatius’s stomach.
“Awff,” Ignatius gurgled.
“Angelo found it in that barroom last night,” Mrs. Reilly said boldly. “Somebody stole it off him in the toilet.”
“Oh, my God! This has all been arranged,” Ignatius screamed, rattling the huge edition in his paws. “I see it all now. I told you long ago that that mongoloid Mancuso was our nemesis. Now he has struck his final blow. How innocent I was to lend him this book. How I’ve been duped.” He closed his bloodshot eyes and slobbered incoherently for a moment. “Taken in by a Third Reich strumpet hiding her depraved face behind my very own book, the very basis of my worldview. Oh, Mother, if only you knew how cruelly I’ve been tricked by a conspiracy of subhumans. Ironically, the book of Fortuna is itself bad luck. Oh, Fortuna, you degenerate wanton!” “Shut up,” Mrs. Reilly shouted, her powdered face lined by anger. “You want the whole recovery ward coming in here? What you think Miss Annie’s gonna say now? How I’m gonna face people, you stupid, crazy Ignatius? Now this hospital wants twenty dollars before I can take you outta here. The ambulance driver couldn’t take you to the Charity like a nice man. No. He has to come dump you here in a pay hospital. Where you think I got twenty dollars? I gotta meet a note on your trumpet tomorrow. I gotta pay that man for his building.” “That is outrageous. You will certainly not pay twenty dollars. It is highway robbery. Now run along home and leave me here. It’s rather peaceful. I may recover eventually. It’s exactly what my psyche needs at the moment. When you have a chance, bring me some pencils and the looseleaf folder you’ll find on my desk. I must record this trauma while it’s still fresh in my mind. You have my permission to enter my room. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I must rest.” “Rest? And pay another twenty dollars for another day? Get up out that bed. I called up Claude. He’s coming down here and pay your bill.”
“Claude? Who in the world is Claude.”
“A man I know.”
“What has become of you?” Ignatius gasped. “Well, understand one thing right now. No strange man is going to pay my hospital bill. I shall stay here until honest money buys my freedom.”
“Get up out that bed,” Mrs. Reilly hollered. She snatched at the pajamas, but the body was sunken into the mattress like a meteor. “Get up before I smack your fat face off.”
When he saw his mother’s purse rising over his head, he sat up.
“Oh, my God! You’re wearing your bowling shoes.” Ignatius cast a pink and blue and yellow eye over the side of the bed down past his mother’s hanging slip and drooping cotton stockings. “Only you would wear bowling shoes to your child’s sickbed.” But his mother did not rise to the challenge. She had the determination, the superiority that comes with intense anger. Her eyes were steely, her lips thin and firm.
Everything was going wrong.
Mr. Clyde looked at the morning paper and fired Reilly. The big ape’s career as a vendor was finished. Why was that baboon wearing his outfit when he was off duty? One ape like Reilly could demolish ten years of trying to build up a decent commercial name. Hot dog vendors had an image problem already without one of them passing out in the street by a whorehouse.
Mr. Clyde and the cauldron bubbled and boiled. If Reilly tried to show up at Paradise Vendors, Incorporated, again, he would really get it in the throat with the fork. But there were those smocks and that pirate gear. Reilly must have smuggled the pirate gimmicks out of the garage the afternoon before. He would have to contact the big ape after all, if only to tell him not to come around. You really couldn’t expect to get your uniforms back from an animal like Reilly.
Mr. Clyde telephoned the number on Constantinople Street several times and got no answer. Maybe they had put him away somewhere. The big ape’s mother must be dead drunk on the floor somewhere. Christ only knew what she was like. It must be quite a family.
Dr. Talc had been having a miserable week. Somehow the students had found one of those threats that that psychotic graduate student had flooded him with a few years before. How it got into their hands he didn’t know. The results were already awful. An underground of rumors about the note was slowly spreading; he was becoming the butt of the campus. At a cocktail party one of his colleagues had finally explained to him the reason for the laughter and whispering that were disrupting his previously respectful classes.
That business in the note about “misleading and perverting the young” had been badly misunderstood and misinterpreted. He wondered if he might have to explain to the administration eventually. And that phrase “underdeveloped testicles.” Dr. Talc cringed. Bringing the whole matter into the open might be the best plan, but that would mean trying to find that former student, who was the sort who would deny all responsibility anyway. Perhaps he should simply try to describe what Mr. Reilly had been like. Dr. Talc saw again Mr. Reilly with his massive muffler and that awful girl anarchist with the valise who traveled around with Mr. Reilly and littered the campus with leaflets. Fortunately she hadn’t stayed at the college too long, although that Reilly seemed as if he were planning to make himself a fixture on the campus like the palm trees and the benches.
Dr. Talc had had them both in separate classes one grim semester, during which they had disrupted his lectures with strange noises and impertinent, venomous questions that no one, aside from God, could possibly have answered. He shuddered. In spite of everything, he must reach Reilly and extract an explanation and confession. One look at Mr. Reilly and the students would understand that the note was the meaningless fantasy of a sick mind. He could even let the administration look at Mr. Reilly. The solution was, after all, really a physical one: producing Mr. Reilly in the abundant flesh.
Dr. Talc sipped the vodka and V-8 juice that he always had after a night of heavy social drinking and looked at his newspaper. At least the people in the Quarter were having rowdy fun. He sipped his drink and remembered the incident of Mr. Reilly’s dumping all of those examination papers on the heads of that freshman demonstration beneath the windows of the faculty office building. The administration would remember it, too. He smiled complacently and looked at the paper again. The three photographs were hilarious. Common, bawdy people — at a distance — had always amused him. He read the article and choked, spitting liquid onto his smoking jacket.
How had Reilly ever sunk so low? He had been eccentric as a student, but now… How much worse the rumors would be if it were discovered that the note had been written by a hot dog vendor. Reilly was the sort who would come to the campus with his wagon and try to sell hot dogs right before the Social Studies Building. He would deliberately turn the affair into a three-ring circus. It would be a disgraceful farce in which he, Talc, would become the clown.
Dr. Talc put down his paper and his glass and covered his face with his hands. He would have to live with that note. He would deny everything.
Miss Annie looked at her morning newspaper and turned red. She had been wondering why it was so quiet over at the Reilly household this morning. Well, this was the last straw. Now the neighborhood was getting a bad name. She couldn’t take it anymore. Those people had to move. She’d get the neighbors to sign a petition.
V Patrolman Mancuso looked at the newspaper again. Then he held it to his chest and the flashbulb popped. He had brought his own Brownie Holiday camera to the precinct and asked the sergeant to photograph him against certain official backdrops: the sergeant’s desk, the steps of the precinct, a squad car, a traffic patrolwoman whose specialty was school zone speeders.
When there was only one exposure left, Patrolman Mancuso decided to combine two of the props for a dramatic finale. While the traffic patrolwoman, pretending to be Lana Lee, climbed into the rear of the squad car grimacing and shaking a vengeful fist, Patrolman Mancuso faced the camera with his newspaper and frowned sternly.
“Okay, Angelo, is that all?” the patrolwoman asked, eager to get to a nearby school before the morning speed zone hours ended.
“Thank you very much, Gladys,” Patrolman Mancuso said. “My kids wanted to get some more pictures to show to they little friends.”
“Well, sure,” Gladys called, hurrying out of the precinct yard, her shoulder bag bursting with black speeding tickets. “I guess they got a right to be proud of they poppa. I’m glad I could help you out, honey. Anytime you want to take you some more pictures, just gimme the word.” The sergeant tossed the last flashbulb into a trash can and clamped his hand on Patrolman Mancuso’s vertical shoulder.
“Single-handed you break up the city’s most active high school @@@ography racket.” He slapped his hand on the incline of Patrolman Mancuso’s shoulder blade. “Mancuso, of all people, brings in a woman even our best plainclothesmen couldn’t fool. Mancuso, I find out, has been working on this case on the q.t. Mancuso can identify one of her agents. Who’s the person really been going out on his own all the time looking for characters like those three girls and trying to bring them in? Mancuso, that’s who.” Patrolman Mancuso’s olive skin flushed slightly, except in limited areas scratched by the Peace Party auxiliary. There it was simply red.
“Just luck,” Patrolman Mancuso offered, clearing his throat of some invisible phlegm. “Somebody gimme a lead to the place. Then that Burma Jones told me to look in that cabinet under the bar.”
“You staged a one-man raid, Angelo.”
Angelo? He turned a spectrum of shades between orange and violet.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you was to get a promotion for this,” the sergeant said. “You been a patrolman a pretty long time. And just a couple days ago I was thinking you was a horse’s ass. How’s about that? What do you say to that, Mancuso?” Patrolman Mancuso cleared his throat very violently.
“Can I have my camera back?” he asked almost incoherently when his larynx was at last clear.
Santa Battaglia held the newspaper up to her mother’s picture and said, “How you like that, babe? How you like the way your grandson Angelo made good? You like that, darling?” She pointed to another photograph. “How you like poor Irene’s crazy boy laying there in the gutter like a washed-up whale? Ain’t that sad? That girl’s gotta get that boy put away this time. You think any man’s gonna marry Irene with that big bum laying around the house? Of course not.” Santa snatched at her mother’s picture and gave it a moist smack. “Take it easy, babe. I’m praying for you.”
Claude Robichaux looked at the newspaper with a heavy heart as he rode the streetcar to the hospital. How could that big boy disgrace a fine, sweet woman like Irene? Already she was pale and tired from worrying about her son. Santa was right: that son of Irene’s had to be treated before he brought any more disgrace to his wonderful mother.
This time it was only twenty dollars. Next time it might be much more. Even with a nice pension and some properties, a person couldn’t afford a stepson like that.
But worst of all was the disgrace.
George was pasting the article in the Junior Achievement scrapbook that was one of his mementos from his last semester at school. He pasted it on an empty page between his biology drawing of the aorta of a duck and his civics project on the history of the Constitution. He had to give it to that Mancuso guy: he was really on the ball. George wondered if his name was on that list the cops had found in the cabinet. If it was, it might be a good idea to go visit his uncle who lived on the coast. Even then, they’d have his name. He really didn’t have enough money to go anywhere. The best thing was to stay at home for a while. That Mancuso might spot him if he went downtown.
George’s mother, vacuuming on the other side of the living room, hopefully watched her son work on his school scrapbook. Maybe he was getting interested in school again. She and his father didn’t seem to be able to do anything with him. What chance did a boy without a high school education have nowadays? What could he do?
She turned off the vacuum cleaner and answered the doorbell. George was studying the photographs and wondering what that vendor had been doing at the Night of Joy. He couldn’t have been some kind of police agent. Anyway, George hadn’t told him where the pictures came from. There was something funny about the whole business.
“The police?” George heard his mother asking at the door. “You must have the wrong apartment.”
George started for the kitchen before he realized that there was nowhere to go. The apartments in the housing project had only one door.
Lana Lee tore the newspaper into shreds and then tore the shreds into smaller shreds. When the matron stopped by the cell to tell her to clean it up, the members of the ladies’ auxiliary, all three of whom were sharing the cell, said to the matron, “Beat it. We’re the ones living in this place. We like paper on the floor.” “Shove off,” Liz added.
“Get lost,” Betty said.
“I’ll take care of this cell all right,” the matron answered. “You four have been making noise ever since you come in last night.”
“Get me out this goddam hole,” Lana Lee screamed at the matron. “I can’t take another minute with these three bats.”
“Hey,” Frieda said to her two apartment mates. “Doll doesn’t like us.”
“It’s people like you been ruining the Quarter,” Lana told Frieda.
“Shut up,” Liz said to her.
“Can it, sweets,” Betty said.
“Get me outta here,” Lana screamed through the bars. “I just been through one fu@king hell of a night with these three creeps. I got my rights. You can’t stick me in here.”
The matron smiled at her and walked away.
“Hey!” Lana screamed down the corridor. “Come back here.”
“Take it easy, dearie,” Frieda advised. “Quit rocking the boat. Now come on and show us those pictures of yourself you got hidden in your bra.”
“Yeah,” Liz said.
“Get out the snapshots, doll,” Betty ordered. “We’re tired of looking at these frigging walls.”
The three girls lunged for Lana at the same time.
X Dorian Green turned one of his severe calling cards over and printed on the reverse side: “Stunning apartment for rent. Apply at 1A. “He stepped out onto the flagstone sidewalk and tacked the card to the bottom of one of the black patent leather shutters. The girls would be gone for quite a while this time. Police were always so adamant about second offenses. It was unfortunate that the girls had never been very sociable with their fellow residents in the Quarter; someone would certainly have pointed out that marvelous patrolman to them, and they would not have made the fatal mistake of attacking a member of the police force.
But the girls were so impulsive and aggressive. Without them, Dorian felt that he and his building were completely unprotected. He took special care to lock his wrought iron gate securely. Then he returned to his apartment to finish the job of cleaning up the litter left from the kickoff rally. It had been the most fabulous party of his career: at the height of it Timmy had fallen from a chandelier and sprained his ankle.
Dorian picked up a cowboy boot from which a heel had been broken and dropped it into a wastebasket, wondering whether that impossible Ignatius J. Reilly were all right. Some people were simply too much to bear. Gypsy Queen’s sweet mother must have been heartbroken over the dreadful newspaper publicity.
Darlene cut her picture out of the paper and put it on the kitchen table. What an opening night. At least she had received a little publicity from it.
She picked up her Harlett O’Hara gown from the sofa and hung it in the closet while the cockatoo watched her and squawked a bit from its perch. Jones had certainly taken over when he found out that man was a cop, leading him right over to the cabinet under the bar. Now she and Jones were both out of a job. The Night of Joy was out of business. Lana Lee was out of circulation. That Lana. Posing for French pictures. Anything for a buck.
Darlene looked at the golden earring that the cockatoo had brought home. Lana had been right all along. That big crazyman was really the kiss of death. He sure treated his poor momma cruel. That poor lady.
Darlene sat down to ponder job possibilities. The cockatoo flapped and squawked until she stuck the novelty earring, its favorite toy, in its beak. Then the phone rang, and when she answered it, a man said, “Listen, you got some great publicity. Now I run a club in the five hundred block of Bourbon, and…” XII
Jones spread the newspaper on the bar of Mattie’s Ramble Inn and blew some smoke at it.
“Whoa!” he said to Mr. Watson. “You sure gimme a good idea with all this sabotage crap. Now I sabotage myself right back to bein a vagran. Hey!”
“It look like this sabotage go off like a nucular bum.”
“That fat freak a guarantee one hunner percen nucular bum. sh@t. Drop him on somebody, everbody gettin caught in the fallout, gettin their ass blowed up. Ooo-wee. Night of Joy really turn into a zoo las night. Firs we get a bird, then the fat mother come draggin along, then three cats look like they jus excape from gym. sh@t. Everybody fightin and scratchin and screamin and that big fat freak layin in the gutter like he daid, peoples fightin and cussin and rollin all aroun that big cat pass out in the street. Look like a barroom fight in a westren movie, look like a gang rumble. We got us a big crowd on Bourbon look like we could have us a football game. Po-lice drivin up draggin off that Lee bastar. Hey! It turn out she don have no pal at the precinc anyways. Maybe they be haulin in some of them orphan she been sponsorin. Whoa! That paper sure sending out plenny mothers takin pictures and axin me all about wha happen. Who say a color cat cain get his picture on the front page? Ooo-wee! Whoa! I gonna be the mos famous vagran in the city. I tell that Patrolman Mancusa, I say, ‘Hey, now this cathouse shut down, how’s about tellin your frien on the force I help you out so maybe they don star draggin my ass off for vagran?’ Who wanna get stuck in Angola with Lana Lee? She was bad enough on the outside. sh@t.” “You got any plan for gettin you a job, Jones?”
Jones blew a dark cloud, a storm warning, and said, “After the kinda job I jus had workin below the minimal wage, I really deserve a pay vacation. Ooo-wee. Where I gonna fin me another job? Too many color mothers draggin they ass aroun the street already. Whoa! Gettin your ass gainfully employ ain exactly the easies thing in the worl. I ain the only cat got him a problem. That Darlene gal ain gonna have no easy time gettin herself and that ball eagle gainfully employ. Peoples see wha happen the firs time she stick her ass on a stage, they be throwin water in her face if she be comin aroun lookin for work. See wha I mean? You drop somebody like that fat mother for sabotage, plenny innocen peoples like Darlene gettin theyselves screwed. Like Miss Lee all the time sayin, that fat freak ruin everbody inves’men. Darlene and her ball eagle probly starin at one another right now sayin, ‘Whoa! We really boffo smash for openin night. Hey! We real openin big.’ I plenny sorry that sabotage goin off in Darlene face, but when I see that big mother, I couldn resis. I knowed he make some kinda esplosion in that Night of Joy. Ooo-wee. He really go off. Hey!” “You pretty lucky them po-lice didn’t take you in, too, workin in that bar.”
“That Patrolman Mancusa say he appreciate showin him that cabinet. He say, ‘Us mothers on the force need peoples like you, help us out.’ He say, ‘Peoples like you be helpin me get ahead.’ I say, ‘Whoa! Be sure and tell that to your frien at the precinc, they don star snatchin my ass for vagran.’ He say, ‘I sure will. Everybody at the precinc be appreciatin wha you done, man.’ Now them po-lice mothers appreciate me. Hey! Maybe I be gettin some kinda awar. Whoa!” Jones aimed some smoke over Mr. Watson’s tan head. “That Lee bastar really got her some snapshot of herself in the cabinet. Patrolman Mancusa starin at them pictures, his eyeballs about to fall out on the floor. He sayin, ‘Whoa! Hey! Wow!’ He sayin, ‘Boy, I really be gettin ahead now.’ I say to myself, ‘Maybe some peoples be gettin ahead. Some other peoples be turnin vagran again. Some peoples ain gonna be gainfully employ below the minimal wage after tonight. Some peoples be draggin they ass all aroun town somewheres, be buyin me air condition, color TV.’ sh@t. Firs I’m a glorify broom expert, now I’m vagran.” “Things can always be worse off.”
“Yeah. You can say that, man. You got you a little business, got you a son teachin school probly got him a bobby-cue set, Buick, air condition, TV. Whoa! I ain even got me a transmitter radio. Night of Joy salary keepin peoples below the air-condition level.” Jones formed a philosophical cloud. “But you right in a way there, Watson. Things maybe be worse off. Maybe I be that fat mother. Whoa! Whatever gonna happen to somebody like that? Hey!” XIII
Mr. Levy settled into the yellow nylon couch and unfolded his paper, which was delivered to the coast every morning at a higher subscription rate. Having the couch all to himself was wonderful, but the disappearance of Miss Trixie was not enough to brighten his spirits. He had spent a sleepless night. Mrs. Levy was on her exercising board treating her plumpness to some early morning bouncing. She was silent, occupied with some plans for the Foundation which she was writing on a sheet of paper held against the undulating front section of the board. Putting her pencil down for a moment, she reached down to select a cookie from the box on the floor. And the cookies were why Mr. Levy had spent a wakeful night. He and Mrs. Levy had driven out through the pines to see Mr. Reilly at Mandeville and had not only found he was not there but had also been treated very rudely by an authority of the place who had taken them for pranksters. Mrs. Levy had looked something like a prankster with her golden-white hair, her sunglasses with the blue lenses, the aquamarine mascara that made a ring around the blue lenses like a halo. Sitting there in the sports car before the main building at Mandeville with the huge box of Dutch cookies on her lap, she must have made the authority a little suspicious, Mr. Levy thought. But she had taken it all very calmly. Finding Mr. Reilly did not seem to bother Mrs. Levy particularly, it seemed. Her husband was beginning to sense that she did not especially want him to find Reilly, that somewhere in some corner of her mind she was hoping that Abelman would win the libel suit so that she could flaunt their resulting poverty in the face of Susan and Sandra as their father’s ultimate failure. That woman had a devious mind that was only predictable when she scented an opportunity to vanquish her husband. Now he was beginning to wonder which side she was on, his or Abelman’s.
He had asked Gonzalez to cancel his spring practice reservations. This Abelman case had to be cleared up. Mr. Levy straightened his newspaper and realized again that, were his digestive system able to take it, he should have given his time to supervising Levy Pants. Things like this would not happen; life could be peaceful. But just the name, just the three syllables of “Levy Pants,” caused acid complications in his chest. Perhaps he should have changed the name. Perhaps he should have changed Gonzalez. The office manager was so loyal, though. He loved his thankless, low-salaried job. You couldn’t just kick him out. Where would he find another job? Even more important, who would want to replace him? One good reason for keeping Levy Pants open was keeping Gonzalez employed. Mr. Levy tried, but he could think of no other reason for keeping the place open. Gonzalez might commit suicide if the factory were shut down. There was a human life to consider. Too, no one apparently wanted to buy the place.
Leon Levy could have named his monument “Levy Trousers.” That wasn’t too bad. Throughout his life, but especially when he was a child, Gus Levy had said, “Levy Pants,” and had always received a standard reply, “He does?” When he was about twenty, he had mentioned to his father that a change of title might help their business, and his father had moaned, “‘Levy Pants’ all of a sudden isn’t good enough for you? The food you’re eating is ‘Levy Pants.’ The car you’re driving is ‘Levy Pants.’ I am ‘Levy Pants.’ This is gratitude? This is a child’s devotion? Next I should change my name. Shut up, bum. Go play with the autos and the flappers. Already I got a Depression on my hands, I don’t need smart advice from you. Better you should give with the advice to Hoover. You should go tell him to change his name to Schlemiel. Out of my office! Shut up!” Gus Levy looked at the pictures and the article on the front page and whistled through his teeth, “Oh, boy.”
“What is it, Gus? A problem? Are you having a problem? All night you were awake. I could hear the whirlpool bath going all night. You’re going to have a crackup. Please go to Lenny’s doctor before you become violent.” “I just found Mr. Reilly.”
“I guess you’re happy.”
“Aren’t you? Look, he’s in the papers.”
“Really? Bring it over here. I’ve always wondered about that young idealist. I guess he’s received some civic award.”
“Just the other day you were saying he was a psycho.”
“If he was clever enough to send us over to Mandeville like two stooges, he’s not that psycho. Even somebody like the idealist can playa joke on you.”
Mrs. Levy looked at the two women, the bird, the grinning doorman.
“Where is he? I don’t see any idealist.” Mr. Levy indicated the stricken cow in the street. “That’s him? In the gutter? This is tragic. Carousing, drunken, hopeless, already a bloated derelict. Mark him down in your book next to Miss Trixie and me as another life you’ve wrecked.” “A bird bit him on the ear or something crazy. Here, look at the bunch of police characters in these pictures. I told you he had a police record. Those people are his buddies. Strippers and pimps and @@@ographers.” “Once he was dedicated to idealistic causes. Now look at him. Don’t worry. You’ll pay for all of this someday. In a few months, when Abelman has finished with you, you’ll be out on the streets again with a wagon like your father. You’ll learn what happens when you play games with somebody like Abelman, when you operate a business like a playboy. Susan and Sandra will go into shock when they find out they don’t have a penny to their name. Will they give you the big go-by. Gus Levy, ex-father.” “Well, I’m going into town right now to speak with this Reilly. I’ll get this crazy letter business straightened out.”
“Ho ho. Gus Levy, detective. Don’t make me laugh. You probably wrote the letter one day after you won at the track and felt good. I knew it would end like this.”
“You know, I think you’re actually looking forward to Abelman’s libel suit. You actually want to see me ruined, even if you go down with me.”
Mrs. Levy yawned and said, “Can I fight what you’ve been leading up to all your life? This really proves to the girls that what I’ve said about you all along was right. The more I think about Abelman’s suit, the more I realize that the whole thing is inevitable, Gus. Thank goodness my mother has some money. I always knew I’d have to go back to her someday. She’ll probably have to give up San Juan, though. You can’t keep Susan and Sandra alive for peanuts.” “Oh, shut up.”
“You’re telling me to shut up?” Mrs. Levy bounced up and down, up and down. “I’m supposed to watch your smashup in silence? I have to make plans for myself and my daughters. I mean, life goes on, Gus. I can’t end up on skid row with you. We can only be grateful that your father has left us. If he had lived to see Levy Pants lost because of some practical joke, you’d really pay. Believe me. Leon Levy would have you run out of the country. That man had courage, determination. And whatever happens, the Leon Levy Foundation goes through. Even if Mother and I have to do without, I’m making those awards. I’m going to honor and reward people who have the kind of courage and bravery that I saw in your father. I won’t let you drag his name down with you on your journey to skid row. After Abelman’s finished, you’ll be lucky to get hired as a water boy on one of those teams you love so much. Boy, will you have to work then, running around with a bucket and a sponge like a bum. But don’t feel sorry for yourself. You had it coming.” Now Mr. Levy knew that his wife’s strange logic made it necessary for him to be ruined. She wanted to see Abelman victorious; she would see in the victory some peculiar justification. Since his wife had read the letter from Abelman, her mind must have been working over the matter from every angle. Every minute that she was pedaling the exercycle or bouncing on the board, her system of logic was probably telling her more and more convincingly that Abelman must win the suit. It would be not only Abelman’s victory, but hers, also. Every conversational and epistolary roadsign and guidepost that she had held up before the girls pointed to their father’s final, terrible failure. Mrs. Levy couldn’t afford to be disproved. She needed the $500 thousand libel suit. She wasn’t even interested in his speaking with Reilly. The Abelman case had passed from a purely material and physical plane to an ideological and spiritual one where universal and cosmic forces decreed that Gus Levy must lose, that a childless and desolate Gus Levy must wander endlessly with bucket and sponge.
“Well, I’m going after Reilly,” Mr. Levy said finally.
“Such determination. I can hardly believe it. Don’t worry, you won’t be able to pin anything on the young idealist. He’s too clever. He’ll play another joke on you. Just watch. Another wild-goose chase. Back to Mandeville. This time they’ll keep you there, a middle-aged man driving a little toy of a collegian’s sports car.” “I’m going right to his house.”
Mrs. Levy folded her Foundation notes and turned off her board, saying, “Well, if you’re going to town, take me with you. I’m worried about Miss Trixie since Gonzalez reported that she bit that gangster’s hand. I must see her. Her old hostility toward Levy Pants is out in the open again.” “Do you still want to play around with that senile bag? Haven’t you tormented her enough already?”
“Even a little good deed you don’t want me to do. Your type isn’t even in the psychology books. You should at least go to Lenny’s doctor for his sake. Once your case was in the psychiatric journals, they’d be inviting him to Vienna to speak. You’d make him a famous man just like that crippled girl or whoever it was put Freud on the map.” While Mrs. Levy was blinding herself with layers of aquamarine eyeshadow in preparation for her errand of mercy, he got the sports car out of the monumental three-car garage, built like a substantial rustic carriage house, and sat looking over the calm, rippling bay. Little darts of heartburn pricked about in his chest. Reilly had to make some kind of confession. Abelman’s shysters could wipe him out; he couldn’t give his wife the satisfaction of seeing that happen. If Reilly would confess to writing the letter, if somehow he could come out of this all right, he would change. He would vow to become a new person. He might even give the company a little supervision. It was only sensible and practical to supervise that place. A neglected Levy Pants was like a neglected child: it could turn out to be a delinquent, something that created all sorts of problems that a little nurture, a little care and feeding could prevent. The more you stayed away from Levy Pants, the more it plagued you. Levy Pants was like a congenital defect, an inherited curse.
“Everyone I know has a fine big sedan,” Mrs. Levy said as she got into the little car. “Not you. No. You have to own a kid’s car that costs more than a Cadillac and blows my hair all around.”
To prove her point, a lacquered strand flew stiffly out in the breeze as they roared out onto the coast highway. Both were silent during the journey through the marshes. Mr. Levy nervously considered his future. Mrs. Levy contentedly considered hers, her aquamarine lashes flapping calmly in the wind. At last they roared into the city, Mr. Levy’s speed increasing as he felt himself getting closer to the Reilly kook. Hanging around with that crowd in the Quarter. Goodness only knew what Reilly’s personal life was like. One crazy incident after another, insanity upon insanity.
“I think I’ve finally analyzed your problem,” Mrs. Levy said when they slowed down in the city traffic. “This wild driving was the clue. A light has dawned. Now I know why you’ve drifted, why you don’t have any ambition, why you’ve thrown a business down the drain.” Mrs. Levy paused for effect. “You have the death wish.” “For the last time today, shut up.”
“Fighting, hostility, resentment,” Mrs. Levy said happily. “It will all end very badly, Gus.”
Because it was Saturday, Levy Pants had ceased its assaults upon the concept of free enterprise for the weekend. The Levys drove past the factory, which, open or closed, looked equally moribund from the street. Weak smoke of the type produced by burning leaves rose from one of the antennae of smokestacks. Mr. Levy pondered the smoke. Some worker must have left one of the cutting tables sticking in a furnace on Friday evening. Someone might even be in there burning leaves. Stranger things had happened. Mrs. Levy herself, during a ceramics phase, had once commandeered one of the furnaces for a kiln.
When they had passed the factory and Mrs. Levy had gazed at it and said, “Sad, sad,” they turned along the river and stopped before a dazed-looking wooden apartment building across from the Desire Street wharf. A trail of scraps beckoned the passerby to climb the unpainted front steps toward some goal within the building.
“Don’t take too long,” Mrs. Levy said while she was going through the heaving and lifting process that was necessary to remove one’s body from the sports car. She took with her the sampled box of Dutch cookies that had originally been intended for the patient at Mandeville. “I’ve just about had it with this project. Maybe she’ll keep busy with the cookies and I won’t have to try to make much conversation.” She smiled at her husband. “Good luck with the idealist. Don’t let him play another trick on you.” Mr. Levy sped off uptown. At a stoplight he looked at Reilly’s address in the morning newspaper folded and stored in the well between the bucket seats. He followed the river on Tchoupitoulas and turned at Constantinople, bouncing along in Constantinople’s potholes until he found the miniature house. Could the huge kook live in such a dollhouse? How did he get in and out of the front door?
Mr. Levy climbed the steps and read the “Peace at Any Price” sign tacked to one of the porch posts and the “Peace to Men of Good Will” sign tacked to the front of the house. This was the place all right. Inside a telephone was ringing.
“They not home!” a woman screamed from behind a shutter next door. “They telephone’s been ringing all morning.”
The front shutters of the adjoining house opened and a harried-looking woman came out on the porch and rested her red elbows on her porch rail.
“Do you know where Mr. Reilly is?” Mr. Levy asked her.
“All I know is he’s all over this morning’s paper. Where he oughta be is in a asylum. My nerves is shot to hell. When I moved next door to them people, I was signing my death warrant.”
“Does he live here alone? A woman answered the phone once when I called.”
“That musta been his momma. Her nerves is shot, too. She musta went to get him out the hospital or wherever they got him.”
“Do you know Mr. Reilly well?”
“Ever since he was a kid. His momma was sure proud of him. All the sisters at school loved him he was so precious. Look how he ended up, laying in a gutter. Well, they better start thinking about moving off my block. I can’t take it no more. They’ll really be arguing now.” “Let me ask you something. You know Mr. Reilly well. Do you think he’s very irresponsible or maybe even dangerous?”
“What you want with him?” Miss Annie’s bleary eyes narrowed. “He’s in some other kinda trouble?”
“I’m Gus Levy. He used to work for me.”
“Yeah? You don’t say. That crazy Ignatius was sure proud of that job he had at that place. I useta hear him telling his momma how he was really making good. Yeah, he made good. A few weeks and he was fired. Well, if he worked for you, you really know him good.” Had that poor Reilly kook really been proud of Levy Pants? He had always said that he was. That was one good sign of his insanity.
“Tell me. Hasn’t he been in trouble with the police? Doesn’t he have some kind of police record?”
“His momma had a policeman coming around her. A regular undercover agent. But not that Ignatius. For one thing his momma likes her little nip. I don’t see her drunk much lately, but for a while there she was really going good. One day I look out in the back yard and she had herself all tangled up in a wet sheet hanging off the line. Mister, it’s already took ten years off my life living next to them people. Noise! Banjos and trumpets and screaming and hollering and the TV. Them Reillys oughta go move out in the country somewheres on a farm. Every day I gotta take six, seven aspirin.” Miss Annie reached inside the neckline of her housedress to find some strap that had slipped from her shoulder. “Lemme tell you something. I gotta be fair. That Ignatius was okay until that big dog of his died. He had this big dog useta bark right under my window. That’s when my nerves first started to go. Then the dog dies. Well, I think, now maybe I’ll get me some peace and quiet. But no. Ignatius is got the dog laid out in his momma’s front parlor with some flowers stuck in its paw. That’s when him and his momma first started all that fighting. To tell you the truth, I think that’s when she started drinking. So Ignatius goes over to the priest and ax him to come say something over the dog. Ignatius was planning on some kinda funeral. You know? The priest says no, of course, and I think that’s when Ignatius left the Church. So big Ignatius puts on his own funeral. A big fat high school boy oughta know better. You see that cross?” Mr. Levy looked hopelessly at the rotting Celtic cross in the front yard. “That where it all happened. He had about two dozen little kids standing around in that yard watching him. And Ignatius had on a big cape like Superman and they was candles burning all over. The whole time his momma was screaming out the front door for him to throw the dog in the garbage can and get in the house. Well, that’s when things started going bad around here. Then Ignatius was at college for about ten years. His momma almost went broke. She even hadda sell the piana they had. Well, I didn’t mind that. You oughta seen this girl he picks up at college. I says to myself, ‘Well, good. Maybe that Ignatius is gonna get married and move out.’ Was I wrong. All they done is sit in his room. It seem like every night she and him was putting on a regular hootenanny. The things I useta hear through my window! ‘Put down that skirt.’ and ‘Get off my bed.’ And ‘How dare you? I’m a virgin.’ It was awful. I went on aspirins twenty-four hours a day. Well, that girl done left. I can’t blame her. She musta been funny to hang around with him anyways.” Miss Annie reached in the opposite direction for another strap. “Of all the houses in the city, how come I hadda move in here? Tell me that.” Mr. Levy could think of no reason for her having moved to this particular location. But the Ignatius Reilly story had made him depressed, and he wished he were away from Constantinople Street.
“Well,” the woman rushed on, eager for the audience to hear her tale of suffering, “this stuff in the paper’s the last straw. Look at the bad publicity the block’s got now. If they start anything now, I’m gonna call up the police and get him put under a peace bond. I can’t take it no more. My nerves is shot to hell. Even when that Ignatius takes a bath, it sounds like a flood’s coming in my own house. I think all my pipes is busted. I’m too old. I had enough with them people.” Miss Annie glanced over Mr. Levy’s shoulder. “It’s been nice talking to you, mister. So long.” She raced back into her house and slammed her shutters. Her sudden disappearance confused Mr. Levy as much as her strange biography of Mr. Reilly had. What a neighborhood. Levy’s Lodge had always been a barrier against knowing people like this. Then Mr. Levy saw the old Plymouth trying to dock at the curb, scraping its hubcaps against its moorings before finally coming to rest. In the rear seat he saw the silhouette of the big kook. A woman with maroon hair climbed down from the driver’s seat and called, “Okay, boy, get out that car!” “Not until you clarify your relationship with that drooling old man,” the silhouette answered. “I thought that we had escaped from that degenerate old fascist. Apparently I was wrong. All along you’ve been carrying on an affair with him behind my back. You probably planted him there in front of D. H. Holmes. Now that I think of it you probably planted that mongoloid Mancuso there, too, to start this vicious cycle whirling. How unsuspecting, how ingenuous I’ve been. For weeks now I’ve been the dupe of a conspiracy. It’s all a plot!” “Get down from that car!”
“You see?” Miss Annie said through her shutters. “They’re at it again.”
The rear car door swung rustily open and a bursting desert boot stepped down onto the running board. The kook’s head was bandaged. He looked tired and pale.
“I will not stay under the same roof with a loose woman. I’m shocked and hurt. My own mother. No wonder you’ve turned on me so savagely. I suspect that you are using me as a scapegoat for your own feelings of guilt.” What a family, Mr. Levy thought. The mother did look like something of a floozie. He wondered why the undercover agent had wanted her.
“Shut up your dirty mouth,” the woman was screaming. “All this over a fine, decent man like Claude.”
“Fine man,” Ignatius snorted. “I knew you’d end like this when you started traveling around with those degenerates.”
Along the block a few people had come out on their steps. What a day this was going to be. Mr. Levy ran the risk of getting into a public scene with these wild people. His heartburn was spreading out to the limits of his chest.
The woman with the maroon hair had fallen to her knees and was asking the sky, “What I done wrong, God? Tell me, Lord. I been good.”
“You’re kneeling on Rex’s grave!” Ignatius shouted. “Now tell me what you and that debauched McCarthyite have been doing. You probably belong to some secret political cell. No wonder I’ve been bombarded with those witch hunt pamphlets. No wonder I was trailed last night. Where is the Battaglia matchmaker? Where is she? She must be lashed. This whole thing is a coup against me, a vicious scheme to get me out of the way. My God! That bird was doubtlessly trained by a band of fascists. They’ll try anything.” “Claude’s been courting me,” Mrs. Reilly said defiantly.
“What?” Ignatius thundered. “Do you mean to tell me that you have been permitting some old man to paw all over you?”
“Claude’s a nice man. All he done is hold my hand a few times.”
The blue and yellow eyes crossed in anger. The paws closed over the ears so that he would not have to listen to more.
“Goodness only knows what unmentionable desires that man has. Please don’t tell me the whole truth. I would have a total breakdown.”
“Shut up!” Miss Annie screamed from behind her shutters. “You people are living on borrowed time in this block.”
“Claude ain’t smart, but he’s a nice man. He’s good to his family and that’s what counts. Santa says he likes the communiss because he’s lonely. He ain’t got nothing else to do. If he was to ax me to marry him this very minute, I’d say, ‘Okay, Claude.’ I would, Ignatius. I wouldn’t haveta think twice about it. I got a right to have somebody treat me nice before I die. I got a right not to haveta worry about where my next dollar’s coming from. When Claude and me went to get your clothes from that head nurse and she hands us over your wallet with almost thirty dollars in it, that was the last straw. All your craziness was bad enough, but keeping that money from your poor momma…” “I needed the money for a purpose.”
“For what? To hang around with dirty women?” Mrs. Reilly lifted herself laboriously from Rex’s grave. “You ain’t only crazy, Ignatius. You mean, too.”
“Do you seriously think that Claude roué wants marriage?” Ignatius slobbered, changing the subject. “You’ll be dragged from one reeking motel to another. You’ll end up a suicide.”
“I’ll get married if I want to, boy. You can’t stop me. Not now.”
“That man is a dangerous radical,” Ignatius said darkly. “Goodness knows what political and ideological horrors lurk in his mind. He’ll torture you or worse.”
“Just who the hell are you to try to tell me what to do, Ignatius?” Mrs. Reilly stared at her huffing son. She was disgusted and tired, disinterested in anything that Ignatius might have to say. “Claude is dumb. Okay. I’ll grant you that. Claude is all the time worrying me about them communiss. Okay. Maybe he don’t know nothing about politics. But I ain’t worried about politics. I’m worried about dying halfway decent. Claude can be kind to a person, and that’s more than you can do with all your politics and all your graduating smart. For everything nice I ever done for you, I just get kicked around. I want to be treated nice by somebody before I die. You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being.” “It’s not your fate to be well treated,” Ignatius cried. “You’re an overt masochist. Nice treatment will confuse and destroy you.”
“Go to hell, Ignatius. You broke my heart so many times I can’t count them up no more.”
“That man shall never enter this house while I am here. After he had grown tired of you, he would probably turn his warped attentions on me.”
“What’s that, crazy? Shut up your silly mouth. I’m fed up. I’ll take care of you. You say you wanna take a rest? I can fix you up with a nice rest.”
“When I think of my dear departed father barely cold in his grave,” Ignatius murmured, pretending to wipe some moisture from his eyes.
“Mr. Reilly died twenty years ago.”
“Twenty-one,” Ignatius gloated. “So. You’ve forgotten your beloved husband.”
“Pardon me,” Mr. Levy said weakly. “May I speak with you, Mr. Reilly?”
“What?” Ignatius asked, noticing for the first time the man standing up on the porch.
“What you want with Ignatius?” Mrs. Reilly asked the man. Mr. Levy introduced himself. “Well, this is him in person. I hope you didn’t believe that funny story he give you over the phone the other day. I was too tired to grab the phone out his hands.” “Can we all go in the house?” Mr. Levy asked. “I’d like to speak with him privately.”
“It don’t matter to me,” Mrs. Reilly said disinterestedly. She looked down the block and saw her neighbors watching them. “The whole neighborhood knows everything now.”
But she opened the front door and the three of them stepped into the tiny entrance hall. Mrs. Reilly put down the paper bag she was carrying that contained her son’s scarf and cutlass, and asked, “What you want, Mr. Levy? Ignatius! Come back here and talk to this man.” “Mother, I must attend to my bowels. They are revolting against the trauma of the last twenty-four hours.”
“Get out that bathroom, boy, and come back here. Now what you want with crazy, Mr. Levy?”
“Mr. Reilly, do you know anything about this?”
Ignatius looked at the two letters that Mr. Levy produced from his jacket and said, “Of course not. That is your signature. Leave this house immediately. Mother, this is the fiend who fired me so brutally.” “You didn’t write this?”
“Mr. Gonzalez was extremely dictatorial. He would never permit me near a typewriter. Actually, he cuffed me once rather viciously when my eyes chanced to stray across some correspondence which he was composing in rather dreadful prose. If I was permitted to shine his cheap shoes, I was grateful. You know how possessive he is about that cesspool company of yours.” “I know. But he says he didn’t write this.”
“An obvious untruth. His every word is false. He speaks with a forked tongue!”
“This man wants to sue us for a lot of money.”
“Ignatius done it,” Mrs. Reilly interrupted a little rudely. “Whatever went wrong, Ignatius done it. He makes trouble everyplace he goes. Go on, Ignatius. Tell the man the truth. Go on, boy, before I knock you in the head.” “Mother, make this man leave,” Ignatius cried, trying to push his mother against Mr. Levy.
“Mr. Reilly, this man wants to sue for $500 thousand. That could ruin me.”
“Ain’t that awful!” Mrs. Reilly exclaimed. “Ignatius, what you done this poor man?”
As Ignatius was about to discuss the circumspection of his behavior at Levy Pants, the telephone rang.
“Hello?” Mrs. Reilly said. “I’m his mother. Of course I’m sober.” She glared at Ignatius. “He is? He did? What? Aw, no.” She stared at her son, who was beginning to rasp one paw against the other. “Okay, mister, you’ll get your stuff, all except the earring. The bird got that. Okay. Of course I can remember what you telling me. I ain’t drunk!” Mrs. Reilly slammed down the telephone and turned on her son with, “That was the weenie man. You’re fired.” “Thank God,” Ignatius sighed. “I couldn’t stand that cart again, I’m afraid.”
“What you told him about me, boy? You told him I was a drunk?”
“Of course not. How ludicrous. I don’t discuss you with people. No doubt he’s spoken with you previously when you were under the influence. You’ve probably had a date with him for all I know, a drunken spree in several hot dog boîtes.” “You can’t even peddle hot dogs in the streets. Was that man angry. He says you gave him more trouble than any vendor he ever had.”
“He resented my worldview rather actively.”
“Oh, shut up before I slap you again,” Mrs. Reilly screamed. “Now tell Mr. Levy here the truth.”
What a squalid homelife, Mr. Levy thought. This woman certainly treated her son dictatorially.
“Why, I am telling the truth,” Ignatius said.
“Lemme see that letter, Mr. Levy.”
“Don’t show it to her. She reads rather dreadfully. She’ll be confused for days.”
Mrs. Reilly knocked Ignatius in the side of the head with her purse.
“Not again!” Ignatius cried.
“Don’t hit him,” Mr. Levy said. The kook’s head was already bandaged. Outside of the prizefighting ring, violence made Mr. Levy ill. This Reilly kook was really pitiful. The mother ran around with some old man, drank, wanted the son out of the way. She was already on the police blotter. The dog was probably the only thing that the kook had ever really had in his life. Sometimes you have to see a person in his real environment to understand him. In his own way Reilly had been very interested in Levy Pants. Now Mr. Levy was sorry that he had fired Reilly. The kook had been proud of his job at the company. “Just let him alone, Mrs. Reilly. We’ll get to the bottom of this.” “Help me, sir,” Ignatius slobbered, grabbing histrionically at the lapels of Mr. Levy’s sports jacket. “Fortuna only knows what she will do to me. I know too much of her sordid activities. I must be eliminated. Have you thought of speaking to the Trixie woman? She knows far more than you suspect.” “That’s what my wife says, but I never believed her. After all, Miss Trixie is so old. I wouldn’t think she could write a grocery list.”
“Old?” Mrs. Reilly asked. “Ignatius! You told me Trixie was the name of some cute girl worked at Levy Pants. You told me you two liked each other. Now I find out she’s a grammaw can’t hardly write. Ignatius!” It was sadder than Mr. Levy had thought at first. The poor kook had tried to make his mother think he had a girlfriend.
“Please,” Ignatius whispered to Mr. Levy. “Come into my room. I must show you something.”
“Don’t believe a word Ignatius says,” Mrs. Reilly called after them as her son dragged Mr. Levy through the door into the musty chamber.
“Just let him alone,” Mr. Levy said to Mrs. Reilly somewhat firmly. This Reilly woman wouldn’t even give her own child a chance. She was as bad as his wife. No wonder Reilly was such a wreck.
Then the door closed behind them and Mr. Levy suddenly began to feel nauseated. There was a scent of old tea leaves in the bedroom that reminded him of the teapot that Leon Levy had always had near his elbow, the delicately cracked china pot in whose bottom there was always a residue of boiled leaves. He went to the window and opened the shutter, but as he looked out his eyes met those of Miss Annie, who was staring back at him from between the blinds of her shutters. He turned from the window and watched Reilly thumbing through a loose-leaf folder.
“Here it is,” Ignatius said. “These are some notes that I jotted while working for your company. They will prove that I loved Levy Pants even more than life itself, that my every waking hour was spent in contemplating means of helping your organization. And often at night I had visions. Phantoms of Levy Pants flitted gloriously across my slumbering psyche. I would never write a letter like that. I loved Levy Pants. Here. Read this, sir.” Mr. Levy took the loose-leaf folder and, where Reilly’s fat forefinger indicated a line, he read, “Today our office was at last graced by the presence of our lord and master, Mr. G. Levy. To be quite honest, I found him rather casual and unconcerned.” The forefinger skipped a line or two. “In time he will learn of my devotion to his firm, of my dedication. My example, in turn, may lead him to once again believe in Levy Pants.” The guidepost of a forefinger indicated the next paragraph. “La Trixie still keeps her own counsel, thereby proving herself even wiser than I had thought. I suspect that this woman knows a great deal, that her apathy is a façade for her seeming resentment against Levy Pants. She grows most coherent when she speaks of retirement.” “There is your evidence, sir,” Ignatius said, snatching the folder from Mr. Levy’s hands. “Interrogate the Trixie jade. The senility is a guise. It is part of her defense against her work and the company. Actually, she hates Levy Pants for not retiring her. And who can blame her? Many times when we were alone, she would babble for hours about plans to ‘get’ Levy Pants. Her resentment surfaced in the form of vitriolic attacks upon your corporate structure.” Mr. Levy tried to assess the evidence. He knew that Reilly had really liked the company; he had seen it at the company, the woman next door had told him, he had just read it. Trixie, on the other hand, hated the company. Even though his wife and the kook claimed that the senility routine was a front, he doubted that she would be able to write a letter like that. But now he had to get out of the claustrophobic bedroom before he possibly got ill all over the tablets that covered the floor. When Mr. Reilly had been standing next to him pointing out the passages in the notebook, the scent had grown overpowering. He felt for the doorknob, but the Reilly kook threw himself against the door.
“You must believe me,” he sighed. “The Trixie trollop had a fixation about a turkey or a ham. Or was it a roast? It was all rather fierce and confusing at times. She swore vengeance in connection with not being retired at the proper age. She was filled with hostility.” Mr. Levy eased him aside and got out into the hall, where the maroon-haired mother was waiting like a doorman.
“Thank you, Mr. Reilly,” Mr. Levy said. He had to get out of that claustrophobic miniature of a heartbreak house. “If I need you again, I’ll call you.”
“You’ll need him again,” Mrs. Reilly called as he passed her and ran down the front steps. “Whatever it is, Ignatius done it.”
She called out something else, but Mr. Levy’s roar drowned out her voice. Blue smoke settled over the stricken Plymouth and he was gone.
“Now you done it,” Mrs. Reilly was saying to Ignatius, her hands grasping the white smock. “Now we in trouble for real, boy. You know what they can do you for forgery? They can throw you in a federal prison. That poor man’s got a $500 thousand case on his hands. Now you done it, Ignatius. Now you really in trouble.” “Please,” Ignatius said weakly. His pale skin was turning an off-white that shaded into gray. He felt really ill now. His valve was executing several maneuvers that exceeded in originality and violence anything it had done before. “I told you it would be like this when I went out to work.” Mr. Levy picked the shortest route back to the Desire Street wharf. He sped out Napoleon to the Broad overpass and got onto the expressway, fired by an emotion that was a distant but recognizable version of determination. If resentment had really driven Miss Trixie to writing that letter, then Mrs. Levy was the person responsible for the Abelman suit. Could Miss Trixie write something as intelligible as that letter? Mr. Levy hoped that she could. He drove through Miss Trixie’s neighborhood quickly, flashing past the bars and the BOILED CRAWFISH and OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL signs that stuck out everywhere. At the apartment house he followed the trail of scraps up the stairs to a brown door. He knocked and Mrs. Levy opened it with, “Look who’s back. The idealist’s menace. Have you solved your case?” “Maybe.”
“Now you’re talking like Gary Cooper. One word I get for an answer. Sheriff Gary Levy.” She plucked at an offending aquamarine lash with her fingers. “Well, let’s go. Trixie’s gorging on the cookies. I’m getting nauseous.” Mr. Levy pushed past his wife into a scene he could never have imagined. Levy’s Lodge had not prepared him for interiors like the one he had just seen on Constantinople Street — and for this one. Miss Trixie’s apartment was decorated with scraps, with junk, with bits of metal, with cardboard boxes. Somewhere beneath it all there was furniture. The surface, however, the visible terrain, was a landscape of old clothes and crates and newspapers. There was a pass through the center of the mountain, a clearing among the litter, a narrow aisle of clear floor that led to a window where Miss Trixie was seated in a chair sampling the Dutch cookies. Mr. Levy walked down the aisle past the black wig that hung from atop a crate, the high pumps tossed on a pile of newspapers. The only aspect of the rejuvenation that Miss Trixie had apparently retained was the teeth; they gleamed between her thin lips as they knifed into the cookies.
“Suddenly you’re very silent,” Mrs. Levy observed. “What is it, Gus? Another mission ended in failure?”
“Miss Trixie,” Mr. Levy screamed into her ears. “Did you write a letter to Abelman’s Dry Goods?”
“Now you’re scraping rock bottom,” Mrs. Levy said. “The idealist fooled you again, I guess. You really fall for that Reilly’s line.”
“What?” Miss Trixie snarled. “I must say you people know how to retire a person.”
Mr. Levy handed her the letter. She picked a magnifying glass from the floor and studied the letters. The green visor cast a deadly color upon her face, upon the Dutch cookie crumbs that rimmed her thin lips. When she put down the magnifying glass, she wheezed happily, “You people in trouble now.” “But did you write that to Abelman? Mr. Reilly said you did.”
“Mr. Reilly. The big man with the green cap who used to work at Levy Pants.” Mr. Levy showed Miss Trixie the photographs in the morning paper. “That one there.”
Miss Trixie applied her magnifying glass to the newspaper and said, “Oh, my goodness. So that’s what happened to him.” Poor Gloria. He seemed to be injured. “That’s Mr. Reilly, is it?”
“Yes. You remember him, I guess. He says you wrote that letter.”
“He did?” Gloria Reilly wouldn’t lie. Not Gloria. True blue. Gloria had always been her friend. Miss Trixie tried hazily to recall. Perhaps she had written the letter. All sorts of things happened that she couldn’t remember anymore. “Well, I guess I did. Yes. Now that you mention it, I guess I did write that. You people deserve it, too. You’ve driven me crazy these last few years. No retirement. No ham. Nothing. I must say I hope you lose everything you own.” “You wrote that?” Mrs. Levy asked. “After all I’ve done for you, you wrote something like that? A viper in our own bosom! You can kiss Levy Pants goodbye, traitor. Discarded? You’ll get discarded!” Miss Trixie smiled. That annoying woman was really getting excited. Gloria always had been her friend. Now the annoying woman would go to the poorhouse. Perhaps. But right now she was coming toward her, those aquamarine fingernails poised like talons. Miss Trixie started to scream.
“Let her alone,” Mr. Levy said to his wife. “Well, well. Won’t Susan and Sandra like to hear about this. Their mother tortures an old lady so much that the girls are in danger of losing all of their cardigans and culottes.” “So. Blame me,” Mrs. Levy said wildly. “I stuck the paper in the typewriter. I helped her peck it out.”
“Didn’t you write that letter to get even with Levy Pants because you weren’t retired?”
“Yes, yes,” Miss Trixie said vaguely.
“To think I trusted you,” Mrs. Levy spat at Miss Trixie. “Give me back those teeth.”
Her husband blocked her grab for Miss Trixie’s mouth.
“Quiet!” Miss Trixie snarled, all of her white fangs gleaming. “I can’t even have a little peace in my own apartment.”
“If it wasn’t for your stupid, harebrained ‘project’ this woman would have been retired long ago,” Mr. Levy said to his wife. “After all those years of predicting things, you turn out to be the one who almost threw Levy Pants down the drain.” “I see. You don’t blame her. You blame a woman of standards and ideals. If a thief broke into Levy Pants, I’d be to blame. You need help, Gus. Badly.”
“Yes, I do. And from Lenny’s doctor, of all people.”
“But you’re the one who’s going to call Lenny’s doctor,” Mr. Levy said to his wife. “I want you to get him to declare Miss Trixie senile and incompetent and to explain the motivation for writing the letter.” “This is your problem,” Mrs. Levy answered angrily. “You call him.”
“Susan and Sandra won’t like to hear about their mother’s little mistake.”
“And blackmail, too.”
“I’ve learned a few things from you. After all, we’ve been married for some time.” Mr. Levy watched anger and anxiety play upon his wife’s face. For once she had nothing to say. “The girls won’t want to know that their dear mother was such a fool. Now plan to get Trixie over to Lenny’s doctor. With her admission and any doctor’s testimony, Abelman doesn’t have an outside chance on this case. All you’d have to do is drag her into a courtroom and let a judge look at her.” “I’m a very attractive woman,” Miss Trixie said automatically.
“Of course you are,” Mr. Levy said, bending down next to her. “We’re going to retire you, Miss Trixie. With a raise. You’ve had a lousy deal.”
“Retirement?” Miss Trixie wheezed. “I must say this is unexpected. Thank goodness.”
“You’ll sign a statement that you wrote that letter, won’t you?”
“Of course I will!” Miss Trixie cried. What a friend Gloria was. Gloria knew how to help her out. Gloria was smart. Thank goodness Gloria had remembered this magic letter. “I’ll say anything you want me to.” “Everything is suddenly clear to me,” Mrs. Levy’s bitter voice said behind a pile of newspapers. “I’m blackmailed with my two darling girls. I’m pushed out of the way so that you can be a bigger playboy than ever. Now Levy Pants will be really down the drain. You think you have something on me.” “Oh, I do. And Levy Pants will be down the drain. But not because one of your games wrecked it.” Mr. Levy looked over the two letters. “This Abelman business has made me think about a lot of things. How come nobody buys our pants? Because they stink. Because they’re made from the same patterns my father used twenty years ago, the same fabrics. Because that old tyrant wouldn’t change a thing in that plant. Because he destroyed whatever initiative I had.” “Your father was a brilliant man. Not another word of disrespect from you.”
“Shut up. Trixie’s oddball letter gave me an idea. From now on we make Bermuda shorts only. Less trouble, higher profits on lower expenditures. I want a whole new line of wash and wear swatches from the mills. Levy Pants becomes Levy Shorts.” “‘Levy Shorts.’ That’s rich. Don’t make me laugh. You’ll go broke in a year. Anything to obliterate the memory of your father. You can’t run a business. You’re a failure, a playboy, a racetrack tout.” “Quiet! I must say you people are a nuisance. If this is retirement, I’d rather be back at that Levy Pants.” Miss Trixie raked at them with her cookie box. “Now get out of my house and mail me my check.” “I couldn’t run Levy Pants. That’s true. I think I can run Levy Shorts.”
“Suddenly you’re very smug,” Mrs. Levy said in a voice that bordered on hysteria. Gus Levy operating a company? Gus Levy dominant? What could she say to Susan and Sandra? What could she say to Gus Levy? What would happen to her? “The Foundation goes down the drain, too, I guess.” “Of course not.” Mr. Levy smiled inwardly. At last his wife was rudderless, trying to steer some sort of course on a sea of confusion, asking him for directions. “We’ll make an award. What were they supposed to be for, meritorious service and bravery?” “Yes,” Mrs. Levy said humbly.
“Here. This is brave.” He picked up the newspaper and pointed to the Negro who stood over the fallen idealist. “He gets the first award.”
“What? A criminal with dark glasses? A Bourbon Street character? Please, Gus. Not this. Leon Levy is dead only a few years. Let him rest in peace.”
“It’s very practical, the kind of maneuver old Leon would have made himself. Most of our workers are Negroes. Good public relations. And I’ll probably need more and better workers before long. This will make for a good employment climate.” “But not to that.” Mrs. Levy sounded as if she were retching. “The awards are for nice people.”
“Where’s the idealism you’re always coming on so strong for? I thought you had an interest in minority groups. At least you’ve always said so. Anyway, Reilly was worth saving. He led me to the real culprit.” “You can’t live the rest of your life on spite.”
“Who’s living on spite? I’m doing some constructive things at last. Miss Trixie, where’s your telephone?”
“Who?” Miss Trixie was watching a freighter from Monrovia depart with a dockful of International Harvester tractors. “I don’t have one. There’s one at the grocery on the corner.”
“Okay, Mrs. Levy. Go down to the grocery. Call Lenny’s doctor and call the newspaper to find out if they know how we can reach Jones, but those people usually don’t have telephones. Try the police, too. They might know. Give me the number. I’ll call him personally.” Mrs. Levy stood staring at her husband, her colored lashes motionless.
“If you’re going to the store, you can just get me that Easter ham,” Miss Trixie rasped. “I want to see that ham right here in my home! I don’t want any double talk this time. If you people want a confession from me, you’d better start paying off.” She snarled once at Mrs. Levy, flashing her teeth as if they were a symbol of something, a gesture of defiance.
“There,” Mr. Levy said to his wife. “You have three reasons for going to the grocery now.” He handed her a ten-dollar bill. “I’ll wait for you here.”
Mrs. Levy took the money and said to her husband, “I guess you’re happy now. Now I’ll be your maid. You’ll hold this over my head like a sword. One little misjudgment and I suffer all this.”
“One little misjudgment? A libel suit for half a million? What are you suffering? You’re just going to the corner grocery.”
Mrs. Levy turned and found her way along the aisle. The door slammed and, as if a weighty problem had been lifted from her, Miss Trixie fell into a juvenile slumber. Mr. Levy listened to her snoring and watched the Monrovian freighter moving out into the harbor and turning downstream toward the Gulf.
His mind grew calm for the first time in several days, and some of the events surrounding the letter began passing in review through his consciousness. He thought of the letter to Abelman, and then his mind was recalling another place where he had heard similar language. It was in the Reilly kook’s yard just an hour ago. “She must be lashed.” “Mongoloid Mancuso.” So he had written it after all. Mr. Levy looked tenderly down at the little accused party snoring over her box of Dutch cookies. For everyone’s sake, he thought, you will have to be declared incompetent and confess, Miss Trixie. You are being framed. Mr. Levy laughed out loud. Why had Miss Trixie confessed so sincerely?
“Silence!” Miss Trixie snarled, snapping awake.
That Reilly kook had really been worth saving after all. He had saved himself, Miss Trixie, and Mr. Levy, too, in his own kook way. Whoever Burma Jones was, he deserved a generous award… or reward. Offering him a job at the new Levy Shorts would be even better for public relations. An award and a job. With some good newspaper publicity to tie in with the opening of Levy Shorts. Was that a gimmick or wasn’t it?
Mr. Levy watched the freighter cross the mouth of the Industrial Canal. Mrs. Levy would be on a ship soon, destination San Juan. She could visit her mother on the beach, laughing and singing and dancing. Mrs. Levy wouldn’t really fit into the Levy Shorts plan.
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