Breathe No More My Lady
This page formatted 2005 Blackmask Online.
3 women can make a mess out of a man's life.
The Right One—Michele, the dark-eyed French beauty who looked like she had just stepped out of a European movie.
The Wrong One—Wilma, the red-headed temptress who came along at the wrong time with the right invitation.
The Dead One—Francine, whose lifeless body was found in a rowboat in the middle of the bay.
Ed Lacy's latest suspense novel is a hard-hitting story of fast-living men and women caught in a web of passion and violence, with a stunning surprise ending.
Copyright, ©, 1958, by Ed Lacy. Published by arrangement with the author. Printed in the U.S.A.
“Writing is like prostitution... first you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for money.” —Moliere
I RUSHED into my office at Longson Publishing at five to eleven. I was twenty-five minutes late and sweating a little, but it was neither my being late or the humid morning that made me sweat. As I nodded at Miss Park, she told me, “Mr. Long wants to see you at once. And Frank Kuha asked you to phone him before noon. I was able to pick up some Turkish coffee last sight and can't wait to try it iced. Mr. Long called twice.”
“Oh, hell, what day is this? Sales conference on?”
Miss Park screwed up her face—as she always did when anything was out of whack. “Why Mr. Connor, the conference was on Monday, as usual. You know, if we try the Turkish iced, I think we should get some heavy cream, or even a can of whipped cream.”
I nodded and walked into my office. I tossed the folded morning paper I'd been carrying under my arm on the desk, lit my pipe, and sat down and drummed on an ash tray with my fingers. I called the apartment. There wasn't any answer as I half expected. Drying my face with a tissue, I finally phoned the air terminal and had them check the Paris flights. The crisp, impersonal voice at the other end of the wire told me Michele had actually taken off at 6:15 a.m. I asked, “Are you positive? Mrs. Michele Connor? C-O-N-N-O-R. Are you positive?”
“Quite. A Mrs. Michele Connor, French passport, left on the 6:15 a.m. flight to Paris.”
“Are you absolutely positive? At the last second she didn't cancel?” I realized my voice was a harsh shout, and I hung up.
I sat there, puffing hard on my pipe, feeling embarrassed and knowing I'd sounded like a fool. Michele had really taken the plane. Now what the devil was I to do? Run after her or...?
My phone rang. William Long asked, “Norm?”
“I'm waiting to see you.”
“On my way up.” As I stood up I stared at my sloppy desk, trying to remember if I had anything to discuss with Bill. In a dizzy sort of way I was angry at the 'big boss' tone to his voice. I stood there, completely confused for a second, staring around my own office like a stranger. Suddenly the hollow ache I'd felt all night reached its peak. I felt terribly wrung-out and bushed.
Stopping at Miss Park's desk I asked, “Any aspirin?” She stared at my big hands and of course my eyes bounced over her remarkable breasts. Although I never asked, I had a hunch Miss Park wouldn't object if my hands and her superstructure got together.
“Ill go to the little gals' room. Should be some there.”
“Never mind. I'm on my way up to see Mr. Long. Please order me a sandwich. I didn't have a chance to eat this morning. I overslept.”
“Cheese, ham, egg, lettuce or...?
“It was an awful night, so muggy. And wasn't the news this morning amazing?”
As I walked out I mumbled, “It floored me.” Riding the tiny self-service elevator to the 7th floor, I tried to think how a man gets his wife back. Or should I try? Would Michele ever come back? Maybe after a few weeks apart, she'll come around and realize how silly the whole thing has been. Or is she fed up with me? That's....
I couldn't think straight, my head hurt. Even smoking made me suddenly nauseous. When I stepped out of the private elevator I emptied my pipe into a huge, sand-filled, hideous elephant's foot. A highly polished brass plate breathlessly informed the world the beast had been shot by the first Mr. Long while on a safari in Africa. It was part of the air-conditioned mishmash of heavy wood-paneled walls, horrible old etchings and brightly colored modern furniture that made up the Longson offices. The carved wood panels, the etchings and elephant's foot to remind you that Longson had been publishing books for over 75 years.
Looking down into the ugly, sand-filled foot, I felt violently sick. If I'd had anything in my stomach I certainly would have made a mess. After a rough moment I was okay because I knew what it was, what had hit me the second I'd known Michele had actually taken the plane: I was already tasting the loneliness.
I put my hand to my mouth and smelled my breath, then opened the door. Bill Long merely glanced up from his desk. He was the great-grandson of the founder. William Long was a lean, stiff man in his fifties. He looked as if he had stepped out of a British whiskey ad, everything from his brushed moustache to polished shoes in its proper, immaculate place.
I sat down beside his desk and waited. After a few seconds Long asked, “What do you think about it, Norm?”
“About what?” I tried to get my brains to stop racing in circles.
Long touched the ends of his tiny waxed moustache, as if testing the sharp points. “Damn it, man, don't you read the papers, listen to the radio or TV?”
“No, sir.” Our relationship was such I could 'sir' him or call him Bill. At the moment I said 'sir' to let him know I wasn't in the mood for any buddy-boss act. “I... eh... had a very bad night.”
“Sorry. Have you seen a doctor?”
“Nothing for a doctor. What's up?” And that was another thing starting now—explaining where Michele was. How does a man say his wife has left him?
“Matt Anthony killed his wife.” Long handed me the newspaper on his neat desk. “Read it through and we'll talk in ten minutes.”
I went back to my office, where I found a sandwich, coffee, and orange juice waiting. I almost forgot my own troubles as I read the headline:
MYSTERY WRITER KILLS WIFE
END HARBOR, L.I. Mrs. Francine Anthony, 44, wife of the well-known author, Matt Anthony, 51, died here while fishing today in her rowboat Medical reports state death was due to a blow on the forehead. At first it was thought Mrs. Anthony's death was the result of an accidental fan, but late tonight Mr. Anthony is said to have confessed he struck her, causing his wife to hit her head against the gunwale of the boat.
At about 1 p.m. Mrs. Anthony had gone fishing on the bay in front of the Anthony house. Several hours later a maid, Miss May Fitzgerald, went to the dock to call out to the sportswoman that her guests were awaiting her return to go swimming. Miss Fitzgerald saw the body hanging over the side of the small boat. Mr. Anthony immediately phoned the police. At first it was thought Mrs. Anthony had fallen while casting, striking her head on the side of the rowboat. However, towards evening, while being questioned by Det. Walter Kolcicki, Mr. Anthony is said to have admitted he had been skin-diving and climbed aboard the boat when his air valve ceased functioning. In the course of an argument he is said to have punched his wife, knocking her face down against the gunwale. In an argument earlier in the afternoon, over a guest, Mr. Anthony allegedly threatened his wife's life.
Mr. Anthony is said to have signed a confession and is now being held in the Riverside County jail.
Written by a “special correspondent,” the piece had the ring of an amateur reporter. They used a picture of Anthony taken when he had sailed a 30 foot sloop single-handedly across the Atlantic. It was a good shot: showing the dashing grin on his handsome face and the swimming trunks revealing the heavyweight body in all its muscular glory. I had used the same shot on the dust jacket of an Anthony book and in several ads.
The news item went on to list a few of Matt's novels, stated that several of them had been made into movies.
As I finished eating and reading I became wide awake. My headache vanished. I dialed Martin Kelly, my former boss. He headed the ad agency that handled all of Longson's books. When I had him on the phone I asked, “Marty? Norm Connor here. Listen, have you any fresh dope on this Anthony mess? I need some information in a big rush.” He asked what we were going to do about it. Should he attempt to hush things up? “Stop it, Marty, how could we possibly put the lid on this? Look, do you know, or can you find me a reporter who's been out to the Anthony house? Swell, swell. That's a break. Have him phone me, fast. I need to be filled in on the facts within the next ten minutes. Now stop wasting time, Marty, and call that reporter. And thanks. Big thanks.”
Eight minutes later, after a reporter had phoned me direct from Riverside, I went back up to Long's cool office. Dropping the newspaper on his desk, I lit my pipe and sat in a plywood bucket chair. I had a practiced way of casual sitting, as if slowly falling into the chair. I said, “Seems I skipped quite a mess in the papers.”
messy is the first subject on the agenda,” Long told me, pulling a thin dark cigar from a fancy tan teak humidor. He carefully nipped the end with an ancient, silver cigar-cutter, then ran his tongue around the cut end. Lighting the cigar, he puffed slowly and evenly for a few seconds, gazing at the ceiling. His cigar rituals fascinated me. I always had a feeling the anxious expression on Bill's thin face meant be expected the stinking rope to blow up at any moment.
The second his cigar was drawing smoothly, Bill placed it on an ash tray and said, “Norm, we must consider how that affects us: business-wise. Anthony has been on our lists for a number of years. I believe we have issued over a dozen of his novels. While we most certainly are not the type of house to capitalize on notoriety, the fact remains that Anthony is in the headlines and will continue to remain there for some time. And all during the trial. Much as we may dislike them, one still can't ignore facts.”
“I've just talked with a reporter out in Riverside,” I said cautiously, not getting the drift Matt Anthony wasn't that important a writer to the house—he was merely a mystery writer. “Notoriety may be an understatement. For one thing the D.A. is seeking a first degree murder indictment which—”
“Murder? That's bloody bull.”
I nodded, combing my hair with my left hand. “Perhaps, but the D.A. is calling it murder. Secondly, it seems our Matt deliberately tried to cover up the killing, pass it off as an accident. He had some kind of alibi set-up... until a county detective got a confession from him hours later. I don't know, as of now, exactly what he's confessed to, but all of this doesn't put Matt in a good light.”
“I suppose the papers will get this?”
“Of course. I didn't make any attempt to hush it up. Be impossible anyway—we don't advertise in the tabloids and this is a juicy item. And it could ruin us if such an attempt ever became known. There's another bad angle: earlier in the afternoon Matt and his wife had a drag-'em-down fight over a guest—a Prof. Henry Brown. He was recently dismissed from his college chair for taking the Fifth Amendment in one of these investigations. True, Matt was—is—one of our writers, but in no way can Longson be considered responsible for the antics of a wild joker like Anthony. My advice is for us to say nothing, keep hands off.”
Long took his time relighting his cigar before he said, “Norm, you have an admirable grasp of the situation, but unfortunately it isn't as simple as you paint it. One of our main stockholders is a frightful biddy, a nosey old ass who has a hobby of raising stupid questions over every minor expense item. I don't have to tell you, what with TV, the trade books business hasn't shown any zooming profits. While we're not losing money, still... eh... you know how it is with neurotic women with too much time on their hands. At our last meeting she made an issue of unrealized advances to our authors; a relatively small sum, under $17,000. However she picked on Matt Anthony. Claimed she'd never heard of him and he's into us for about $4,000 on a war book he never wrote.”
Long stared at his desk, as if he'd just made a deep point I nodded, as though I knew what Bill was talking about.
Putting his cigar back in the ash tray, Long said, “Norm, it occurred to me that with all this bloody publicity we might reissue one of Matt's old novels. Since we already have the plates, production costs would be low. An edition of about 20,000 copies. Naturally the success of this would depend upon the advertising campaign you work up. If it comes off, things will be considerably easier for me at the January stockholders' meeting. You see, I'm asking for a new building, Norm, a really large outlay, and I wouldn't want the project side-tracked by minor squabbles. There's also this: I happen to know Matt is busted. While I'm not trying to sound mucky or altruistic he will be desperate for money now and I have the old-fashioned idea a publishing house should stand by its writers. I'm positive my father would have seen it that way.”
“Very commendable, sir,” I said, thinking, why is he giving me a lot of old fashioned slop? Even if we sold out the 20,000 copies Matt's royalties wouldn't cover more than the four grand advance. “It will require a tightly planned ad campaign. If it looks as if we are capitalizing in any way on the... the notoriety, it might affect our textbook sales. Bill, you realize that the moment we advertise, Longson is standing side by side with Anthony.”
“Now we're at the core of the problem. It will be up to you to decide if we should advertise, and the type ads. As advertising manager the entire project will be your responsibility. In short, I want you to very thoroughly consider the consequences of the wrong kind of advertising—if wrong is the correct word. Now, it may very well turn out you decide we should forget the matter, that we should not reissue the book. In that case, I shall completely respect your judgment Norm, I'm sure you know how much I hate pressuring people. Although the trial probably won't start for months, I've checked with our printers. They'll have an open press run on the 19th... giving you ten days to decide whether we do the Anthony book or not. And by God, if we ever get this new building we're going to have our own presses in the basement!”
I stood up as I told him, “I understand, sir.”
Long puffed on his cigar nervously. “I know it's a gamble. As you said, if it hits the public wrong, or seems done in poor taste—the consequences can be extremely rough. Against that we must weigh the matter of appeasing our stockholders, and our new building... plus the integrity of the house in standing by an author in distress.” Bill walked around the desk and placed an arm on my shoulder. “I fully realize I'm confronting you with a hell of a decision. As I said, I want you to feel perfectly free to turn it down if you think it's too risky. However, should you decide to go through with it, you must accept full responsibility. Do we understand each other, Norm?”
“Yes, sir. Since advertising is the key, it should be my decision.” I almost added, “and I sincerely welcome the challenge,” but I knew it would sound as phony as it was. And what was the old gag about beware a boss putting his arms on your shoulders—he's only placing you in position?
Walking me toward the door, Bill asked, “Have you ever met Matt Anthony?”
“Not really. I recall a story he did years ago in one of these literary anthologies; a charming bit about a Mexican kid who wants to be a football player. Quite different from his tough mystery novels.”
“He's a holdover from the post World War I school of writers. Last of the big, blustering, hero type. Mad Matt Anthony he's sometimes called. These days ever since the decadent school has been in vogue, most writers seem to be precocious fags.” Long laughed. “Don't quote me on that. All generalizations are fuzzy. But... well, if you ever meet Matt, you'll know what I mean.”
I said, “I lunched with him, years ago. I was working on one of those shoe string imitations of Esquire. The editor decided to bankrupt himself by paying $800 for Anthony's byline on a long adventure piece. Some horrible tripe about Matt's alleged visit to a Central American tribe of witch doctors. It was so bad no other mag would touch it. Anyway, Anthony wanted a thousand dollars, so we took him to lunch at the Algonquin—we were being very literary. Matt made the grand entrance, a salt-stained trench coat wrapped tightly around his big body. He was sporting a pointed beard and when he removed the coat he was wearing a faded sailor's striped Basque shirt and dungarees. I think he was between wives then and getting ready to sail the Atlantic. He talked loudly, drank a great deal, and of course we were the center of all eyes. The fact is, the editor became so high he finally agreed to pay the thousand. When we staggered back to the office I remember saying the article wasn't worth the money. The editor said, 'Sure, the sonofabitch can't write any more, but... by damn, doesn't he look like a writer?'”
Long clapped his thin hands together, one loud clap. “Norm, what a delicious story.'... but doesn't he look like a writer.' I must remember that, a perfect description of Matt Anthony. Well, enough of this. Let me know what decision you reach. Take your time. Confer with Kelly, if you wish.”
“No, this is my baby. I'll buzz you the second I get any clever ideas.” And what made me say, my baby? Oh Michele.
“Responsible ideas, Norm, rather than clever. And don't be afraid to say thumbs down, if you feel that way.”
Riding the elevator I thought, The bastard is giving me the horns. He wants to reissue the book but hasn't the guts. Norm, the whipping boy. Oh, hell, I'd do the same thing if I were in his position, I suppose.
As I walked into the office, Miss Park said, “I'm about to try the Turkish...”
I shook my head and closed the door. Taking out my blending kit, I mixed enough tobacco to last the day, glanced at my work sheet. There wasn't a thing that couldn't be put off for a day or two. Or that Miss Park couldn't handle, although I didn't want her to get into the habit of handling too much of my work. When I got my pipe working I rang for her, said, “I don't want to be disturbed for the balance of the day. Not even a phone call, unless it's urgent.”
“Certainly, Mr. Connor.” She gave me a wise look that annoyed me. “Anything happen... upstairs?”
“No. That is, I don't know—yet.”
Turning to leave, she stopped at the door. “Do you want the new coffee iced or...?”
“Goddamn the coffee! I don't want any!” She jumped and I grinned quickly, added, “Sorry I barked, Miss Park. Last night left my nerves on edge. Thank you, but I really don't want any coffee now. Perhaps later in the afternoon.”
When she shut the door I opened my collar and sprawled in the leather desk chair. My mind was galloping in vast circles. Michele, Bill Long, Michele, the Anthony killing... and then for no reason I thought of Miss Park, the way she had pressed her bosom against the door. “If I want an affair, this is the time,” I told myself. “I'm a grass widower, or whatever the dandy title is. Crazy, all these years and I never called her anything but Miss Park. What's with me; that would be all I'd need, an office affair! But how did Michele cash a check so early in the morning? Or did she have the cash ready? Was the flight prearranged? Had she been wanting to leave me all...? That was impossible, we had it made. But what do I do now? Forget last night.... think of now, the future. A great big fat day for decisions; Michele and now Anthony.”
I was too restless to sit. I began pacing the office and felt ridiculous; the office was far too small for pacing. “I wish Michele were here, I really need her on this Anthony thing. She has such a level head. We could talk out all the angles and... here I am, wishing like a kid! I have to snap out of it, forget my personal problems until I rack up the right move on this or Long will throw me to the stockholders. Being jobless would be a new complication. But how can I forget Michele for a second? And how can I possibly know what the public's reaction will be to an Anthony book? Hell!”
And I was quite aware that I'd never had to make any real decisions before. I had lived a very happy and mild 29 years. Everything had worked for me—until last night.
Exactly what had happened last night? I'd been over it a hundred times since, trying to understand what had gone wrong. All I could come up with was: either I was dense or something had been cooking in Michele's head for a long time.
It had been a hot day, so muggy even the air conditioner couldn't do much with it. Perhaps the humidity had made our nerves ragged. But not that ragged. After a light supper at home, we'd been sitting around in our pajamas watching TV. The damp heat, the food and the dull TV show had left me sleepy. Through half-shut eyes I'd watched Michele's long face, the body under the sheer shortie night gown. Her auburn hair was cut in an Italian bob and strangely enough the slight boyish look seemed to heighten the sensuous quality of her face. A swarthy face with crowded, delicate features. The eyebrows and lashes so jet black it was hard to believe she didn't use mascara. The lips heavy under a faint moustache. I loved to lie in the darkness and feel those demanding lips cover me with tiny hot kisses. I loved her moustache, and the three long hairs that grew from a little mole in the cleft of her breasts.
Often when I awoke first in the morning and didn't feel like getting up, I would analyze her body. Michele's face could belong to any nationality: it could be Semitic or Latin or North African. Here in New York I'd often been asked if she was Spanish or Italian. But from the neck down her body was strictly ail-American. In fact I once had a slightly drunken argument with Michele about it. She claiming I was being a jingoist. She had the strong clean shoulders of a female athlete (although her only exercise was some mild swimming) and then her body V'd down past small breasts to a narrow waist and neat, solid hips, then the long, almost powerful dancer's legs. It was neither a slim nor a delicate body, but a very healthy one.
Completing the inventory I happily decided Michele had a far better figure than any stage beauty's—but if she only had larger breasts. I grinned as I told myself to stop thinking like an ass. The bra ads were getting to me.
Glancing at me, Michele asked with her warm accent, “Are you amused by this dull nonsense on the TV?”
“What? Honey, I wasn't even watching it.”
“And I only tolerated it for your sake,” she said, crossing the room to switch off the set. She moved with a fast, sultry grace. I thought, Lord, I'm a lucky man. I have a girl out of a European movie living with me.
Pushing a foot stool toward my chair, Michele sat at my feet, like a good Continental wife. She said, “It has been such a sweaty day.”
“New York's claim to summer fame. Perhaps we'll try Jones Beach this weekend.”
“And roast again on the bumper-to-bumper ride back? Norm-man (she always said my full name when she had something important to tell me), one of the teachers at school, Edith—you remember seeing her, the plump one— well, she has recently inherited a small house in Connecticut. A quite wonderful old stone house with enough land. Also but a short ride from the ocean, the Sound.”
“Honey,” I asked, playing with her fingers, “who wants to move in the Westport social swindle? At least, who wants to now? That's big money.”
“This is near Stamford and only a small ride, even by train, from New York City. Edith has no use for the house and will sell it for a modest price, to us. $6000, with $1000 down. Perhaps it will cost another thousand to fix it up, although it is not badly in need of repairs.”
“Look, all these ancient handy man specials are falling apart and need—”
“Not this house. I have seen it.” I opened my eyes wide. “When? You never told me.”
“Edith drove me up there this afternoon. It is a charming place with its own trees and dirt road. Very private. She could get much more from a real estate man, but being a friend, she is glad to let us have it for the... how you say... the assessed value. Norm-man, I seriously think we should buy it. We take $2000 from our bank, and for the rest we will need to pay only $50 a month.”
“Honey, it will cost us a lot more than that. Furniture alone is at least another grand. What would we do with a house?”
“Live there in the summer, maybe all the time if it turns out well. After this year I do not plan to teach summer school. Darling, we would have cool air, our own orchards. We would swim every afternoon when you came home. And even in the mornings, too. We would buy a little boat. I love to fish. If we decide to live up there all year, we can give up this apartment and be saving money. Norm-man, I think we should buy it, really.”
“Well...” I sat up. “Hey, you didn't put a deposit down?”
“Of course no, not without consulting you. However, I said we would drive up to see it Saturday.”
“Look, I want a country house, too, but not sow. For the same reason we didn't buy a new car. Another few—”
“I didn't want a new car. Our auto works fine.”
“Okay, but I did. Another year or so and I'll be ready to make my move. By then Frank Kuhn may be a vice president, grease the way for me. You know our plans, why I can't be bogged down.”
She walked across the room to light a cigarette, although I had my lighter on the floor beside me. “Those are your plans. You have a respectable job, the pay is sufficient. It's secure. Jay was there for 32 years.”
“Would you want me to stay at Longson's for 32 years?”
“You could do worse.”
“Sweet, it isn't a question of doing worse but of hitting the upper brackets. I'm lucky. I have a chance at the big money if I play it smart. But I have to be ready to take the jump when the opportunity is ripe. And 'ready' means as few responsibilities, money worries, as possible. Especially with a recession in the wind. I've told you that and—”
“Yes, you have told me, over and over. We have been married seven years but you keep putting off having a baby, a family.”
“Oh, now, it's far too hot a night to start that.”
“If I can not talk with my husband about a family who should I speak to?”
“For—hell, don't be corny,” I said, getting up.
Moving backwards she said quickly, “Just stay where you are and talk. Norm, I want this settled tonight, but not with kisses and big talk.”
“I suggest we discuss it on a cooler night.”
“Okay, but don't start crying.”
“I am not near tears.”
“Honey, we're still young. And the way you talk somebody would think we were having a rugged time, starving in a slum. If you want to give up your job, that's fine with me. All I ask is that you wait a—”
“There is no 'somebody' here, only myself and my hatband. We are living very comfortably. I like very much to keep living like this, but with our children.”
“I want kids, too. That's why I want to give them all the advantages of—”
“90% of the world's children would be more than happy with what we can give a child now. Norm-man, seven years! For seven years I have been wanting your children.”
“How about letting me finish a sentence, if you don't mind,” I said sharply. “And stop taking the children bit so big. You're not 25 yet, we've plenty of time. Look, Michele, this isn't Europe or France. This is America. To you I may seem a howling success but in the advertising world my salary is peanuts. I work for a publisher, not an agency. I'm not a pusher, a success chaser, but it happens I do face an opportunity, that I have some connections and I am the youngest ad manager in the business. I'd be stupid not to capitalize on this. You want me to stand still because you don't realize—”
“Stand still? I only want to further our happiness!”
“How? Listen, by comparison to what you were brought up on we may seem to be riding in the lap of plenty. But over here it's—”
“Merde!” Michele said, fighting back tears.
“What?” I mumbled, slightly shocked.
“Isn't this dandy! If tears don't work, then change the act and start chattering in French!” I said sarcastically.
“It sounds better in your English? Dung! Crap!” she screamed.
“Or you rather that other expression I hear over here all the time, bull merde! Translation—”
“Damn it, Michele, take it easy. What the devil are you screaming about? A lousy old house isn't worth all this. Relax, damn it, relax!”
“Norm-man, you say take it easy,” she wailed as the tears came. “Does anyone know how to relax here in America? We can't have a baby until you are a rich man. We can't enjoy the country, can't do this and that! Oh, yes, yes, people live very well here, indeed. We have many shoes and clothing here, we have hot water, cars, refrigerators, TV and clock that awaken us with radio music. We live very... what you call... high. Oh, very high. So what will you do with more income, buy two TV sets, a larger ice machine? Is that what our children must wait for?”
“Hon, what is this? Now you're being silly,” I said gently, worried because I'd never seen her this upset before.
“Silly? You laugh at me because I say my prayers every night. And that is why I say them in French. Do you know, or care, what I thank God for each night? I thank Him that my husband makes a good living without strain at work he likes. The big words you mouth, ambition, opportunity, upper brackets; you are the silly one! You don't realize the... the... how you say... the good deal you have at Longson. No, you are the fool wanting the rush and tension of Frank's job. Look at him and his big blonde, are they happy? All they are is nervous, and their faces fall of worry and fear lines.”
“Oh, you're talking like a European!”
“Indeed I am! Sure this is an exciting country but... for all your marvelous plumbing and fancy cars, you live without dignity, must vacation on a psychiatrist's couch. The great American small talk: how many times has one been through analysis! My father makes few francs as a school head. In his house there is not any new furniture, nor even an ice box, nor a TV set, and most times no hot water. Yet my parents live. Norm-man, can't you understand what it means for two people to find warmth and dignity in each other, in their lives? To have a flat that is not merely a cocktail lounge or a place to sleep, but a home? To—to—” She suddenly held her face and lapsed into gushing, hysterical French.
Feeling hysterical myself, I raced across the room and held her tightly. “Michele, my darling Michele, the heat takes it out of all of us. Guess it was a mistake for you to teach summer school. Now get a hold of yourself. After all, in two weeks you'll be in Paris, then in the south of France with your folks. Things will look different. When you come back, we'll talk this through.” My hands stroked the small of her back.
She pushed me away, her body actually shaking with sobs.
It was the first time she had ever pushed me from her and meant it. I said coldly, “Don't feel so damn sorry for yourself. Who am I ambitious for? Myself? It's for us, for you! Can't you get that through your head?”
She raised her wet face, and the tears seemed to make her more lovely than ever. “And can't you get it that I love you so much it is a torture not having children? I married you, not a.. a... medicine chest.”
“All right, honey, I'm with you, remember? Cut the tears and... I never knew it meant so much to you. Tell me, suppose it turns out we can't have kids? I mean, if we try for real. Then what? Are we finished?”
“If that is nature's wish then.... Oh, Norm-man, Norm-man, it is not only the matter of children. It is... sometimes I think we live like man and mistress instead of husband and wife.”
“Lord! Isn't that a peachy little thing to say!”
She turned away, muttering something in weary French as she closed the bedroom door. I understand French fairly well, when she speaks slowly. At least I can get the drift. I heard myself yelling after her, “What was that? What did you say?”
Through the closed door she whispered, “It does not matter. You can only understand what you want to see.”
“Yeah? And what the devil do you see except your own nose?”
There wasn't any answer. I waited a few seconds, then went back to the table and jammed some tobacco into my pipe. I was sweating like a pig. I took a can of beer and drank it slowly, standing in the kitchen doorway that led to the garden. I stared at the lighted windows all around us, most of them open, and wondered how many people had heard us. I'd never seen Michele like this before, but the more I thought about things, the more indignant I became. I mean, what the hell! Where did she come off giving me that? Anybody listening would think I was giving her a hard time! That I was a penny pincher or a bottle-head! That I ran around with bimbos! Here she practically blew a fuse, and over what? Exactly what? That I didn't jump through the loop when she mentioned a house or a kid! It was positively an uncalled for—
I heard the bedroom door open. Stepping back into the apartment I told myself to cut it out; sometimes women get cranky and have no control over.... She was slipping on her gloves. Michele was not only dressed, but she had a suitcase beside her. “Where do you think you're going?”
“To the airport. I phoned—there is the possibility of a cancellation on a Paris flight. Please do not try to stop me.”
“What the devil makes you think I want to stop you!”
Michele stared at me for a moment, her eyes sad and troubled. I thought she was going to bawl again. All she did was to say softly, “Au revoir. Norm-man,” and walk out of the apartment.
The closing of the door hit me like a kick in the stomach. Then I laughed out loud, a shrill nervous laugh, as I thought: She's only bluffing. Heu, European women never take the initiative, walk out on a marriage. Oh, that's a bunch of nonsense. Michele has to be bluffing, we've had it too good for it to be otherwise. A bluff. My God, of all the melodramatic corn—and she had the gall to complain about the TV show! Maybe I should have stood up to her more? But this caught me completely unprepared. Anyway, I couldn't be hard with Michele. I suppose I'll have to drive up with her and see this stone outhouse Saturday. Summer is half-over, I can stall until next Spring. When she comes back I'll tell her I want to see the house. She'll return by midnight Taking a suitcase!
But a few minutes after twelve when I turned off the commercial-ridden old movie on the TV screen, I wondered what I should do. “I suppose I should get crocked,” I said aloud. The words made such a lonely ring in the quiet of the apartment the very sound frightened me. And there was only a half a bottle of vermouth around, and some cooking sherry. Neither of us drank very much.
I stretched out on the bed, telling myself, “She's checked the bag and is walking around, acting like a kid. No point in my being childish too. Let her come home and find me asleep, as if nothing happened. She's gone to a movie. Or maybe visiting this Edith, or that UN couple she likes so well, I can phone and.... But how would that look? Damn, damn, we never had a spat anything like this before.”
At 3 p.m. I could no longer endure the waiting or the hot silence of the apartment. I dressed and went out. It was too late to get drunk now, even if I wanted to. I walked across town and up a deserted Broadway, which further depressed me. At 72nd Street I decided I couldn't take it, that I would phone the house and agree to anything Michele wanted. While I still didn't understand what had come over her, still, she always was a level-headed kid, so maybe I was the jerk.
I phoned and there wasn't any answer. I tried to tell myself she was spending the night with Edith, but I was frightened and jittery. I started walking back downtown and suddenly went into a Turkish bath. I sat in the hot room for a while. I was alone and trying to think—and all I could think of was I must be in Hell. At 5 a.m. I went up to my room and fell into an uneasy, exhausted sleep. When I opened my eyes it was 9:45.
Miss Park opened the office door. “Mr. Connor, Mr. Kuan is on the phone. Do you want to speak to him?”
“Damn, the last thing I need is a game of handball! Tell Mm I'm tied up in a sales... no. I'll talk to him.” I waited until Miss Park left, then picked up the phone, trying to choose the right words. For a new thought had entered my head— Francine Anthony's death could very well be the solution to my own problems.
“Frank? Norm Connor here. Sorry as all hell I didn't get a chance to phone you back but I'm jammed up to my ass with work. Guess you've read about the Matt Anthony mess? Well, there's all sorts of complications here and I've been busier than a whore on a battleship.” I threw in a few more cuss words, trying to make it all sound like 'man' talk, and inwardly a trifle ashamed of the phony act I was putting on. The trouble was I hadn't decided what my play should be; impress Frank with the fact this had to be my own decision, or should I play the young squirt asking the seasoned older executive for advice?
Frank said he was busy as a bastard himself and needed a workout to shake up his brains. It would do me good, too. He finished with, “I've reserved a court at the Midtown for 1 p.m. Can you make it?”
“I think I can make time for it. You're right, be the change of pace I need. But only one game.”
“Fine. Then we'll lunch at the Ad Club. By the by, I'd like to read the Moorepark novel you have scheduled for September. Judging by the catalog blurb, it will be a shocker. Can I get a copy of the galleys?”
“I'll see if I can sneak out a copy. But I'll have to have it back within a week.” A deadline always seemed to heighten Frank's enjoyment of a book.
“Of course. One sharp, Normboy.”
Hanging up I phoned the sales department for a copy of the galley proofs, told them, “And give me one that's marked up, if you can.” The higher up you went the more obvious was the childish side of big money men. Or was it that I didn't expect to find any defects in the big shots? I never could figure who Frank impressed by reading galley proofs, unless it was himself.
Now that I had a plan in mind, I felt much better. Leaving my office I told Miss Park to see if the afternoon papers were out, and stopped at a vending machine in the hallway. I ate two chocolate bars for energy. I dropped in to see Maggie Gordon, who handles our mystery books. Maggie is a large woman with a plump face and a clear, perfect complexion, who goes in for tweedy skirts and long cigarette holders. She still speaks with a soft southern drawl, although she left Alabama more than a quarter of a century ago.
“Mag, has Bill mentioned the possibility of reissuing one of the Matt Anthony books?”
“Aha. I've checked with the paperback house that publishes Matt—naturally they're planning to cash in on the notoriety, too. They're going to put out a novel called—”
“We don't intend to cash in on any notoriety, Mag.”
She gave me a fat wink. “Come, come, Norm, you talk your way and I'll talk mine.” Mag held up a slim book with a mild pink dust jacket. The cover was a kind of surrealistic picture of a big-eyed, solemn-faced young girl leaning against a yellow mud adobe hut. She was gazing at a desert sun, very red and hot. A lean girl in smartly styled jeans and a chic blouse, she looked like a fashion model—except for a small gun in a jeweled hip holster. The girl and the clothes were in sharp contrast to the deadly gun, the plain hut. The title, The Last Supper, was printed in small, old fashioned type. “This is one of his better books, Norm, in fact the best he ever did for us. Unfortunately it came out a few days before the Korean war and was lost in the shuffle. I like the jacket and the plot has a beautiful gimmick.”
I thumbed through the novel. “This was before my time here. What's it about? Not wife killing, I hope.”
“Naw. A gal who is a religious fanatic kills a young professor who is about to prove one of the Disciples intended to poison Christ during the Last Supper. Wonderful snapper: she kills the guy with a diamond bullet.”
Mag looked up at me as if expecting a shout of joy. “She killed him with... a what?” I asked.
“A diamond slug. Being harder than the steel of the gun, the diamond completely changed the ballistics of the murder weapon, throwing the cops into a tizzy. Far-fetched, but it reads fast and well. Do you know Matt made a thorough study of the Bible for this book?”
“Can you spare this copy?”
“Along with 3489 unbound copies in the warehouse. Is all this definite, Norm?”
“No. Far from it. It's an advertising thing. Of course I'll let you know the moment it is decided.”
As I reached the door, Maggie said, “Knew I had something to see you about. I have a French suspense novel that didn't do well on the other side, but my scouts swear it's a damn good yarn. Would Michele have time to read it for me?”
“Too bad you didn't tell me yesterday, she's in Paris now —or will be in a few hours. Her parents aren't feeling too well. I had to take her to Idlewild at five this morning.” And my God, how the words dragged in my mouth like rotten cotton!
“Lazy-me, the lousy book has been on my desk for a week. Well, it can wait until she returns. Wish I could pick up my fat-self and put it down in Paris. Or Rome. I like Rome even better.”
“Michele may be gone the balance of the summer,” I said, leaving her office. The balance of the summer or the rest of my damn life?
I stopped at the promotion office to pick up a background file on Matt and when I returned to my office, Marty Kelly was waiting on the phone. He said, “I hear we're going to do pages of advertising around Matt Anthony. When do we start? Like to talk it over at lunch?”
“The goddamn office grapevine,” I said, making with a mock groan. “Not true, Marty. We may do something. Right now everything is up in the air. And keep it quiet. I mean that.”
“I get the message. How about having chow with your old boss anyway?”
“Remember that another day, I'm tied up for lunch,” I said, wondering if I should tell him I was eating with Frank.
“I'll drop in to see you in a few days. I have some layouts on that prize book campaign I want you to okay. And listen, we can really go to town on Anthony, he's made to order for publicity.
“I'll let you know, Marty.”
I got a pipe working, opened my shoe laces, leaned back in my leather chair... and started reading the Matt Anthony file.
The son of a rural mailman and farmer, Matt had been born in a small upstate town near the Canadian border 51 years ago. He studied at Cornell on a state agriculture scholarship but dropped out after two years to go to sea. He entered NYU fifteen months later, working as a longshoreman to pay his tuition. He married a waitress for six months. When he was 27 he became an English instructor at Brooks University, a small but heavily endowed Midwestern school. It was about this time that Matt started publishing in several literary quarterlies and soon gave up teaching to become a full-time writer. Anthony was very prolific, selling over a million words to the pulps within two years, along with a sale to Collier's. (I stopped to figure a million words at about a cent a word was... ten thousand, or about five thousand a year. Not bad for those days—or these days, I guess.)
He worked on WPA for a few months (with that income?) and went to sea again during the tail end of the depression. His first mystery novel had for its background the teenage-hobos criss-crossing America in search of jobs. The book received only two reviews—mysteries were rarely reviewed then—both of them excellent. In 1937 he started making 'headlines.' He married a minor starlet in Mexico and was deported several days later for sending three policemen to the hospital during a drunken brawl. Matt himself spent several weeks in an El Paso hospital suffering from a concussion. That same year he placed in the Albany-New York outboard race, sold two books to Hollywood, and authored a radio serial called 'Private Gun.'
By an odd coincidence, he next made headlines the same week one of his books was published by punching a British police official in Africa, who was supposed to have been flogging a native. There was a one-day fuss until the State Department secured Matt's release. Some months later, he made the papers again when a bank was looted in a small California town. Matt Anthony the detective story writer was passing through and was 'asked' to give the local police a hand. There wasn't any mention in the file as to whether the bank robbers were ever captured.
Francine had been married to a little known and alcoholic novelist. Mart's name was in the columns now and then, squiring some pretty actress around, so it was a mild shock (to whomever was interested) when he married the not-so-glamorous Francine three weeks before Pearl Harbor. Months later they were both in England, Matt an accredited war correspondent for a small feature syndicate. He went to Africa, to Italy—where he was hospitalized after too much drinking hardened his liver. He made headlines again when he was attached to the famed 442nd Combat Team in Northern Italy. He had been-in a machine gun nest when a direct mortar hit had killed the soldiers and slightly wounded Matt. According to one news dispatch, Matt had gone 'fighting mad' and like a movie hero had picked up a tommy gun and charged. There was some doubt as to whether he had killed two Nazi soldiers, but he had wounded and captured a German officer and had to be restrained from killing him with his bare hands.
Since correspondents are not supposed to be shooting, Matt was returned to the States and for a time lectured on the war bond circuit. His books sold well, sales being limited only by the paper shortage. He was supposed to be writing a war book, but never finished (or started) it. After the war, except for sailing the Atlantic alone and a brawl in a Boston bar, Matt kept out of the papers. Two years ago he had packaged the television rights to five of his books for 'an undisclosed sum.'
So that was Matt Anthony. I put the file down. He must have been married to Francine the time I saw him, just before he sailed the ocean.
I glanced at the two afternoon editions of the newspapers Miss Park had left on my desk. The killing was front page with a picture of a grinning Matt being escorted out of a bar by two cops (taken in 1948) and a studio photo of him in his correspondent's uniform which seemed to be strained by the broad shoulders and heavy neck. On the inside pages there was a snap of a gray, bushy-haired little man shielding his face from the cameras: Prof. Brown leaving a subversive investigation. There was another picture of a rowboat with a new outboard and a large arrow bluntly pointing to a slight dent next to an oar lock.
Keeping an eye on the time, I raced through the stories. There wasn't anything I didn't already know, except that Joel Hunter and his wife Wilma, the other house guests, were quoted as saying that Matt had threatened to kill Francine in a 'family fight' over whether Prof. Brown should remain in the house or not.
At 12:30 I took the galley proofs and left for the gym, first telling Miss Park, “Phone Marty Kelly and ask him to get me the home addresses of the Hunters, this Prof. Brown, the maid, the detective who secured Anthony's confession, and the D.A. And I want to know who Anthony's lawyer is, if he has one yet. And ask Mag for the name and phone number of Matt's agent.”
“After lunch be all right Mr. Connor?”
“Of course. I'll be back at about three,” I said, my eyes making their usual run below her neck.
I bought a later edition of a paper as I hailed a cab. The only new item was a picture of Mrs. Joel Hunter in a bathing suit. She not only had a good figure, but there was a certain boldness to her face, the way she posed, that impressed me.
Lighting my pipe, I relaxed in the taxi seat and wondered if I should let Frank win today. Being older and a little flabby but a much better player, Frank could usually loaf in the center of the court and count upon his wicked hop serve, or his accurate ceiling and wall shots to win. But if I made him move around, which meant I had to run around twice as fast myself, I could tire Frank out and win—when I wanted to.
(Up until last night I'd really been Norman Connor, the lad who always came up with a rose in each hand. To get a little exercise I'd started playing handball at a midtown gym twice weekly. My game was energetic if not skillful, and by chance I lucked up on a steady partner—Frank Kuhn. Frank is a former football star and a $25,000-a-year account executive in one of Madison Avenue's—even if his offices are located on Park—more aggressive agencies. We made a good team, usually winning when we played for a few bucks a man. Frank and I were interested in each other outside of handball, too. For some unknown reason he had a passion for reading galley-proofs of forthcoming books. The more pencilled-in changes, the more he enjoyed the book. I was interested in Frank because he kept telling me he could double my salary if I wanted to change jobs. The truth is, he gave me a mild case of ambition.
(Frank and his high-powered blonde Texan wife lived in a penthouse, were members of several swank clubs, and entertained lavishly. They both thought Michele's accent was 'too cute,' and we could have easily become their closest friends. But Michele found them boring and I was careful not to wear out my welcome. I knew Frank was big league and I wasn't ready for that yet Up until now I had been vaguely waiting for a 'break.' Now Matt Anthony was going to be my stepping stone to a lush Madison Avenue salary.)
The locker room attendant told me Frank was waiting on the court. I undressed and dressed quickly, spraying my arm pits with a deodorant. Up in the gym I found Frank already in a sweat hitting the little black ball against the four walls. (The silly black handball had given me a taste of ambition— had it also been the wedge between Michele and me?)
Putting on my gloves I told him, “No need for you to warm up, I'll be a pushover. Michele had a cable from her folks last night. They aren't feeling up to par, high blood pressure. So she put her vacation ahead a few weeks. I was up all night helping her pack, seeing her off at Idlewild at daybreak. I'm bushed, Frank.” Mouthing the lies gave me a sudden queasy feeling, but I had to get it over with.
“Have to have you over for supper more often, Norm, when Liz learns you're a summer bachelor. We didn't get much sleep either last night. It got so damn muggy we drove up to City Island and spent the night on the boat Here, I have a new ball—try it.”
“Never mind. I've been on the go all morning. Play for serve.”
We had our usual tight game and I made a few lucky killers to win 21-17. I didn't say a word about Matt Anthony although I sensed Frank was waiting for me to talk about the mess.
Over lunch at the Ad Club, when I gave him the galleys, he finally asked, “What about this Anthony thing you mentioned on the phone?”
In an off-hand manner I told him about Bill Long's pitch, what the deal was. I ended with, “So there it is, a minor matter blown all out of proportion by this biddy stockholder, and dumped square in my lap.”
Frank toyed with a cigarette and shook his silver-white crewcut head. “I'd forget it. Difficult to gauge the public reaction to such an ad campaign. The biddy will find something else to make a stink about anyway, so no sense in hanging yourself.”
“No, I'm going ahead with the campaign,” I said softly. “What the hell, Bill Long practically ordered me to. He hinted at some big plans he wants to carry at the next stock-holders meeting, so if we can lick this... well, it is important. And I want to do it. Keep my mind off Michele. (I put in the proper, light chuckle.) Seriously, Frank, I have about a week's leeway and I'm going to interview everybody connected with the killing. I have to determine in my own mind if Matt is guilty.”
“I'm not reading you, son. The man has admitted it.”
“What I mean is, was it one of those things or real murder?” I said, taking a small breath and plunging in. “I know I hardly have to tell you of all people, Frank, that advertising has a creative, intrinsic quality. A fellow has to believe in what he's selling to do a job. Sure, one can peddle anything, and it will be a routine campaign. Well, this can't be routine. I can't afford a mistake or I ruin Longson. So I have to first believe in my product. Even though the D.A. is calling this murder, I have to make up my own mind, be damn certain—without any reservations—that it was... well, an accident. In a moment of rage any of us might punch somebody, even a — a... wife. And if she bangs her head in falling, to me and the public that's not murder but a tough break. No matter what any D.A. claims. After all, even though you and I may know differently, part of the pitch has to be that we're helping Matt raise money for his defense. Therefore, I have to make the public feel that by buying his book they are also helping a worthy cause, so to speak. To do that, and I'm certainly not judging the man, I first have to be certain he has a defense. In short, if it really was murder, I wouldn't blow my nose to help him.”
I was stirring and playing with my coffee as I talked, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Frank nodding in agreement. Frank said, “I like your feeling of loyalty to Longson, Norm, and your slant about advertising integrity. Certainly a man has to sell himself first. I once saw Anthony in action at some yacht club dance. A hell of a big bruiser, and what's more, he looked like a mean customer. I wouldn't want to tangle with him.”
“What sort of 'action' was he in?”
“Nothing much actually happened. He drank a few too many and pushed somebody around. Now that I think of it, Francine Anthony was there too. I'd give odds he's taken a fist to her before.”
Frank nodded. “I hate that word. I also hate to go by first impressions, but she struck me as the Bitch.” He motioned for the check.
I finished my coffee quickly, added, “Of coarse all I've told you is off the record, Frank.”
“I know. Look, we're going away for the weekend, that Liz will phone you early in the week for supper. And maybe we'll get in a few games before that. I'm anxious to know what you learn about Anthony. I'll finish the galleys over the weekend, send them to your office.” Frank added this last sentence with a touch of self-importance that made me hide my smile with my napkin.
Riding back to the office I felt pretty good—for the first time since last night I'd played things exactly right. Frank would tell a few people, the right ones—probably as part of some intimate bar conversation—and Madison Avenue would be watching my campaign. Do me good to get out of the office, and there won't be any trouble with Bill. Hell, he gave me a week to decide and things are slow in the office. God, the way the unexpected can shake up your life: if I pull this off, it will be exactly what I've been waiting for—the bang to land me in a big agency. And it fits. By the time Michele returns I'll already be established, prove how right I was. Then we'll start right in having a kid.... By the time Michele returns ... it hasn't worn thin, she will return, oh Lord, she has to come back... please make her return.
I cabled Michele a dozen roses, then spent the balance of the afternoon cleaning up my desk. When I talked to Bill Long he was not only in favor of my idea of interviewing the people involved, but I knew he was impressed by it.
At five as Miss Park was leaving, I fooled with the idea of asking her to eat with me. I had this immediate dread of dining alone. My wife is out of town so let's go...! But could I explain about not wanting to eat alone...? I said goodnight to her and remained at my desk until six, cleaning up my pipes and doing other such important work. When I left at seven the night elevator operator said something about my working overtime. It was another warm evening and I had a light bite in a cafeteria. I took in a movie but my restlessness made the theater seat feel like a straitjacket Also the picture was one of the so-called 'adult Westerns,' which bore me worse than the shoot-'em-up variety. I walked out in the middle of it, wandering around aimlessly. The good feeling of the afternoon had worn away.
I dropped into a quiet Second Avenue bar that seemed cool, and started to get tight. It seemed like something to do. I sat on a bar stool, along with a few other people, and watched the TV perched high in one corner. There was a half-finished drink and a pack of cigarettes, on the bar next to me. I didn't notice them until a tall woman with an over-blonde pony tail walked out of a room cleverly marked HERS and sat on the stool beside me. She took a butt out of the open pack. I moved a little to give her room, said, “Excuse me.” She was wearing a smart and slightly clinging odd print dress, the colors light and gay. Her face could be considered pretty, and I decided she could be 30 or even 40. I was going to light her cigarette, but she said “Thank you,” and lit her cigarette—all in one motion—as she turned to watch TV. From the profile view I knew she was wearing a powerful girdle, but the upstairs didn't seem the work of any bra contraption and reminded me greatly of Miss Park.
As I sipped my drink a thought which I realized had been rattling about in the rear of my mind all day came into sharp focus: now was my chance for an affair. It had such a corny melodramatic connotation I smiled at myself in the clean bar mirror. Of course I knew the idea hadn't been born just today. But for the life of me I couldn't figure why I wanted an affair. Michele and I were not only able and willing bed partners, but we often reached heights of exhausting passion. Yet in the last—oh—year, especially whenever the papers played up a new call girl scandal, I had found myself thinking of having another woman. A hundred dollar a night call girl. Or Miss Park. Whenever I gave it any serious thought, I was frankly puzzled by this want and wondered if it came to all men after a half-a-dozen years of marriage. I was positive that no other woman could be as pleasing as Michele, yet... I couldn't deny I had these thoughts. With Michele away, why if she ever found out, she certainly couldn't blame me... now.
Whether it was the drink warming my insides or/and the slightly perfumed presence of the blonde beside me, I began to feel as excited as a schoolboy. When blondie groaned at an ancient joke the TV comedian pulled, I jabbed with, “He hasn't talent, merely courage.” Which was as old as his gag.
She nodded. “I swear, all I can take on TV are the fights. I simply can't stand it when they try so hard to be funny, or clever—any of that intellectual jazz.”
“I know what you mean—the high water mark of mediocrity; that's TV.” I motioned for the bartender. “Would it upset you terribly if I buy you a refill and act like a brash joker?”
She turned and gave me a coy, studied glance, then she smiled. If her teeth said she was far nearer 40, her face was also prettier than I'd thought. She said, “Yes, I think a refill will be fine. And I like your frank approach. When it comes to drinks I don't stand on convention or any of that silly old jazz...”
Mrs. Wilma Hunter
The day started wrong. In fact it started in the afternoon. I awoke at 2 p.m. feeling wretched and lost with a terrible hangover. It was another muggy day and I sat on the edge of the bed for a long time, full of sweat and stale odors: the empty apartment making me want Michele so much I was afraid. I simply had this sense of fear, of foreboding.
I sat there in a haze, a whole slew of thoughts circling in my throbbing mind. Things like: Is any binge worth the hangover? How can people in love make each other so miserable? The constant thought—exactly what had I done to make Michele blow sky high? There was also the slightly sobering thought that I'd already wasted a half a day, ought to get on my horse.
The bedroom spooked me because it was so neat. I missed Michele's sloppy habit of leaving her underthings hanging on the backs of chairs and on the dresser. There was only one bright spot, I was so glad I hadn't tried to take the blonde in the bar to bed. I wasn't even sure she would have been willing, but the tenth time she said, ”... all that jazz,” I'd lost interest.
Sitting on the bed I realized I was listening intently. I didn't know for what, unless it was the sound of Michele washing up, or her footsteps in the kitchen. I told myself to cut it out A cold shower and food left me with only a faint headache. After I shaved and dressed I went to 'work.' I took out the list of people connected with Francine Anthony's death, in one way or another. Prof. Henry Brown lived in a hotel on West 99th Street, the Hunters lived a dozen blocks from me. I phoned them and didn't get any answer. Next I phoned Brown's hotel. A man answered who couldn't speak English. I kept shouting, “Prof. Henry Brown?” and he kept repeating, “Non,” or something that sounded like that. Next I phoned Matt's agent and his secretary told me he was gone for the day.
I sat by my phone, smoking a pipe, feeling a bit helpless. I walked over to the garage and drove up to 99th Street I worked up a fine sweat squeezing into a parking space that seemed to be the length of my car to the inch.
The 'hotel' was a converted apartment house full of Puerto Rican men, women and children; mostly children. Actually it seemed more like a large pension than a cheap hotel—except for the faint stink of insecticide. The desk clerk was a stooped refugee, a plump man in a loud sports shirt, his bald head almost polished. This was obviously my pal on the phone, for when I asked for Prof. Brown he shook his head and tried to tell me something in God-knows-what-language. When I shook my head he smiled and tried saying it again in Spanish. I shrugged to let him know I didn't understand, and he shrugged back, pointed to the door and let it go. I was getting rattled by this run-a-round and the heat and the insecticide weren't doing my head any good.
When I asked if he spoke French the clerk's face lit up as he rattled back in fast French which I vaguely understood to mean he was delighted to meet anybody who could speak French. I asked in my best slow French for Prof. Brown and merely talking French made me want to cry. The clerk pointed to a wall clock and rattled on. I finally got the idea: Prof. Brown always left the hotel at about ten-thirty in the morning.
I asked if I could have some stationery and he looked embarrassed, as if I'd asked a stupid question. There wasn't any stationery. I told him I wanted to leave a note for Brown and any paper would do. The clerk started a wild search for paper, hunting through a kind of receipt book for a blank piece. I finally told him to tell Prof. Brown I'd be back in the morning, or rather told him as best I could.
There was a phone booth in the lobby and I tried calling the Hunters again. Still no answer. There was a tiny fan in the booth and I sat there for a moment, enjoying the breeze. The other people on my fist were either in Riverside or End Harbor, and it was much too late to drive out there. Matt's agent was out—and actually I didn't know what I wanted to see him about. He wasn't at the house when Francine was killed. So what to do? I phoned the office and asked Miss Park if she had found out who Matt's lawyer would be. She hadn't: it seemed his regular lawyer was trying to hire a good trial man, and had promised to let us know that afternoon. I told her to call or wire me at home as soon as she knew. Miss Park started telling me about some ad in a Chicago paper that had come out badly smudged and I cut her off by telling her to take it up with Marty Kelly. When I hung up I had another bright idea. I phoned in a wire to the Hunters asking them to call me at home as soon as possible.
The desk clerk and I said good day to each other in French and I went out and got in my car. It was almost three and I didn't know what to do with myself.
I started driving down the West Side Highway, considered taking a swim, but any decent beach seemed too far away. It was fairly cool driving and I crossed the Battery Tunnel and drove along the Narrows. When I reached Coney Island I turned off and parked. I had a couple of good hot dogs and a root beer at Nathan's and felt much, much better. I bought the evening papers, strolled the boardwalk, remembering how Michele loved Coney Island. I finally found a seat out on the new fishing pier, took off my coat.
The papers had a rehash of the case on the inside pages. It was an open and shut deal, what could be new? One of them had already started the REAL MATT ANTHONY STORY. I felt sorry for the hack frantically digging through back issues, banging his brains out to keep a day ahead of a deadline. The Post said Matt would be defended by the 'famous criminal attorney, Jackson Clair.'
I watched the old people fishing. Their endless patience reminded me of the Seine fisherman; they never seemed to catch anything, either. Michele and I used to watch them.... I put my head back against the railing to get some sun, shut my eyes. I slept for a half hour and made a frantic inspection of my pockets when I came to. To my surprise I hadn't been rolled.
Sleeping like that frightened me. I started walking and had more hot dogs, clams, root beer, fried potatoes, pizza, and custard—all of it senseless, nervous eating. I still didn't know what to do with myself. Jackson Clair was in the phone book, and after making a note of his number, a trifle astonished there was such a name, I drove home. Undressing to my shorts, for no reason I dusted the apartment thoroughly, and hosed the garden. There was a letter from my mother, the usual small writing: something about she hoped Michele and I would come to California on my vacation. Vacation? Not this year. When I finished Matt's ads I'd be starting a new job on Madison Avenue.
Stretching out on the couch I got in about twenty winks when the phone rang. I answered it eagerly only to hang up on a wrong number. Like in a bad comedy, the second I fell asleep again the doorbell rang: A wire from Miss Park with Jackson Clair's office address and phone.
I got my pipe working and was watching a not bad Western on TV when the phone rang again. A throaty voice asked, “Mr. Connor?”
“This is Wilma Hunter. I just found your wire.”
“I'm the advertising manager of Longson, Mr. Anthony's publisher. I'd like to talk to you and Mr. Hunter.”
“Joel has gone away—for a few days.”
“Can I see you tomorrow? Say for lunch?”
“Be rather hard, I work from noon on. I'm free tonight As I told you, Joel's away.”
“I'm a grass bachelor myself, if that's the correct term. If I'm outside your house in... about a half hour, could we go to a quiet cafe and mix a little talk with drinks?”
“Indeed we can. It's eight-twenty now. I'll expect you at nine.”
“Oh... the hall bell hasn't worked in years. No point in you climbing stairs. Will you be in a cab?”
“Have the driver honk his horn a few times. I'll be down.”
We didn't have to sound the horn. The Hunters lived in a narrow tenement facing the approach to the Queens Tunnel and the East River—an old building sandwiched between a truck garage and a swank corner apartment house. As soon as the cab pulled up a young woman in a yellow dress stepped out of the doorway, crossed the sidewalk toward us.
For an odd second I thought she was wearing shoe boxes— her legs were slim and she was in these wide form-fitting shoes. She seemed to walk with a slight flat-footed waddle. But when she bent forward and asked, “Mr. Connor?” I forgot all about her walk.
Wilma Hunter had a most attractive face. Not pretty— unless the face of any woman under 25 has a certain youthful beauty. Rather, it was a forceful, intense face, with bold eyes and features, and a warm, heavy mouth. Her bright, kinky red hair was drawn back into a severe bun, accentuating the bony intenseness of her face. She looked exciting.
If her legs were too thin, the rest of the body was solid. Of course, as she bent over, looking into the cab window, her dress top fell away a little and my eyes had to take in the rise of her breasts.
I said “Mrs. Hunter?” like an idiot as I opened the door. She slid in beside me. There was a slight odor of perfume, sweat and the smell of rye on her lips: adding up to a fascinating musky smell. She didn't look tight, merely high. “Have you had supper, Mrs. Hunter?” I asked, still full of bright talk, as the cabbie ran his eyes over her in the windshield mirror.
“Oh, yes. Oh, not really. It's too damn sticky-hot to eat.” She turned and looked me over—very openly.
“Any special bar you like?”
“Tonight I like them all.” The husky voice was probably practiced, I decided.
I gave the driver the address of a quiet place on 69th Street and she leaned back in the seat, said, “I hope this isn't one of those backyard joints. They're always hot and it seems crazy, sitting out there as if people weren't looking down from the surrounding apartment houses.”
“This is a simple, air-conditioned spot, Mrs. Hunter.”
“That's good. Also, I would appreciate your not calling me Mrs. Hunter. I'm not up to that tonight Wilma will do. What do they call you?”
For a while we didn't talk; I sat there, staring at her. I offered her a cigarette, lit it, then took out my pipe. She asked, “What the hell are you, one of those gentlemen things? Oh, well, I suppose it is nice of you to caddy a pack of butts around. Joel is never that considerate. Not that I'm sure I'd want him to be.”
“Sorry he's out of town, I want to talk to him. Expect him back soon?”
“Who said he was out of town?”
“You told me he'd gone away for a few days.”
“The little sonofabitch is home, humoring his whims. If anything, he's out of this world at the moment, gone... real gone.” She suddenly laughed, a warm live sound that filled the car, made the cabbie grin. “Don't look so startled. A writer often has to get away from it all—and there's a devastating little phrase. Tell you, phone the house in two days, he'll be there. When you come up to the apartment you'll see this purple monstrosity he calls a den. Joel's too poor to hop a plane for Paris or Mexico, so when the routine gets him, or something upsets him—like this Anthony stuff—why be locks himself in his den with a bottle, some food and a stack of his favorite records, gets stewed on music and rye. Music really sends that boy. I hate it, but I can see his point: no radio, TV, newspaper, typewriter or people. He even has his own bathroom. After a day or two he comes out all rested up and rather proud of himself for 'losing time'—as he cleverly terms it. That's the way it is with writers, you have to put up with anything and everything with them. Suppose you can tell I hate the idea. I told you that already. And I know I'm talking too much. Sure, I'm a bit liquored up myself. But don't worry, I rarely get plastered.”
“All sounds like a novel idea, at least,” I said, not knowing what to say.
“It works for him. It would drive me nuts,” Wilma said as the cabbie pulled up to the curb.
As we were getting out and Wilma was stooped over, I could see the outline of her bra and pants under the dress: rousing lines. I had this feeling I could sleep with her if I played it right; and I don't care how trite that sounds—I had the feeling. I was also pretty sure I was going to play it 'right'.
The bar had enough people in it to be comfortable. We got a table in the corner. She said, “I'm on gin, I'll stay with it. Gin and tonic, please.”
After I told the waiter to make it two, I told her, “You had me fooled. Would have sworn rye.”
She gave me a long look, then nodded as she said, “I think you're okay, Norm. Although that could be called a snotty crack. But I don't think so. What was it we're to talk about?”
“Matt Anthony. I'm thinking of advertising one of his books and, the point is, I have to know more about what happened before we go ahead. In short, I'm doing research on Mr. Matt Anthony.”
“That stuffed crud. I suppose I'm talking like an ingrate— we've freeloaded upon him often enough. But then he needs an audience. I'll bet he's looking forward to taking the stand at the trial.”
“Do you think he murdered his wife?”
“Is there any doubt? He's said so.”
“There's a difference between murder and manslaughter,” I said as the waiter put our drinks on the table.
“Not to the victim. But I see what you mean. I read about the murder charge—that's ridiculous. He got steamed and clipped Fran, and it must have been a belt he'd been saving up for years. She was mostly drip—not that Matt was any dilly to live with.”
“You sound like you know him very well.”
“Anything in skirts gets to know Matt. His second sentence to any gal is, let's tumble in the hay. Actually, he was far more talk than action.”
I hesitated for a moment, then had a hunch she wouldn't be angry, so I asked, “Strictly as a matter of curiosity and not minding my own business: did you sleep with him?”
“No. And I expected you to ask, the way I'm shooting off my gums. But I almost did. Joel and I were in Florida when we first met them... and believe me the first dose of Matt Anthony is damn strong. He's got this great muscular body, the worldly chatter and you think this is the man. The truth is he was a doubly strong potion for me because Joel and I weren't hitting it off at the moment I hadn't learned what it means to be a writer's wife yet and Joel—he's a front runner and things were breaking all wrong for him. Nothing went right. We'd just been married and I had this feeling that somehow I was to blame, that I was wrong for him too.” She washed this down with most of her drink.
“Although I've been in publishing a number of years, I don't get what you mean by being a writer's wife. What's so special about that?” My eyes were taking inventory of her as if it was already agreed we would go to bed.
“It isn't anything special, merely different. You must get used to a lot of things. As a for instance: Joel doesn't have any set working hours, he's around the house all day and... well... being together 24 hours a day calls for a kind of adjustment. And there's the money uncertainty. I remember when we were first married and a couple of small checks came in. Why, I looked upon them as found money, rather than wages. Me, I come from a hard working, and of course, poor family, and the writing dollar frightened me. Guess it still does. Too many ups and downs, nothing you can count on. Matt once told us how he was driving to New York from California, absolutely broke. Not even a dime for food or gas. In St. Louis he had to sell his old car and practically hitch hike to New York. When he finally got his mail he found over $3,000 waiting for him, money he didn't expect. To quote Matt, “I racked up a good score.” He bought a new car and headed back to the Coast. My nerves like to know what's coming in each week.”
“Did Fran like being a writer's wife?” I nodded at the waiter.
“No. Although she sure had plenty of experience—her first husband was a typewriter slob too. First off, Matt is a joker who can really blow his money, live big. But it wasn't only the money part; she never learned that writers can't live in a rut—even an expensive one—or it dulls their work. They need shaking up, so to speak, but it has to be a shaking of their own choosing. Or it throws them off completely. What I'm trying to say is: A wife shouldn't try to dominate a writer. I suppose we shouldn't dominate any man, but especially a writer. Took me a long time to learn that. Take this mental jolting—you ever notice how writers are traveling all the time? Sinclair Lewis, for instance, was always on the go. Of course there were other complications with Matt, he never really cared for Fran. Told me that down in Florida. He married her after their first night together. I don't think Matt can really care for any woman because he doesn't know what sex is all about.”
“What's that mean?” I asked, sipping my second drink slowly, warning myself not to get high.
“Usual male arrogance. Matt thinks he has a king's scepter dispensing divine favors. Any time he had a woman who wasn't a professional whore, and I'll bet that wasn't often, Matt was overcome with the tremendous 'sacrifice' he thought the female had made, and the wonderful 'favor' he had conferred upon her. Actually, he's a horrible prude. I think that's why he writes about sex so much and so badly. He simply can't believe there is joint enjoyment, in the equality of the sexes. Happily, I never let him bestow the 'favor' on me. Although we damn near landed in bed. Know what made me see the light? A fish. Really. As I told you, Joel was in a hell of a funk. He couldn't even get a drink of water without spilling it. When the four of us went fishing for a few days, my poor Joel couldn't get a bite. Then, on our last day, the very last hour of fishing, wham! Joel hooked and boated this great marlin all by himself. Biggest fish you ever saw. It was one of those things; gave us both new confidence. That's when I told Matt I quite literally wanted no part of him.”
“And he gave up that easily?”
She laughed. “I'm trying to tell you he's a phony about sex. Every time I saw him, all last week, he'd get me aside and whisper like a hammy actor, 'Let me show you something out in the pines.' Or, 'Honey, isn't it time we see what sort of spring music we can make?” Real kid slobbering. I got so used to it I didn't bother answering. Bet if I had said yes he would have run. It was merely another muscle Matt liked to flex. Fran as much as told me—several times—he wasn't anything in bed. Nice wifey talk. You know he has a bad heart, showing his muscles will kill him one of these days if the State doesn't kill him first.”
She dug in her bag for a pack of cigarettes, shook her head as I reached for mine. Lighting her cigarette, I said, “You don't seem to be exactly fond of the Anthonys.”
“They bored me. But End Harbor is comfortable and I thought Matt was good for Joel.”
“What's that 'good' mean?” I asked, motioning for the waiter again, but holding on to my glass.
“He's an old hand. I suppose I hoped some of his success would rub off on Joel. Oh, that's unfair—I think Joel is a better writer than Matt, even commercially. But Joel's afraid to take chances and writing is a gamble. I don't mind working, giving him time to make it. I even like getting out of the house every day. I want him to try TV or... here, he has a wonderful idea for a modern fantasy novel. A woman like— Hatti Carnegie, Arden, one of these female Diors who set the fashions—she gets angry at the cosmetic industry, due to a petty, minor matter... and, for christsakes, don't blab or steal this idea.”
“I'm safe as Fort Knox.”
She blew a cloud of smoke at me. “I believe you are. Anyway, this woman deliberately changes the fashions to long, straight hair and no make up. This knocks out all the cosmetic concerns, kills TV advertising, ruins magazines, in fact the entire country is on the brink of a depression as a result In the end the President has to invite her to the White House, beg her for the sake of the country's economy to tell women to start using lotions and cosmetics again. It would be a wonderful satire, would make Joel. But he piddles around with the adventures of some bastard pussy cat, insists he wants to knock off enough children's books to feel secure first.” She shrugged—and so many things danced. “Maybe he's right Sometimes I get a chill; seems such a long chance, to base your rent and food bills on a mere idea. There's no kick to it any more.”
“Kick to writing?”
She nodded. “Joel has done some good stuff, really sensitive. He has a flair for that. When I first knew him it gave me a thrill to see his stuff in print. Now everything comes down to, 'Will it sell?' Tell me, would Joel gain anything by switching to Longson?”
“I don't know. We haven't much of a juvenile list.”
“You're pushing Matt's books. There must be some way Joel can cash in on this publicity. He's so damn afraid it will ruin him. I keep urging him to capitalize on it but... That's what I mean about the writing business, there aren't any rules, you don't know what to do. Norm, can we talk about something else except shop? Do you dance?”
“I'm sort of keyed up. I'm out for a hell of a time. This place is too quiet.”
“Finish your drink and we'll go. Did Matt really threaten his wife that afternoon?”
“Yes. But I thought it was only talk. And talking about that nightmare gives me the creeps. Have you a car?”
“Let's drive and cool off. And forget all writers, including Matt,” she said, getting up.
We taxied to the garage and then drove out to Long Island, stopping at a dismal place where we danced and she had a few more drinks. I didn't even finish my first. For no reason I found myself telling her about Michele. Not all of it, I mean not all about last night I merely said we had a spat. But I told her other things, like how I met Michele when I was a Press Officer in Paris, fresh out of college, and she was working as a typist in SHAAF while waiting for a teaching appointment. How we had acted like a couple of jerks, afraid to touch each other, not even a kiss. Michele hadn't wanted to act the sexy French gal of fiction and the dirty jokes. And I had to prove my French wasn't limited to Voilez vous coucher avec moi ce soir? I even told Wilma about that afternoon, it was our 5th or 6th date, when we were alone in Michele's house and rushed each other to bed. What a tremendous afternoon! And I told Wilma about my winning $739 in a crap game which let us honeymoon in the finest hotels on the Cote D'Azure.
I knew I was talking too much, but it all made me feel slightly better. Although Wilma was hardly my idea of a confessor. But she was a fine listener.
She said, “In her case running home to mama is some hop, skip and jump. If—”
“You should have seen how proud her folks were—he's the head of a school there—to have an American officer for a son-in-law.”
“... if Joel ever hits it, well live in Europe. While I'm not on a baby kick myself, things are so unsettled for us, but if Joel had a regular job like yours.... I can see her point Maybe.”
Wilma decided the bar was too lonely and we drove on. It seemed to me as if we'd been together for a long time, but it wasn't quite midnight. We stopped in Long Beach for more drinks and I said she must have something to eat In the middle of a seafood meal Wilma announced she wanted fresh air—in a hurry. I drove down a deserted road that ran along a bay until she moaned, “Stop. I'm getting sick.”
Pulling off the road, I hit a soft shoulder or maybe it was some swampy sand. The car lurched, seemed about to turn over. There was a bad moment as I battled the wheel, stepped on the gas. We seemed to hang in air, then the car leaped back on the road. Ahead I saw a tiny dirt lane leading to the water. I turned into it a ways and stopped.
Holding one hand over her mouth, Wilma ran out of the car and into some tall swamp grass and gave up. I wasn't drunk, and I suppose it was the near accident and her being so messy—but I was suddenly very sober and tired. This would have been such a stupid way to die. And why was I being so childish about an affair when I had a wife like Michele?
Wilma came near the car, said, “Wasn't that a charming sight? Told you not to feed me.” She shook her hand violently, looked around. “I know I smell like two other girls and I feel the same way. Seems to be a beach down there. Swimming, anybody?”
She undressed so quickly it seemed I glanced down to turn off the ignition and looked up to see her nude in the dim moonlight. The nipples of her breasts were as red as her hair. She ran toward the water, running gracefully, and dived in. A minute later she was running back, stuck her wet head in the window. “Well, Tarzan?”
The door window framed her breasts and shoulders. She arched her chest out, as though that was necessary, and said, “You see, they are real. Your eyes have been like a bra all night.”
There was something so pat about it all, I became sore. I told her coldly, “That's me, very bosom conscious. Here's another book idea for your husband; no part of the human body, including the brain, has changed the world's history as much as a firm pair. In fact, at the moment, breast shots are the mainstay of a high percentage of our magazines; they're the new literary movement.”
“Odd time for a lecture, isn't it?” Her big eyes were mocking me.
I slid along the seat and stepped out of the car on the other side, undressed. Wilma ran into the water and I followed her. The water was wonderfully salty and cool. Wilma was a good swimmer and we went out about a hundred yards before turning back. It was a fine beach, very few rocks or mud on the bottom. We walked up and down the beach, shivering a bit. She kicked up the sand with her toes and stared at me, her face more intense than ever. “You strip big, Norm. You really have good shoulders, and those hands.... so strong.”
I looked down at the sand, kicked some on her feet. She seemed to have perfectly formed feet. “Why do you wear those funny looking shoes?”
“Find they relax me. The old gag about taking a cold shower—the swim did it for us, didn't it?”
“Did what? We wanted to take a swim, and we did. Let's go back to dry ourselves.”
As we headed back toward the car Wilma took my hand. We walked along like a couple of kids. She said, “You have such hard rough palms, like a laborer's. What do you do at Longson's, use your hands for a paper press?”
“I play a lot of handball,” I said, knowing I must sound like an idiot.
She suddenly placed my hand on her breast. And then we were thrashing around on the sand. It was all over before I could even think about it. Lying beside her I didn't feel a thing but confused. Then I wondered if I had let her down.
I glanced at Wilma and in the pale light she seemed to be smiling up at the stars. She was still breathing heavily. She turned, smiling at me, and said, “Talk to your juvenile editor about Joel. I think a change in publishers might be good for him. You see how I have to look after Joel, wear his pants. But I don't mind.”
The words bounced off my face and I looked away, wondering if she was stark crazy. Then I realized it hadn't meant a damn thing to her... or to me. It seemed so downright childish. Why had we done it, then? Instead of being full of sand and probably catching at least a cold as I lay beside this nutty broad, I should be with my wonderful Michele. The exciting, sensuous strength to her arms around my back. How embarrassed I'd been at first, the way she would embrace for hours afterward in sleepy satisfaction. I would finally awake in the middle of the night, my arms cramped and distant, but so aware of her soft beauty. I would be proud of her and....
Now, all I wanted was to be rid of Wilma and this dirty sand. I stood up. “Shall we wash up with a swim?”
I pulled Wilma to her feet—and she still had this kind of patronizing smile on her face. She held up her face and we kissed with absolutely no feeling. She giggled as we walked slowly into the water and swam around. Then I jogged back to the car for our clothes. I tossed her my T-shirt for a towel, while I tried to dry myself with my shorts.
I tossed the shorts into the grass. Wilma threw the T-shirt into the back of the car. Being dressed again seemed to be an act of sanity. I drove back to New York, her head resting on my shoulder. She happily didn't talk until we crossed the 59th Street bridge when Wilma sat up to ask: “What time is it?”
“Nearly three. Would you care for something to eat?”
“No, I feel fine. Norm, when you get straightened out with your wife, come over and visit. I think we can all be wonderful friends. Joel is very amusing, usually.”
When I parked in front of her door Wilma held up her face and we kissed lightly. She said, “Don't forget,” waved and walked into the house.
My teeth were chattering. I drove to the first coffee pot and had two cups of hot coffee. I still felt completely confused. The coffee warmed me and I thought, Okay, so now I'm a man, and all that slop. I've had my affair, got it out of my system.
Oddly enough, I did feel very much a man. And I also had the same childish feeling as when Frank and I would dress in old slacks and a sweatshirt some Sunday mornings, drive to the handball courts on the lower Drive. With stupid delight we would play a sloppy one wall game until we were 'suckered' into playing for two bits a man with some of the other players. We'd tighten up, win. Between us we made nearly forty grand a year, yet winning a half a dollar gave us pure delight.
When I reached the apartment I sat in a hot bath for awhile, then fell into bed, wondering if the coffee would keep me up. It didn't; I slept the sleep of the just.
I awoke at nine and felt so good I winked at myself in the mirror while shaving... like a happy jerk.
Prof. Henry Brown
As I was closing the windows of my car in front of Prof. Brown's 'hotel,' I saw my crumpled T-shirt on the back seat. I stared at it for a second, almost with pride. Last night had been lousy but it had done something to my malehood, childish as that may sound, to know that these sexy-looking babes were not very good at it, as I always expected. True, I was basing this pearl of wisdom only on Wilma, but she was a fair sampling, I decided.
The heat and insecticide perfume hit me as I stepped into the lobby. The clerk waved as if I was an old buddy, then slapped his face and ran around the desk, rushed me to the door. I couldn't get his rapid French, but he kept gesturing madly at the back of the little man walking up toward Broadway. When I asked if that was Prof. Brown, the clerk nodded and waved his arm even more violently.
Thanking him, I walked and ran up the street, reaching Broadway in a blaze of sweat. Brown was making for the subway and I sprinted after him. He seemed to be in his late fifties, a slightly built little man, wiry and lean, walking with a neat stride. He was wearing an old tropical suit As I caught up with him his face surprised me. It was a thin face, the skin tight, a sort of owlish expression under a great deal of brushed gray hair. Only owls don't have broken noses and the Professor's nose had been broken sharply, probably a lot of years ago.
I touched his shoulder and he jumped as I said, “Prof. Brown? I'd like to talk to you. I'm—”
“I've nothing to say.” He didn't stop walking.
“But Professor, I only want to ask you...?”
“I told you, I have nothing to say!”
“I'm Norm—” I never finished the sentence for he actually dashed down the subway stairs.
Wiping my sweaty face I felt angry and bewildered. But I hadn't ran a block on a hot day for any brush-off. I raced down the steps and caught him at the change window.
He said, “Will you stop annoying me? I told you I—”
“Professor, I'm Norman Connor from Matt Anthony's publishing house. I only want to ask you some questions about Matt, and I can't understand your rude—”
“I'm sorry,” he said quickly. “I... eh... assumed you were somebody else. I was rude and I apologize.”
“Perhaps it was my fault, grabbing your shoulder. I was up to your hotel yesterday. Didn't the clerk tell you?”
“He merely said a man had been asking for me.” We stood there beside the subway change booth, awkwardly silent for a moment. Then I asked, “Shall we go into a bar for beers and talk?”
“No. We can go back to my room. I have beer there.” We walked up Broadway and over to the hotel without saying a word. The clerk waved merrily at us as we rode a dirty self-service elevator to the 6th floor. The Professor unlocked a door and took off his coat. What they had done with the 'hotel' was to take an old apartment house and make each room into a kind of unit. This one must have been the maid's room in the 'old days.' It was just wide enough to walk by the narrow bed. There was a small window, an improvised closet, a chair, and in one corner water was running slowly on something covered by a rag in the tiny sink.
Brown grinned at me as he said, “I imagine you must be puzzled by my performance on Broadway. I thought you were an FBI man. I've been stopped and harassed by them, and local agents, so often I've found the best policy is not to talk to them at all. In fact, I'd be more at ease this second if you showed me some identification, Mr.—eh—”
“Norm Conner,” I said, pulling out a thick envelope the efficient Miss Park had sent in the morning mail—a number of synopses of fall books. Brown glanced at these, as he motioned for me to take the chair. He sat on the unmade bed. When he handed them back he said, “I apologize, if you feel one is needed, Mr. Connor. Take off your coat. Beastly hot. I'm trying to rent a fan. What can I do for you?”
“I trust I'm not putting you out, Professor—”
“No point in calling me 'professor,' I haven't been one in months. You're not putting me out at all: Saturday is not a day for job hunting. Are you Mart's editor?”
“Oh, no. I'm the advertising manager of Longson and—”
“Hmmm. I'm not sure there is any real need for advertising in the world. Sets up false standards. But we won't argue the matter.”
I wiped my face, wishing he'd let me finish a sentence. “Mr. Brown, I'm going around interviewing everybody connected with the case. Longson feels they would like to help Mr. Anthony. We know he needs money and we're considering reissuing one of his old books. This would hinge on advertising. I feel I need a clear picture of what happened to work up the proper ad campaign.”
“Why? And take off your coat.”
“The 'why' is the reputation of the firm,” I said, hanging my jacket on the back of the chair. “I suppose you know the D.A. is asking for murder in the first degree?”
“I've followed the papers.”
“Then you must see our position. We publish a large list, including many textbooks. We can't jeopardize our textbooks by... well... bluntly by being too closely associated with a murderer—if he is one.”
“Young man, do you realize the nonsense you're spouting? Another form of guilt by association. Hell, you're merely trying to sell books. In this case, some of Matt's.”
“Perhaps my choice of words was wrong. The point is, everything depends upon the type of ad campaign we wage. We would like to make some money for Matt but—”
“And for Longson.”
“Professor... Mr. Brown, take it easy. I'd like to know from you exactly what happened out there, your opinion as to whether it was murder or manslaughter.”
“My opinion is that Matt didn't kill his wife.”
“You think it was a pure accident?”
“I don't think he killed her.”
“But he's confessed it. There's no doubt about his—”
“No matter what Matt signed or said, I don't think he killed his wife. I've known Matt for a long time. For an intelligent man to kill takes a certain amount of courage. Matt's a coward. Even if I didn't know him, I could tell that from his writing, his preoccupation with violence.”
“But why would he sign a confession? Do you think he was third degreed into signing it?”
“I don't know why he signed. I don't think he was given the third degree—he's too well known to be subjected to that. It's allegedly against the law to rubber hose a prisoner. Yet it isn't against the law to lie to him, tell him, for example, his wife has informed upon him, that he might as well talk. To believe that your wife or friends have turned you in, is that any less torture than the lash of a hose?”
I felt I was drifting in a lot of talk, tried to pull myself together. “Wait a minute, Mr. Brown; you think he's a coward. From what I know of him, his sailing the ocean, his war record, his brawls—that's hardly the portrait of a coward.”
He laughed, showing old yellow teeth. “I have a theory—a man who talks a good fight is rarely a fighter. Take his bar fights—I've seen him in a few. A bar brawl is usually a one punch affair, it's quickly stopped. A man as big as Matt rarely has to fight, he merely threatens and his size wins for him. Have you ever noticed that most writers who deal in virility—which to their musclebound brains can mean only violence—are generally big men? They almost look the part of their heroes. I believe this is a form of sublimation—they are afraid to be matadors, boxers, private detectives, so they do their shooting and punching via the typewriter. It is always the coward who glorifies courage, per se. You'll find it in any field, the person with the shallowest talent talks the loudest.”
It seemed to me Brown himself was quite preoccupied with violence. But he was turning out to be an interesting little man. I said, “That's a strange idea. I take it you don't consider Matt much of a writer?”
“Matt and I almost got into an argument about this the other day. Let me put it this way: I think Matt had the capabilities of being a good writer. But we are a literate nation, everybody can write. With a little practice one can get the required skill of putting words together. It's what you write, based upon your insight and understanding, that makes for good writing. Lord, I'm wandering. You want to know what happened out there. Frankly, I can be of little help. I'd spent the night with a former student of mine in Hampton. I'm looking for a job and this man.... Anyway, I was out there and ran into Matt as I was walking toward the railway station. It was the first time we'd seen each other in... oh... at least ten years. He insisted I return with him to his home. I imagine he wanted to show off his wealth. I had a few hours before the next train, so I drove back with him. When his wife found out about my... eh... past, naturally she was upset I'm a kind of modern leper, being seen with me can mean loss of job or career. It's not improbable that some one will come knocking on your door after you leave here.”
He patted his pockets, looking for a cigarette, then said, “I was uncomfortable in Mart's house, refused to spend the night. Matter of fact, I had an appointment in town, about a job that—all this new publicity ruined that. All told, I suppose I spent a half hour out there before Matt drove me to the train. I was to phone him this weekend... he wanted me to spend a few days at his place, talking over 'old times.' I told him I'd let him know—my wife is in Chicago, waiting to hear if I land a job here before she joins me. Otherwise I shall return to Chicago where she has a job. As for the rest,” Brown spread his hands on his legs, “all I know is what I've read in the papers.”
“You don't think he could have punched his wife, hit her harder than he meant to?”
Brown gave me his yellow smile again. “Are you married, Connor?”
I nodded, almost said, “After a fashion.
“Have you ever slapped, much less punched, your wife?”
“Neither have I ever hit my wife. Neither would Matt.”
“But Francine Anthony is dead. If Matt didn't kill her, who did?”
He shrugged. “I don't know. You asked my opinion—I refuse to believe Matt killed her.”
“This is a big new can of peas,” I said, trying to think of something else to ask. “What sort of a woman would you say Francine Anthony was?”
“I only saw her for a few seconds. I liked her... in a negative way she was a realist. You see, she understood exactly what it means to be publicly tagged a 'radical' these days. But, Matt, he was a lot of well-meant blustering and bragging about how he wasn't afraid to help me. Of course he was afraid. He said he'd try to get something for me at Long-son's—did he?”
“I wouldn't know. And he hardly had time to do anything.”
Brown nodded, “That's true.” He jumped to his feet, a very agile motion for a man his age. “Like some beer?”
“Beer would be fine.”
He shut off the water in the sink, removed the cloth covering two cans of beer. They foamed as he opened them. He handed me one and sat on the bed again.
The beer was pathetically warm. Brown said, “If you subscribe to the rather dubious notion that the English like their beer warm, then we are being quite British at the moment.”
“It tastes fine,” I lied, suddenly liking the old boy very much. “Tell me, if you don't mind, what sort of trouble are you in, Prof.—Mr. Brown?”
“Be simpler if you call me Hank. I wouldn't say I was in trouble, rather that I'm caught up in the hysteria of the times. I suppose if I had to be classified I would be considered a retired liberal. In my time I've been a number of things, ranging from a member of the I.W.W. to a New Dealer. Brooks University is so well endowed it can afford to be liberal, to a point. However, because of that it has always been a target for the reactionary ward heelers who pose as educators. I called myself a retired liberal because I've been quiet the last few years. Maybe a desire to protect my old age, without my entirely realizing it. In my time I've signed any number of petitions, some of them quite radical I suppose. However, last winter I signed a petition put out by some antivivisection group against the brutal manner in which certain slaughter houses killed livestock. Evidently it offended somebody in power and with my progressive background... well, I found myself before a state subversive committee. Naturally I took the Fifth as a matter of principle. So you see the situation: The University being under attack on other fronts, backed down. Thus two years before I am due to retire I find myself unemployed. It would all be a comical tempest in a tea cup if I wasn't so strapped for money.”
“Any job offers?” I asked, forcing myself to finish the beer.
“I can't get anything in teaching. I had an offer to ghost a series of general mathematics textbooks, but now that's out. At my age I can't get anything but a job as a messenger and—”
He shook his head as he wiped beer foam from his mouth. “I may not even get that until this new publicity dies down. It pays about $45 and my wife can get a clerk job, so we'll be comfortable. In two years I'll start drawing my pension from Brooks.”
“There must be something a man of your intellectual background can do. Let me speak to Bill Long, my boss, and see—”
Brown smiled as he shook his head again. “If Longson is afraid of an ad backfiring, they'll never consider me. I doubt if I would either, if the positions were reversed. Of course, I'm willing to do ghosting, but even that makes hiring me a risk.” He got off the bed to drop his empty beer can in a waste basket. “Well, Mr. Connor, have I been of any help to you, re: Matt Anthony?”
“I don't know, your picture of him is an entirely new one.”
“Take pity on Matt Anthony, he's a lost soul, an intellectual fourflusher—like so many others these days. But he's no killer.”
“If he's a phony, why were you two friends?”
“Friends is a meaningless word. In the last dozen years we saw each other maybe two times—for a few minutes. Oh, Matt has a lively sense of humor and... a kind of charm-Even his blustering is interesting. Of course when I first met him, as an instructor at Brooks, he was a rather earnest young man. I even liked a few of his earlier stories. There was one about a young Mexican kid who can drop-kick a milk carton, a remarkable feat—although no one can understand how remarkable except the kid who—”
“I read that. It's the boy's sole claim to being somebody. It was a terrific story.”
“No, it wasn't. It was veneer stuff but a good beginning. In those days I saw a great deal of Matt. We not only taught in the same school but Matt spent much time in our house. He became, well, interested in me when he learned I'd once been a professional fighter.” Brown tapped his broken nose with a long finger. “The badge of the trade.”
“You really were a pro pug?”
“Really,” he said, faint sarcasm in his voice. “You sound like Matt.”
“Come on, now, Hank, you must admit a professor who's been a leatherpusher is unusual.”
“Unusual as what? Fighting is only a job, and a bad one at that. I had about a dozen bouts when I was 19— which was a very long time ago. I wasn't working my way through college or anything like that. I enjoyed boxing, hit hard for a bantamweight. You've never heard of Al Nelson but he became a contender, went on to fight Lynch and Herman, the other top man. I kayoed Nelson in two rounds. I suppose I had dreams of being a champion myself. My manager was a very wise and worldly man named Danny Bond. He died a number of years ago. He was broke and I buried him. A sentimental gesture. Danny wouldn't let a boy go on if he didn't have true ability. I didn't have it—I was never hungry enough.”
“What's that mean?” I got up to throw the beer can away and sat down quickly—there wasn't enough room for the two of us to move about.
“You have good shoulders—are you a fight buff, Mr. Connor?”
“Norm is the name. No, I'm a handball player, of sorts.”
“Perhaps I should tell you what I mean, it might help you understand what writers like Matt never understood—that pro boxing is an act of desperation. In my case I simply wasn't desperate enough. After I knocked out Al Nelson, I fought him again some three months later. I was a bug on physical culture. Al entered the ring completely out of shape. It wasn't any secret he had done most of his conditioning in a bar. I had him groggy at the end of the first round. The next thing I knew, I was on the dressing room table and Danny was stroking my battered face with an ice bag.”
“You were flattened?”
“Aha, but in the 5th round. As Danny tried to tell me, I stopped a right cross and was out on my feet for four rounds. So was Al. Yet fat and puffing Al Nelson, his blood full of whiskey, was staggering around the ring in the 5th, while with all my better conditioning, I was flat on my face. I couldn't understand that until Danny said sadly, 'He was hungrier than you, Henry, that gave him more of a fighting heart. You got some book learning, there's other things you can do beside box. But, rummy Al, even if his noggin was fogged, he knew he had to win to get another fight. And if he doesn't fight he just won't eat.' Odd what sticks in a mind: I never forgot those words. And I never boxed again—as a pro. That's why Matt, London, Hemingway, even old G. B. Shaw, they can't catch the true picture offering because they fail to understand it isn't glory that males men fight, but hunger. You can't pretty up the brutal.”
“Then you think only former pugs can write about the ring?”
“No, no. But a writer can't write about anything—that is, real writing, unless he understands his subject. Most of those who write about the ring, the bull fighters, about war, they get sidetracked in the obvious violence. They try to put their own personal desire to escape from life into their boxers, and that's false because a boxer hasn't time to think of escape, he can only worry about eating. My, I'm off on a lecture.”
“Please continue. I think this is what I'm after.”
“I don't mind, although literature isn't my dish. But I've been giving much thought to the Matt Anthonys. We live in a highly disillusioned world of greed and violence and we try to escape the banality of life through narcotics, TV quiz programs, abstract study, drinking, speeding, advertising (a mock bow in my direction), making money for money's sake, travel. The longing for death, for suicide, of course is the strongest drug of all. In fact, for the intellectual—and I use the word loosely—the desire for self-destruction becomes a stabilizing personal philosophy. In short, nothing matters, he believes in nothing. They feel secure only when they are involved in romantic and daring action, with the basic motive being a secret hope that this time it will end in death. At the same time they lack the nerve to flaunt conventions. A drunk speeds at 100 miles an hour, a Matt Anthony sails the ocean alone, charges with a machine gun —all conventional ways of dying.”
“Wait up, you can't place them all on the same level. A drunken brawl is one thing, a war correspondent taking a gun is a form of bravery.”
Brown flashed his old teeth in a quick smile. “Courage, bravery have become confused words without much meaning. Take Matt Anthony rushing the Nazis with a machine gun during the war—was that an act of heroism or cowardice? I think it was merely a subconscious attempt to take his own life. You see it in his writing, even in his hack junk... in all such writing.”
“I never saw anything like that.”
“Those writers who are preoccupied with courage and violence, it is but a thin veil for their own personal escape. Not even that, for even the most confused must admit there isn't any escape from death. And if one wishes to find death, it is always waiting.” Brown hesitated, walked over to the small window and stared out. “Perhaps I am not making myself too clear. Look: we call hunting and bull fighting, for example, sports. We find them exciting because death is concerned. But the reality of the situation is that this is all a cowardly fallacy. With modern rifles there is little danger to the hunter. Even in the bull ring the matador first, and with great care, tires the bull, teaches him to follow his cape before he attempts the kill.”
“But matadors are gored to death and hunters killed.” I cut in.
“Accidents. There's an element of danger in everything— many people die from slipping in the bath tub too. The point is this: the matador, the fighter, they at least are doing it out of sheer need, although even for them it can also become an escape from reality. But what is there to be said for the idiots they call fans, including writers, who glorify such things with hoarse yells and words? What is there to be said except that in their hearts they are cowards? They cannot fight the bull, but they dream they want to. The truth is they do not even dare fight for the bread and security that would change their drab fives. That they are even afraid to dream about it! The writer who can not face the reality of our world, who lacks the courage to write honestly about what he sees, his out is to become intoxicated with the cruel tragedy of the bull, of the bloody boxer. It is an easy task for he can see the violence, sincerely feel sorry for the bull, without seeing the whole stupid picture. His books become bloody bar ads, and in time his own words lose all meaning. For him the 'moment of truth' is another shot of rye; sex is rape; violence becomes a way of life—and all of it is but the trimmings of his own desperate desire to die, to escape from a life that bewilders and frightens him.”
“And that's Matt Anthony?”
“In my opinion, to a T. I said most writers of violence are big men. They write about the bull ring, the boxing racket, about murder, best when they reach middle age. For then they are 'safe,' in the sense they are no longer physically capable, hence do not have to carry the secret shame they felt when they were young and physically able, at least, to do the things they write about so smoothly. Now do you understand what I mean by being cowardly?”
“Yes and no. Let's say you've given me a lot to think about.”
“What are you going to do about Mart's books?”
“I'm not sure yet. As I said before, it isn't so much what we're going to do as how to do it.”
“Do you want me to show you the can?”
“Beer makes me run,” Brown said with his aged smile. “Sign of old age, your kidneys weaken. I see it doesn't bother you. I'll be right back.”
I had about seventy dollars on me and when he left the room I had a wild idea of leaving the money in his drawer, or in his bags. But I knew that would be a wrong move.
I was putting on my coat when he returned. “Prof... Hank... it's almost noon. Can you have lunch with me?'
“Thanks, but I'm supposed to see an old friend. Job hunting is such a bore.”
“We'll get together again, soon.”
“I see you don't value your job.”
“I'll chance that.”
He put on a jacket and we went downstairs. He was going east and I told him to get in the car. As we drove toward the park I asked, “If you think Matt is entirely innocent, do you think he signed the confession to protect somebody else?”
“I don't know. No, I don't think Matt would do that. I have no ideas on why he signed that confession. Maybe they tricked him, beat him, or it can even be some sort of 'heroic' gesture on his part. Or he may feel certain, as I do, that the trial will prove his innocence. Knowing Matt, this could all be a big practical joke. I said could be. I doubt it, though.”
He asked me to drop him at 93rd and Lexington. As he got out and we shook hands, I told him, “Thank you for your time, Hank.”
“An old saw goes, I'm wealthy with time at the moment. But I am glad we met, Norm.”
“Tell me—and I hope it doesn't sound like a stupid question, but I keep thinking about your career as a fighter—if you were younger, are you desperate enough now, to use your own words, to be a good fighter?”
“Oh, my, no. I still have a number of alternatives before me. I can beg from friends, I can also turn informer and be a 'professor' again. A true fighter must be one without any choice. Good day, Norm, I have to run.”
I watched him walk down Lexington Avenue. In the middle of the block he turned, saw me watching him, and I thought he frowned. He ducked into a drugstore. I wondered if he suspected me of following him?
Driving back to the apartment—for no reason—I thought about Professor Brown. For one thing, I got the impression he was quite a radical, maybe even a fanatic. And he sure had some odd theories—including the one that Matt had nothing to do with his wife's death. If that was true, it opened up a whole batch of new ideas. Who did kill Francine Anthony? Wilma might have done it. I laughed at myself in the rear view mirror over the windshield.
That was a fantastic idea. Still, a babe like Wilma with her intense drive could do something like that. Suppose she was giving me hot air last night about not going for Matt, knocked off Francine and Matt took the fall for her?
That was absurd: I was thinking like a character in Matt's books. The big deal was—what was I going to do with myself over the weekend?
I went upstairs and made myself a mild drink, considered latching on to Frank and Liz, but let it drop. If Joel was still up on his do-it-yourself cloud, I could try Wilma again. No sex, but to be with. Only I couldn't figure if being with Wilma was any better than the heat and silence of the apartment. The damn living room looked so orderly and impersonal—as though Michele had never lived here.
The outside bell buzzed and I jumped a foot. For a frantic moment all I could think of was Brown's remark about they might come 'knocking on my door.' Buzzing back, I wondered just what I'd do if it was the FBI.
I stood by the open door to greet a sweaty mailman holding out a card. He said, “Special Delivery for Norman Con-nor. You?”
We exchanged a dime tip for the card. It was an air mail from Paris. On one side a picture of an Alsatian restaurant in Pigalle where we'd often gone for their cheese cake. On the other side Michele thanked me for the flowers.
The card was a shot in the arm. I was amazed at the speed of things. I'd only wired the flowers yesterday... or was it the day before?
Okay. The score was: Michele was thinking of me and it was still a hell of a hot Saturday and... I suddenly knew what I was going to do. Mix business with pleasure, as the trite but so true phrase went. By driving out to End Harbor, seeing the maid, have a look-see at Matt Anthony's house.
I could easily kill the weekend and get in some swimming too.
Miss May Fitzgerald
It was a 110-mile drive to End Harbor, the traffic was light, and I made it in less than three hours. The farther out I went the more I saw of beaches and boats and I kept thinking of a lot of things: The house Michele wanted me to buy, a sudden longing to be on the beach at Nice with her now... and what a queer one Prof. Brown was. Suppose he was right about Matt having nothing to do with his wife's death? And we ran ads hinting at that and then the court finds him innocent... I'd be the whitest of white-haired golden boys! That would really be playing a long shot. But all Brown had was a hunch, nothing to back it up.
I watched the fishing boats and thought about whether I could risk trying to get my broken-nosed professor a job at Longson's.... And I didn't think too much about Michele and how she loved driving in the country, swimming.
End Harbor was a fairly neat village, a couple of supermarkets and a summer theater surrounded by some very old houses and a number of expensive summer homes. I stopped a big cop in a snappy blue uniform to ask for Mart's house.
“Take the next turn, that's Bay Road. Follow it for about a mile, then you'll see his roadway on the left Can't miss it. You another reporter?”
“Had stacks of reporters snooping out here day after it happened. The Harbor don't go for that sort of publicity.”
“Did you know Mr. Anthony?”
He nodded. “A great guy. Tops. Many a time I been on Matt's boat chumming for blues. Real regular.”
“Think he'll beat the rap?”
Caution raced across his big face. “Hey, thought you said you wasn't a reporter? Now, listen, he may have been a great guy but that don't cut no ice when it comes to doing my duty. Sure Matt was a real sport, for a big shot, but let me tell you he had a hell of a temper too. Maybe his wife was a nag. Okay, my wife has a sharp tongue but I don't go killing her.”
It was odd, and expected, the way he was already talking about Matt in the past tense. I asked, “Do you go along with the D.A. on this first degree murder bit?”
“Convictions are the D.A.'s wagon. What I think or don't think isn't important. Bay Road is the turn at the traffic light, Mac.”
Bay Road passed a yacht club that wasn't as big as the rowboat house in Central Park but there must have been a couple of million dollars in cruisers anchored off the dock. The road turned away from the bay and then there was this well-kept, narrow, oiled dirt lane leading into the pines. An oversized hacksaw hung from a post with Anthony in white metal letters welded to the saw part. It took me a moment to get it—all such pure corn—Matt Anthony, the hack.
The papers had mentioned a 'luxurious estate.' I don't know what I expected. The lane took me into a clearing and there was this squat, hideous green house built of rough cinder block. It was a two story affair with a narrow lawn and beyond that some rough piles of dirt, as though they had forgotten to finish the lawn. The whole scene was one of not belonging, including the big yellow umbrella shading some white iron outdoor furniture. There was a garage behind the house—this too looked unfinished—and a path that went into a line of fairly tall pine trees. Although I could smell the salt in the air; there wasn't any sight of the bay. The walk from the driveway to the house was lined with clam shells. I rang the polished brass ship's bell on the door and waited. When I rang again I heard a dog whine. Finally a woman's voice with a faint English accent announced, “I am not seeing any more newspaper men. So you can take your leave.”
She seemed to be pressed against the other side of the door. I asked, “Are you Miss May Fitzgerald?”
“Indeed I be. But I will not see any—”
“My name is Norman Connor. I'm from Mr. Anthony's publishers, Longson's.”
The door opened and I saw a dark skinned young Negro woman in dungarees and a thin white turtle neck sweater. She was stooped over, holding on to something behind the door. Although her jaw was a bit too heavy, she was very pretty; hair piled high in a braid, her figure tall and slim. A large green jade pin was fastened on her sweater, between the sharp outlines of small breasts, and her full lips were painted a faint pink. She had a mild, spicy perfume that didn't distract from the exotic—yet wholesome—picture. I doubted if she was 21. I said, “I'd appreciate it if you can spare me a few minutes, Miss Fitzgerald. I'd like to talk to you.”
“Talk to me? How do I know you're not a blooming reporter?”
Between her and Brown this was identify-yourself-week. I pulled out the office letters, let her see my name on the envelopes. She nodded as she said, “Excuse me. But I have been bothered with so many darn newsmen. Are you afraid of dogs?”
“I don't think so.”
“Clichy will jump at you, but only in play.” She straightened up. She must have been holding the dog behind the door, for suddenly this smartly clipped, large black French poodle came at me.
I suppose I held my hands up before my face. The dog had other aims: he landed on my left leg, got a good grip, and began jumping up and down like a puppet lover. I gave May an embarrassed smile as the damn dog worked away.
Her dark face sad, she said, “Don't blame the poor beast. Mr. Anthony taught him this disgusting habit. Matt thought it was quite a joke. That's enough, Clichy.” She pulled the poodle by his jeweled pink collar off my leg. I glanced down at my pants, expecting to see a spot or something. “Do come in, please, Mr. Connor.”
She showed me into a large living room filled with colorful modern bamboo furniture. It was all rather shockingly gaudy; the rough cinderblock walls painted a terrible red. I sat on a yellow chair with bright red cushions. May let go of the poodle who stretched out on the polished floor, still panting, watching my leg with hot little eyes. As she sat on a couch, curling slim legs under her cut basketball-bottom, I glanced around the room. It was expensive, with a number of oils on the walls like in a gallery. The rear wall was completely glass and looked out on a wide veranda that seemed to circle the back of the house. I told her about Longson reissuing one of Matt's books and the rest of my pitch.
May lit a cigarette. I shook my head, got my pipe working. “Yes, he needs money,” she said, with that odd slight clipped accent. On what wild adventure in the West Indies had Matt found her? “Matter of fact, I don't know what to do here. Whether I should close the house or not. There are daily bills, too, of course.”
“Hasn't his lawyer been in touch with you?”
“No one has been to see me except the bloody newspaper people. Tramped all over the place without as much as a by-your-leave. And I can only stay here a few more weeks. I'm returning to college in September. There's back wages due me, too.”
“I plan to see Mr. Anthony's lawyer in a day or so. I'll have him contact you. I'd like some general background information. Did you meet Mr. Anthony in the West Indies?”
Her face registered astonishment. “Oh no. An agency sent me out here from New York. You can save money on a sleep-in job. Oh, I see—my accent.” She smiled. “I was born in Atlantic City but did most of my growing up with my grandmother down in Trinidad.”
“Miss Fitzgerald, I want you to talk freely, and in strict confidence, so I'll be able to get the background material I need.”
“I'm one for talking. What is it you wish to know?”
“I don't know myself, exactly. Let's take the day of Mrs. Anthony's death. What happened—from the start of the day?”
“Well, the Hunters had been down for about a week. Always a lot of guests here and a lot of work for me. Mrs. Anthony was a penny-pincher, really should have at least two in help here. Let me see, that day. After breakfast they all went swimming. Of course breakfast wasn't until ten. The Hunters and Francine stayed around the house, reading and drinking. They were hung-over from the night before. Mr. Anthony drove off without saying where he was going. Francine was worried he'd gone to get a drink. His heart isn't strong, and the doctor had ordered him off liquor and exercise. I had finished the dishes and was—”
“Was Matt drinking the night before? You said they were all hung-over?”
“They had been doing a tot of talking and nibbling but Matt had stayed with a mild concoction he liked, cider and a dash of vermouth; simply vile. I had finished the breakfast dishes and was cleaning up downstairs. As I said, Francine was certain Matt had dashed off for a toot and she was upset Around noon Mr. Anthony returned with this friend he'd met in Hampton, a little old man with a strange face, Prof. Brown. Nobody wanted lunch so I went upstairs to make the beds. In a little while I saw Mr. Anthony drive off with this Professor, then return in about half an hour. I suppose he took him to the railroad station. I went on with my work. About three-thirty I was in the kitchen starting supper—you can never rest around here but to give Fran her due, the pay is very good. Well, Matt rang and they were out on the lawn, getting the sun. He told me to tell Mrs. Anthony to come in, that they were waiting to go swimming. Soon as I reached the dock, and saw her out there hanging over the side of the boat, I screamed. It was an awful sight. They all came on the run. Matt swam out and started to pull up anchor, but he left the boat and her oat there, told me to phone the police. He said she'd been in an accident, not to touch things.”
“Did he say Mrs.... Francine was dead?”
The maid stared at me over a perfect smoke ring. “You ask questions like a detective, Mr. Connor.”
“An amateur one. How could he be positive she was dead?”
“My goodness, we all were. A person only had to glance at her to know she was dead. Seemed like I had hardly put the phone down when the End Harbor police were here. Then a doctor drove up. They had us stay off the beach while they pulled the boat in. They said Fran had stood up to cast when her shoe lace caught on the duckboards, causing her to fall. She had hit her temple on the side of the boat. The doctor tested to see if there was water in her lungs: did some other things. After they asked us many questions, they took Fran's body into the Harbor with them. The Hunters started to get drunk. They were very upset.”
She nodded. “He cried a little—that was being upset for him.”
“Miss Fitzgerald, were the Anthonys happy?”
“I think yes, but I never understood their relationship. It was like... they were always testing each other, proving something. Francine was one of these very efficient women, she reminded me of an air line hostess. Matt, he—”
“She reminded you of what?”
I got a smile through another smoke ring. She was proud of those rings. “Hostess on an airplane. You know, nothing upsets them, they're always able to manage. That was Mrs. Anthony. Now, Matt, he was the opposite, always seemed to be playing, showing off. He'd think nothing of bringing five or six strangers he'd met fishing back for dinner, or going to the store for a newspaper and coming back with a new boat or an outboard. I know he makes big money but, believe you me, he can spend it faster than he makes it. Much faster. Sometimes our liquor bill was five or six hundred dollars a month. Well, let me finish with that dreadful day. About six, after the police had left, and the Hunters were watching TV and drinking steadily, Matt went to his den to work. I'll have to say this for him, no matter how many guests we had or what was going on, he'd take off for his room every day, including Sundays, and dictate for a few hours. Once or twice I've seen him go to work pretty drunk, but he never missed a day. Once a week he would mail the recording tape to a secretary in New York. She'd type it up and when he got it back, he'd go over the pages again, mail it back for a final typing.”
“And Mr. Anthony worked the same day his wife died?”
“I told you, he worked every day, even Sundays. I think it relaxed him. I've seen him come in from tuna fishing, dirty and tired, all smelly. While everybody else was washing up or having cocktails, he'd be locked in his room, working. Still, it's only an hour or two a day, which is a sweet work day, and think of the money he was making.”
“Have you read his books?”
“One—in manuscript form. He wanted my opinion—you know, as an average person. The book was... entertaining. It's amazing how many odd little things he knows about. Of course, he's constantly reading up on crimes to get ideas. But he also has an entire row of books devoted to locks, technical books on various aspects of the body, poisons, guns, and a slew of—” She coughed and crushed her cigarette. “I've been smoking too much. And talking too much is giving me a frog. I'm going for beer—can you use one?”
I said yes. When she jumped to her feet—a boyish movement—and went into the kitchen, the poodle whined. I walked over to study the paintings. There was a seascape that could have been an original Winslow Homer, a print of Bellows' famous fight scene, a bamboo-framed Gauguin I'd never seen before, a confusion of vivid colors which might be a Miro, and several crude nudes in oil—the work of an amateur.
The crazy poodle suddenly charged across the room and hugged my leg. When I reached for his collar he growled, so I had to stand there while he jumped up and down on his shaved paws, looking for all the world like a tiny man in baggy pants. I called out, “Miss Fitzgerald, lover-poodle is at work again. Are you certain he won't bite?”
She came in with two simply huge glasses of frothy black beer and a plate of cheese on a plastic tray. Putting the tray down, she grabbed the dog, shook him. “Now stop it, you bloody pest Here.” She threw a hunk of cheese up in the air. The dog caught it expertly, sat around waiting for more. “That's all you get, Clichy.”
“How do you spell the mutt's name?” I asked, taking a beer. It was thick as syrup and very rich tasting.
“C-1-I-c-h-y. After the street in Paris where they purchased him.”
I was a bit relieved, for some reason, Matt hadn't been obvious and named him Cliche. “Very unusual beer. Imported?”
“From Austria. I love it. I'm hoping it will add a few pounds on me. But it hasn't to date, and I've been really hitting it. I figure I might as well use it up; don't know what's going to happen to the house and no sense in leaving such fine food around. Try the cheese, it's from Norway.”
I took a piece and sat down. It tasted like pure smoke. The poodle came over, his mind on food this time, and I tossed the rest of the cheese to him.
Miss Fitzgerald asked, “Have I been helpful, Mr. Connor?”
“What happened after Matt went to his den?”
“Oh, my, thought I'd finished with that dreadful day. Now where was I? I was making supper when the bell rang. I opened the door and there was a local cop with a detective from Riverside—that's the county seat. Had a Polish name I still can't even say. Looked like a detective too, you know, burly and... well... evil looking. I mean, a man without any feelings. I called Matt and they went into the den and I went back to my work. I kept waiting for Matt to tell me to serve supper and then the Hunters, I think it was Mrs. Hunter, she's a very nice person, she came in crying something awful and said Matt had confessed he had killed Fran. I couldn't believe it. I saw him as this detective was taking him away. Matt looked dazed, kind of sickly. The police came and questioned us all over again. Then, in the middle of the night, mind you, reporters started coming. The Hunters left about midnight. No trains then, I don't know how they got back to New York.”
“Did you hear Matt threaten his wife?”
“No. Like I told the police, I was upstairs when all that happened.”
“Do you think Matt murdered his wife?”
She shrugged and ate another piece of cheese. “Murder is a strong word. I think he might have lost his temper and hit Fran. As he confessed. I know they had an argument before over his wanting to skin-dive. Fran said it would be bad for his heart Of course, they argued all the time, but I never saw him strike her, or even slap her. I think all this arguing was a form of... well, kind of fun for them. They enjoyed it.”
I took another sip of the thick beer. “Argued about what?”
“Anything. It was part of their testing each other. I've read someplace there's a thin line between hate and love— they were on that line most of the time. Well, like this: Matt was always putting on this big sexy act. I've seen him—” She hesitated, stared at me.
I stared back at her. “What's the matter?”
“Well, I'm a little confused. You see I never talked... I suppose dirty is the word, until I started working here. I know it's childish to call it dirty, and while I want to sound worldly and all that, if I say what I want... don't get the wrong impression of me. That's not exactly what I mean but...”
I smiled at her. “Please tell me—”
“Don't smile! You make me feel like a child.”
“Miss Fitzgerald, talk anyway you wish. I promise not to get any wrong impressions.”
“Then I shall talk boldly—as I really want to. What I mean, about the Anthonys, Matt's big act... I've seen Fran bending over, you know, doing something, and he would come up and slip his hand under her skirt, pinch her behind. When she'd object Matt would say, 'You want me to find another can to play with? Be easy enough.' Shocked me at first, but I got used to them acting like blasted children. I shouldn't even call it sexy, he did it merely to annoy her. Like once I heard him get Fran hysterical during a bridge game by insisting she was frigid. Of course, she got back at him.”
“Matt has a great sense of humor. He was always telling dirty jokes... some of them very funny. But she would tell him all he could do was joke about it. Her favorite gag was that Matt had joined the... eh... once-a-month-club. I've heard her say this in front of company. She would also goad him about being a show-off or make fun of his writing. Oh, Fran had a sharp tongue. So has Matt.”
I said, “A charming couple.”
“But I never thought they meant any of this. In their own way, they enjoyed baiting each other, and they were happy. Of course, it wouldn't be my idea of a happy marriage, but for them... it worked. They enjoyed fishing together and he was proud of the way Fran could handle a boat. If she was after him for spending too much money, a good deal of what he spent was on her. Early in June he had to go to New York to see his agent. Fran gave him a list of things for the house: screen for the fire place, brandy glasses, lawn seed— things like that. Buy them cheaper in New York than oat here. I remember she figured they would save eleven dollars. When he returned he had brought the things she wanted, along with a stunning mink stole. Matt said one of the department stores had been running a 'mink sale.' Fran bawled him out, even returned the mink... still, it was a nice gesture on Mart's part. Despite his hard talk he wasn't a tough man. Maybe you'd best call him an overgrown child.”
“Did he ever make a pass at you?”
“Why do you ask that?” She didn't sound angry or coy.
“Part of the background picture I'm trying to get of Matt Anthony,” I said, and wondered if it was true or was I enjoying myself as a gossip?
“I guess I'm about the only female out here he didn't try to make. He thinks of himself as a great lover, but I believe that's an act with him. He never asked me because, I suppose, I don't count, being colored.”
I had a mouthful of beer and almost choked as I asked, “Don't tell me Matt was prejudiced?”
“I don't want you to get the wrong impression,” she said, lighting another cigarette. “I mean, I was never interested in Matt—you know, as a man. As for prejudice, it was the kind he didn't realize he had. Let's say he was patronizing—which in the long run is the same bloody thing. I told you at the start, or meant to, that I don't understand Matt Anthony. He would do funny things. Sometimes on a rainy day he would drive me to town to shop. I guess he was bored hanging around the house. We might go to Hampton, Riverside— wherever he felt like driving. He would always make a point of stopping at some swank bar or cafe, and we'd go in for lunch or a drink. Naturally, we would cause plenty of open mouths and stares. If for no other reason because we might be wearing shorts, or he'd be sporting a dirty sweat shirt. There never was any incident, but he'd walk in as if ready to slug anybody who said a word. That was his way of testing civil rights, I suppose. Or his insisting I call him Matt.”
“That doesn't make him prejudiced.”
“He means well, but you see he never asked me if I wanted to go into those places. He acted as if I was a pet dog he was showing off. In fact, he never asked if I wanted lunch, he simply took me into a cafe. Around the house, be and Fran did things in front of me because to them I wasn't a person, merely something in the kitchen. My God, he was always talking race relations to me and all that, but remember I was his maid.” She was silent for a moment, blowing smoke rings. Then she smiled, added, “I don't want to sound too hard on him, I suppose in his own way he was trying to... well, help.”
I couldn't think of anything else to ask. I stood up, asked, “May I see the dock?”
I followed her out on the veranda. She pointed to a worn path that entered the pine trees. “Follow that. It isn't far. I don't like to leave the house—some of those blasted reporters might break in. Be careful in the woods, there's a lot of rocks. Matt was always going to take them up but never got around to it.”
Glancing through the glass wall of the living room. I pointed to the poodle with his front paws up on the table, eating the rest of the cheese.
May Fitzgerald sighed. “He's a sly thief. I hope the cheese doesn't give him the runs, the pest.”
I said I'd be back soon and followed the path. The 'woods' weren't more than a dozen yards thick and in the late afternoon sun, dark and delightfully cool. Stepping out of the trees I found myself on a white sandy beach with a magnificent view. This was a corner of the bay, and most of it except the beach, densely wooded. I saw POSTED signs all around the bend in the bay. If all the land was Mart's, it was like owning a private ocean, although of course one side opened upon the rest of the bay, or maybe it was the Sound. This was indeed real luxury.
A plain, square, white, wooden house decorated with old anchors and fishing nets was at the beach end of a neat dock. Tied to the other end of the dock was this sleek, powerful, black and red fishing boat with tall outriggers, swivel chairs and a day cabin. It looked about 30 feet long and like a dream. But the boat that attracted my attention was a plain rowboat sitting high on the beach, its canvas covered outboard raised. I walked across the sand to stare at the small dent on one side, where Francine had broken her head. I don't know what I expected, it wasn't much of a dent. But I was surprised the police had left the boat here.
Then I sat on the dock and smoked my pipe, staring at the clear water, the tiny waves as the tide came in. The place was so completely private I was tempted to take a nude swim. If Matt ever had to sell this, Frank Kuhn would be mad about it—clamming, fishing, swimming, your boat and dock, all in your own backyard. Although Frank wouldn't have this kind of money, or would he? At least $50,000. If I had that type of dough I'd buy it—it was a ghoulish thought.
Finishing my pipe, I looked into the bathing house. There was a shower, dressing stalls, lockers, and a small bar and kitchen. The walls were covered with garish paintings, originals of Matt's many book jackets, although The Last Supper painting wasn't among them. I saw towels and trunks hanging in an open locker. I quickly stripped and took a fast swim. It was quite out of this world, the bottom smooth and sandy, the water very salty and cool.
Toweling myself dry, I wondered who had last worn these trunks. Too small to be Matt's. I dressed and started back toward the house, feeling very good. I nearly sprawled on my face in the pines when I stumbled over a damn rock. My pipe flew out of my hand and it took me a lot of minutes to find it in the dark shade, with scores of little bugs clouding about me. I felt dirty and sweaty all over again.
I found May on the veranda, working on another glass of beer and reading some sort of textbook. I told her I'd taken a swim, asked about the land surrounding the bay: It all belonged to Matt, as I thought. She also told me the police had spent hours photographing and examining the rowboat. I thanked her for her time and Matt's beer. The mutt was stretching out on the floor, watching me with bored eyes, wagging his stubby tail slightly. May walked me to my car and as I drove off she called out, “Mr. Connor, don't forget, when you see Mr. Anthony's lawyer, ask what I'm supposed to do... about the house and money.”
I waved, said I wouldn't forget. It was a few minutes before six as I beaded for Moatauk. In the rear view mirror I saw my T-shirt where I'd flung it on the back seat, or had Wilma tossed it there? I winked at it like a jerk and finally stopped the car, was about to throw it away, then in a moment of thrift, I stuffed it into the glove compartment I took a room at a motel high over the ocean, drove on to have a good lobster supper, and like a hick, mailed cards to Frank and Liz, and one to Bill Long.
The lobster was a small mistake. Michele was crazy for lobster, and for a dreadful moment I wondered what the hell I was doing way out here by myself. About this time on Saturday night I'd be helping her with the dishes. Then we'd listen to the news on TV and try to decide if we should stay home, or maybe see a foreign movie—with Michele whispering the fine points the English titles missed—or we might be playing bridge, or sitting around with some UN friends and arguing.
But that was only a lonely moment. The rest of the meal was okay. I still had a little of that now-I'm-a-man feeling left from being with Wilma; and Michele's card made me feel it was just a temporary split—as Wilma said, she ran home to mama... who unfortunately happened to be thousands of miles away. As I smoked my pipe I even felt a bit smug. I had a clear idea for the ads buzzing in the back of my head. If I carried it off, with any luck in a year or three I could afford to give Michele (and myself) a place like Matt's.
After driving around aimlessly I returned to the motel, showered and stretched out on the bed. I felt quite nicely tired, sort of a good-day's-work-well-done stuff. I read through the book condensations Miss Park had sent me. Each synopsis ran about two pages. I like to play a game with them, stopping about half way through and trying to figure out the ending, see if I can outsmart the writer. Since in the synopsis form the plot is bare, it isn't too hard a game and very good for my ego.
I read through the batch, batting about .500 on the endings, made notes for possible ad ideas to send on to Marty Kelly. Turning off the light I fell into a light, lazy sleep. And suddenly I was sitting up wide awake, fear tightening and turning my stomach. I had this hunch... and even though I kept telling myself it was silly, illogical, it was such a hard, strong hunch I knew it had to come true. I don't know whether I had a dream, or what, but it seemed as if I'd looked at a synopsis of my immediate life and had guessed the ending... I'd impregnated Wilma Hunter! And that would be an ending, all right!
I sat on the edge of the bed, sweating in the cool night, positive it would turn out that way, that it had to. Perhaps it was a secret sense of guilt, but whatever the reason, I simply knew it would work out like this: I hadn't taken any precautions with Wilma. Michele and I had split about wanting a kid—how better could fate goose me than by having Wilma pregnant? And what would I do?
Would she agree to an abortion? Or would she raise hell and insist upon having the baby? Or want me to marry her? Wilma didn't look like the kind you could argue with— about anything. How could I ever possibly explain it to Michele? What was there to say? Some men cat around every night and never get caught. Wasn't it almost a cliche that once-in-a-lifetimers make that one time count? The new poker players always win the first jackpot.
I walked the room, telling myself I was being stupid. I tried to be rational, even calm. I told myself I was believing in 'fate' and dreams and hunches like an illiterate. Why, the odds were 100 to I against it, maybe greater. For all I knew, perhaps Wilma couldn't have children. Or I couldn't. My God, I'd be hanging around Gypsy tea rooms next.
I tried to be sensible, logical. But no matter what I told myself there wasn't any doubt in my whirling mind: Under everything I had this terribly definite feeling it had happened —that I had oh so damn correctly guessed another ending. I couldn't shake the feeling of doom, and after a while I didn't even try any longer.
It had to be so.
Detective Walter Kolcicki
I spent a restless night, having nightmares when I did sleep. In the morning I was up early, bought swim trunks and went out to The Hither Hills State Park beach. It was a clear warm day and the beach was fairly crowded with campers and soldiers, but nothing like the way Jones Beach gets crowded.
I stayed on the beach all day, full of crazy thoughts. I could deny the kid was mine. I considered running away, going to Michele in Paris and staying there—and God knows how we'd eat. Between times I told myself I was acting like an ass, there wasn't any kid. Yet when I went in for a swim I wondered if drowning was painful.
Hell, for all I knew Wilma would be glad to see a doctor. Or maybe she wanted the kid, pass it off as Joel's. But it was my kid and I wasn't sure I wanted that. I wasn't sure of a damn thing, except I was in a mess. The thought of losing Michele, of being married to Wilma—if it ever came to that— was sickening. I argued and pleaded with myself like a loon, but I couldn't shake this hunch I had made Wilma pregnant I even had such silly ideas that if I could make big money I could keep Wilma and the kid on a back street basis... although being a big apple on Madison Avenue seemed the very least of my ambitions now.
The horrible thing was, how could I ever possibly explain this to Michele? Oh, there was the SOP explanation: you left me and I got drunk and took a romp in the hay. But that was slop. If I told her the truth, that I'd been happy with her, delightfully happy in bed with her, but for some unknown reason I'd wanted an affair... it would sound like I was ready for the couch. Maybe I was.
But all that didn't change the one factor banging at my skull like a club: What was I going to do about the kid? It would be my kid and I couldn't give him the short end—I was even sure it would be a him. Nor could I bear to think of losing Michele.
By noon I had a splitting headache and drove over to a bar, had a couple of hardboiled eggs and a few hookers for lunch. I returned to the beach and stretched out on the hot sand. I dozed off for an hour and awoke feeling deathly sick and very drunk. I walked way down the beach where a few people were surf casting, gave up and felt a little better. A swim helped my head and I watched a man catch a couple of sea robins and feel pretty excited about it.
Now all I could think of was how happy and simple life had been a few days ago, before Michele and I had our night. One thing I knew I was going to do in the morning—buy that damn house in Connecticut, send her the deed. I decided no matter what came up, I wasn't going to lose Michele—if I could help it.
In the middle of the afternoon I went back to the motel, feeling completely knocked out. I climbed into bed and slept until six in the morning. A cold shower and a big breakfast made me feel pretty good. I was now on a Fate-kick: What was going to happen was going to happen and there wasn't a thing for me to do but wait and see how the cake baked or if there was one in the oven.
It was the start of another hot day. I washed the car and took a swim. At nine I drove to Riverside, bought a fresh shirt and underwear, tried to see the District Attorney. After being politely bucked from one busy and/or bored official to another—and getting the impression Riverside was looking forward to the Matt Anthony trial as if it were the county fair, both with a sense of excitement and an eye on the business the crowds would bring—I was finally told A) the D.A. wasn't in Riverside that day, and, B) even if he was, he couldn't see reporters or discuss the trial. I explained once or twice about not being a reporter, but the moment I said I was from a publishing house... evidently I had to be a reporter.
However, I had no trouble seeing Detective Walter Kolcicki, an experience which took my mind off my own troubles. He was a caricature of a detective, about 45, everything about him short and tubby. His round, emotionless pig face held hard, beady eyes, and his 250 or more pounds didn't add up to a few inches over five feet A sweat stained brown polo shirt showed off fat arms, clusters of long hair on a barrel chest. The bull neck sat on ridges of thick skin and his teats would have made a stripper proud. There was sparse, dirty-gray hair on a perfectly round skull highly salted with dandruff. He was the comic picture of a lump. Sitting behind his desk, chewing on a cold cigar stub, I wasn't sure if he'd stood up or not.
Kolcicki wasn't used to talking but it was obvious he had recently acquired a sort of pat glibness. I merely said I was from Longson, publishers, didn't bother to explain I wasn't a reporter.
He was proud and pleased with himself as he assured me in a dull, flat voice the case would be the biggest thing to hit Riverside. When I asked how he had obtained Matt's confession, he worked the cigar around his fat mouth for a moment until I thought he might spit in my face. He asked coldly, “Mister, you saying I third degreed him?”
“No.” Matt Anthony could have torn this tub of lard apart with one hand. “What I mean is, the D.A. is asking for murder, yet Mr. Anthony's confession could easily be called manslaughter. I want your views on that.”
“Hell, mister,” Kolcicki grunted, “My job is to make an investigation, to interrogate a guy. I get the facts. The D.A. uses them the way he wants. Hardly expect a guy to sign himself into the chair. Trouble with reporters is you don't see being a dick is a business, operated about the same as you'd run a grocery store. Of course, some lousy bastards like Anthony think they can get away with anything because they're loaded. Maybe they can with some cops, but with me it's business.”
“You mean he offered to bribe you?”
“Naw. I never gave him a chance to. I pinned him one-two-three. Bastards like him operate like amateurs, think they can fool a professional investigator.”
“What does that mean?” he mouthed 'investigator' as if it was a piece of cake he was tasting.
All that fat settled back in the chair. “What I was telling you about it being a business. The guy that's been doing it for years knows the ropes; the newcomer don't know his ass from his elbow. See, I been a cop for a lot of years, most of them a big city cop. Sonofabitch like Anthony, all this police crap he's been writing, guess he figured himself for a sharp cop. But it boils down to being a business. Like this: you got a store and the store across the street runs a sale on coffee. Well, what the hell, it's like a rule, then you got to run a sale, too. Ain't no doubt about it. They got rules in my business, too. When a guy threatens to kill somebody, in this case his wife, and a couple hours later she's dead—and I don't care if they say a friggin flying saucer dropped out of the sky on her —I know damn well this guy killed his wife! That's what I told Anthony, told him this wasn't no crappy book, that I knew he'd done it and was there to bag 'im. Maybe in detective stories it ain't so, but in this business 99% of the time a suspect is guilty. Or he wouldn't be a suspect. Follow me?”
I had a time keeping a straight face. “The law states a man is innocent until proven...?” I began.
“The law my ass,” Kolcicki cut in flatly. “I know the law. It's my job to enforce it. Look, if a car is stolen and then I come upon you sitting in it, or even leaning against it— that's enough for me. I bag you. Sure, this big bastard Anthony started giving me the bunko about his wife having an accident, and all that. You know all I said?”
I shook my head.
“Every time he tried giving me the sauce I just said, 'Bull.' That's all, one word. It done the trick.”
He waited for me to say anything. I didn't say a word. Kolcicki suddenly didn't seem comical, just as a moron behind a wheel or a gun ceases to be funny. If anything, he somehow seemed evil.
“That works when you're interrogating certain kind of jokers. He got all flustered after I told him that a couple times, kept changing his story. Then he didn't talk and I says, 'Anthony, you're a big writer, why don't you stop handing me this baby shit?' So he looks kind of sick for a second, then he says, 'I suppose you're right. Yes, I'll tell you how it really happened.' So I listened and since he was sitting in front of a typewriter, I told him to say it again and I typed it up. He read it and signed it. Easy, huh?”
“Sounds that way.”
“That's from years of knowing my business.”
“Then you believe he hit his wife and she fell against the side of the boat... as he confessed?”
“Of course, I believe it. I just told you how he confessed. What's there not to believe?”
I wanted to ask if he thought Matt was guilty but it would have sounded silly. Perhaps he read my mind, for he sucked on the cigar for a long second, said, “Mister, he was arrested, wasn't he? That means he's guilty. Sure, he's still got to stand trial. But they'll find him guilty. Once a bastard gets himself bagged, he's sure as hell guilty.”
I wondered if everybody who was arrested became a bastard in Kolcicki's tiny mind. I stood up. “Thanks for your time.”
“Think nothing of it, part of my job. Mister, I can tell my saying he's guilty if he's arrested didn't set with you. Maybe you think I'm a hick cop only out to get a conviction. Part of that is right, I am out to get a conviction. But I don't collar nobody unless I'm sure. Why I say, once he's bagged, he's guilty. I ain't perfect, maybe I make a mistake now and then, but in this business when you find 99% of suspects turn out guilty, you're batting pretty goddamn good. And it ain't only me. Take your big corporations, they think the same way.”
My face must have been an absolute blank. He gave me a thick grin as he added, “That's a fact. You ever see an employment questionnaire for a big company?”
“Look one over. Know what they ask? Was you ever arrested? Get it? They don't ask if you were found guilty or innocent, just if you were ever collared. Well, a big company knows all the business rules, of course, and they use the same rule I do—because it is a rule—if you're arrested you're guilty. Any business goes by rules. Like, you can be pretty damn certain the last person to see the victim killed 'im. I'm not kidding, if I threatened to kill you and tonight you was found dead, I'd arrest myself. Get what I mean? If you write me up, don't make me out no friggin wonderman, but just an investigator who knows his business, goes by the rules. Don't worry, that confession will stand up in court Must have been fifty photographers taking his picture the same night I brought him in—and not a mark on the smart bastard, either. He just saw I was on to him.” He raised his arms to his head and yawned—even his teeth were stubby. “Is there any chance of my seeing Anthony?”
“How long you been a reporter, bud? Ought to know you can't see no prisoner without a special okay.”
I thanked him again and walked out—fast. I headed for New York and it took a long time for the sun to warm me up.
I was back in New York before one, feeling absolutely wretched. I still had no idea as to what I should do about Wilma, yet I had the feeling I should be doing something. I dropped into the apartment to change my suit and shave. The apartment gave me an acute guilt feeling, and I found myself doing such dopey things as suddenly trying to decide where I'd put the crib.
I made a few calls. Miss Park said she had received my card and how did I like Montauk? There wasn't anything happening at the office. Frank had returned the galley proofs that morning. Marty Kelly asked me to phone. I told Miss Park I'd be in touch and phoned Kelly, who wanted me to okay space in a couple of literary quarterlies for one of our books. Marty looked like a woman chaser, and I was tempted to ask him for the name of a doctor but didn't.
Phoning the school, I talked to this Edith, the teacher who had the house, and told her I wanted to buy it. “Have you been up to see it?”
“No, but... you know Michele had to go to Paris, her folks are ill, and I want to give it to her as a surprise when she returns.”
“If you want to drive up, I can get the keys over to you and—”
“Michele saw it. And I'm pretty busy.”
“As you wish. I think it's a good house. I don't know about deeds and titles and the rest. Suppose I phone my lawyer and have him call you to settle the details?”
“That will be fine. I'll be is the office tomorrow. Let me send you a check as a binder.”
“Oh, that won't be necessary, Mr. Connor. It's yours.”
After I hung up I mixed some tobacco and finally told myself to stop stalling: I phoned Wilma. A deep man's voice answered, said she was out. “This is Joel Hunter. Who's calling?”
“Norman Connor. I merely wanted to—”
“Say now, this is something. I phoned your office less than an hour ago, and they said you were out of town. I'm ready to talk to you, Mr. Connor.”
The last person I wanted to talk with was Joel Hunter, but I had to ask, “When are you free?”
“My hours are my own. Name the time.”
“Well... eh... how about now?”
“I'll be over in a half hour.” I felt lousy: facing the cuckolded husband, or whatever the expression—I had never had cause to use it before. Still, I did want to see what Joel was like. Wilma might be in later and... what the devil would I say to her?
As I left the house I phoned Jackson Clair. His secretary told me I could see him at four. The whole damn ad campaign seemed so unimportant now.
I don't know what I expected but Joel Hunter didn't fill the picture. He opened the door wearing narrow, black dungarees, brushed-ivory loafers and a deep blue Italian pull-over. His white hair was crew-cut so short it seemed etched on his dome. He wore thick, black-framed glasses and his face was a furious pink, but his eyes said he wasn't an albino. Hunter was built like an actor; small, narrow shoulders, his face and head the largest part of him. He reminded me of the young men taking over the midtown bars on Second and Third avenues: it takes one a little time to decide if they are fags or not—if that matters.
We shook hands hard and for some reason I felt relieved upon seeing him. Whatever Wilma and I decided to do, well, we wouldn't have to bother consulting Joel.
I followed him down the narrow hall of an old fashioned apartment with all the small rooms opening on the hallway. The walls had a few colorful travel posters and bullfight signs on them. I passed one room painted an unbelievable deep purple, had a fast glimpse of an old fashioned stuffed couch and a small hi-fi on a table. The living room had the proper foam-rubber, wrought-iron furniture, an interesting wall rug and several masks on the walls. As we sat down he asked if I wanted a shot and I said it was too early, which seemed to amuse Joel. He certainly had a deep voice for such a slight frame. I wanted to get the conversation around to Wilma, not sure what I'd ask, but felt it would be a jerky thing to do.
He smiled, said, “Sorry I missed you the other day. I suppose Wilma has told you about my little journeys out of time.”
“I think she mentioned it.”
“It makes her furious because it's the sort of thing one has to do alone. Really, it's quite good for me. You'd be astonished at the mood, the heady drunk, one can get into by listening all day to Peggy Lee or Billy. How lost you get in Artie Shaw, the Duke... the lift it can give you. After a day or two you come out completely refreshed.”
“Sounds interesting,” I said, thinking I could sure use something like that myself.
“Now, Norman—you don't mind my calling you that? I think last names are ridiculous.”
“I don't mind, Joel.”
“Of course, Wilma has told me what you want. I'd like to help Matt but I must warn you, I can't get any more involved than I am. You know about such things, will this publicity hurt my books?”
“I don't see how.”
“Well, a killing and a radical professor aren't the best notices for a writer of juveniles.”
“I imagine your name will be lost in the shuffle. After all, you were only a guest.”
“I hope to God you're right. I only write these lousy kid books to get some security and now this has to come along. It upset me frightfully. But you're not here to talk about my troubles. Wilma said you want to get the background of the thing. Fire away.”
For some reason Joel, the awful apartment, even hearing Wilma's name, depressed the hell out of me. I kept wondering how I'd ever got mixed up in all this. “Well, Norman?”
“Sorry, I've been driving all morning—I was out to Riverside—and I'm a little pooped. Well... eh... just tell me anything you want about Matt. How long have you known Matt and Francine?”
“Four or five years. Poor Fran, I still expect to wake up and be happy that it's only a nightmare, that it isn't real.”
“Do you think he murdered her?”
Joel gave me a slightly pop-eyed stare. “Lord, man, he's confessed it! Oh, oh, you mean whether it's murder or manslaughter. Wilma said you asked her that, too. I'll tell you this, Matt had a bitch of a temper and often he was very crude. I've seen him blow his nose—into his hand—then rub all that into the hair on his chest. Or urinate in a sink. What I'm trying to say, that type of man is capable of anything.”
“Do you think he planned to kill Francine?”
“How could I possibly know that?”
“I want your opinion—off the record.”
“I really can't say. There's no doubt he did it—Lord, you should have seen the look on his face when he threatened her. The way he grabbed her arm—why, he could have broken it off. I think it was an accident, I mean, he lost hit temper and hit her. But then, why did he trick me with the time bit? I don't know what to say. You put me in a difficult position, they were both my friends. Matt has done a lot for me, a great deal, indeed.”
“What sort of help?”
“When I was practically a beginner in this racket—and Lord knows I still am—Matt showed me the ropes. Although you're in the publishing end, I doubt if you realize the insecurity writers face. Frankly, I'm constantly amazed I make a modest living at it. It isn't like any other profession—actually we're gamblers. We live by our wits. It's frightening. Of course, I've been writing for a number of years, but up till five years ago it was an avocation with me—I was the manager of a gift shop. A weekend writer, publishing in the 'little magazines,' working on the novel. Did you ever read my first book, Little Boy Little?”
“I'm afraid not.” Should I have it out with Wilma, see what she wanted to do? Or would I be jumping the gun—she could hardly know she was pregnant, it was too soon.
He laughed, showing well-kept teeth. “Very few people have. I had this naive idea that when the book was published it would make me. It did—it damn near made me a bum. Sold a big fat 1100 copies. All I got out of it was the $500 advance—for three years' work. Oh, it received a nice press. It was a fragile story of a boy's growing up, fighting the silver cord stuff. But as Matt says, good reviews and a token will get you into the subway.” He grinned.
I smiled politely. The tension left me. I was being an ass. If it was too soon for Wilma to know if she was knocked-up, hunch or no hunch, why should I talk about it? Even be so damn sure?
Joel said, “You must be wondering where Matt fits into all this. Wilma said you're after background and I'm trying to show how I fitted into Matt's. Or vice versa. Now there's a good title—vice versa. Excuse my horsing around, Norman, but I'm feeling rather gay this morning. Things are working out, in a personal way, that is. Now, where was I?”
“You had a book out,” I said, deciding he wasn't a queer— for no reason—and beginning to be a little bored with his chatter.
“Yes, yes. On the strength of a book being published, I gave up my job, became a full-time writer. I took the full plunge—Wilma and I were married at the same time. I soon found out what a crazy business writing is—as a business. A merchant knows his stock, his worth. A man on a salary can put a little aside each payday, make plans. With a writer, every time he opens his mailbox it's like going to the pari-mutuel window; you can't plan on a damn thing.”
“What happened, you had to return to the gift shop?” Joel rubbed his slim hands together, as if he was cold. “Indeed not. I was a flash in the pan. One of the big women's slick mags took a chapter of my book, and I landed two shorts with another slick. In the space of two weeks I'd made nearly $2000. You know how you start thinking, a thousand a week, fifty grand a year. Wilma and I moved into a new apartment—we still have a few of the furnishings around here—and I settled down to write more shorts like mad. I think, even now, they were good, yet I've never sold another story for more than a hundred dollars since. Crazy business, no?”
I nodded politely as I lit my pipe. Joel pulled a corn-cob from a desk drawer, borrowed some tobacco.
He puffed and nodded. “Nice nut flavor, I like this.”
“I'll part with my secret formula some day,” I said, glancing at my watch.
“I'd also started a new novel—in fact I started two more new novels. Hell, the two grand seemed to vanish and we were in debt. I got nervous, panicky. I borrowed some money from my mother; Wilma and I decided we needed a change. We went to the Florida Keys—a la Hemingway. Everything was wrong—Wilma is the bossy type without meaning to be. Our marriage was going one-sided. I was losing confidence in myself as a man, as a writer. Doc Matt Anthony straightened all that out.”
“We met Fran and Matt in Key West. Naturally, I'd heard of him and on seeing him, well, he seemed the very personification of a writer: hearty, confident, easy-going, living well... a real pro. He did so much for me. For one thing he got me off the 'great' writer kick, showed me you have to be a hack to eat regularly. This bit about waiting for the creative mood is only for the dilettantes. He got me into the habit of writing every day, to stop looking on writing as a talent or gift, but rather as a job where you must keep producing. In desperation I'd been trying everything—pulps, confessions, quality yarns. Matt took the time to read much of my stuff, told me I had a knack for writing children's books. He was right. I've had five published with another two due shortly. I write for the 6 to 10 year old group, and since there are always new brats of that age every year, you keep selling. My goal is to have about 20 in print, and if each brings in a few hundred in royalties, why I'll practically have an annuity for life. Then I can afford to try other forms of writing.”
“Sounds like a wise idea,” I said. “But to return to Matt....”
He held up his hand as if to ward off a punch. “I know I must be boring you, Connor, but you want to get the picture of Matt and Fran. Actually it was really Fran who taught me the financial mechanics of writing. Her first husband had been an artist with a big A. Type of joker who convinces himself he's only living for his art—in his case a rather bad novel. As Fran said, art becomes an escape, the artist can't be bothered with the realities of food and rent. Fran was constantly nagging Matt to keep his expenses down. That's the reason we live in this dump—overhead can strangle a writer. Too often a writer has a good year, say he makes ten grand, starts living up to that, and paying taxes on it, only to find—as I did—that the years to come aren't good, money-wise. Poor Fran didn't have an easy life with Matt. But don't misunderstand me, I admire Matt. If he played the clown he was also a man with insight and wisdom. Off the record, things weren't going too well with Wilma and me. A thing that happens to every marriage at some time... but then I understand you're going through that now yourself.”
Wilma and her big mouth. I said casually, “We all have our little battles.”
He looked at me wisely. “Oh, no, I don't mean the little ones. Wilma and I still have those, although we're riding a hell of a big wave at the moment. No, I mean being on the verge of a break. Everything I did was wrong. I wasn't selling or even writing much. Wasn't much of a husband, either. I couldn't do a damn thing right. And Wilma is very capable, does everything efficiently.”
“I've heard Fran was the same type.
“She was, but Wilma is also good physically at so many things—a crack swimmer, rows like a man, a good fisherman. She was getting to be the man of the family while all I could raise was a bad inferiority complex. And Matt realized that. This is what he did: The four of us had chartered a boat for a few days of deep sea fishing. It was embarrassing, everybody caught fish except me. Matt and Fran reeled in amberjacks and a baby tuna, while Wilma landed a sword fish. I was a mess. Not only didn't I catch a darn thing, I lost my tackle over the side, got a sniffling cold and ran a temperature. Catching a fish became symbolic of my whole damn life. I kept a line over all the time, even at night or when the others were eating. I couldn't get a nibble. I was delirious with fever. I felt if I went ashore empty-handed it would also be the end of me, of our marriage. You must know what I mean.”
“I suppose so,” I said cautiously, wondering why I'd ever talked to Wilma.
“Matt realized how sick I was, in body and mind, kept me jacked up on booze. On the third day, as we were heading in, I was still fishless. I was the only one with a line over, and suddenly the biggest marlin in the world hit my line, almost took the rod from me. It turned out to weigh only 206 pounds, actually a small one. But to me... well! As I said I was sick, and it seemed as if the monster would jerk my arms off. Wilma and Fran wanted to help me, but Matt, who was up on the flying bridge running the boat, shouted for them to leave me alone. It was a rough sea and he kept maneuvering the cruiser to take some of the strain off my arms. Then the motor began acting up, coughing a lot. I just told myself if I lost this fish I'd try suicide—I meant it. It seemed the last straw, the final kick in the butt. The point is, the fish suddenly gave up the fight and I managed to reel him in. Can you believe landing that marlin made a new man out of me?”
“Since I've never caught anything over two pounds, it sounds like a big deal,” I said, wondering why I was sitting there, wasting my time.
“It gave me fresh confidence, new respect from Wilma. Why I almost swung on Matt for clumsily cutting the marlin's head with the hook as he helped bring it aboard. Later he told me the truth: up on the bridge he had deliberately made the motor backfire as he pumped slugs into the monster with a hunting rifle he kept handy. That's the kind of true friend Matt is.”
“Did you see him often?”
“They traveled a lot—West Indies, Mexico, Hollywood but we kept in touch. When he bought the End Harbor place, we went out for a New Year's party, and this summer Matt was kind enough to ask us out when Wilma had her vacation.”
“Exactly what happened out there the other day?” I asked, going through the motions again.
Joel noisily sucked on his corncob, lit it again. “Wilma has told you about all I know. Fran nagged Matt a lot. Not only about drinking and his heart, but actually old Matt never followed his own advice. She wanted to save a little but he seems to think hell go on turning out saleable books forever. In his own way Matt considers himself a genius, a great talent that will never dry up. As to what happened that horrible day, what can I add to what Wilma has told you?”
“You said something about Matt fooling you on the time. What was that?”
“It was a lousy thing, to involve me. Well, after he and Fran had it out, Wilma and I went up to our room. I'm starting a book series about seven-year-old twins as they visit various countries. I usually discuss the plots with Wilma because she has a lot of common sense. We heard Matt drive away with Prof. Brown. About a half-hour later Fran called up she was going fishing. Wilma and I came down, had a few belts as we took a sun bath on the lawn. I fooled around with the poodle for a time, had him chasing a ball. Anyway, Wilma and I dozed off. I awoke to find Matt playing with the dog. He said it was a quarter to three. I fell off again and then Wilma shook me awake to say it was half past three and time for a swim. Actually the sonofabitch had tricked us, according to his confession. He'd already killed Fran and was setting up an alibi. Neither Wilma or I had a watch on and it turned out instead of three quarters of an hour pasting between the time I awoke again, it only had been five minutes. Soon as I went to sleep again, Matt had got Wilma awake, told her it was three-thirty. You see, Matt's very smart about such things, has a knowledge of all criminal tricks.”
“Then you think he might have murdered her?”
He shook his head. “In the light of his confession, temper, the tenseness between Fran and Matt, I think he hit her in a rage and then tried to set up an alibi to avoid publicity. Of course, I suppose he was capable of murdering her, I mean if you and I wanted to murder, we wouldn't even know how to go about it. Matt would. But then, if he really wanted to kill Fran, I think he would have done it long ago.”
“What do you think of this Kolcicki?”
Joel shuddered. “That horrible creature! When the maid found the body, all the police and stuff were happening, at that point—when it was thought Fran had killed herself accidentally—I got rather blotto. But just before supper, when Matt came out of his study with this fat thug and we were told Matt had confessed, I tried to get drunker but I was never so sober in my life. That detective lump—he frightens me. He questioned me later that night and merely talking to him gave me a chill. Look, Norman, I tried to do the best I could for Matt. You have no idea how the thought of telling it all again at the trial upsets me. I talked to Kolcicki and men the D.A.—and there's a cold fish—and I hate to be placed in the position of being a witness for the D.A., but what can I do? It's such a mess. I wish to God we'd never gone out there.”
We were both silent for a moment. I glanced at my watch. I still had almost an hour before I saw Jackson Clair.
Joel asked, “Like a drink? Just talking about this makes me jittery.”
“I have to be on my way soon. I'm seeing Matt's lawyer this afternoon. But I did want to say hello to your wife.”
“She should be home soon. Maybe she went to the doctor. Wilma wasn't feeling well this morning. Cold, I guess.”
My insides contracted; morning sickness already! I mumbled, “I'm sorry to hear that.”
“It's nothing. Wilma is as healthy as that well-known horse. How about that drink?”
I stood up. “No, thanks. Think I'd better go. It's been good talking to you, Joel. Tell Wilma we'll all get together one of these days.”
Walking me to the door Joel asked, “Do yon think there's anything for me at Longson? I don't think my publisher is pushing my books and—” He suddenly giggled. “What writer doesn't think that? Wilma wants me to change publishers but I don't see it. What do you think, Norman?”
“We haven't much of a juvenile list, as I told... Mrs. Hunter. Juveniles aren't the type book any publisher can push. But I'll be back in the office in a few days, talk it over with our children's editor, if you wish.”
“That would be swell. Of course you understand this is all in strict confidence. I'd die if it ever got back to my present publisher.”
I said of course and we shook hands. Once I hit the street I stood around in a doorway across the street, like a hammy detective. I wanted to have it out with Wilma, find out what the doctor told her—as if I didn't know.
I kept thinking how odd it would look if Joel came out of the house or saw me from a window. I went to a rundown bar on the corner and had a few beers. I had a tangent view of their house, but if Wilma came from uptown I wouldn't be able to catch her before she went in. The bar was depressing and after a half-hour I was glad I had to leave, if I wanted to see the lawyer. Also, I wasn't certain talking to Wilma was a good idea. Suppose she thought it was Joel, or she wanted it to be Joel's, why should I force matters? Why should I make any play until she contacted me? Which would probably be damn soon... maybe tonight. Or was Wilma trying to call me this second?
I stopped a cab and gave him Clair's address, almost wishing we'd have an accident on the way there—a fatal one.
“I'm very happy to see his publisher taking an active interest is Mart's case, my friend, for he needs help,” Jackson Clair said, leaning back in his fancy tan leather swivel chair, almost beating out the rhythm of his words with a long finger on the desk top.
Clair was impressive and slick. He was tall and lean, with a homely rugged swarthy face topped by wild gray hair. The hair was obviously carefully uncombed and everything about him from his unironed shirt to his slow, booming voice, was set up to give him a Lincoln-like air. And he had it; the honest, strong, trustworthy face, a voice dripping with sincerity. Even the nervous twisting and tapping of the strong hands implied boundless energy. The only thing spoiling the act were his eyes—shrewd, intelligent eyes... like a good pitchman's.
“Frankly,” the deep voice went on, the restless eyes probing my reaction, “Matt needs money. Not for myself. I'm in this case for two reasons: I want to see justice done, of course, and to be open about it, my pay will be in the publicity. We lawyers can not advertise, as you must know, so our only ads are good court work. I have an established reputation but—” (He smiled, showing a set of buck teeth, very white and strong, that fitted his face perfectly.) “This is big league. However, there are certain expenses in every case and Matt is busted.”
“I was out to End Harbor yesterday. No, the day before. And Miss Fitzgerald, the maid, wants to know about closing the house and her salary.”
He nodded. “I'll inform Ed. He's Mart's regular lawyer, handles his personal affairs.”
“Can't you raise money on the property?”
“What money?” His voice was projected so it hit me like a slap in the belly. I wanted to tell him to take it easy— I wasn't a juror. “Mr. Anthony hasn't a dime of equity in either the house or the land, everything is mortgaged to the hilt. For Christsakes he owes on his boats, his cars. Ed is trying to get some movie outfit that has an option on one of Mart's books to buy it at half price. But those chicken-hearted bastards are afraid of the publicity. That's why I'm glad to see Harpers take an—”
“Longson,” I cut in.
“I'm delighted to see his publishers have the guts to take a stand. Now how much...?”
“It isn't definite yet, as I told you, Mr. Clair. That's why I'm here.”
He got up and started pacing the office. He must have been at least six-three. There was a Phi Beta Kappa key— highly polished—hanging from his belt, a brightly beaded affair. He turned toward me like a pug answering the bell. “Assuming you publish one of his books, how much will he realize?”
“Depends upon the sale. About two or three thousand, if we sell out.”
“That's all? Well, as you literary people say, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
“Is that what we say? Mr. Clair, will the D.A. get his murder indictment?”
He went to his desk, held up an afternoon paper. “He already has. But an indictment isn't a verdict; I'll get Matt off.”
“If I'm not breaking ethics or state secrets, what sort of defense do you plan?”
“Temporary insanity. My staff is doing research on it now. We already have found a quote from Dreiser about writers shouldn't be limited to one woman. We'll find... say, maybe you at Longson's can help me get some top authors to testify? Fellows like Hemingway, Faulkner, Ferber, O'Hara, Williams?”
“I doubt that. You're losing me: testify about what? You mentioned temporary insanity, but how do they...?”
“Listen, Connor,” he said and his voice made sure, you listened, “our contention will be that men like Matt Anthony are creators, the rare creatures of our banal earth. Matt is a genius. Laws and conventions can not apply to men like him, they are above such petty mundane barriers. They have a God-given gift that requires them not merely to exist, like you and I, but to really taste of life. They must be allowed to dig into life, experiment with it, if they are to write. In short, they must be allowed to look upon life freely, ordinary standards can not apply to them. Mrs. Anthony failed to understand that; she nagged him, to a point where he broke, and in a blind rage he killed to save his genius!”
I realized my mouth was open. I shut it. Then asked, “Mr. Clair, you believe that?”
“Yes! Leaf through history, every great artist either fought the shackles of convention or was smothered by them. Van Gogh, London, Shakespeare, Gauguin. Remember, even the commandment 'Thou shall not kill' is but a convention.”
“You'll never get away with that.”
He flashed his strong smile. “If I can get the jury to half-believe it, I'm in. I'm aiming at getting Matt off, and that's a long shot. But it will be a feather in my cap. Even if he gets second degree manslaughter, it will be a feather in my cap. I like feathers.” He pointed to his beaded belt. “I'm part Indian, you know.”
And I bet you milk it for all it's; worth, I thought as I asked, “Then you think he's guilty, I mean, he killed her?”
He was wearing out his rug again and he stopped as abruptly as if he'd walked into a wall. He sat down on the edge of the desk, swinging his long legs. Naturally he was wearing hand-stitched moccasin loafers. His eyes bored into me as he said, “He killed her; it would be ridiculous to think otherwise. He's confessed it.”
“Prof. Brown doesn't think so.”
Clair slapped his thigh. “That runt, he's the thorn in my case. One thing that worries me, red-baiting. Mr. Connor, what I'm about to tell you mustn't go beyond this room. I mean that I talked to Matt on Saturday for the first time. He started to babble about Francine falling—on land—and hitting her head, that he was aware of the implications of his threatening her, and so he had dragged her out to the boat to make things look more like an accident. I've defended many people involved in homicide, the scream of innocence is a natural lie. Matt was in bad shape, had a minor heart attack in his cell. I hated to be rough on him, but I told him I wouldn't buy that slop, to get another lawyer. My father, God rest his good soul, was not a material success but he was a very learned man. One of the criterions he drilled into me was—never worry about making mistakes, but be certain you never make a stupid mistake. A man would look like a fool if he said Matt Anthony didn't kill his wife. It wouldn't be fair to Matt, the jury would certainly hang him. Our defense is he was nagged to the breaking point, and in an insane fury he hit her, killed her.”
“What's the D.A.'s chances of proving it murder?”
He batted the air with his hand. “Crap. A bluff. The hick is trying to make a name. Don't pay any attention to it. Be different if a weapon were used. There's obviously no premeditation or intent here. His asking for murder 'one' is a routine bargaining point. He'll want me to settle for murder two.' I won't.”
“You mentioned manslaughter in the second degree, what's the sentence for that?”
“Maximum is 15 years and a fine up to $1000. I doubt if Matt would get more than five years, which means he'll be out in two or three. If I can get a change of venue, and I'm asking for that, he might get a suspended sentence or merely a fine. The big factor right now is money. Research is expensive, and I'll have to engage top psychiatrists. We don't have much time. How soon can Matt get a couple of grand?”
“You'll have to take that up with Mr. Long, himself. If we decide to go ahead with publication, I should think you —Matt—might be able to get an advance. Have you talked with Matt's agent?”
“Yes. Trouble with the world, too many faint-hearted people. I told him to fly out to Hollywood, raise some hell, but he's afraid of the notoriety. I told the sonofabitch he'd only get 10% of it.”
His phone rang and he said, “Jackson Clair. Yes, Ollie. Aha. That's what we expected. Of course we have to talk it through. I'll be here to five. Good, I'll expect you.”
As he hung up I got to my feet, said I was glad to have talked to him. We shook hands, and he had the firm grasp I expected. I told him to call tomorrow afternoon, we would have reached a decision about the book by then.
Chambers Street was hot with home-rushing people. I didn't have any place to rush to. I didn't want to think and I didn't want to get drunk. I phoned Frank. He was just leaving the office, said he had time for a short workout, and where the hell had I been?
I took a cab to the gym and by six we had played two fast games. He wanted me to have supper with him and Liz, take in a preview of the pilot film of a new TV show, but I said I had some work to do, begged off.
I had played hard, beaten Frank both games. I was suddenly fed up with all the phony people I'd known the last few days—including myself.
Frank said, “Let's take a shower. I haven't much time and you know Liz if she has to wait a second.”
“Think I'll hang around, see if I can get a few more games in. I'm restless... without Michele.”
“How's her folks?”
“Coming along. However, she may have to stay there longer than we expected.”
“I thought we could talk over the ad campaign for Matt's book, while showering.”
“I haven't finalized that in my mind, yet,” I lied.
Frank gave me an odd look. “Okay, Norm boy. Let's have lunch in a day or so. I'm interested. Liz will be disappointed you're not coming with us, but I know how you feel. A man gets so used to a woman he feels half-alive when she isn't around.”
“That's it, Frank.”
He slapped me on the can. “I knew something was bothering you—you were playing like a hot pepper.” He headed for the showers.
I told the gym attendant to let me know if there was an open game, went over and punched the bag. Bag punching is very conducive to thinking and I saw myself very clearly —a goddam kid. I'd had it made and didn't know it. The Madison Avenue golden boy—Christ, I must have been crazy.
Michele was right... my wonderful Michele, and little me running after Wilma like a lousy dog in heat. It wasn't just the mess I was in now, but that I had been stupid enough to even chance getting into such a mess. And for what—a fast lay that wasn't worth a damn? Norm, the Golden Boy—the boy part was so damn correct! Hustling after Madison Avenue like a character in a cheap book. Michele was so right, what the devil would more money mean—two refrigerators? Big money hadn't done anything for Matt Anthony. Were Frank and Liz as happy as Michele and I... had been? Oh, God, if I can ever get out of this, if only Wilma isn't pregnant, I'll never... what the hell had Clair said, don't make a stupid mistake? I'd pulled the biggest boner of my life.
No matter what happened, I was sick of being a phony. And why should the details of Matt Anthony's cockeyed life concern me? I was sick to death of drunken Wilmas, of moronic detectives, of a joker like Joel, probably fighting latent homosexuality, a ghoulish lawyer.... I was even sick of Longson's—they wouldn't give Matt a dime until his other advances were covered. And me, the errand boy, digging in the dirt. Damn, I'd had such a pleasant even life... Michele and I would have made up. Maybe having a kid would be interesting. I was so careful not to go out on a limb in this damn ad campaign but with my own life I'd rushed out on the longest limb I could find like a real... a real goddamn jerk. A....
The gym attendant tapped me on the shoulder, and said there was an opening in a doubles game. He was staring at me... I was drenched with sweat, must have been punching the light bag for about ten minutes straight.
I played three more games and was drunk with tiredness. I showered and had a few sandwiches. The gym was the upper floor of a hotel and I took a room and was asleep before ten, didn't awake until eleven in the morning. I felt pretty good, although still full of that hunch I was in trouble. I knew one thing: I was going to stop fooling around and make things come to a head, then see what I could do with Michele.
I went upstairs and had a rubdown and a shave, ate like it was winter. I reached the office before one. Miss Park was out but the receptionist told me Long wanted to see me at once. I said to tell him I'd be right up, went to my desk and glanced at my mail as I told myself to play it cool... the one thing I wanted was to stay in the comfortable routine of Longson's.
Bill Long looked as fresh and calm as ever. He said, “Happy I caught you before lunch, Norm. Know where I was this morning? No, of course you couldn't. I was talking to Matt Anthony.”
“Where?” I asked, almost amused; I'd been out of the office for a week, could have stayed out for another few days, but Long was happy he 'caught me before lunch.'
“They brought him in from Riverside for some hospital treatment. He's suffered a minor heart attack. Matt insisted he wanted to talk to me and to his agent. The man is fantastic. He not only has been writing stories while in his cell but he wants to have one of those silent tape recorders attached to his throat—I'm hazy on the technical terms—all during the actual trial! Idea is to get his reactions to the testimony on paper—and publish it! Matt thinks it can be a sensational seller—the first real inside story of a murder trial.”
“Lord, how commercial can you get?”
“He wanted an advance on the idea. I'm having the legal department check whether it's possible. But I doubt if we can use it—too sensational. However, I told him we'd be glad to consider it when it's finished.”
“How is his heart?”
“Good as can be expected. It was a terrible ordeal for me. Matt would be talking in his usual loud, foul-mouthed manner, then suddenly he'd get hysterical. Unnerves one to see a man that big crying. I mentioned the possibility of reissuing one of his books and it cheered him considerably. Have you reached a decision on that, and the ads?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir. Start the press run soon as you wish. Have you seen the cover of the book we'll print?”
“I don't recall it.”
“The jacket is an eye-catching pink with a girl who looks like a fashion model leaning against an adobe hut. The expression on her face can mean anything—even nothing. Of course we'll have to update the style of her clothes, the cover is about ten years old. She'll be dressed in smart slacks and a shirt... could be a Vogue ad, except she's also wearing a neat hip holster and a gun. I plan to run that as the ad—run it all over the country.”
“Will that be the first advertisement?” he asked, his face puzzled.
“That will be the only ad. Bill, I've been getting a clear picture of Matt Anthony and what happened out at End Harbor these last few days. This murder indictment is so much hot air. Actually her death was an accident, as his confession implies. His lawyer is a sharp character and will either set Matt off scott-free, or with a suspended or light sentence. The point is, it wasn't murder. No matter how we advertise I'm convinced our reputation won't suffer. But I plan to play it doubly safe—the ad will be just a routine advertisement. At the same time, with Kelly's help, we'll plant a few items with the syndicated columnists. One will be about Longson really putting out the book to help Matt raise money... a publisher aiding one of his writers. Another will be—in a behind the scenes vein—a hint there was a long battle in our offices about reissuing the book; we didn't want to capitalize on the headlines, beneath the dignity of Longson and all that. But at the same time we felt a man is innocent until proven guilty, and we also had a duty to stand by our authors, etc., etc. I think we can build up interest without committing the house to a damn thing. The column plants, actually rumors and gossip without any possible backfire, will carry our real message. Almost consider it institutional advertising.”
He fooled with his moustache, stroked it. “Are you certain we can reach the columnists? Seems to me it all hinges on that.”
“I'm certain. I haven't discussed it with Marty Kelly yet, but it won't be any problem. Do you like the whole idea, Bill?”
“I do. But this is still your responsibility, Norm, you understand that?”
I headed for the door. “I understood that from the Jump. I'll start the wheels going, sir.”
Back in my office I blended some tobacco, was tossing out the ads in my mail when Miss Park returned. She said, “Mr. Connor, why didn't you tell me you were coming back? I would have bought an extra jelly doughnut for this afternoon—”
“I'll share yours. Bring your book in, I have some memos to get out.”
“Yes, sir.” She stopped in the doorway. “Mr. Kelly wants you to call him. And... oh, your wife has been calling all morning.”
“Paris?” she repeated blankly. “Why, no. She said for you to phone your house—”
I was put of the office before she could finish the sentence.
It was the most welcome sight of my life to see Michele's clothes strewn around the bedroom, to almost smell her warm odor. But she wasn't home and I sat around impatiently, wondering where she could possibly have gone... and I also had this good feeling that now we were together again, things would work out. I didn't know how, but just having Michele back was a tremendous shot in the arm. And when she walked into our apartment a few minutes later carrying a bag of groceries, the very normalcy of it all delighted me.
She gave me a faint nervous grin as I rushed over to hug her, groceries and all. She looked tired, pale. We kissed like hungry kids and I ran my tongue over the tiny soft hairs of her “moustache.” My hands slid over her green cotton dress and she pushed me away, said, “No, Norm-man. Not for a few days. Sit down, we have to talk.” She finally put the grocery bag down.
“Honey, I've been crazy since you've gone. Darling, no matter what happens, we can never part again. Call the school, your friend will tell you I'm buying the house. It was to be a surprise for you and... oh, Michele, Michele!”
I took her in my arms again. She placed a finger on my lips. “Don't, Norm-man. You sound like a repentant husband, I am the one who has been... wrong.”
“No! It isn't a question of right or wrong, but of our very existence, of our—”
“Norm-man, I've lost our baby.”
“Our... what?” Fear came all over me, clear and so damn strong. Could there be any doubt about it now? Wasn't this the working plot of a stupid novel, the jacket blurb of my future? 'His wife lost his baby but another woman was carrying his child.'
“You're angry, hurt. I felt you stiffen. Oh, Norm, can you ever forgive me?” Her voice was a high moan.
I kissed her, a numb kiss, my head ready to explode. I heard myself saying, “I can forgive you anything but I don't know what you're talking about.” I walked her to the couch, sat down, tried to pull her on my lap. She turned and sat at the end of the couch; seemed to shrink, her face full of misery. “Now tell me in basic English—or basic French— what has happened.” How far away and strange-sounding my voice was.
She stared at me, her face almost blank, hysteria mounting. I moved over, held her tightly as I whispered, “Michele, I'm the one who should be asking forgiveness.”
I damn near told her about Wilma then and there. Instead, I stroked her soft hair, said, “All that matters is you are with me again. Do you understand, nothing else matters!”
“I lost our baby.”
“Honey, were you pregnant when we battled....?” I suddenly laughed, an insane chuckle that brought me back to reality. “And we were always so damn careful!”
“I thought I was pregnant,” Michele said, her voice dull and flat. “I wasn't sure. You know how I am often late. I was trying to tell you... when things got out of hand.”
“But that was only a week ago, less. What makes you think...?”
“The moment I landed in Paris I went to a doctor—a French rabbit said I was pregnant. My mother convinced me how wrong I was to be apart from you. It was your child, too. I was lucky to get a cancellation... if one can call it luck. All the rushing and traveling... flying makes me nervous. Yesterday I... I came around. And spending all that money for a few days.”
I laughed, her French thrift always showed. “Darling, I don't care if—”
“Don't you, my Norman?” she asked, sadness in her voice. “Can't you see I want you to care? And I know you do, your face is tense.” She shrugged. “I never even cried when it happened... nature's way... unless we both want a child. I have no right to—” She began to cry, tremendous sobbing that frightened me.
I shook her gently. “Honey, nothing matters except you're back. We'll still have a baby, still do everything we wanted.” But I knew my voice was hollow.
“I have more to tell you,” she said, her voice shaking with her sobs. “When I took off, I was almost hoping all the flying would do... what it did. Norm-man, I have done such a horrible thing! Not only the baby, but I made conditions for our marriage... I have no right to dictate your life. I had no right to—to....” Her sobbing began a series of hysterical, tiny screams.
I talked fast into her ear. “Darling, darting, don't. I was the wrong one. You want a child, fine. Truthfully it doesn't matter to me, but I'm not against it. I've learned I'm not against anything where you're concerned. I think I've grown up these last days. I've been inside some people's lives—part of a business deal—and I know now that ambition, real ambition, only means trying for happiness. We had it and I damn near threw it out the window. Michele, what I'm trying to say, we're so much a part of each other that when you left I was a sick man... sick in mind.” Was I trying to prepare an alibi? In the midst of her misery I was setting up my excuse for Wilma. A lousy sick feeling joined the fear in my head.
We sat there, holding each other tightly, Michele sobbing and moaning so I thought she was having a breakdown. I got her to tie on the couch. She kept trembling, her skin terribly pale, her eyes staring but not seeing me. I phoned a doctor, then sat beside her and held her hand.
He said Michele was suffering from fatigue and shock, gave her a sedative. I had explained what it was all about and before she dozed off he told Michele, “Mrs. Connor, while I don't want to low-rate French rabbits there isn't any way you could have been positive you were pregnant. Do you hear that? It's actually impossible to tell—in the first weeks. I want you to forget what's happened, get some rest for the next few days. You look like a very healthy young woman and while one can't give any guarantee in this sort of thing, I think you'll have children.”
He took me into the kitchen and gave me a couple of prescriptions to have filled, told me, “Your wife must have absolute rest for a day at least. No company and no arguments. I don't want her upset. This isn't serious, but in her state, another shock could have serious consequences. You ought to rest, Mr. Connor. You seem pretty upset yourself.”
“I'm okay. Listen, Doc, I—” But I didn't have the nerve to ask him.
“What is it?”
“I... eh... wondered if she needed vitamins,” I said stupidly.
“One of the items I prescribed is a tonic. Don't worry and get a smile on your face. It's your reaction that adds to her feeling of guilt about the miscarriage. Don't awaken her, even to give her the medicines. The both of you need a relaxed atmosphere around here. Stop worrying. I'll phone you tomorrow.”
“Is it okay to leave her alone now? I mean, can I go to the drugstore?”
“Yes, she should sleep for hours. In a day or two I want you to both get out of the house, take in some shows, go away for a few days, if you can. Above all, stop blaming her for losing the child.”
“Blame Michele? I told you I don't care about a—”
“Look at yourself in the mirror, Mr. Connor. Your face is full of anger. Best medicine for your wife is for you to relax.”
Soon as he left I went out and got the medicines. I was damn sure about one thing—I had to settle things with Wilma. I had to impress upon her Michele couldn't stand another shock, that she would have to work out something. It was only three and I walked up and around the living room, knowing Wilma wouldn't be home for at least another hour. Then I just couldn't take it, I had to see her now. I phoned Joel Hunter, trying to think of what excuse I could give him to ask for the address of Wilma's employer. Wilma answered the phone.
I said, “Look, it's damn important I see you at once. Can I meet you someplace?”
“Come over here, I'm not dressed. What's this about?”
“No. He's out getting some data on the Bronx Zoo. Really, Norm, you sound like—”
“I'll be over in a few minutes.”
I got the janitor's wife to stay with Michele, told her I had an urgent business appointment. I picked up a cab at the corner and within 15 minutes Wilma was opening the door for me. She was wearing a crazy colored robe and slippers. As I walked in she said, “I'm as curious as the famous cat. Now what is....?”
“My, aren't we being mysterious for ourselves. Yes, I am alone.”
We walked down the long hallway and into the living room and I was trying to think how the hell I would ask her. All I could come up with was a blunt, “Wilma, are you pregnant?”
Her face froze in an absolute double-take. She fell into a chair, roared with laughter.
I stood over her. “Damn it, are you?”
“Down, boy. I was going to offer you a shot, but you're loaded.”
“Sure, it's all a big prat fall, a stage joke! listen, Joel said you were feeling sick, morning sick...”
“Oh, for... I've had a cold. That's the only thing I got that night on the beach. Really, for a smooth character you wash terribly simple.”
I turned away, stared out the window at some dirty roofs. “No, it will turn out that you are, it's practically in the script.”
“Aren't you full of happy thoughts! Imagine me being with child, as the saying goes. Norm, when I'm ready, I'll have a kid. Now, let me tell you the facts of life. When I found out Joel was going to hide out in that goddamn room, well, it was the first time he'd done that—I mean on a several day spree—in years. It made me sore to have him out of my reach. I decided—before I ever knew about your wife—that I'd go out and have an affair, sort of get even with Joel. I don't know if I actually would have done it or not. This may shock you, but I'm really not a pushover.”
“Who said you were?” I mumbled.
“The point is, I took a pill that afternoon, a little medical wonder that leaves the woman sterile for 48 hours. So that's that.”
“No, it isn't. Look, we—I didn't take any precautions. It's only been a week, you can't be certain. I've had this hunch about you being—”
“You'd better not try the races with your hunches, Buster Brown, I happen to be home this minute because I've had the curse since shortly after the fights on TV last night—to pin it down for you.”
“My God, you do?”
“Norm, are you a well boy? I mean it.”
“Maybe. I had this hunch and was so damn certain everything was ruined. Then my wife returned today with... oh, hell, forget it. I'm terribly sorry I've been such a... an ass.”
“Well, let's forget it. And if I had been caught... now, wouldn't that have been something.” She grinned, gave ma that intense stare. “You're deceiving, Norm. Soon as I saw you, I knew we were going to take a roll. I not only liked your hands but you seemed so smooth and sophisticated. Really sophisticated. This may sound nuts to you but I got more of a kick out of the whore aspect, you know, thinking I might further Joel's books at your house. Even on the beach, juiced as I was, I knew I had you marked wrong—you're just a nice ordinary guy.”
“Thanks for the headshrinking. Please forget the whole damn thing. My wife isn't feeling well and I have to rush.”
“I think in its own little way, this has been quite a charming scene. At least it has spiced up my afternoon. And I want you to call us and bring your wife over. I mean that, Norm.”
We walked to the door and she suddenly gave me a kiss, pressing her breasts against me, whispered, “Please don't look like such a hurt little boy, Norm, darling. I suppose I simply couldn't resist being the clever bitch, making with the jokes.”
I tapped her on the behind. “It's okay, I put my foot in so far nothing makes it any worse or better. Do me one favor, forget this ever happened?”
“Scouts' honor. And don't you be a fool either... telling your wife or any of that movie crap. Remember, I want the four of us to get together soon.”
I said we would and downstairs I started walking back to the apartment. I'd never felt like such a fool. I kept thinking of Jackson Clair and his line about stupid mistakes. Damn, how stupid can one get?
Then, after I'd walked a block or so, the true reaction set in. What did it matter if I sat in Times Square on high noon wearing a dunce cap? I was free! Everything was fine with my own world again. I wanted to dance in the street, do summersaults—I used to be good at tumbling. I wanted to do something crazy, like smash a window, bust a total stranger on the nose.
I came whistling into the apartment, carrying ginger beer and beer. After tipping the startled janitor's wife-nurse five bucks, I undressed, made a pitcher of shandy-gaff, and drank it slowly as I sat beside Michele's bed, admiring my lovely wife. I carefully stretched out beside her, my fingers gently touching the parts of her body I loved the most as I tumbled off into a wonderful sleep.
Later, at about ten, I awoke and ate like a pig, enjoyed an English movie on TV. I was in such a state of bliss I damn near giggled at myself. When I finally got back to bed it was too hot to sleep. After while Michele awoke. She seemed rested, if still a bit groggy. She kept repeating what the doe had said about it being impossible to tell if she'd actually been pregnant or not. The more she talked about it, the greater comfort it seemed to give her.
I told her I loved her in every way I could. Even found myself saying, ”... and if you ever leave me again, run across the Ocean to mama, I'll kill you.” Of course that started me on Matt, and she was interested in the case. We got up and had a snack. I wanted her to go back to bed but she stayed up to see the late-late show on TV, a “ghoulie” as Michele called the pictures in which most of the actors were now dead. It was as if she'd never left me.
I wanted to take a few days off but didn't have the nerve to ask Bill—having been away a week. Michele saw a doctor in the afternoon and he assured her we could try for a baby anytime we wished. We had supper out that night. The following evening we dined with some of her UN friends, took in a play.
While Michele didn't seem too interested in the house, I insisted we buy it. I think I really wanted it. So we bought it, and spent the rest of the summer working like loons, painting, cleaning, planting, decorating. Even fixing the plumbing. It turned out, to our amazement, that we were both handy with tools. I even enjoyed making like a commuter. All in all, that August was one of the most happy and relaxed months we ever had.
Whether it was having Michele back, the house, or even oar trying so hard for a kid—time raced by. If it only seemed a few days later, it was actually the end of September when Matt Anthony's trial started. And I'd almost forgotten about him. Except for a one paragraph item in the papers when Jackson Clair changed Matt's plea to innocent by reason of insanity and asked that Matt be examined by state psychiatrists, the case had dropped out of the news.
Marty Kelly hadn't thought too much of my ad campaign but I was sure of it. We ran our first ads two weeks before the trial was due, and along with a few cases of Scotch and other gifts we not only planted our items in all the major columns, but sent out special releases to every small columnist we could find. Marty placed Bill Long on several radio and TV interviews where he piously explained the problems facing a book publisher—of course using Matt's book as an illustration.
The book sale was far from sensational, but it did well. Over half the first printing of 12,000 copies sold before the trial, with reorders mounting every day. The sales department ran off a small second edition.
I didn't have much time for handball, or Frank, although we had the Kuhns out to the house for a weekend. When I did have lunch with him, after the book was out, and he told me of an opening in an agency for $10,000—'as a starter, of course'—he was puzzled when I said I wasn't interested. He thought it was the money—I'd told him Bill had promised me a “substantial” raise after the January stockholders meet-jog—and Frank kept assuring me I'd double the ten grand in “two years, minimum.” I guess I didn't do much of a job explaining why I was turning it down. I could hardly explain without insulting Frank.
The trial opened on a Thursday in Riverside. Bill Long thought somebody from the firm should attend. I said it should be me—I felt a part of the case, wanted to be in at the wind-up.
Michele was back at school teaching: her suggestion. I hated to spend a few days apart, and although she wanted to spend the weekend at the house, see about a boat we were considering, she finally agreed to come out to Riverside for the weekend.
Never having attended a criminal trial before, much less one involving murder, for me there was a confusing air of unreality in the crowded courtroom. I had the feeling of watching an amateur production of a corny melodrama. Certainly there was nothing in the attitude of the morbid spectators, dressed in their Sunday best, or about Matt himself, to suggest a life was being tried.
By the time I arrived I could find a seat only in the rear of the courtroom. I saw May Fitzgerald and the Hunters sitting up front together. Prof. Brown was in the row behind them. Joel seemed nervous while Wilma was dressed to make an impression in a tight mild blue suit which showed off her good figure and red hair.
Matt Anthony appeared calm and at ease, practically lounging in his chair. He was very much 'the author' in a shaggy, tweed sports coat that made his tremendous shoulders stand out, a plaid dress shirt and a matching tie. There was a thick pad of paper in front of him and several pencils. When he wasn't writing furious notes, Matt casually glanced around the courtroom, as though he was the spectator. Although the judge had ruled against Matt having a tape recorder in court, Matt was going ahead with his 'book' in long hand. Bill Long told me Maggie had already received the first chapter, along with a sealed envelope and some hocus-pocus instructions from Matt that this wasn't to be opened until he had sent in the complete manuscript. Maggie was waiting for more chapters before reaching any decision, of course. Jackson Clair sat next to Matt, also very much at his ease. He was not only wearing his beaded belt, but his tie clasp was in the form of a tiny silver broken arrow from which the Phi Beta Kappa key hung like a neon light.
The prosecutor, Sidney Wagner, looked about 40, a dried-up man with thin features. He wore a very conservative blue serge, a stiff collar and a plain dark tie. He suggested starch and ironing in the kitchen: small time stuff. His pale face was lacking any show of emotion or imagination.
The judge looked the part: plump, gray hair, and a mixture of dignity and self-importance. The jury had been selected the day before, three women and nine men—very average looking locals, and seemingly quite pleased with their roles.
The trial started promptly at 10:30 a.m. when Wagner addressed the jury. I supposed his speech established a brevity record for trial openings. He had a cold, forceful voice and was stingy with words. The second he opened his mouth you knew you were listening to a capable man. And if he looked old fashioned!—so does a rattle snake. He said, “Mr. Foreman, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. The State will prove that on July 25th last, in the presence of witnesses, Mr. Matt Anthony threatened to kill his wife, Francine Anthony. Several hours later, with clear premeditation and intent, Matt Anthony murdered his wife. It is the State's contention that after threatening his wife's life, when he later noticed Fran-cine Anthony out fishing, Matt Anthony saw this as an opportunity to carry out his threat; that he planned to swim out and beat his wife to death, which he did. He further planned, with his considerable knowledge of criminal methods, to make the murder appear to be an accident. He was not successful in this, and later that same day confessed to killing Francine Anthony. The State will prove all this by testimony and facts, and with such proof will ask that you find Matt Anthony guilty of murder.”
Maybe the opening speech took a minute, perhaps longer, yet it had all the power of a short right to the chin. When Wagner finished, Jackson seemed startled—perhaps at the briefness.
Jackson Clair stood up slowly, opened with a show, a carve as I expected. Flashing a practiced and rugged smile at the jury he said slowly, “Ladies and gentlemen, I realize I face you as a stranger. Certainly most of you, being residents of this splendid and booming county, are acquainted with my worthy colleague in one form or another. Of course I know that will not influence your decision in the slightest And as a matter of fact I do not feel a complete stranger, for my ancestors once roamed and worked this very land. Perhaps, less than a hundred years ago, one of my Indian forefathers fished in the nearby waters. If proof should be needed that America is a melting pot, I could be that proof. I tell you this not for any personal reasons, although I am justly proud of my ancestors, but only to remind you our country was founded upon what was then a new concept of justice, upon principles our sons and fathers have since fought and died for time and again. I don't have to tell you the main principle is democracy: from the days of the Indian councils to our time, democracy has been the very life-blood of America. I am stressing this because the ideals of liberty and democracy will play an important role in this trial, as they must in every trial held in our country. These ideals are not only for the courts and the government, they also form the bases of our businesses, our home life, all our relationships.”
Matt was watching him with a slight smile that grew bigger as Jackson began to pace in front of the jury box; slow, deliberate steps featuring the polished moccasins.
“It is in the framework of democracy you sit here, the judges of Matt Anthony. True, you are called jurors, but in a final sense you alone are the judges. Matt Anthony killed his wife. There is no doubt of that, he has confessed it However he has not confessed to murder. On the contrary, as the defense will prove, it was far from a premeditated killing. In a moment of blind rage this giant of a man lost control of his temper, of his reasoning, struck his wife. She, in turn, hit her head on the side of the boat and died. This is a shocking thing, but we will prove it was not murder. There wasn't any gun or knife involved. The only weapon, if we can term it as such, was the weapon we all possess—this.” Clair held up his hand to the jury. “I am sure you all know our hands very often get us into trouble... even accidental trouble. If Matt Anthony and his wife had argued on land, if she hadn't taken a bad fall, she probably would be alive this moment Perhaps by this time, she would have forgiven her husband, forgotten the incident.”
“It is the defense's contention—which we will prove—that Matt Anthony was driven by Francine Anthony's goading to a point where he no longer knew what he was doing, where for a moment he could not tell right from wrong. Look at Matt Anthony, a big man, far above the average, a man who stands out. Anyone walking into this courtroom would notice Matt Anthony first You and I think of ourselves as average persons, in fact, I believe we are proud to be called that. Well, ladies and gentlemen, Matt Anthony is not an average person. As I shall prove, he belongs, figuratively and literally to that tiny tribe of giants we call geniuses. Here is a man who can make people like ourselves come alive on paper, who creates and populates entire cities and countries, who can make weather, homes, airplanes, cars, who can delve into the innermost workings of our brains... with his mind and typewriter. Before you there sits a man of unique talent I tell you this not to praise Matt Anthony, the writer, although he has won international acclaim as an author, but because it is the defense's contention, which we will back with proof, that the mores and conventions which hold for the average person can not be fully applied to those rare humans who are above average. The very definition of convention means a fixed usage sanctioned by general custom. Remember those last two words, general custom. In other words, mores are made for the average people.
“Now I am not so foolish as to claim that a genius is above the rules and laws of society, but I do say where the above-average person is concerned, there must be a certain flexibility. This is not an original idea of mine, it is accepted in law. There are laws to cover average cases, and there are also unwritten laws for cases that are not average. I am not lecturing you on the law. We have a most capable judge here to tell you the law. But I repeat, we are judging a man of genius here. A man whose very genius was being ruined by his wife's constant nagging. I will prove that Francine Anthony also had a talent: she knew how to nag her husband until she drove him to the breaking point where he could no longer think rationally. At that moment, when his mind broke, he struck out at his tormentor in a blind rage with all of his great strength... and when he regained his sanity, he found to his horror and amazement that his beloved wife was dead. Oh, yes, despite her nagging, Matt Anthony loved his wife. Matt Anthony had no more control over Francine Anthony's death than you or I. For a man of his strength to strike a smaller person, a woman, is truly an insane act; something he'd never thought of doing before. The defense shall prove all this and when we do, I know you will bring in a verdict of not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Thank you.”
Jackson walked slowly to his seat. Matt was still writing intently. Two reporters in the press section were whispering. I glanced around the courtroom, wondering if anybody, including Jackson, knew exactly what the devil he'd said. Wagner looked mildly bored. Several times I thought the judge had been on the brink of cutting Jackson off or of telling Matt to stop writing and pay attention. Now Clair sipped a glass of water, smiled at the world.
The State opened its case by calling the End Harbor cop who had been the first official on the scene. He fixed the time and day, told of pulling the boat in, examining the corpse. A Harbor doctor next testified death had been caused by Francine striking her head on the side of the boat with 'great force.' He went into detail as to the exact position of the body, the approximate time of death ”... about 2 p.m....”
Matt would gaze at each witness with his set, small smile —a kind of sardonic, plastic grin—for a moment, then start scribbling away. Jackson had only a few routine questions.
Joel Hunter was the next witness. His face was flushed, giving him a weird appearance, what with his short light hair. He kept licking his lips, and his tongue seemed as long as a frog's. Wagner quickly established that Joel was a writer, a friend of the Anthonys, and had been a house guest at End Harbor. In voice slightly shrill with nerves, Joel told of Prof. Brown coming back with Matt that morning, how upset Fran-cine had been upon learning Brown had been in the papers as a Fifth Amendment witness. Under Wagner's dry questioning Joel told of Matt threatening Francine when she said she would order Brown to leave the house. Joel seemed absolutely wretched as he repeated the threat, and the judge asked him to raise his voice. Joel glanced at Matt, his eyes almost a plea, as he repeated the threat in a louder voice. Matt was still smiling, and it seemed to me he winked at Joel, although from the angle at which I was watching I couldn't be positive. Wagner quickly covered the finding of the body, how Matt had tricked Joel on the time, and Hunter's 'shock' when Kolcicki took Matt away a few hours later, saying he had confessed.
Jackson arose to point out that the confession had not as yet been placed in evidence, and Wagner said he was merely asking Joel what Kolcicki had told him. Jackson waved his hands, said he didn't want to delay the trial and would withdraw his objection. If this was meant to rattle Wagner, it had as much effect as a baby slapping the side of a battleship. If anything, it annoyed the judge.
Wagner then asked, “Mr. Hunter, during the recent time you spent in the Anthony home, the various other times you were together with Mr. and Mrs. Anthony, did you hear them quarrel often?”
Joel licked his lips, fondled his thick glasses. One could almost see his brain working, trying to figure what sort of answer would benefit Matt Wagner said softly, “Come, Mr. Hunter, it's a simple question: did they often quarrel, make cutting remarks at each other?”
“I would say they often teased each other.”
Teased? Before July 25th did you ever hear Mr. Anthony shout at his wife in anger? Or Francine Anthony shout in anger at him?”
“Have you heard either of them shout at the other in anger a few times?”
“Quite a few times.”
“Did you ever hear Mr. Anthony quarrel with his wife while under the influence of liquor?”
Matt's smile grew larger as he made a fast note.
“I'm not an expert, can not say whether he was ever drunk or—”
Wagner broke in impatiently, “Come, now, Mr. Hunter, I didn't ask if he was drunk. Have you ever heard Mr. Anthony argue with his wife after you had seen him take one drink or more?”
“Well... yes, sir.”
“Have you ever heard Francine Anthony argue with her husband after she had one or more drinks?”
Matt whispered something to Jackson who made a motion as if telling him to shut up. Matt grinned happily.
“Am I correct in stating that over a period of time you have witnessed the Anthonys in argument over various matters, sometimes when either or both of them had been drinking?”
“Yes, sir—petty family quarrels.”
“I see, family arguments. Now, think carefully, Mr. Hunter. At any time while they were exchanging words, arguing, at any time except on July 25th, did you ever hear Mr. Anthony threaten to kill his wife?”
“Oh, no, sir.”
“No matter how angry Mr. Anthony was?”
Joel said, “Indeed not,” before Jackson could spring to his feet and object that the degree of anger had never been established. Wagner said something I didn't catch and the judge upheld the objection. Wagner bowed slightly—toward nobody —asked, “Mr. Hunter, at any time except on July 25th did you ever hear Matt Anthony threaten to kill Francine Anthony?”
Wagner said, “That will be all, Mr. Hunter.”
Wagner sat down and as Joel started to leave the stand, Jackson climbed to his feet slowly—a deliberate movement emphasizing his gawky, Lincolnesque height. “One moment, Mr. Hunter, I have a few questions.”
For some reason this caused faint laughter in the courtroom, even the jurors grinned. Jackson stood beside the witness chair, but facing the court, as he asked, “Mr. Hunter, do you believe in the United States Constitution?”
“Of course I do.”
“Do you believe in all of the Constitution?”
“Do you think Prof. Brown invented the Fifth Amendment?”
Joel's large face was utterly confused. As Wagner got to his feet the judge said sternly, “Mr. Clair, I will not tolerate sarcasm in this court. I trust I shall not have to warn you again about this.”
Jackson turned toward the judge, his booming voice actually ringing with sincerity. “Your Honor, being a lawyer I respect the court and the law. I was not being sarcastic. This witness has stated the late Mrs. Anthony wanted Prof. Brown to leave the Anthony house because he had taken the Fifth Amendment, as if it was a criminal act. I am merely trying to show that the Fifth Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights, put into the Constitution for the purpose of—”
“Are you making a speech, Mr. Clair?” the judge asked.
“Sir,” Jackson projected his voice so it filled the courtroom, “I am only establishing that it is neither a criminal act nor a sign of guilt to use the Fifth Amendment This is of the utmost importance to the defense of my client.”
“Proceed with your cross-examination, Mr. Clair, but bear in mind I will not tolerate this court becoming a stage or a soap box.”
Jackson dropped his voice. “I certainly apologize, your Honor, if I have done either.”
Brown was sitting hunched up in his seat From the side his broken nose actually made him resemble an old fighter. I knew what he was thinking: If he became the object of the trial publicity he would have little chance of keeping a job— if he'd found one.
Jackson turned abruptly to Joel, who was trying to vanish into a crack in the chair. “Now, Mr. Hunter, you have stated you heard Mr. Anthony allegedly threaten his wife. Will you—”
Wagner objected to the word “allegedly,” and there was some quibbling between the lawyers as to what constituted a threat. When the judge quieted them, Clair asked, “Mr. Hunter, will you kindly repeat the exact words Mr. Anthony said to his wife?”
Joel stammered, “Well, he—he said, 'Francine, some things I'll take from you because it's a kind of game between us. But Hank Brown is one of the few real things in my life. If you ever say a single out-of-the-way word to Hank, I'll k-kill you. I mean that.' That's what Matt said... I believe.”
“Believe? Did he say it, or not?”
“Yes, sir, he said that. I meant those were the exact words, to the best of my recollection.”
“When Matt Anthony said it was a kind of game between them, did you think... I withdraw the question. Mr. Hunter, after hearing Mr. Anthony say this to his wife, what did you do?”
“Me?” Joel asked, bewildered. “I went upstairs with my wife, to our room. Talked over a book idea with her.”
“And after that?”
“We came down and went outside to sun ourselves, play with the dog.”
“Didn't you call the police, Mr. Hunter?”
“The police?” Poor Joel wiped some sweat from his upper lip with his tongue. “Why should I call the police?”
“Mr. Hunter, if you heard a person threaten to kill another, wouldn't you call the police, do something about it?”
Joel waved his hands, mixing air. “Oh, I knew it was just talk.”
Jackson looked astonished. “Then you didn't consider it a threat?”
“No, sir, I did not.”
“That will be all. Thank you, Mr. Hunter.”
As Jackson walked away, Wagner got up. “One moment, Mr. Hunter. Did you hear Mr. Anthony say to his wife, 'I'll kill you'?”
“Yes, sir,” Joel whispered.
As Joel left the stand, Matt sat tilted back in his chair, studying Joel as if he was a painting. Then he smiled and started writing. Jackson made a few notes, glancing at the jury. He whispered something to Matt, who shrugged and pointed to the pile of papers in front of him, went on writing.
May Fitzgerald was the next witness. Matt stared at her for a long time before he went back to his writing. His hand was tired and several times he dropped his pencil, seemed to shake the fatigue out of his right hand. Wagner established— again—that although May had often heard the Anthonys argue she had never heard Matt threaten to kill Francine, or even to strike her. Jackson gave her a friendly smile as he asked, “Miss Fitzgerald, as far as you know, did Mrs. Anthony ever work?”
“Do you mean did she hold a job?” May asked with her slightly clipped accent.
“Yes, did she hold down a job?”
“Not so far as I know.”
Jackson took a few strides in front of the witness stand. “Did the Anthonys entertain often? Did they often have guests for the weekends, for dinner?”
“Very often. On some weekends we had as many as 20 people out.”
“You were the only maid?”
“Seems you had quite a lot of work. Did Mrs. Anthony often help you with the cooking or serving?”
“Did you do the shopping, too?”
“Did you see Mr. Anthony drink much?”
“I saw him take a drink only now and then, especially when guests were drinking.”
“Miss Fitzgerald, you have stated that you often heard the Anthonys argue. Do you mean Mrs. Anthony nagged him?”
“Over everything. Money, his drinking and his swimming —not watching his heart. She had a sharp tongue.”
Jackson stopped his walking. “Did you say she had a sharp tongue?”
Wagner seemed undecided whether to object or not, let it go.
“What does a sharp tongue mean, Miss Fitzgerald?”
“Well, she was not gentle in her comments, she was a blunt woman.”
Jackson solemnly nodded, as if in agreement that this was a horror. Then he asked, “Did Mr. Anthony use his house for both a home and an office?”
“He wrote every day.”
“In the house?”
“Did he have any other office, any other place where he worked?”
“Not that I know of. Every day he went to his den and worked.”
“Would you say Mrs. Anthony nagged him every day, every other day, or every week?”
“Oh, I'd say every day.”
Jackson said that would be all. Wagner stood up and asked, “Miss Fitzgerald, did Mr. Anthony nag his wife every day, too?”
“Well... it takes two to tango,” May said to faint laughter in the courtroom.
When May stepped out of the witness box the judge announced the court was recessed for lunch. I waited for the others to come out. I shook hands with Brown and asked how things were. He said, “I have a good job as a mathematician with a manufacturer out West—non-defense production. At least I had it before the trial started.”
“Have lunch with me,” I said, keeping an eye out for the Hunters.
“No, I think it best I duck reporters and people.”
“Where are you staying?”
“I haven't been able to locate a room yet. Most places are filled.
“I'm at the motel up on the hill. Twin beds in the room if you want one.”
“Young man, I keep telling you it's risky to be seen with me if—”
“Thank you for the kind offer. I may take it. I'll see you later, Norman.”
Joel came out with May and Wilma. Joel said, “Come with as, I need a drink something awful.”
I nodded at the women and we headed for a restaurant across the street. A photographer begged us—or rather Joel and May—to pose for a picture but Joel refused, practically ran across the street and into the restaurant. Wilma squeezed my arm, asked, “I thought you were going to call us?”
“I did one Saturday afternoon, but no answer,” I lied. “We've been busy—fixing up a house in the country. Soon as it's presentable, I intend to ask you and Joel up.”
“Careful, you know what happened the last time we were house guests.”
We found a corner table and several people stared at us. We ordered cocktails and lunch. Joel said bitterly, “Oh, that Wagner, that cool sonofabitch, why did he have to make me the star witness?”
“Well, you should have stood up to him instead of acting so mealy-mouthed,” Wilma said.
“Oh, that would have been dandy, get me reams of publicity, all lousy! 'Joel Hunter, writer of juveniles, balks D.A.' The libraries would love that! Oh my God, what will my editor say when she sees me on the front pages tonight.”
Wilma reached across the table and patted his hand, a motherly gesture. “Honey, you did fine. Say, isn't that Clair an odd one? What a homely face, and so attractive.”
“Norm, you know about these things, will this hurt my sales?”
“I hardly think so. You know the old saw: nothing as old as yesterday's headlines.”
“You were only a witness, not involved,” May said.
The waiter brought the drinks and Joel took his down in a gulp, ordered a second. “Well, it's almost over. They'll probably be done with Wilma this afternoon. I wish it was Wednesday already and we're on the plane.”
“Going away?” I asked, like a polite idiot.
“Barbados. I got a break and—” Joel turned to May. “You know anybody on that island? We want a cheap room, way from all the usual tourist slop.”
“No, I don't. But if you look around, after a few days you'll find something.”
“They're using the characters in one of his Joe and Eddie, the Bunny Boys books for a kid TV series,” Wilma said. “I tried to egg Joel into asking for the scripting job, too, but he was so blinded by the few bucks, his tongue got tied.”
Joel winked happily at me. “I want to get away fast. Even the option money should keep us down there for a few months. A hell of a fine break, and so unexpected.”
Wilma said, “I liked the simplicity of your ads, and of course the items in the columns. Is the book selling well?”
“About better than we expected.”
The food came and we all ate in silence. Then I asked May about the house and she said as far as she knew it was still unsold. A neighbor was taking care of the poodle. May had received most of her back wages and was now going to NYU, working in a phone answering service nights.
Wilma lit a cigarette, said, “Who else can the State call except me, Brown, and that horrible detective? I don't see how Wagner has a case for murder. Did you dig that hick suit he's sporting?”
“He frightens me,” May said. “He's so sure of himself, so cool.”
“Matt doesn't seem concerned,” Joel said. “I almost think he's enjoying the circus. I hope he understands I did my best for him.”
“Is it true he's writing a book while in court?” Wilma asked me.
“Yes. I haven't read the first few chapters, but I understand they're in the house. Novel idea, the suspect's view of his own trial. Matt insists the last chapter will be sensational. What that means, I don't know.”
“Damn, you have to hand it to the big boy,” Joel said happily, “He's a true pro.”
“I bet he'd never pass up a TV scripting job,” Wilma put in.
“Oh, stop it I don't know a damn thing about it, never tried TV. After all, they didn't even ask for me and I hate begging. You're greedy, Wilma.”
“Greedy is being a pro, dear. Let me go to the John, I don't want to wet up the witness chair. Coming, May?”
I insisted upon paying the check, told Joel it would go on my expense account. When we reached the courtroom it was pretty well filled up. I suppose most people hadn't left their seats to eat Joel and Wilma found seats down front, while May and I found singles on opposite sides of the room. Brown was in the second row, reading a book.
It was nearly an hour later before the judge returned and I had a rough time keeping awake in the stuffy courtroom. To my surprise, Wilma was the next witness. Somehow I had expected Wagner to call Brown. Matt still had the tiny smile on his big face, as if enjoying a private joke. He was writing rapidly once more but he seemed to be suffering from indigestion, patting his stomach now and then, throwing pills into his mouth.
Wagner quickly placed Wilma at the Anthony house. Wilma's answers were abrupt, her pop eyes staring boldly at Wagner as he concentrated on the threat. She repeated exactly what Joel had said. The prosecutor asked, “Now, Mrs. Hunter, when Mr. Anthony shouted, 'I'll kill you!' was there anger in his voice?”
“They were both shouting angrily.”
“Mrs. Hunter, please answer the question. Was Matt Anthony shouting in anger?”
“He was shouting. I can't say if he was angry or not.”
“Mrs. Hunter, a second ago you said they were both shouting angrily. I ask you again: When Matt Anthony shouted at his wife, 'I'll kill you!' was there anger in his voice?”
“All I know is he was shouting!” Wilma snapped.
“Mrs. Hunter, have you ever heard people shout at a baseball game?”
“I think so.”
“Was Mr. Anthony's shouting of the same tone and intent as that of a person shouting at a ball game?”
“I am not an expert on shouting!”
Wagner stared at her for a moment, then smiled coolly, said, “No further questions.”
Jackson strode up to the witness stand, left hand hooked onto his beaded belt. “Mrs. Hunter, you are a redhead and there is a saying redheaded women have a big temper. Perhaps Mr. Wagner will agree with that. [Jackson actually paused, waiting for the inane giggles from the audience.] Mrs. Hunter, have you a temper?”
“In the heat of an argument have you ever said, 'I'll kill you!' to anybody?”
“I'm afraid I have to have a yes or no answer, Mrs. Hunter,” Jackson said, his voice almost a caress.
“Have you ever wanted to actually kill anybody?”
“Mrs. Hunter, according to your husband's testimony, and your statements to the police, after you heard Mr. Anthony threaten his wife, you went upstairs to do some work. Later you were on the lawn, sunning yourself. In view of the threat, didn't you think of calling the police, or at least being with Mrs. Anthony to protect her?”
“No. I didn't think of it as a threat, but rather as just talk.”
“That will be all, Mrs. Hunter.”
Wagner stood up, asked, “Mrs. Hunter, on the afternoon of July 25th, did you hear Mr. Anthony tell the deceased, 'I'll kill you!' Answer yes or no.”
Wagner called Detective Kolcicki, who looked comical in a new suit far too tight for his pudgy frame. The collar of his white shirt seemed to be cutting the bull neck in half. He went through the routine of establishing his official title and duties, said he became suspicious of the 'accident' report when he came across the threat. Matt didn't even glance at Kolcicki, kept writing away and when he stopped, he merely stared down at the table.
In a self-important, clear voice, Kolcicki went on to say he decided to 'interrogate' Matt, had told him flatly he didn't believe it was an accident. That at first Matt insisted it was an accident and at this point Kolcicki had said, “'Mr. Anthony, as a mystery writer, would you expect any of your readers to believe this bunch of lies you're handing me, if one of your characters said it?” Mr. Anthony sat there for awhile, then he said, 'You're right, it does sound bad. It is a lie. I hit her in the boat and then she was dead. I tried to make it look like an accident. I confess it.' He had this typewriter on his desk and I typed while he dictated the confession. Then he read it and signed it. Whole thing took less than an hour.”
The confession was put into evidence and read aloud to the jury. Kolcicki volunteered: “Soon as I knew he was lying, I knew he'd done it An innocent man don't have to lie. That's been my experience in investigations.”
Jackson started his cross-examination with, “Detective Kolcicki, have you ever lied?”
“Are you telling this court that you have never once in your life told a lie?”
“Not that I know of.”
“You're not lying now, under oath?”
“Did you ever tell your wife a lie?”
“I'm not married.”
“Have you ever been married?”
“Yes, sir, but we divorced.”
“On what grounds did your wife divorce you, Detective?”
“Why... we didn't get along.”
“Aren't you lying, now? Wasn't the actual grounds for the divorce the fact that you beat her?” Jackson snapped.
Wagner stood up to ask the purpose of the questioning as Kolcicki wiped his sweaty face with his sleeve. Jackson said he wanted to establish, since the witness had stressed Matt had lied, that lying is an everyday occurrence, and it would be natural for a man to attempt to lie his way out of a tight spot. The judge told Jackson he wasn't aware lying was such a commonplace thing and he thought it was all irrelevant to the case. Jackson turned to Kolcicki, asked, “You have read and just heard Mr. Anthony's confession?”
“That's exactly what Mr. Anthony confessed to you?”
“Sure, it's the confession he signed.”
“Detective Kolcicki, I understand you have been a police officer for many years. During that time, have you secured other confessions?”
“I have, lots of them.”
“In other words, you are an experienced detective, an old hand at police work?”
Jackson said that was all.
As Kolcicki left the stand, walking with surprising grace, Wagner stood up and told the judge, “Your Honor, the State rests.”
There was a rush of small talk in the courtroom. I glanced at Brown: he didn't show any emotion at being off the hook. I was a trifle bewildered, somehow I had expected much more depth to the State's case.
Jackson stood up and said he wanted to make a motion. The judge had the jury sent out and Jackson asked that the case be dismissed for lack of evidence. The judge simply said, “Motion denied,” and asked if he was ready to open the defense's case. Jackson looked at the clock; it was a few minute after three—said he was ready.
The jury trooped back to their box and Jackson took several books out of his attache case, asked they be entered into evidence as exhibits for the defense. He and the judge had some sort of argument, of which I only caught part. The books were the writings of old Ben Jonson, Maugham, Anderson, Dreiser and others. Jackson claimed he wanted to quote a few lines from each of these famous writers, ”... who certainly can qualify as experts on their profession...” in order to establish the special conditions necessary for ”... a creative artist to work....” Jackson and the judge talked for several minutes. Wagner had not even risen from his chair. Finally the judge asked impatiently, “What has the prosecutor to say?”
“I have no objection, your Honor,” Wagner said.
The judge fussed some more, had Jackson mark the passages he wanted to read. The judge glanced through them and all this took a great deal of time. I was restless for a smoke. Matt was writing away at his table as though he was in his den and couldn't care less about the proceedings.
Wilma and Joel were whispering, their red and white heads together like a clumsy nosegay. I stared at her without any feeling and wondered why I didn't feel some damn thing. I'd certainly made the most asinine spectacle of myself possible before her. Also, I hadn't slept with more than a half a dozen women in my life, if that many. Yet seeing Wilma didn't remind me of a thing. All I could think of was—she wasn't wearing those awkward health shoes but regular high heeled ones.
The judge finally gave Jackson the go-ahead signal as the court attendants told people to stop talking. Jackson brought the books back to his table, then addressing the jury, he said, “As I stated in my opening address, it is the defense's contention—which I am about to prove—that a creative person, such as a writer, is a genius and not an ordinary person. Nor can the creative person, the writer, be expected to live by ordinary customs and conventions. I am about to read what several world-famous writers, experts, have said about the living and working habits of authors. Obviously they did not write this for Matt Anthony's trial. In each case I will give you the copyright date, and you will note that most of these observations were written many years ago and cover all writers.”
I left the court as Jackson began to read in a clear, elocution-teacher's voice. In the corridor I lit my pipe, enjoying the taste of the smoke. I could hear Jackson quoting somebody who said a writer should not be tied to one woman since the tool of his trade was curiosity. That sounded like pure bunk. Sinclair Lewis, I think, came in for some statement about writers needing to travel, a constant change. Jackson quoted Ben Jonson's “Who casts to write a living line must sweat,” followed by a long bit from Maugham about an author does not write only when at his desk, but all day long as he is thinking and experiencing many things. And a writer can not give his undivided attention to any other calling.
I waited until four, phoned our apartment. Michele said she was going to take the late afternoon Friday train. Liz Kuhn bad asked her to a dress rehearsal of a new musical—Michele was beat but hadn't been able to get out of it. She asked how the trial was going and I said the State hadn't presented much of a case.
Michele went into detail about an idea for decorating the fireplace in our 'country home.' Court was over, I watched people streaming out into the hallway. Brown went by, didn't hear my tapping on the booth door. When I finally hung up, the courthouse already had that deserted feeling.
Heading for the street, I found Joel inside the door, almost hiding. Asking me for tobacco, he got a new corncob going as he said nervously, “All this lousy publicity for nothing. For Christsakes, Wagner couldn't convict a fly on his evidence. The judge should have tossed the case out. For the life of me, I don't know why they couldn't have called it manslaughter, fined Matt and prevented this ridiculous spectacle. Anyway, it's over.”
“For us. Wilma is checking with Wagner if we're free to return to town now. My God, I'm a wreck, really need a vacation.”
“Going to your musical flying saucer, out of this world?”
“Told you we're heading for the West—” He smiled. “Oh, my, you're pulling my leg about my den. I may retire there for a few hours relaxation at that. I rarely spend a night there but... that time. It wasn't just Matt and the case, things had been rather nasty between Wilma and myself. That's over, we're like rabbits now.”
“Good for you two. I'll send you Easter cards.”
Joel puffed hard on the pipe. “Odd taste to this tobacco. I got a break with Wilma.”
“You see, I understand Wilma, she has a great sexual curiosity. Most of the time I'm grateful for that, but it can also be quite... demanding. Of course we're both broad-minded and... oh, I'm pretty sure she had an affair a month or two ago.”
There wasn't anything for me to say, but my insides coiled.
“Hell, we're sophisticated people—I've strayed myself a few times—but, and this proves it's a healthy thing. She must have gone with a kid. Very immature, I mean, he must have been a lousy lay. Ever since she—we—we've been wonderful in bed.”
He wasn't looking at me as he said this. He wasn't smiling. If he'd done either I would have hit him, busted his goddamn queer face. I said, “The silver lining. Look, give me a ring when you get back from the islands. I want you both to meet my wife.”
He said he would and I walked out. It was only when I reached the car, drove to the motel that my anger—or was it shame?—left me and I could grin about it. Knowing the Hunters had been something.
I washed up and wondered what the devil to do with myself. Michele and I had been so close these last months, I felt strange being alone. The window looked out upon a bay and I wondered if we could get in some fishing over the weekend. If it would turn just a little warmer we might even do some swimming or—
The phone rang. “Mr. Connor?”
“Yeah.” It was a man's voice.
“Norm, this is Henry Brown. I can't find a place to sleep. Is that invitation to share your room still open?”
“Certainly. Look, how about supper together? All goes on the swindle sheet.”
He hesitated, then said all right and I drove into town, picked him up in front of a drugstore. It wasn't five yet and we rode out to the canal, sat in the car and watched the fishermen going after tiny snappers. Brown said he had decided to stay for the duration of the trial, that he thought Matt needed his friends in the courtroom. I told him, “Looks like you won't be called at all. Matter of fact, the case may be over tomorrow. Clair hasn't any witnesses except Matt.”
“I imagine he'll put on a psychiatrist, or several of them. He's pleading temporary insanity. Then the State will put their own experts on the stand, and when all the smoke has cleared, nothing will have been proved.”
“la any event, Wagner hasn't proved murder.”
Brown nodded. “If I was Clair I'd rest my case without patting Matt on the stand, merely let the psychiatrists say it was possible Matt was insane for the moment. But I think Clair wants to make a show of it.”
“What has he got to lose? The D.A. hasn't made it murder.”
“That Wagner is shrewd. I have a feeling he's waiting for Matt to take the stand. Wagner has something up his sleeve.”
“And you still believe Matt didn't kill Francine, even accidentally?”
“Yes. Aside from the reasons I gave you before, Matt's courtroom behavior convinces me. I don't see him acting so nonchalant if he had anything to do with her death. The way he sits there and grins smugly, keeps writing away—what in God's name is he writing? One would think this is all a big joke to him. Another thing that doesn't make sense: I see Matt for the first time in years, and in an argument over me, he threatens to kill his wife. Does that make sense? Or did I point that out when we first talked?”
“Couldn't that be in keeping with your picture of him as an intellectual phony?” I asked. “Matt might not have the courage to openly help you, but in an argument with his wife he goes all out. To make a horrible pun, he went overboard.”
“Perhaps, but I don't believe it. I can hardly believe the trial, most times it seems like a dream, that it can't be real.”
“I know, I had the same feeling.”
We talked some more, then had a few drinks and a leisurely fish dinner. I liked talking to Brown, although the old guy was so dogmatic he infuriated me at times. Like I said something about 'professional' men and he claimed that was a snobbish term; it took as much knowledge and time to be a good bricklayer as to be a lawyer. Still, it was all a way of passing time.
We drove back to the motel, picking up the evening papers on the way. It didn't make most front pages—nothing sensational had come out of the court. One paper had a picture of Jackson in action and another of Matt grinning—and looking positively huge sitting at the defense table—all shoulders. Except for a line in one paper, Brown wasn't mentioned at all. I stretched out on the bed, read the papers, feeling very good—remembering how wretched I'd been the last time I'd spent the night out here, worrying about Wilma and... that Joel was a snide bastard. A lousy lay, a kid!
Brown undressed and went to sleep by nine-thirty. I was amazed at how hard and lean he looked for a man his age. I was far from sleepy and I took a walk in the darkness, then returned to smoke a pipe in the motel driveway, listen to the sound of the waves. A few cabins away I saw Jackson Clair pacing up and down with long, energetic steps. Maybe it wasn't an act, he couldn't know anybody was watching. I walked over and said hello. We shook hands and his bony face was full of a dozen different shadows as he boomed, “Ah, the publisher!”
“No. Longson's advertising manager.”
“Yes, yes, I saw the ads. Simple and pleasing. Is the book selling well?”
“About what we expected.”
“I trust you fellows are going to give Matt an advance on the book he's writing in court. I'm gambling my fee on that.”
“Depends on the book. We only have a few chapters so far and nobody's read them yet. How is the trial going?”
“Splendid. I was afraid the judge wouldn't allow the books, but when he did that was a major victory. Yes, indeed.”
“Do you plan to put Matt on the stand tomorrow?”
“Yes. After all, he's my star witness—and the only witness to the actual incident. I feel very confident Matt will walk out a free man.”
“Wagner certainly hasn't proved murder. Prof. Brown thinks he's waiting in the bushes for Matt to take the stand.” Jackson sighed. “Care to walk with me? Exercise soothes my nerves, relaxes my mind. One reason for the tension of our times, too many cars.” As we walked up and down the driveway, Jackson said, “That Brown—a real thorn in the case. If only he weren't a radical! Make the case much easier if he had been kicked out of college for stealing or murder, but... you noticed, I'm sure, how I laid the groundwork for a defense if Wagner tried to redbait. Wagner is a square shooter, kept the case clean of red herrings. He's a very puzzling opponent.”
“You think he's competent?” I asked. “Oh, yes, he's clever. The trouble is, stupidity can often be mistaken for cleverness. I don't mean he's stupid, but after all he's a hick town D.A. For example, I don't understand why he didn't object to my introduction of the books as evidence. Another thing, he hasn't tried to bargain, offer us murder 'two' if Matt pleads guilty. Very odd.”
“You think he's getting a Sunday punch ready?”
“He has to. Obviously he hasn't proved the slightest intent or premeditation. However, I am not worried, a wild punch is the easiest to duck, as I believe your Prof. Brown will tell you. However, one thing I admire Wagner for, he's a gentleman through and through. He could have had the Hunters give the entire conversation between Matt and Francine Anthony, brought out Matt was a bit of a radical himself in his teaching days. Did you know he was bounced from Brooks for leading the students in an anti-ROTC demonstration? That one of the things he told Francine in that fateful conversation, was she should be damn glad Brown clammed up... he could have named Matt? Of course it's all silly, but you realize how easy it would be, or have been, for Wagner to have played up the Professor, then smeared Matt. Yes, Wagner is a fair fighter.”
“What reason would Wagner have for not bargaining?”
“Frankly, I don't know. Perhaps he knew I wouldn't even consider anything less than a manslaughter charge. Then again, he may be a gambler, playing the long shot. One thing you can be sure of, I don't underestimate him.” Jackson suddenly changed the subject, asking if I knew this area had once been the headquarters for most of the Atlantic Coast Indian tribes? Had I ever visited the reservation nearby? He was full of Indian lore. I was almost trotting to keep up with his long legs. About a half hour later, as he was earnestly explaining how the various tribes regulated the fishing rights, I was getting damn tired. I suspected Jackson was, too—I was far younger and in better shape—but he was trying to outlast me; as if we were a couple of kids. Finally I thought the hell with it and when he paused I said, “We'll have to talk again about the Indians. Right now I need to hit the sack.”
“Of course. We may talk sooner than you expect. I plan to do a book on it. I'll be knocking on your office door any month now.”
I said I was sure Longson would be glad to consider it and we said good night. I took a shower and dropped off into a good sleep, listening to Brown snoring lightly in the next bed.
Friday was a sunny, mild Fall day. After breakfast Brown insisted it was better we part in the courtroom. The court was really packed and if Brown hadn't been such an early riser we probably wouldn't have found seats. I didn't see the Hunters, but May Fitzgerald was still around. Wearing a worn houndstooth sports jacket, slacks, a plain shirt and tie, Matt was the picture of casual high fashion as he took the stand, his big frame cramped in the witness chair.
After Jackson established Matt had been a professional writer for over 20 years, that he had been a war correspondent and employed by a Hollywood studio as a writer—for a few months—Jackson asked, “Mr. Anthony, as a self-employed writer, will you please tell the court your work schedule?
“I dictate every day, including Sundays, for at least two hours. This is typed up by a secretary in New York City, returned to me for further revision.”
Jackson's eyebrows shot up in hammy surprise. “You mean you only work two hours a day?”
“That's actual dictation, answering letters. This is rather difficult to explain,”. Matt said, his voice low and strong. “But since a writer deals with ideas there isn't any time limit on his work day. He can't put in an 8 hour day and forget his job. For instance, suppose I get an idea for a story: although I may only spend an hour putting the rough on tape, I let the idea cook in my mind for many hours, often for days and months, working out the characters, the plot. In reality I would say I am working every minute—thinking about the story—even though I may be fishing, swimming, talking or watching TV.”
“Do you work while you sleep?” Jackson asked lightly.
Matt slipped him that little smile—which was beginning to annoy me. “In a sense I do. I keep a pad and pencil near my bed, to jot down ideas that come to me either before sleeping or even in a dream.”
“Would I be correct in saying, Mr. Anthony, that you— or any professional writer—is either using his typewriter, pencil, dictation machine, or his brain, 24 hours a day?”
“I'd say he has to be ready to use them 24 hours a day. To cite another example, I may hear a bit of conversation during a dinner that would fit in with the story. In other words, I have to constantly keep my work in mind. For that reason I make it a point to keep pencil and paper in all my suits, beach robes, on my boat.”
“Have you a pencil and paper handy now?”
Matt pulled a small pad and a pencil from his pocket. “I've been making many notes about this trial. I'm writing a book about it, and my experiences while in jail.”
“You're working now?” Jackson asked, as if it was all a complete surprise to him.
“I am. I think it will be the first book showing the inside of a trial, as seen by the defendant. My publishers like the idea. As I told yon, I work seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
“Even when on trial for your life?”
“Of course,” Matt said, and for a moment his face clouded as if realizing he was on trial for his life.
Jackson stood in thought for a second, then he said, “In my quote from Mr. W. Somerset Maugham yesterday, he said something about the writer writing all day long, too, consciously or unconsciously forever sorting and making over his impressions. You said you're actually thinking, or letting an idea 'cook' in the back of your mind, even while fishing, driving your car, etc. How can you concentrate on two things at the same time, Mr. Anthony?”
“After a time I suppose it comes naturally. Foremost, I am constantly concentrating on my work. The other things are merely normal actions and reactions I do without thinking. Just as a person may drive a car and carry on a conversation at the same time.”
“Do you mean you can fish, have a swim, talk to people without giving it a second thought?”
“You used the word 'normal' a moment ago. Suppose something that isn't normal happens—let us say your car breaks down, or you have a flat tire, would that disturb your working thoughts, your writing thoughts?”
“Would you say that in your profession you need complete freedom of thought?”
“Would an argument upset or spoil such freedom?”
“A true argument would. I mean, arguing over the merits of a baseball team, for example, wouldn't disturb my thinking.”
“We have heard testimony that your wife nagged you a great deal. Is that true?”
“Did her nagging ever interfere with your creative thinking?”
“Well, when it was intense I'd say it did.”
“Was it often intense?”
“Did you also nag your wife?”
Wagner, who had been toying with a pencil, his face emotionless, started to rise, then sat back.
“I suppose every husband nags at some time or other,” Matt was grinning again.
“Mr. Anthony, we are not talking about every husband. Did you ever nag your wife?”
“Yes, at times.”
“The State's witnesses have testified that Francine Anthony nagged about your exercising, your drinking, your choice of friends. Why didn't you give in to her demands, end the arguments?”
Matt shrugged his thick shoulders. “I felt I not only had a right to live my own life, but that it also had to be an active life. To spur my thinking, I couldn't live in a mental cage. Also, since we were living pretty high, I had to keep jabbing my mind to turn out enough work to meet our expenses.”
“Are you in debt?”
“Yes. We went into debt to buy our house, the boats, other items. I haven't any set income I can count on. Some years I've made over $20,000... and there have been years when I didn't average fifty bucks a week.”
“Miss Fitzgerald has testified you and your wife entertained often. Was that Mrs. Anthony's idea?”
“No. We both liked to live comfortably, entertain, travel.”
“Did you give your wife a weekly allowance for household expenses?”
“We had a joint checking account. She took out about two hundred dollars each week for food, help, whatever household expenses arose.”
“Was Mrs. Anthony a wealthy woman before you married her?”
Matt shook his head. “No.”
“Was she working then?'
“She was a cashier in a store.”
“Do you know if she was supporting her former husband?”
“Yes. She was.”
“Do you know who paid the legal expenses for her divorce?”
“Did you ever buy Francine Anthony a mink coat?”
“Yes, twice, that I can recall.”
“Did you ever buy her a car for her own use?”
“We've had many cars, we both used them.”
“Mr. Anthony, do you play golf?”
“Did Mrs. Anthony?”
“Sometimes. Not very often during the last few years.”
“Did she have a set of golf clubs?”
“Do you know what her golf clubs cost?”
“Did you ever buy Francine Anthony any jewelry?”
“Only a wedding ring. She never cared for jewels.”
“Did Mrs. Anthony have charge accounts at most New York City department stores?”
“Was she fond of fishing?”
“Did she have her own fishing gear?”
“Do you know what her rods and reels cost?”
Matt shrugged again. “About $2000. I know her tuna reel cost $650.”
“Mr. Anthony, since your marriage to Francine Anthony, have you traveled often?”
“Almost every year. We've been to Europe three times, to the West Indies, to Canada and various parts of the United States.”
“Mrs. Anthony accompanied you on all these trips?”
“Now, Mr. Anthony, let us come to July 25th. Will you tell the court exactly what happened on that day, starting from the time you arose.”
“Fran and I got up at about nine, had a swim. Then the Hunters came down and we all had breakfast I had secretly ordered a skin diving outfit sent to the Hampton post office— under one of my pen names. About ten-fifteen I took the car and drove over to see if it had arrived. It had and I hid it in the trunk of the car. I was amazed to see Hank Brown walking towards the Hampton railroad station. We had taught together at Brooks University many years ago. I stopped Hank and we talked for...”
Jackson held up his hand. “One second, Mr. Anthony. You said you had 'secretly' ordered this skin diving outfit. Why in secret?”
“Fran was against it. She felt underwater swimming might be a strain on my heart.”
“Mr. Anthony, do you carry a large insurance policy?”
“Not at present. At one time I held policies totaling $50,000. However, due to the expense of buying our estate, building the house, I was not able to meet some premiums and a few of the policies have lapsed. At present I only carry about $6000 worth of insurance.”
“How much insurance did you carry on July 25th?”
“Did Mrs. Anthony ever tell you she was afraid you might die before your larger policies could be renewed?”
Matt grinned. “Many times. She claimed I had let the insurance lapse merely to annoy her. I kept reminding her the insurance money went into the house.”
I—and everybody else—glanced at Wagner, expecting him to make an objection. Even the judge looked his way. But Wagner sat there calmly, making notes.
“So you had to sneak over to Hampton to get this skin diving outfit, Mr. Anthony. Did you think skin diving might be a strain on your heart?”
“Mr. Clair, if I thought I was dying I would have shot myself. I don't believe in being a living corpse. I realized I had to take moderate care of my heart, we all do as we grow older. I cut down on my drinking, on exercise, avoided fatty foods. At the same time I swam, I walked, I fished. Skin diving requires even less energy than swimming. I felt exploring the bottom of the bay, perhaps finding the remains of old ships, might give me material for a book. I looked forward to it as a new experience.”
“Now, Mr. Anthony, let us continue with the day of July 25th. You said you met Professor Brown in Hampton— what happened after that?”
“I'd read a little of Hank's troubles in the papers. Naturally, we talked about that, and other things, for a while. He kept saying he had to make a train. I urged him to come over to the house and either take a later train, or stay the weekend. As I said, we hadn't seen each other in years, had much to talk over. He told me he was out of work and stony. I thought I might be able to help him find something. We arrived at the house before noon. Hank met Fran and the Hunters. Fran kept repeating his name, trying to remember where she had heard or read about him. Finally, while I was getting everybody a drink, Fran asked him pointblank— she was always outspoken—and he told her about losing his job. Although she didn't say a word, everybody could see how furious she was and I knew Hank was uncomfortable. Fran and the Hunters went out on the veranda. When I passed there, Fran bawled me out. I told her Hank and his wife had been very kind to me when I was a young instructor at Brooks, that I was very fond of him, both as a man and as a friend, and might have him out for a weekend. She was afraid I was going to lend him some money. Then Fran said she wanted him to leave at once and if I didn't tell Hank to get out, she would. It was then I told her I'd kill... her... if... if she ever said a rude word... to him.” Matt's voice ended in a nervous whisper. Under his tan I thought he looked pale.
“Would you like a glass of water, Mr. Anthony?”' Jackson asked.
Matt shook his head, sat up straight and smiled again—a brave little smile this time. He certainly was acting again. He said, “I am perfectly all right, Mr. Clair, thank you.”
Jackson rubbed his chin slowly, asked, “What was your state of mind when you told your wife you would 'kill' her if she was rude to your old friend?”
“I was quite angry, upset. I knew most people were avoiding Hank and... well, a crisis is the test of any friendship.”
“Had Mrs. Anthony ever met Prof. Brown before?”
“Have you any idea as to why she wanted him out of your house? Did she find him loud, obnoxious, or—”
“Of course not. She barely had a chance to talk to him. She made the reason very clear—it was a matter of money. Fran felt if my name was linked in any way to his, it might hurt some movie sales I had in the works.”
“Matt Anthony, when you told your wife you would 'kill' her if she ordered your friend out of your house, did you mean that as a threat?”
“I did not! It was merely words—a phrase—one uses in the heat of anger.”
“Have you ever used that same phrase before?”
“Hundreds of times—ever since I could talk. It was said in the same sense as saying, if you don't pass the bread I'll break your arm. Or, get off the phone before I wring your neck. Merely words.”
“Then, am I correct in stating that in your own mind, at least, you were not threatening to actually kill your wife?”
“Absolutely correct!” Matt half rose from the witness chair. “I loved Fran.”
“Witnesses have testified that your wife nagged you, that the both of you often argued. Were you and Mrs. Anthony happy?”
“Yes. As a writer all people interest me, but few excite me. Fran was an exciting person. We had both been married and divorced before. If we hadn't been hitting it off, we would have separated. We were in love, happy, suited each other.”
“Mr. Anthony, have you ever in your life actually wanted to kill a person?
Jackson looked startled, even Wagner came to attention.
That smile—as if it was the key to a great secret—formed on Mart's face. “During the war a Nazi officer wounded me and killed several of my G.I. buddies. I tried to kill him with my bare hands.”
Jackson gave the court a big understanding grin. “We all know during the war thousands of Americans killed. Except for that one war experience, have you ever wanted to kill anyone?”
“No. Or hurt anybody, either.”
“Now, Mr. Anthony, let us continue with the events of July 25th. What happened after you talked to your wife on the veranda?”
“I went back to Hank. As I said, he couldn't help but sense Fran's hostility. He said he wanted to take the next train back to New York, that he had to see somebody about a job that afternoon....”
One of Wagner's assistants whispered something and they both turned to search out Brown in the crowd, then Wagner shrugged and shook his head. I wondered if be could still call Brown to the stand.
“... I drove Hank to the railway station, said I'd get in touch with him in a week or two. I saw Hank off and returned to the house—”
“One second, Mr. Anthony,” Jackson cut in. “Did your wife see Mr. Brown before he left the house? Did she speak to him?”
“Now, both you and the Hunters have testified that you told your wife, '... if you ever say a single-out-of-the-way word to Hank, I'll kill you.' Those are your exact words?”
“You said, '... if...' Francine ever said anything to Mr. Brown. After you... eh... talked to your wife on the veranda, said the words, did she ever see or talk to Mr. Brown again?”
“No. I told you, I drove Hank to the station.”
“Yes. Now when you returned to the house, what happened?”
“I found the Hunters sleeping on the lawn. Fran wasn't around. It was early afternoon, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out my aqua-lung. I took the package from the car to the boat house, undressed. I saw Fran fishing a few hundred yards out in the bay, her back to me. I thought it would be a great joke to walk on the bottom of the bay, yank at her line. Unfortunately, the joke backfired. Since I had only used the lung once before—at a friend's place—I didn't know how to work it and somehow cut off my air supply. I had to surface.”
“Where did you come up?'
“A few feet from the boat. Of course Fran saw me. I swam over and climbed into the boat. She was beside herself with rage that I had purchased the diving outfit. I tried to explain it might give me material for a book. She called me a childish fool, and other names. I—”
“Exactly what other names, Mr. Anthony?”
“I don't see the importance of telling... She called me a dumb bastard and a stupid... Mr. Clair, there's no point in repeating the names. It might shock some people. Fran and I, being pretty worldly, used language that... again, her names were merely words said in anger.”
“What did you do after she called you the names?”
“I told her to take it easy, I knew what I was doing. I stood up to dive, swim back to shore and see what was wrong with the air valve. Fran got to her feet and tried to jerk the lung from my back. I pushed her away as I told her she would break the tubes. She came at me; grabbed the lines, cursing me. I said to stop it, said we'd talk it over later. She kept trying to break the lung. I got mad, pushed her away, screamed at her to stop. She came at me again, nearly upsetting the rowboat. I got so mad I... lost my head and struck out at her.” Again his voice sank to a nervous whisper.
“You said you struck out at her. You've done a lot of boxing, Mr. Anthony, did you hit her with your left hand or right? Was it a punch, a jab, a...?”
“I don't know! All I know is I was fed up with her carping about the damn aqua-lung! I know I struck out at her. All I remember is—the next thing I knew I was standing in the boat and Fran was... Oh, God, I keep seeing this over and over in my mind... poor Fran was hanging over the side of the boat, bleeding... her blood so dark on the green water.” Matt held a big hand in front of his face, bowed his head. I knew he wasn't acting now, that I was watching sincere sorrow.
In a voice syrupy with understanding, Jackson said, “I realize how painful this must be for you, but this is a court and I must ask you to tell us exactly what you did next.”
Matt took his hand away, wiped his lips. “I thought she was hurt. I knelt over her, was stunned to realize she was dead. It seemed impossible.”
“You were positive she was dead?” Matt nodded. “She didn't have a pulse. I took a silver spoon from her tackle box and held it to her mouth; she wasn't breathing. I started to pull her back into the boat, raise the anchor. Then I remembered the police wouldn't want me to touch a thing. I dived over and raced ashore. I dressed quickly, hid the diving outfit, and—”
“Why did you bother dressing, hiding the aqua-lung?” Jackson cut in.
Matt spread his hands on the air. “Frankly, I don't know. I was in a state of shock. I imagine I dressed because I thought I'd have to go for the police. I simply didn't remember about the phone. I was dazed. I kept drying my face and it was still wet... I was crying. As I started running toward tile house I kept thinking of the mess, the headlines. My aching head seemed to be in two parts: one dazed, the other full of racing thoughts. When I reached the house I saw the Hunters still dozing on the lawn. It came to me that I could avoid a scandal by calling it an accident. Frankly, I don't know now if I was thinking of myself then, or trying to avoid messy headlines for the sake of Fran's memory. Seeing the Hunters dozing, I knew it would be simple to use a gimmick I had once written into a story. A time gimmick that would establish an alibi for myself. As I said, I was thinking very fast and clearly—and at the same time I was confused, shocked. The dazed part of ray mind didn't give a damn what happened.” Matt stopped talking, stared at the crowded courtroom without seeing it.
Jackson said, “Exactly what do you mean by a 'time gimmick,' Mr. Anthony?”
Matt shook himself, as if he'd been lost in a day dream. “Joel Hunter was sleeping in his swimming trunks, wasn't wearing a watch. I played with the poodle for a moment, making him bark. The noise awoke Joel, but fortunately not Wilma, who was sleeping several yards away. Joel, mumbling, asked if I wanted to take a swim. I held up my wrist watch—but he was too far away to see it. It was 3:27 p.m. but I told him it was only a quarter to three, why not wait until Fran returned from fishing before we went swimming.”
“In other words, Mr. Anthony, you misled him about the time—a mistake of about three quarters of an hour?”
“That's correct. He went back to sleep, as I expected. I waited a moment, then tossed a pebble at Wilma. When she awoke I said, 'It's three-thirty, going to sleep the afternoon away?' She then awoke Joel, and I told him I'd just finished reading an article in a magazine lying on the table, that my eyes hurt. The implication was I'd read it during the supposedly three quarters of an hour Joel had been sleeping. I then sent May down to the dock to tell Fran to come back and join us in a swim. Naturally, she screamed upon seeing Fran hanging over the side of lie boat. I told her to call a doctor and the police as I swam out. Although I was still dazed, still terribly upset, I knew I was putting on a good act, that I could avoid a scandal. As it turned out, luck was with me—at first.”
“In what way, Mr. Anthony?”
Matt shook himself again. He was no longer smiling, had a far away look in his eyes. “What? Oh, the luck—the lousy luck. Fran must have caught a shoe lace on the duckboards of the rowboat, broke the lace when she fell. Well, the medical examiner decided, in view of that and the 'fact' we were all on the lawn while she was fishing, that she had stood up to cast, lost her balance or tripped over the lace, and fell. He called her death accidental.”
“Were you pleased with your cleverness, Mr. Anthony?”
“No. The full impact of losing Fran had hit me, I was sick. Just before supper, while I was dictating, May brought in—”
“You worked the same day?”
“Yes. Work is not only a habit, but also an escape for me. I had to think of something else, get my mind off Fran. Well, May brought Detective Kolcicki into my study. He told me flatly he didn't believe it was an accident, kept stressing that I'd threatened Fran. I... I tried to explain it really wasn't a threat. Then... the cobra struck up.” Matt was staring at the floor, his voice low but clear.
Jackson asked quickly, “Are you feeling well, Mr. Anthony?”
“Did you say something about a cobra?”
Matt stared at Jackson for a moment, as if seeing a stranger. “Did I? It's an expression of mine, meaning the fat's in the fire. You see, the fact is a cobra can't strike up.”
“Let us get back to what happened between you and Detective Kolcicki.”
Matt rubbed his hands together, then looked at the palms. “Of course. Well, I realized how silly my story sounded, that if I stuck to it, things would only be more involved. So I told him the truth. It was a relief, a great load off my mind. He typed it up and I signed the confession. Yes, I signed it!” Matt rose in the chair and then fell back, a cockeyed grin on his big mouth. He looked very sickly.
An attendant rushed over with a glass of water. Matt thanked him in a small voice, drank some. The judge asked if he wanted a recess. Matt shook his head gamely, whispered, “I want to get this ordeal over with, your Honor.”
Clair said, “Matt, perhaps a rest...?”
“No. I'm able to continue. Let's go.”
Jackson played with his beaded belt. “I have only one more question, Mr. Anthony. You have told us in great detail exactly what happened—except for the moment when you struck your wife. You obviously have a mind trained for detail, why are you vague about that all-important moment? Can't you recall if you struck her with your left hand, or your right...
“I don't know!” Matt shouted hoarsely. “She came at me and in a blind rage I struck out. That's all I know! Perhaps I blacked out. The next thing I knew she was hanging over the side of the boat... That's all I know.”
“Did you ever strike your wife before?”
Jackson said, “That will be all, Mr. Anthony.”
As Wagner stood up the judge recessed the court for 15 minutes. A guard led Matt away. I noticed Mart's shirt front was wet with sweat.
Leaving my hat on my seat, I took out my pipe and headed for the hall. May Fitzgerald was already there, blowing her smoke rings. She said, “I feel sorry for him. Several times I thought he was about to faint.”
I nodded. “At times I thought he was acting but—”
“That's a bloody thing to say.”
I grinned at her. “I was about to add but at the end I knew he wasn't.”
“Seems strange their final argument should be over something as trivial as a diving toy.”
I was about to say something trite, like, “That's life,” but didn't. May said it.
I said, “I suppose the case will go to the jury on Monday. Are you staying over?”
“I expect to. Missing a few classes won't hurt me.”
“Where are you staying?”
“With a colored family I know. Where else could I stay?”
There wasn't any comment to make and I smoked my pipe.
When Matt was brought back to the stand he seemed his old self, grinning at Wagner like a pug looking across the ring at his opponent.
Wagner stood beside the witness chair for a moment, then asked in his hard, emotionless voice, “Mr. Anthony, you have testified under oath you think about your work—your writing—practically 24 hours a day: is that what you said?”
“A part of my mind is thinking about my work all the time.”
“You let the plots 'cook' is the exact word you used. In other words, some part of your mind is concerned with your writing 24 hours a day.”
“And you write seven days a week?”
“What part of your writing is fiction?”
Matt smiled. “It's entirely fiction.”
“Would I be correct in saying that since your writing is entirely fiction, all the characters, incidents and details in your books are a product of your own mind, Mr. Anthony?”
“You would be correct, Mr. Wagner.”
Jackson, was leaning forward, his long frame ready to leap to his feet his rugged face listening intently.
“In brief, the subject matter of your books is part of your mind, your thoughts, day after day?”
Matt nodded and the judge told him to speak up. Matt said, “That's correct.”
Wagner returned to his table where an assistant handed him a bulky briefcase. Wagner dumped about a dozen books, mostly paperbacks, and a mimeographed paper out on the table. The striking cover of the book we had recently reissued stood out. Wagner turned toward the judge. “Your Honor, these books represent the writings—the work—of Matt Anthony for the last 10 years. I wish to enter them into evidence as the State's exhibits, C, D, E...”
Jackson made his leap. “I object, your Honor. These books are works of fiction, therefore can not be considered as evidence!”
The judge held up his hands, called both lawyers to the bench. For a few minutes the three of them talked in low voices, both Jackson and the D.A. arguing vehemently. Finally they returned to their tables and the judge said, “The witness will step down. The jury will retire until I settle a point of law.”
When the jury left, Wagner stood up, said, “Your Honor, the witness has said that all day long, seven days a week, he thinks about his work. These books represent Matt Anthony's published writings for the past 10 years. In order to prove intent and premeditation, I strongly urge that it is entirely relevant to the State's case to show exactly what the defendant was thinking these last 10 years. His own writings will prove he was constantly thinking about physical violence, promiscuous sex, crime, murder and rape.”
“This is ridiculous, your Honor,” Jackson said. “The very nature of fiction means it is imaginary, therefore cannot be considered on a factual basis, nor as evidence.”
“I do not claim the contents of these books are factual, but it is a fact, according to the testimony, that these books constitute the major part of Mr. Anthony's thinking during the last 10 years. This is not my statement, but his own.”
“Your Honor,” Jackson said, “These books are a commodity manufactured by my client for a certain type market. He has to slant these books to the demands of that market, therefore—”
“They still represent his thinking, according to his own testimony,” Wagner cut in.
“I submit this is merely a cheap bit for sensationalism on the part of the prosecutor to influence the jury. I object to fiction being—”
“I will be the judge of that, Mr. Clair,” the judge told Jackson. He turned to Wagner. “Do you plan to read all these books to the jury, Mr. Wagner?”
“No, sir. I will merely read a few sentences and sum up the contents of each book. These books give us a unique opportunity to look into the mind of the defendant, for in the printed form we have his thoughts before us.”
“To put these novels into evidence will make this court the laughing stock of the bar, would be a mockery of justice and—”
“Mr. Clair, I am the judge in this court and perfectly capable of performing my duties.”
“I object to these novels as immaterial and irrelevant!” Jackson said, his face flushed with anger.
“Exception!” Jackson snapped, returning to the defense table, where Matt was busy writing. Jackson sat down and began whispering to Matt, gesturing with his hands—as if Matt were the judge.
The jury was recalled and Matt returned to the stand. Wagner picked up the mimeographed papers, asked, “Mr. Anthony, are you a member of the Mystery Writers of America?”
“Yes, although I doubt if my dues are paid up.”
“Do they publish a monthly newsletter called, The Third Degree?”
“I now show you a copy of The Third Degree for January of last year. I show you an article on page 3 titled, 'The .45 Typewriter' by Matt Anthony. Did you write this article, Mr. Anthony?”
“This is not fiction; this is an article, a piece of non-fiction, is it not, Mr. Anthony?”
“Well, yes. It's a puff, sort of an inside bit.”
“What does that mean?”
“It's the sort of piece that would only be understood by other writers, mystery story writers.”
Wagner handed it to the court clerk to be marked as an exhibit for the State. The clerk handed it up to the judge. The judge glanced at it—and he must have been a hell of a fast reader—then gave it to Jackson. Clair sat down and read it carefully. Matt watched him with an absolute bored expression and the whole courtroom moved restlessly. It was almost noon. Jackson sure took his time. Finally he got to his feet and boomed—jarring everybody—“I object, your Honor, on the grounds this has no relation to fact. Mr. Anthony has already stated this is inside information, written for a select group. This could easily have been written as a joke, a bit of sarcasm or mere boasting before other professional writers.”
The judge asked Matt, “Is this Mystery Writers something like a trade union, Mr. Anthony?”
“I wish it were. Perhaps you might call it that, loosely, in the same sense that one might call the American Medical Association a union.”
“Is this... eh... paper tee official organ of the organisation?”
“I believe so.”
Jackson barked, “Exception!” and handed the paper to the stenographer for marking. Then Wagner took the mimeographed sheets and told the jury, “Ladies and gentlemen, I will now read from State's Exhibit 'C' an article written by the defendant and titled, “The .45 Typewriter.' Quote: 'In no other writing medium have I found so much technical background data necessary as in the field of the mystery novel. With or without due modesty I can safely say I know more about poisons, knife wounds and ballistics than the average police official, and know more ways to commit murder than any killer. Indeed, I can qualify as an expert in any criminal endeavor.' Unquote. Did you write that, Mr. Anthony?”
“And do you know more ways to commit murder than any killer, Mr. Anthony?”
“probably—and so does any professor of criminology in a college.” Wagner went to his table, picked up a paperback book, glanced at some notes, then asked that Death in Spades by Matt Anthony be entered into evidence. Jackson went through the routine of objecting that the book was immaterial and the judge overruled him. Jackson thumbed through the book, said, “Your Honor, it is impossible for me to read this, study it, in a short time.”
“Do you wish time to read these books, Mr. Clair?” the judge asked.
“Your Honor, that would delay the trial for a number of days, add to the cost of the defense and my client has very little money. I do not wish to delay this trial.” Jackson handed the book back to be marked.
Holding the book up before Matt, Wagner asked, “Did you write this book, Mr. Anthony?”
“Do you know that in these 152 pages there are nine brutal beatings, six murders, four fornications and a rape?”
Matt said calmly, “I never counted them, but I will take your word for it.”
Wagner picked up another book. “Mr. Anthony, do you write under the pen name of Daisy Action?”
“I have used that name. I use quite a few names.”
Wagner had the gaudy-covered paperback titled, The Corpse in Her Life by Daisy Action put into evidence over Jackson's objections and said, “I will read from page 97. Quote: 'Please, please, she moaned as Ad Hardy staggered toward her, bloody hands out.
“'You lying little bitch, playing me for a patsy!' he said, the words tumbling from his mouth like a harsh explosion.
“'Please, Ad... please. I know what you want... take me.' She backed against the wall, eyes closed, her words almost a moan of pleasure.
“One bloody claw of a hand suddenly ripped her silk blouse down the front: her firm breasts stood out. Cursing, Ad began slapping her breasts until she collapsed, screaming with pain. Did you write that, Mr. Anthony?”
Jackson shouted, “Your Honor, I object to this form of questioning. Mr. Wagner is being deliberately sensational, influencing the jury. The defendant has said he authored the book, to keep asking him over and over if he wrote it serves no purpose.”
“I'm merely showing some of Mr. Anthony's thoughts, the things that 'cook' in his mind,” Wagner answered.
The judge told Wagner not to drag out the evidence.
Wagner next introduced into evidence five more novels, asked, “Mr. Anthony, do you know that in these five books there are exactly 22 killings, including the murder of two children?”
“I've never counted them. I don't write with an adding machine, Mr. Wagner.”
“Do you wish me to itemize them, Mr. Anthony?”
“If it gives you any pleasure, go right ahead.”
Wagner turned to the judge, who ordered Mart's answer stricken from the record. Jackson half-stood, as if ready to jump into a fight. When the judge warned Matt about being sarcastic, Matt told him, “I'm not being sarcastic, your Honor. Mr. Wagner has cited me as a criminal expert. As a D.A. he is also undoubtedly an expert on crime, or should be. I merely thought, as one expert to another, he wished to compare notes.”
This was also ordered out of the record. Jackson sat down, shaking his head. He started to make a note, then loudly snapped the pencil between his fingers. The judge glanced at him but didn't say anything.
Picking up another book, Wagner went through the routine of placing it in evidence, then read: “'Well honey, I tried my best to make something out of you, but once a lousy whore always a lousy whore. You could of made us both a pile of folding money, but... this is good-bye. I'll never again put time in a dumb slut.'
“As Martin picked up his hat, she slid off the dirty cot, looking thin and child-like as the sunlight painted her nude body. She stared at him with sad eyes. As he reached the door of the shack, with a motion as fast as a striking snake, she pulled a 38 from under the stained pillow, fired.
Martin tumbled to the floor, holding his left knee. Through his torn and bloody pants, part of a bone stuck out: a gruesome white monument to nothing. She walked over, a delicate sway to her thin hips, took deliberate aim and shot his other knee-cap away. Then she drawled in a tiny voice, 'Ya see, Marty, you ain't never going to leave me. Not even crawl away from me. A hill gal only loves one man. Didn't ya know that, darling?” Unquote. Mr. Anthony, can children buy this book?”
Jackson was on his feet before Matt could answer. “Your Honor, I object to that last line, about children. And I move for a mistrial on the grounds the prosecutor has influenced the jury by this cheap—”
“I didn't write these books, your rare genius did!” Wagner shouted.
The judge banged away with his gavel and in the silence that followed Jackson said, “Your Honor, the defense is willing to concede Mr. Anthony wrote hardboiled crime novels, which by their very nature deal with the seamy side of life, have to be realistic. However, Mr. Anthony did not invent or start this... eh... this school of writing. There are hundreds of such books on sale this minute, and over the years thousands of these books have been written. Therefore, I move for a mistrial on the grounds that by taking passages out of context the prosecutor has not only influenced the jury, but also deliberately misled them with the implication Matt Anthony is responsible for the literary tastes of our country. Obviously the defendant, as a self-employed writer, must write for an established market—he does not create that market.”
The judge quickly denied the motion but ordered Wagner's question about whether children could buy the book stricken from the record. Glancing at the wall clock he asked Wagner, “How many more books do you plan to offer as evidence?”
Wagner eyed the pile of novels on his table, then turned toward the judge. “I should like to read from two more, your Honor.”
“I think you've made your point, Mr. Wagner. You may enter one more book into evidence. Only one. Continue.”
Wagner picked over the books, held up The Last Supper. While Clair was booming his usual objections and being overruled, all I could think was: Would selecting the book help our sales?
Facing the jury Wagner said, “I will now read from page 19. Quote: 'Walking across the bridge they stopped to stare at the brightly lit skyscraper windows—jeweled lace against the dark night. Placing his hands on her shoulders, Walt said, “How lonely it is here. A perfect place for a murder.” Helen moved out from under his hands. He held her shoulders once more. “Must you always avoid me?”
“'She stared up at him boldly. “You want me but what have you to offer in return? You know what I want of you, but you are a weakling.
“'Walt said gently, “You shouldn't push me so hard.”
“'She laughed, the very coolness of her voice infuriating him. “Do what you do so well—talk. You don't frighten me.”
“'Walt said softly, “I never wanted to frighten you. But we all have the will to murder—it is only the opportunity we lack. I have the desire—and this is the opportunity!” His powerful hands raised her to the bridge railing. Helen made only one movement—she kicked him savagely in the groin. His lean face frozen with horror and surprise, Walt did a drunken dance for a moment, then collapsed, both hands urgently pressing what he had always been so proud of. Her cute face showing no emotion, Helen stooped, carefully removed his hands from the apex of his legs, kicked him in the groin again. Watching him groveling in helpless pain, Helen drew back her shapely leg to kick the bloody spot again, then hurriedly walked away. She knew Walt was right, we all have the will to murder.'”
Wagner shut the book. “Mr. Anthony, in the last ten years have you written any other kind of book except what your counsel has termed 'hardboiled crime books'?”
“That is all.”
As Jackson got to his feet the judge looked at the clock. It was after one; he said the court would recess for lunch. Jackson stepped toward the bench, said loudly, “If your Honor pleases, I have but a few questions. I would then request the court adjourn until Monday. As this is Friday and since I expected the State's cross-examination to last longer, the defense's last two witnesses, doctors, are not in court.”
The judge motioned both lawyers to the bench. There was a whispered conference—except once—Jackson's deep voice boomed ”... to have them travel back and forth to Riverside... fees are very high and the defendant is broke....” There was more low talk with all of them turning to look at the wall clock—as if doubting it was still there.
Matt sat hunched over in the witness chair, staring out at the courtroom, studying us. Once he stood up and waved his arms around like a pitcher loosening his muscles. He was a frightfully big man.
The lawyers returned to their tables and the judge told the jury, “The court realizes it is well past your lunchtime. However, since Mr. Clair says he has only a few more questions to ask the defendant, we will continue. When Mr. Clair is finished the court will adjourn until ten o'clock, Monday morning.” The jury looked rather relieved.
Jackson stepped forward, giving Matt his best man-to-man grin, as he asked, “Mr. Anthony, have you ever written any type story except mysteries?”
“Oh, yes. I have written slick love stories, and what is known as quality yarns. In fact when I first started I had a story on O'Brien's honor roll. This was an anneal anthology of the best short stories of the year.”
Jackson nodded. “Then, as a professional writer, do you consider yourself capable of turning out any type of fiction?”
“Then why is it, Mr. Anthony, that in the last 10 years you have confined your writing to crime stories?”
“Can you give us a rough idea of how many people read your books?”
“Oh, on the average, taking in both hardcover and paperback sales, I would say about 300,000 people buy a copy of each book, which means the book is probably read by at least a million people.”
“How many books have you written during the last decade?”
“I turn out about three a year.”
“Roughly, then, some 30 million people hare read your novels—almost one-sixth of our entire population.”
Matt smiled. “Not quite that many. The same person may keep buying each new book as it's published.”
“In your opinion, as a professional writer, would romantic... eh... sweet, love stories sell as well as hardboiled action?”
“Indeed, no. There's little, if any, chance of a paperback reprint of the sugary love yarn.”
“Then you turned to crime stories solely because they sell well?”
“If next year you found love stories selling better than crime novels, would you then write love novels?”
“Certainly. I write for a living, therefore I must always aim at the best paying market.”
The judge glanced at Wagner who said, “No further questions, your Honor.” After the usual warning to the jury not to discuss the case, court was dismissed for the day. I waited outside until Brown came by, asked, “Where do you want to eat?”
“At the moment all I want is a drink. Let's drive to some place outside town. Wagner crucified Matt.”
“You think it was that bad?” I asked, as we went down the steps.
“The worst part was the fact it was true—Matt did write all that terrible trash. I told you Wagner was a clever fellow.”
“Actually, what did he prove, that Matt writes tripe? This is a courtroom, not a critics' group. I still don't see any proof of murder.”
“I think he influenced the jury, at least shocked them. But the legal aspect aside, Wagner stripped Matt naked in public, exposed him as a pitiful... literary pimp. Clair was a fool to place Matt on the stand. And he didn't fight back enough—I thought he was on the right track when he started talking about Matt not inventing the sex and violence books. But he didn't go far enough, he should have shown that so-called literary tastes boil down to the publishers trying for the fast buck.”
“Oh, hell, Hank, that's pure bunk. I'm not trying to gild the publishing industry, God knows, but you're putting the cart before the horse. Books go in cycles, fads, and right now the public is demanding the fast-paced story that reflects the tensions of our time. If you see a dirty face in a mirror— don't call the mirror dirty.”
“That's more bunk, Norm. Big business under the slogan it's good for business always gives the public an inferior product. And that goes for publishing, of course. Don't you know they can make a nylon stocking that will wear for years? That they could seal the lubrication of an auto so that one would never need a change of oil? But think what that would do to the stocking industry, or the oil business!”
As I opened the car door, Brown was lecturing on what the auto industry supposedly did to a Mr. Tucker who was ready to build a better car. I wasn't in the mood for a lecture, nor did I believe his line. As we started to drive I managed to change the subject with: “After hearing him testify, do you still think Matt never killed Francine?”
“I don't know, it all has an unreal quality. Yes, listening to him, I still can't believe he struck her. How easy it would have been for him to simply dive over the side of the boat when Francine tried to take the diving lung from him. And these diving things are hardly flimsy, I doubt if she could have damaged it much. It's all Alice in Wonderland. Why Wagner had the first of Matt's books marked exhibit C— meaning that State had only introduced two other exhibits thus far—and they had already stated their case. In most murder trials there's dozens of exhibits.”
“Nothing, except I have this feeling it's all a play, not a trial. Jackson's strutting, Wagner the villain. Matt with his crazy smile, as if he already knows what the third act will be.”
“Yeah. That grin must be annoying the devil out of the jury. What was that cobra thing?”
Brown shrugged. “Some story idea Matt's had for a long time. He told me something about it. Somehow, I smell a frame-up here.”
“Oh, Hank. How can Wagner possibly be framing Matt?”
“I don't know, but I smell it. Perhaps Matt is framing himself. Maybe he's in love with the picture of Matt Anthony, harassed genius, Jackson gave the court. The genius writing all that dung—the poor dope. All very confusing, makes me uneasy.”
“You didn't come out too badly.”
“I'm going to phone Ruth tonight, after six, to see if I'm still among the employed. And that's part of the shocking lack of reality to the whole thing: actually myself, my job, are such a very minor part of Matt's life... and suddenly it's been blown up out of all proportion. I feel as though I've stepped through the looking glass.”
“It has a never-never-land air, all right. I suppose Monday we'll be bored by Jackson's head hunters stating Matt was nuts while Wagner's lads say Matt passed his tests with colors flying. Think the jury will get the case by Monday afternoon?”
“They've exhausted all possible witnesses except me. This must set a record for speed in a murder case.”
We passed an old looking inn and parked. The restaurant was empty and we took a table with a view of the water. After we ordered, I went to phone Michele, to be sure she was taking the afternoon train. Then I called Miss Park. She had a few things I had to okay, messages from Bill and Marty Kelly. Two large midtown book stores had a big window display of Mart's book and were happily reporting brisk sales.
When I returned to the table the professor had finished his second double rye, which reassured me he was human after all. But the liquor didn't seem to loosen him up any. When I told him about Michele coming out for the weekend and that he could keep the motel, as we wanted to drive around, he took off again, asking, “You said your wife is French. Has she become a U.S. citizen yet?”
“No. We were too late for the war bride deal, but she's taken out her papers.”
“Then I shall certainly move out, not even meet her, although I would like to. Knowing me could cause her deportation.”
“Hank, relax. Don't worry about the motel. We like to bum around, perhaps spend the night some place out at the point and...”
“Norman, if you don't realize the danger, I do. Thank you, but I will find other lodgings. Town shouldn't be crowded for the weekend.”
“Do what you wish, but we still aren't going to use the motel room.”
We had a light lunch and a few more drinks. It was a lovely day, almost like summer. We drove along the waterfront to the canal, looking at the big yachts, watching people fishing from the canal banks for fluke, or maybe they were flounders. At four I drove back to Riverside and couldn't talk the old man out of moving. He found a room in a small tourist house on the edge of town. At five I was waiting at the railroad station. When Michele stepped off the train she was so chic and feminine, so continental and warm, I felt like I was seeing her for the first time. It gave me a tremendous lift to watch her glancing around anxiously, knowing she was looking only for me.
We drove to the motel to wash up, and I asked what the wanted to do first. Michele asked, “But where is this wonderful professor with the broken nose, Norm?”
I tried to explain why Hank didn't want to see her, but certain aspects of our political climate can hardly be explained to an outsider, a new American—or even to most of us old ones.
Michele placed her arms around my neck, rubbing her nose against my ear lobe as she said, “This is childish talk, Norm. Indeed, we shall drive around and sleep where we wish, perhaps out on a wind-swept beach. All the way on the dull train ride I have been thinking of but two things: the biggest lobster in the world... and you.”
“I'm glad you had us in that order.”
She said something in soft French, nibbled at my ear. I think she was saying she wouldn't mind eating me.
My very possessive hands ran over her dress as I said, “Such talk will only delay eating that lobster. Hungry?”
“For both you and the lobster I am very hungry. But almost famished for food. Norm, let us call on the silly, frightened professor, take him out to supper.”
“I don't know, honey. If he wants to be alone, I think we should let him be. After all, he isn't a child,” I said, wondering if there was a chance being with him could hurt Michele. Lord, what if she were deported as a result? It could happen, I suppose. Was there an opening for a slow-French-speaking ad manager in the Paris publishing houses?
Michele kissed me, pulled out of my arms. “Perhaps we should respect his request for privacy. Let us go, be moving... ever since you left me I have felt I am standing still. You must tell me all about Monsieur Matt on the stand today.”
“Okay. But I'm afraid the big monsieur had a rough time,” I said, packing a few things into her overnight bag.
It was still light by the time we reached Montauk but we were too late for the fishing boats. Michele thought the country quite desolate and dreary looking. She also thought Matt's wife must have been an awful woman and that his books were also awful. But she was very much in favor of the lobster dinner we had. We stopped for the night at a rather fancy motel within the sound of the ocean waves. Although we had only been apart one night, we made love with all the passion of honeymooners and when she finally let go of me I stared up at the darkness and smiled—feeling very certain I wasn't a “lousy lay.”
I had done nothing but sit around the courtroom all day and I wasn't tired enough to sleep. I thought again, with the same warm amazement, of the odd crew of characters my life had been tied up with the past months. I'd be glad to be rid of them. Sometimes when watching a TV commercial, I'd have the feeling I was looking through the wrong end of a telescope. I'd think of the thousands of dollars, the talent, and all of it for the sale of a little dime can of cleanser. It was the same way with Matt: his big house, his 'literary' life, even Francine's death, Wagner and Jackson's skills, the whole operation at Longson—all went in to producing a book about a girl kicking a guy in the groin or getting beaten on the breasts. Perhaps I was over-simplifying things, but I ran my hand over Michele's shoulders, as if she were the only real thing in the world. Yet, in a sense, our being together in this motel was dependent—to some degree—upon that kick in the groin. Maybe Michele was right about the lack of dignity in life here. But hell, the same thing was true in France; I understood Mart's books sold very well there in translation. It was all quite confusing... and embarrassing.
Saturday was another mild Fall day, but cloudy. After a walk along the beach searching for shells—and not knowing what to do with them—we had breakfast. Michele kept talking about the various things to be done around 'the house,' including looking at a boat. So we made our way over several charming and old fashioned little ferries, and finally we were on an old Navy craft and the three hour trip across the Sound was windy but relaxing. We were 'home' an hour after we hit the Connecticut shore.
In the afternoon we went to see our boat and fell in love with a wide, tubby, 21-foot cat boat. It had a tiny little cabin you had to practically crawl into, with an open 'head' at one end that didn't work. But the boat yard owner assured us a fine, safe boat with a decent motor. The boat was already up on land and the owner was asking $1500, but as the yard owner explained, “It ain't a firm $1500. I don't want you to get in over your heads, you understand, so I'll give it to you straight—this boat is worth at least double the money. She may look the devil but the wood is good and she's only six years old, engine overhauled this season—I did the job myself. Buy her now and next season you should expect to put about another few hundred bucks in her. Needs new sail, mattresses, anchor, things like that. Let me call the owner, tell him you'll pay cash, see what gives.”
By the end of the day we were minus $850 and the sudden owners of a boat. The yard man advised us that for the winter all we had to do was drain and grease the motor, slap a coat of paint on the hull and decks, then... “cover her with canvas and she'll be snug all winter. Along about April, you'll take care of the seams, give her a real paint job, restep the mast... but don't worry about that now. By the by, I just happened to remember, I got an old canvas cover that will fit your boat and I'll let you steal it for thirty bucks.”
We purchased several tremendous cans of white paint, brushes and early Sunday morning we were busy as kids painting our 'yacht'. You'd think a 21-foot boat could be painted in about 21 minutes. By noon we hadn't half-finished the job, although we had used up enough paint to do a house. We were tired, dirty and splattered. Michele went off and came back with two giant hero sandwiches and beer and found a fairly clean patch of beach to eat on, and then we stretched out for a rest.
Staring up at the clean sky I thought: “I'm happy. I have everything I want, really want. And if I have to plug Matt Anthony's pedestrian novels in payment, well, so be it. After all, what harm do they do, how much of the violent bit does the reader believe? What difference would it make if I earned my living plugging cigarettes, or turning out cars or shoes? I—”
Michele turned on the sand beside me, asked, “What are you mumbling about?”
I faced her, poked at a speck of paint on her face, took in the trim fit of the dungarees over her hips. “Was I mumbling? Must have been thinking aloud. I just decided I'm a very happy man and I was trying to find out why. I mean, Mart's trial... well, in a sense they are somehow trying to convict him for the books he wrote. God knows they sounded pretty horrible. But those books aren't just Matt's—I help produce them, so does Bill Long and Marty Kelly and every clerk in the book stores and the newspapers and paperback editors and newsstand dealers and... hey, do you want to hear any of this?”
“I don't understand it. Perhaps I should try to. Norm-man, if you are happy, be glad, as I am. Why must you worry about the know-how behind your happiness? Or do you think you can manufacture it?”
“Probably wouldn't sell, anyway,” I said, thinking how right she was. A second ago I'd sounded like the would-be Madison Avenue personality slob I'd forgotten about I reached over and tapped her backside. “Okay, matey, back to work. Please note the sudden appearance of nautical words in my speech. We have to be careful not to bore our friends talking about the darn boat.”
Ws finished at four, got the canvas cleaned and ready to go on the following weekend. Michele was pooped and after we cleaned up she slept soundly. It was past ten when she awoke and I said it would be silly to go back to New York tonight: if I missed part of the trial Monday it would only be the dull testimony of the couch doctors.
Michele didn't have a class until eleven, so after a big breakfast we took our time driving to the city. I stopped at the office and took care of a few things, had galley proofs sent to Frank Kuhn, mixed some tobacco, lunched with Marty Kelly. It was 5 p.m. when I reached Riverside and, of course, court was adjourned for the day. I tried to find Hank, without success, finally ate supper alone and took the evening papers back to the motel.
There wasn't much in the papers. Jackson had a well-known psychiatrist testify that certain tests proved Matt unstable during emotional stress. The very fact Matt could plot an alibi and a phony crime immediately after his wife's death proved, according to this doctor, that his thinking was not normal, that he didn't know right from wrong, that he was temporarily insane at the time he struck Francine. I didn't get it but that's what the eminent doctor claimed.
Wagner had then put a State psychiatrist on the stand to testify other tests proved Matt absolutely sane, normal and under stress he would know the difference between right and wrong, that he was sane enough to form a criminal intent. The fact he set up an alibi proved that far from being insane, his mind was working at normal speed and he was thinking of self-preservation. This doctor also claimed that Mart's books proved he had an “addiction for violence.” Under a sharp cross-examination by Jackson the doctor had agreed that a capable writer could write about violence without being of a violent mind. I was very happy I had skipped the day.
After a good night's sleep, I shaved and dressed with nothing more important on my mind than trying to think up a clever name for our boat I had breakfast and was at court early, smoking my pipe outside. I didn't see May Fitzgerald, nor did there seem to be as many spectators going into the court.
Prof. Brown came along and told me he thought both sides would begin summing up today. When I asked about Monday, he said, “The usual stupid hassle, trying to make an exact science out of one that isn't Mart's doctor seemed the more intelligent, but then Wagner had the easier task, merely to establish any doubt that Matt had been crazy when he hit his wife. So....”
“Then you finally believe he at least did strike her?” I cut in.
“Norman, you asked me what happened in court. I'm telling you. I still can't believe he did it; what's more, he doesn't even seem to be putting up a real defense. Of course, Jackson is, but yesterday Matt was back to his cat smile and working all day. He kept writing away, barely paying attention to the proceedings, morning and afternoon.”
“I suppose they didn't let him write in jail and he had to catch up for Saturday and Sunday. The main thing is, Wagner hasn't proved murder.”
Brown nodded. “Nobody has proved anything. Let's go in.”
“How are you doing?”
“My wife reports all is still quiet. Of course when I return, I may get the bad news then.”
“You're a pessimist,” I said, knocking the ashes from my pipe. Brown didn't bother answering as he held the door open for me. The courtroom was filling up rapidly but we had our choice of seats. However, Brown suddenly whispered, “It isn't good for us to be seen together in public so often, Norm,” and sat in an empty single seat between two couples.
I felt like kicking the old guy smack in the behind, but then, he was supposedly doing it all for my own good, or something. I found a seat up near the front. Jackson was wearing a change of pace suit—a conservative blue serge, white shirt, blue knitted tie. But he hadn't forgotten his key, beaded belt or moccasins. He sat at his table and looked over some notes, his face very solemn—at one time I almost thought he was praying. Matt, dressed in his casual sports-coat-and-slacks deal, looked very fit and confident. He carefully piled a ream of paper in front of him, spread out a number of pens and pencils. He ran his eyes over the jury faces, making notes after each. Wagner looked his usual cold fish as he whispered to an assistant. Kolcicki was a spectator on the other side of the court, happily chewing gum.
After we stood up for the judge, the court got down to business. When Jackson was asked if he was ready to sum up, he said he was, his great voice sounding very grave. Matt was writing away as Jackson walked slowly to the jury box. Leaning on the rail for a moment he said nothing. He had his man-to-man smile on, but his eyes seemed to burn into each juror, forcing most of them to turn away. “Mr. Foreman, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he began softly, “you will shortly face a great responsibility—probably the greatest you will ever have to face in your lives: a man's life will be in your hands for judgment. You may recall I said in my opening address that you and you alone are the true judges in this trial. It is a solemn duty and a most important one, for trial by jury is indeed the very spine of our democracy. For my client's sake I am pleased that you are to judge him, for I know you to be honest and decent people.”
Jackson stood up, tall and straight, began walking slowly back and forth before the jury box, his voice projecting now. “A case like this is embarrassing to all of us, for we have to look into the very heart of a person's private life, beyond the personal walls of a marriage. It's like the fabled Pandora's box, one never knows what will come out—and some of it is far from pretty. Matt Anthony's wife is dead. That's a fact, and not a pretty one. The Grand Jury indicted Mr. Anthony for first degree murder. His Honor has denied my motion to dismiss both the first and second degree murder counts of the indictment. Now his Honor will give you the law in his charge, but let me point out that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Proven! Neither the indictment or his Honor's decision not to dismiss the charges can be taken as proof. The fact is, not once in this trial has Mr. Wagner offered the smallest shred of proof that Matt Anthony ever planned to murder his wife. There has not been a single bit of evidence of intent or premeditation. Mr. Wagner's entire charge of murder is actually based on three words, that Matt Anthony in the heart of argument told his wife, 'I'll kill you!' Mr. Wagner has taken upon himself, although he was not present at the scene, to interpret these words as a real threat. Yet you will recall that Mr. and Mrs. Hunter, who were witness to the scene, stated they did not consider the words a threat at all, but merely a figure of speech. Ask yourselves how many times in either jest, or anger, you have told someone, perhaps even your wife or husband, or your child, something like, 'If you don't bring me the paper this minute I'll wring your neck!' It is obvious that to gather the true meaning of words we must recognize the intent behind the word,. Certainly when you tell a person to 'go to the devil,' you actually don't mean for them to die and be sent to Hell. Yet that it what the prosecuting attorney would have you believe. If you told somebody, 'Oh, go jump in the lake!' and hours later that person did fall into a lake, on the basis of his logic, Mr. Wagner would claim you must have pushed him, therefore you are guilty of assault.”
Jackson smiled. Most of the jury grinned.
“Actually, the State's entire case is based on Matt Anthony's alleged 'threat' to his wife, his saying, 'I'll kill you.' But there really wasn't any such threat. If you recall the exact words he said, they were, 'If you ever say a single out-of-the-way word to Hank, I'll kill you.' Let us concentrate on that first word, IF. The fact is that Francine Anthony never saw Prof. Brown again, never had a chance to say a word to him! So no matter what interpretation one gives Matt Anthony's words, the fact remains there was no reason for him to carry out such a threat—and I do not consider it a threat. Two letters, i... f, wipe out the entire basis of the State's case!
“Let us forget interpretations and come down to the known facts of the case. You have heard the only—I repeat, the only witness to Francine Anthony's death, her husband, state under oath that in the boat they got into an argument about skin-diving, that in a moment of blind, insane rage, he struck her. The subject of their earlier argument, a friend of Matt Anthony's, had left the house, so that family spat was over, finished; probably forgotten. Matt Anthony was out to play a practical joke on his wife, yank at her fishing line. His oxygen tank failed and he surfaced, causing a new argument. If the tank hadn't failed Matt would have returned to shore and later Francine Anthony would have returned with stories about the one that got away. Obviously there wasn't, there couldn't have possibly been under those circumstances, any premeditation or intent.
“As to second degree murder, which—as his Honor will tell you, means killing with design to effect death but without premeditation, Matt Anthony didn't pick up a weapon that would have caused death. He didn't even pick up an oar and strike his wife while he was in a fit of blind rage. No, indeed, he hit her with his hand. Certainly the hand can not be considered as a 'design to effect death.' Actually, the cause of Mrs. Anthony's death was an accidental fall.
“Let us consider the testimony of Detective Kolcicki, a trained and veteran police officer. Certainly the possibility of first degree murder must have entered Detective Kolcicki's trained mind. Remember, he has stated that he had secured hundreds of confessions. Yet nowhere in the confession did you hear any mention of planning on Matt Anthony's part, any hint of intent or deliberation. Obviously, if Detective Kolcicki had the slightest suspicion of murder, he would not have accepted the confession, hammered away until he secured one of murder. But to Detective Kolcicki's trained mind, the confession sounded truthful. Premeditation and intent must not only be proven, but proven beyond any reasonable doubt!” Jackson's voice hit me with force, it must have stunned the jury. Even Matt looked up from his writing. Clair thundered, “Where has a single iota of such proof been offered during this trial? When? The answer is simple: there has been none!
“Mr. Wagner read some lively sentences from Mr. Anthony's works. We each have our own tastes in literature. Frankly, I don't understand his purpose in reading excerpts from these books to the court. Although I must admit Mr. Wagner reads well, and that's about all he proved. As Mr. Anthony said, he wrote detective books only because they made more money than any other kind of book. I take it Mr. Wagner would have you believe that a man writing about crime must have a practical knowledge of crime. This is nonsense. How many writers of westerns can win a rodeo, as their fictional heroes do? In fact how many writers of cowboy stories have ever ridden anything but a library chair as they did their research? Millions upon millions of Americans read Matt Anthony's books for relaxation and enjoyment. Nobody forces them to, they do it out of free choice. Mr. Wagner would have us believe that America reflects Matt Anthony's books. In reality, it's the other way around, his books merely reflect America. We are a rather violent nation, quick to fight and anger. This is the reason we make such good soldiers in time of war, that our athletes are among the world's best.”
Jackson hesitated, as if about to add something and changing his mind abruptly. He hooked his thumbs in his belt, doing it in slow motion, collecting his thoughts. I had the feeling either he had been about to say violence had won the West, but that would bring him in: the Indian bit. Or was he about to give them the old chestnut about the Bible being full of sex and violence, and afraid it might offend a juror?
Matt was resting his chin on his left hand, looking like those horrible author-portraits on old fashioned jackets. Kolcicki was chewing away—undoubtedly Jackson had joined his personal list of “bastards.” Or did any defense lawyer automatically get that title?
Is a normal voice Jackson said, “Now let us open the Pandora's Box that was the private life of Mr. and Mrs. Matt Anthony. They had a sophisticated life, different from ours. For example, few of us have either the time or imagination to play a joke on our wife by swimming underwater and pulling at her fishing line. Nor do we wake up one morning and suddenly decide to go to Europe. They were happy—at least Matt Anthony was. He has not only testified to that, but you hare seen photos of Francine Anthony. She was neither a young woman when she married Matt Anthony, nor a beautiful woman. Since...”
Matt sat up, a scowl on his face. I expected him to jump up and say he didn't want his wife talked about. He began writing.
“... they had both been divorced before, there weren't any religious or ethical grounds on which they were against divorce. Therefore, if they hadn't been happy they would have separated years ago. What sort of a woman was Francine Anthony? The State's witnesses, the Hunters, Miss Fitzgerald, have given us a clear picture—she was a carping woman, constantly nagging her husband. Unfortunately that is not an uncommon practice, at one time or another we have all been nagged by our wives or husbands. But as I have proved, writing is a special kind of occupation. You and I, if we have a little family quarrel at night, or during breakfast, we go to our offices, our jobs, and there is a cooling off period for eight or more hours. But suppose your wife followed you to your job, kept nagging you there? It's a strange picture but the picture you must see: you're a grocery clerk and your wife enters the store a few minutes after you start work and keeps carping about some petty family matter all day long. Obviously you would be unable to work. You would either have to get her out of the store or lose your job. Probably if she did that, you would have her sent to a mental institution for observation.
“A strange picture? But an everyday one in the Anthony home! For Matt Anthony's office, his store, was his home. You have heard him testify he thought about his work, his creative work, all day long. And all day long Francine Anthony nagged about his friends, his swimming, an aqua-lung. Obviously this put Matt Anthony under a terrible strain, and not merely for a day, but from the evidence of the State's witnesses, and from Mr. Anthony, this went on constantly. Why did she do this? Was Matt Anthony a bad husband, stingy and unkind, narrow and demanding? Or didn't Francine Anthony understand the nature of his work, his urgent need for inner peace?
“Let us look at the facts. Francine Anthony has previously been married to a writer—a not successful one. At the time she married Matt Anthony he was already an established and well-known author. In other words—she knew from her own experience exactly what it meant to be a writer's wife. Also, if she had read the papers and magazines she certainly knew of Matt's dynamic way of living—a way of living which several famous writers have said is of vital importance to spur the brain juices from which a writer's creative skill flows. In short, Mrs. Anthony was not a sheltered school girl suddenly thrown into a life too exciting and different for her. On the contrary, she was a mature woman well acquainted with writers and their working methods.
“Then perhaps she was doing this out of spite because she thought her husband was mean, a man squeezing every cent? Let us again consider the facts. Before she married Matt Anthony, Francine was supporting herself and her husband by working as a cashier. What could she have been earning then, certainly not much more than $50 a week. Her husband was a failure, their marriage was one of these on and off affairs— is this not a picture of a lonely, bitter and frustrated woman?
“Matt Anthony comes into her life. They fall in love. He pays for her divorce, they marry. Practically overnight this woman—neither pretty or young—is suddenly raised from a dreary life of frustration to a dream of luxury. She traveled about the country, in Europe, the West Indies. She had a fabulous house not far from here, boats, a maid, charge accounts and good clothes, mink coats. Through her husband she met famous people, had expensive fishing and golf equipment, hundreds of dollars a week, for household expenses— she was Mrs. Matt Anthony. You heard Miss Fitzgerald, the maid, testify that at no time did Francine Anthony do a bit of work around the house, not even the shopping. She didn't have to, she was the wife of a successful man. She and Mr. Anthony lived big. True, Mr. Anthony was not a millionaire, nor was his income in the upper brackets, but the Anthonys lived better than most millionaires do! From the testimony it is obvious Francine Anthony also enjoyed this luxury living. Sometimes, we have been told, she complained that Matt was spending too much money—but wasn't that sheer hypocrisy when she spent thousands of dollars on her fishing equipment? I have yet to hear of a $350 set of golf clubs or a $650 fishing reel being considered a family necessity! And if they were spending too much money—mind you, I said they, for they spent it together—what perverse mental quirk made Francine Anthony literally bite the hand that fed her so well? For every cent of their income came from Matt Anthony's brains, from his wits and creative imagination—and these she tried to strangle with her nagging. Was she jealous of his success? Did this neurotic woman envy her husband's ability? Indeed, our Pandora's Box reveals an odd and twisted relationship, twisted by a woman so used to failure she couldn't stand success, thus had to destroy it!” Jackson hung out his hands in appeal. Then he held on to the jury box rail, his rugged face full of tragic sadness: the silence in the courtroom was absolute.
Suddenly he slapped the rail, a hard slapping sound, as he boomed, “What other fact can explain this except that some part of Francine Anthony's mind had cracked? Was Matt Anthony doing anything that would upset his wife? Was he running with other women? Was he drinking to excess? Was he lazy? Did he deny her anything? Did he beat her? No! You have heard the testimony of the Hunters, long-time friends of the Anthonys—they said nothing about women or his being a drunkard. Then, coming to the fateful day of July 25th, let us see why she was nagging her husband on that day. She was annoyed because Matt had brought an old friend to the Anthony home! A friend Matt had not seen in many years, a buddy in trouble, and because Matt Anthony asked this man into his own home for a drink, showed him ordinary hospitality, Francine Anthony threatened to make a scene! In the name of common sense, I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, was Francine Anthony a rational woman? A wife isn't expected to like all of her husband's friends, but she most certainly is expected to have sufficient manners not to insult them! Certainly a man has the right to choose his friends—but not Matt Anthony, his wife set herself up as the supreme judge of who should be Mart's friends and who should not! Mind you, all this despite the fact she had never met the friend in question before, that Matt Anthony's friendship with this man dated back to Mart's days as a college instructor—long before he ever knew of Francine. She didn't even have the decency to upbraid her husband in private but nagged him openly—before their houseguests. If your husband or wife tried to make a fool of you before friends, wouldn't that put your nerves on edge? Was this the act of a loving and considerate wife? Indeed not, it was the work of a shrew, a woman perhaps mentally upset by a change of life process, a mental midget who tried to henpeck a giant of a man—her loving and tolerant husband!”
Jackson slapped the jury rail again, lightly this time, as if in disgust. When he mentioned change of life I saw two of the women jurors actually blush. In fact Matt had looked a bit startled, then started scribbling away like mad.
“Now, let us examine the scene in the rowboat. I want you to keep in mind that there were only two people in that boat, therefore the only true story of what happened, the only actual facts we can possibly know, is what Matt Anthony has told us under oath. Well then, what exactly did happen? Matt Anthony bought himself a skin-diving outfit. A trivial matter? Normally, yes, but in the eyes of Francine Anthony, Matt had done a monstrous thing—because she didn't approve of the idea. Obviously, she also set herself up as the judge of his hobbies, as well of his friends. Is this not the picture of a tyrant wife? However, as Matt has testified, he purchased the outfit not only for enjoyment but also because he thought it might give him ideas for stories. He tries out the aqua-lung and has to surface. His wife sees him. Remember his frame of mind when he entered the water, as he has testified under oath; he was about to play a mild practical joke on his wife—play with her fishing line. A joke... certainly not the frame of mind of a murderer!
“At two in the afternoon when most wives are either finishing their household chores or perhaps thinking about the evening meal, Mrs. Francine Anthony was busy, too—at her favorite sport, fishing. Fishing with her expensive rod in her own boat in her own private bay! She sees her husband surface and when he comes aboard she immediately upbraids him savagely—the second time in almost as many hours. Matt has a heart condition, but was she really worried about that? Did she think of his heart when she upset him by insulting his friend? Did she consider his heart when from the second he got into the boat—before he could rest—she started nagging again? I say in plain language she didn't give a damn about her husband's health! I say the only thing truly worrying her was that Mart's insurance policies were not fully paid up! What more telling picture of a heartless, selfish woman!
“Naturally, Matt resents her bickering, but he agrees to swim to shore and take off the aqua-lung. The fact is he stood up, ready to dive in, but that wasn't enough for his dictatorial wife—she must attack him, try to tear the lung from his back. And this woman was allegedly worried about his heart!
“As Dr. Strong, the noted and respected psychiatrist, has told us, we all have a breaking point, a mental loss of control. As Dr. Strong also testified, this breaking point depends upon a number of factors—a person's general health, his emotional stability, and of course all of these are conditioned by the tensions the person is under. I shall not go into a general discussion of psychology. I not only am unqualified to do that, but the very capable doctor testified on the subject and how it related to the defendant. However, I would like to dwell for moment on a few points, namely the tensions Matt Anthony was under.
“First, we have an active man, an athlete, suddenly restricted somewhat by a slight heart trouble, and certainly worried about it. He is a creative man harassed by a carping wife. He is a man under constant pressure—every cent he earns comes from his imagination. He enjoys living and is raider great expense. He hasn't a salary or income he can rely upon each week—so he must keep producing original ideas and novel characters. He must put his mind to his work yet his wife's constant nagging cuts into his thoughts, makes his work all the more difficult. These are the tensions he has been under without let-up for years. On the day in question, his wife makes a scene over an old friend, makes a fool out of Matt. He is then trying to relax, calm down, by trying out an underwater swimming device. This, too, she tries to spoil. And he reaches his breaking point, this mental loss of control, as Dr. Strong called it. Skin-diving is a petty matter, but is it not the little things which throw us into a rage? Your wife tosses out that old pipe, your husband wisecracks about a hat... and we have our most bitter quarrels.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you heard Mr. Anthony testify as to his resentment at his wife's constant nagging, how when Francine Anthony came at him as he was about to leave her, attacked him by trying to rip the lung from his back... how at that precise second Matt Anthony lost control of his mind, blind crazy rage took over. His mind blacked out, Matt Anthony didn't know what he was doing. Yet I want you to note that even in his blind rage he didn't strike her with an oar, with any weapon, but with his fist... almost in self-defense. If Matt Anthony was a smaller man, the blow would have stunned his wife. She would either have sat down and cried, or perhaps Francine Anthony might have swung at him with an oar and be on trial herself. Matt Anthony is not a little man—look at him. He's a big man, no doubt he packs a punch. The force of the blow sent Francine Anthony against the side of the little boat, crushing her head. This is not murder, this is not manslaughter—Francine Anthony died an accidental death after being punched by her husband in a moment of blind, insane rage! It was a moment of blind revolt against her years of henpecking, her constant interference with his work. Matt Anthony came out to play a joke, he certainly had no thought of harming his wife, much less of killing her, but she forced his mind to break, to a point where he had no control over his hands. Mind you, he didn't attack her, she came at him, clawing and cursing, trying to grab the lung on his back.
“When Matt Anthony came to, when his mental blackout lifted, he swam ashore. He realized nothing he did could ever bring Francine back to life, just as nothing this court can do will bring her back to life. His blind rage was over, he could think clearly. He wanted to avoid a scandal, he made up a white lie of a story on the spur of the moment. Mr. Wagner has called Matt Anthony an expert on criminal methods. This doesn't make him a criminal any more than a cancer expert must have cancer. But I say to you, the State has exposed the very lack of logic in its own arguments, for certainly if Matt Anthony had murder in mind, he would have made up a much better story than the feeble yarn he did. And if Francine Anthony had even the slightest doubt her life was in danger, she had plenty of time after their first argument to leave the house, to seek the police. Instead, she went fishing; obviously she knew there wasn't any danger.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, every man is liable for the natural consequences of his acts—when he knows what he is doing, when he knows the difference between right and wrong. At the time he struck his wife, Matt Anthony didn't know right or wrong, he didn't know anything but a blinding insane rage. There was an accidental death and I say he has already been punished enough by the loss of his wife, the ordeal of jail and publicity—a punishment that will forever sear his soul. With all honesty I ask you to look into your own souls, find compassion for Matt Anthony. In the name of justice I ask you to bring in the only verdict possible in the face of the testimony and medical evidence... I ask you to find Matt Anthony not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Thank you.”
Jackson had finished with his voice in a low key, throbbing like an old fashioned preacher's. He sat down beside Matt, his face very solemn and full of tired lines—more Lincolnesque than ever. Matt shook his hand, that tiny smile on Matt's face... and for me there was an air of cheap sarcasm in the handshake.
The judge nodded toward Wagner who started walking towards the jury box. I don't know what I expected, a lull, a recess, but somehow it shocked me... sort of a belt line production form of justice. Before Wagner addressed the court and jury he did something out of character, something funny: he ran his hand over the part of the jury railing Jackson had been slapping, as if examining it. The jurors grinned, there were enough giggles in the courtroom for the judge to pound once with his gavel.
In his dry, level voice, Wagner said, “I had looked forward to Mr. Clair's summing up. Not only in my position as prosecutor, but also out of a professional and personal curiosity. Mr. Clair is a big city lawyer, a top trial man, and I was anxious to see him work, thinking a country boy like myself could learn something. I was impressed by his dramatics, by his oratory, which I will not attempt to match. But I was puzzled. Judging from Mr. Clair's remarks one would think Francine Anthony was on trial here for killing her husband. Francine Anthony is dead, struck down and killed by this man!” Wagner made a mildly sweeping gesture toward Matt.
For a second the two men stared at each other, then Matt started writing slowly. I noticed that he was sweating a little.
Wagner turned back toward the jury, standing stiffly, and said, “There has been a lot of loose talk in this trial. Justice is determined by facts, not general words. However, since this talk has been a part of the trial, let us go over that before presenting the facts of the case. The defense has read a number of statements attesting that writers are different from shoemakers. We can dismiss all these learned statements by pointing out that although famous writers went off on erratic and erotic tangents, none of them ever claimed a writer had the right to murder his wife! And under the law, which protects us all, a person has not the right to take another person's life—no matter how much they are supposedly 'nagged.' We have heard Mrs. Anthony called a shrew, a mental midget, who didn't appreciate this 'giant,' Matt Anthony. Just remember that picture came from Mr. Clair's nimble brain. Certainly not from the testimony. The fact is, the testimony states that Mr. Anthony often nagged his wife, 'teased' was the word used. Mrs. Anthony has been presented as a terrible wife, yet if we sift all the words, exactly what did she do? Her husband has heart trouble and she wanted him to stop drinking, stop exercising. Does that sound like a shrew or a woman with her husband's best interests at heart? Even assuming she was a nag —and I repeat, assuming, she was a nag, that didn't give Matt Anthony the right to kill her. Mr. Clair would have the court believe nagging violates the law, is a crime punishable by death.”
Jackson started to rise, but didn't. Instead, he muttered something to Matt, who was watching Wagner as if he were some exciting character he'd never seen before.
“Now let us get to the facts,” Wagner went on, “to the testimony of the witnesses. Mr. and Mrs. Hunter stated that although the Anthonys frequently quarreled, and the Hunters had witnessed these quarrels over several years, they had never heard Matt Anthony threaten to kill his wife except on the day of her death. Miss Fitzgerald, who was not present at the time of the death threat, but who—as their maid—was with the Anthonys every day for about two months and often heard them fight, also stated under oath she had never heard Mr. Anthony threaten to kill his wife. On the morning of July 25th Matt Anthony said to his wife, in the presence of witnesses, 'I'll kill you!' Now these witnesses, Mr. and Mrs. Hunter, have also said that at the time they did not believe his threat, that they thought it was only a phrase, a manner of speech. It seems fairly obvious to me that when you have heard a man and his wife have numerous arguments over a period of years and never hear him threaten her with physical violence, and that man suddenly says, 'I'll kill you!' that's a threat, not a manner of speech! But evidently the Hunters did nothing about this threat, they didn't believe it because it was said in a moment of anger. But when is a real threat made except in anger? Certainly a killer doesn't walk up to his victim and make small talk with, 'I'll kill you!' In this ease, whether the Hunters thought or didn't think Matt Anthony was actually threatening his wife, can we doubt it wasn't a threat when a few hours after he said, 'I'll kill you!' he actually did kill her?
“What sort of man told Francine. Anthony, 'I'll kill you!'? Mr. Clair has stressed that Matt Anthony is no ordinary man. I agree. By his own admission Matt Anthony is an expert on ways and means of murder. He has stated he knows more about murder than most police officials. He is a man who, by his own admission, said under oath, plots and thinks about his writing 24 hours a day, and for the past 10 years he has written only about sex and violence. One only has to look at him to realize he is physically capable of violence. There are various kinds of violence. A war novel might be full of violence, for example, but remember this: for the past 10 years Matt Anthony has only written and thought about criminal violence! This was the type of man who told his wife, 'I'll kill you!' Can we even doubt that he meant it, that this was not a clear, outspoken threat?
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is the State's contention that Matt Anthony with his vast knowledge of murder, would not and did not make an idle threat. He was sick and tired of Francine Anthony's objecting to his wild spending and wild living. She had shown him up in front of an old friend by asking him to tell the friend to leave. Why did she do this? It wasn't anything personal, she never knew the college professor; she wasn't trying to pick and choose her husband's friends. No, indeed, she merely felt the man's presence in the Anthony home would jeopardize Matt Anthony's future.
“So it is the State's contention, and one we have proved, that when an expert on ways of murder threatens to kill a person, he means to kill. We believe from the time Matt Anthony shouted at his wife, 'I'll kill you!' he was thinking of ways and means to kill her. Mr. Clair has stated that since Mr. Anthony is the only actual witness to the killing, we must take his word. On the contrary, that is all the more reason to doubt his word. A man on trial for murder is not worrying about perjury.
“Then what is the true story of what happened in the boat? The State contends that Matt Anthony, having decided beforehand to murder his wife, deliberately put on the underwater apparatus and swam out to the boat, knowing he was doubly safe—he was swimming underwater so his wife couldn't see him, and since he owned all the land surrounding the bay, there wouldn't be any witnesses to the crime. That he suddenly climbed into the rowboat and deliberately struck this frail woman with all his might, knowing full well his fist had sufficient power to kill her. Francine Anthony may have been dead before her head ever hit the side of the boat—it is medically impossible to pinpoint death time down to a matter of seconds. Then Matt Anthony deliberately tied his dead wife's shoe lace around a duck board and broke the lace—to make it all look like an accident. Matt Anthony then swam back to shore, underwater, dressed, and fooled the Hunters, sleeping on the lawn, about a difference of three quarters of an hour in the time—to establish an alibi for himself. All this was child's play for an expert in criminal tactics, a man who as the defense has said, created people and whole cities out of his typewriter—and who also killed and murdered and maimed people with this same typewriter.
“Matt Anthony knows the law, that's part of his business. He felt he was playing it safe. If his wife's death was called an accident, fine. If the police were suspicious of his yarn, as in this case where Detective Kolcicki saw through the lie, why then Matt Anthony would sign a confession full of a cock and bull story that he and his wife argued over an aqua-lung and he struck her. He thought the most he would get would be manslaughter—a few years in prison. Since we have been told he works so hard at writing, perhaps Mr. Anthony even considered a few years in prison a wonderful investment, give him material for a dozen or more books.
“Members of the jury, it didn't work! Despite his being an expert, when Matt Anthony went up against Detective Kolcicki, it was the old story of an amateur against a professional. In less than an hour Detective Kolcicki had his confession. The defense has asked why it wasn't a confession of first degree murder. I'd like to ask, who says it prove and cry out— isn't a confession of first degree murder! This wasn't a full confession. Matt Anthony admitted he killed his wife, it was then up to the District Attorney to prove premeditation, and I think we have. Granted that since there were only two people involved and one of them is now dead, there is no way we can take Mr. Anthony's mind apart and give you the actual thoughts. But there are other circumstances involved and these allmurder!
“Can anyone believe a man would kill his wife over an aqua-lung? Especially a man of Matt Anthony's size—he could have pinned his wife's arm with one hand. Can anyone honestly believe—according to the defense's story—a man would strike his wife merely because she protested skin diving might strain his heart? Even if we accept the defense's claim that Francine Anthony's death was an accident, why would Matt Anthony have lied about it at first, immediately establishing an alibi? An accident—I would insult your intelligence if I asked you to believe that! A man thinks of alibis only when he knows he's guilty. In the course of my job I have come into contact with murderers. No man would kill if he thought he would be caught. But a murderer is arrogant, certain he can outwit the police. I'm talking now of an ordinary murderer—consider the arrogance of an expert, a man who has out-witted the police hundreds of times— on paper. Here was the big time crime writer about to pull the wool over the eyes of some 'hick' cops, sure he could hoodwink a 'yokel' court and—”
“Your Honor,” Jackson roared, springing to his feet, “I have never interrupted a summing up before in my life, but I must object to Mr. Wagner's hitting below the belt. He has made one unfair generalization after another. He has put words into my mouth I've never said or thought of. Now he's off into a dream fantasy of what went on in the defendant's head. At no time in this trial has the words 'hick' or 'yokel' been uttered except by Mr. Wagner.”
Wagner still stood with his back to Jackson. He looked annoyed. So did the jury. Matt shook his head slowly, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing, then Matt started writing.
Wagner slowly turned and faced the judge, who said, “Mr. Clair, in summing up a lawyer has the right to interpret the evidence. You did that in your summing up. The court is perfectly capable of reprimanding anyone violating courtroom procedures. Continue, Mr. Wagner.”
Jackson made a slight bow toward the judge, sat down. Wagner turned back to the jury—I don't think he'd moved a step since he started summing up.
“Let us examine the claim that the defendant was 'temporarily insane' at the second he struck his wife. What a convenient form of insanity! We have not heard any testimony that Matt Anthony was ever mentally unstable before is his life—although he has lived an adventurous life and been in trying situations. You have heard noted doctors state he was insane at the moment of striking his wife, and that he wasn't. The State's psychiatrists have proved he knew the difference between right and wrong. Now the science of the mind is not as exact as the science of mathematics. For one thing, the science of the mind is relatively new. In mathematics we can state positively two and two equal four. We can't be that positive about the mind, and that will be up to you to decide. However, it seems to me any man who can write a book while in court on trial for his life is far from emotionally unstable—under any circumstances!
“I say to you that from the moment Matt Anthony shouted, 'I'll kill you!,' at his wife he fully intended to murder her and carefully planned the murder. She was fishing, alone in the bay, as she did almost every day. That Matt Anthony had this underwater outfit she didn't know about. He deliberately and with intent to kill, swam out, killed her, tried to give it the appearance of an accident, returned to his guests and set up a false alibi. Francine Anthony's death wasn't an accident nor was it manslaughter. It was a cold-blooded planned murder by a man who thought his cheap mysteries put him above the law. Far from being blind with rage, or blacking out, Matt Anthony knew exactly what he was doing from the second he threatened his wife until he lied to his guests in order to establish an alibi.
“Francine Anthony is dead, her head crushed, and her killer must be punished. The law must be upheld, we do not live in a jungle. On the basis of the facts brought out in the testimony, I ask you to punish Matt Anthony for the killing of his wife by bringing in a verdict of first degree murder. Mr. Clair asked that you have compassion for Matt Anthony, I ask you to have compassion for a dead woman. Thank you.”
As Wagner sat down an old lady two seats away from me whispered loudly to a young woman sitting next to me, “What did he say? My hearing is poor on the left side and I got a stiff neck.”
“He said he thought Mr. Anthony killed his wife.”
“Well, I think so, too,” the old biddy grunted.
It was a quarter to twelve. The judge told the jury, “I know you have had a tiring morning. You may return to the jury room and rest for 15 minutes. At noon I shall start explaining the various points of law, the charges involved. It will take about an hour. I want to get this over before lunch, so you can immediately start your deliberations. Also, once I have finished my charge you will be locked up and the lunch will be on the court.” He gave them a yock-yock grin and like faithful citizens about to save two-bits, most of the jurors beamed their gratitude.
I was too restless for a smoke to listen to the finer points of law. I went outside and lit my pipe, waited for the court to recess so I could have lunch with Brown. But when I finished the pipe a half-hour later the judge was still charging the jury, so I had lunch alone, walked down to the inlet and as a nouveau yachtsman bulled with an owner of a work boat and found out I might easily have put in another four or five hundred bucks into my boat before I put it 'over' next summer. This character must have been looking for a listener and soon had me dizzy with all the things that can go wrong with a boat. When I finally begged off, saying I had to get back to the trial, he said, “I hope they give that murdering slob the works.”
A lot of people were talking and getting the sun in front of the courthouse. I saw Jackson holding up the building and talking to a pot-bellied man. I went over and Jackson introduced us; the man was a reporter. I asked Jackson how things looked and he said, “Shoo-in. Wagner was comical, with that highschool dramatic act, repeating 'I'll kill you!' over and over. But he's a clever man—made me lose my head and object while he was summing up.”
“What's wrong with that?” I asked.
“Looked bad in the jury's eyes, like I was trying to take over. If they don't bring in a not guilty verdict, I'll appeal the manslaughter verdict. Judge was wrong in allowing Matt's books into evidence—I can even ask for a new trial. Hope the jury comes in by five, I have a supper engagement in town. Excuse me, fellows, there's a man from Life I know.”
As Jackson walked away the reporter asked me, “Have you read any of this book Anthony is writing?”
“We have some chapters in the office but no one's looked at it.”
“This is one book I'd be willing to buy. Time I put on the feed-bag. Like a beer?”
I shook my head and walked around the short main street, stopping to buy a dainty shell necklace for Michele. At two I phoned her at school, said there was a good chance I'd be home that night. I walked main street again, bought a paper and leaned against the courthouse as I read. There was a big crowd milling around, afraid to go too far away in case the jury came in. At three-ten there was a whispered roar that the jury had reached a decision and we all started pushing our way in. Brown appeared from out of nowhere and I asked, “Like to drive back to New York with me?”
“Thanks, Norm. I'd like to.”
“Looks good for Matt. Jury was out only about two hours.”
“I hope so.”
We found seats in the rear of the court. Matt was brought in, looking very pale. An attendant told us to rise as the judge entered. The jury's speed must have caught him by surprise, his robe seemed a trifle cockeyed. The foreman was a thin, middle-aged man in tacky clothes. When asked if the jury had reached a decision he stood up and reading from a trembling slip of paper, his voice shrill with self-importance, said, “We have. We find the defendant, Matt Anthony, guilty of murder in the second degree.”
There was a terrible hush in the courtroom. I couldn't believe my ears. Jackson looked as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Matt's big frame began shaking, his eyes grew large. The little smile appeared on his lips, grew bigger— and then he threw back his head and laughed. It was a horrible laugh, unreal, insane, filling the courtroom. I don't know, it seemed to last forever, but I suppose it only took a brace of seconds. As the judge raised his gavel, Matt collapsed, pitching forward across the table with a great thud-sound. The courtroom was in an uproar as everybody jumped to their feet. I saw Jackson, Wagner, and an attendant bending over Matt. Somehow I heard Brown mumble, “Jesus, that means at least 20 years!”
The judge was pounding his gavel like an idiot and yelling for the court to be cleared. A deep voice, probably Jackson's, called for a doctor.
Several cops appeared and began plowing through the crowd and with everybody shouting and asking what had happened, I had a feeling I was in the midst of a riot. Somebody kept climbing up my back and I dug my elbow into a belly, heard a gasp. Brown was pushing toward the front and I followed. I couldn't see Matt but Jackson suddenly boomed, “Please, step back! Give him air. Air!” I had a brief glimpse of the jury members leaning out of their box, horrified, as if they had struck Matt down. An attendant cupped his hands and bellowed, “Silence!” In the immediate hush, before the talkers could gather steam again, the judge yelled, “I order this court cleared at once!”
The cops started pushing, but now we all turned and headed for the doors, quickly and almost orderly. Outside, everybody milled around, the crowd growing. I kept telling Brown, “I simply can't believe it,” over and over, as if it made any difference whether I believed it or not. Brown looked sick and kept shaking his head, fingering his broken nose.
A man with a press card finally pushed out past the cops guarding the door. People rushed at him, knocking the press card from his lapel and I heard him say, “There's a doctor with Anthony. He's suffered a heart attack but the doc says it isn't serious.”
While I was trying to get closer to the reporter—and being bounced around on the fringe of the crowd, I saw the newsman Jackson introduced me to come out. I grabbed his arm as he headed down the steps, probably making for a phone. “Remember me? From Mr. Anthony's publishing house? How serious is his attack?”
“I think he merely fainted. How about that jury! The doctor says he'll be okay. Second degree, I never figured on that...”
“Are you sure Matt's all right?”
“That's the doctor's statement They have Anthony on a cot, waiting for an ambulance. They gave him a shot of something. He's able to sit up and talk.”
Brown and I hung around for another ten minutes. Finally I said, “We might as well go. I'll pick you up in front of your rooming house.”
We left Riverside a half-hour later, and at first we didn't talk at all. Then I said, “How in the hell did the jury ever arrive at that verdict? What is 2nd degree?”
“Killing without premeditation, but with intent to kill. I suppose it means if there's a gun around, you suddenly pick it up and shoot. 20 years to life. Poor Matt, he'll never come out alive.”
“I don't understand it. I thought they'd let him go. Wagner's summing up didn't impress me. Saying, 'I'll kill you!' over and over like a stuck record.”
“Isn't repetition the secret of advertising?”
“Cut it out, Hank. That was a lot of crap.”
“To you, but you weren't on the jury. Wagner's clever, he pulled out all the stops with that stuff about 'hick' cops and 'yokels.' And tying in all that violent trash Matt has written. When you come down to it, a man thinking of violence for any length of time probably would turn violent.”
“You think Matt really meant to kill her?”
“I still think he had nothing to do with it. But that's my little opinion.”
“Jackson will probably do something on appeal, a new trial.”
Brown was silent, staring at the dash board. Then he said softly, “Seems so damn wasteful. The fruits of ten years of writing summed up by a kick in the nuts and slapping breasts.”
“What the devil, it was merely a way of making a living.”
“Matt should have done something else for pork chops.”
“Why? What difference would it have made if he'd been writing copy? Or if he spent 8 hours a day driving a bus, or standing behind a counter? Don't tell me you think he would have written the great American novel in his spare time. That's a crock.”
“No, Matt would probably have never written a line then. That isn't the point, he betrayed his talent, prostituted it. It would have been better if he had let it die.”
“Look, Hank, as long as we do anything we don't want to do, for money, security, or whatever you wish to call it... I mean, you're working at a job you don't especially like now. Advertising is just a way of earning a buck for me... aren't we being whores? I think Matt knew exactly what he was doing: knew he could only be a good hack writer and nothing more.”
Brown shrugged. “He told me something like that, the last time we talked. I still think it's a tragic waste of time and ability. He should have—”
“Let's drop it,” I cut in, angry. It seemed to me we were kicking Matt when he was down. “Let's get off the pious soapbox.”
He slapped me on the leg. “Sure, Norm. We're both a little on edge.”
We talked, or rather Brown did, about a number of things on the drive to New York. Brown had a theory about the popularity of wrestling—people liked to see violence but at the same time because they knew the bouts were acts, were secretly relieved and could go on believing there wasn't any violence about them. Somehow, Brown even got around to the life of cats, debunking the idea cats are shrewd and have an easier time surviving than dogs. I wasn't listening. I was still shocked by the verdict. Also I wondered if I had left Riverside too hastily: Bill Long might expect me to see what happened to Matt's manuscript.
As I stopped to pay the toll at the Triborough Bridge the radio in an auto on the next toll line was on. We heard a newscaster saying: ”... and out in Riverside, the trial of Matt Anthony took a fateful twist a few minutes ago when the noted author died of a heart attack after being found guilty of murder in the second degree, in connection with the death of his wife. Mr. Anthony collapsed upon hearing the jury's verdict. Although he seemingly recovered under a doctor's care, Mr. Anthony suffered a second and fatal attack while in an ambulance on his way to the prison hospital. When he first heard the verdict, Mr. Anthony actually laughed, as if the verdict were a great joke.
“In foreign news, the....”
I stared at Brown, my mouth dry. The old guy seemed on the verge of tears. It took me a second to say, “Well, perhaps it's for the best. Matt wasn't meant for prison.”
Brown fingered his nose and didn't speak.
The cars behind me began blowing their horns. I drove up, handed the attendant a quarter. As I drove on I told Brown, “At least we'll never know, now, if he killed Fran-cine or not.”
Brown merely shrugged. When I let him off at a subway station he just waved and disappeared down the steps. I put the car in the garage and decided to phone Bill Long. He would be home by now. But when I called his house I was told he was still at the office. I called him there and he said, “I've been waiting for your call, Norm.”
“Shocking news,” I said, stupidly.
“Norm, did you by any chance pick up the rest of Matt's manuscript?”
“Why no. I thought in all the confusion....”
“Maggie and I are driving out to Riverside right now to get it before it's lost. I want....”
“I'm sorry I messed up. I have my car and can head back out there.”
“No. I want you to come down to the office and read that sealed last chapter of his book. Along with a letter he wrote before the trial started. You wait in the office... No, since it will take several hours to make the round trip, will it be all right if we come to your house? There's something we have to settle tonight.”
“Of course it will be all right,” I said, puzzled.
“Hop right over here, Norm, and when you finish reading this last chapter, put it under lock and key. We'll see you along about midnight or sooner.”
I took a cab to the office. Miss Park was still there. She handed me an open large manilla envelope as she said, “My, wasn't it awful about poor Mr. Anthony? Mr. Long asked me to stay and give you this. What's it all about?”
“I don't know,” I said, taking the envelope into my office.
“Shall I stay?”
“You can go, Miss Park. Thanks.”
I sat at my desk and started to phone Michele that I'd be late. But on opening the envelope I saw a slim pile of scribbled pages and figured it wouldn't take me long to read these. There was a letter from Matt to Maggie and clipped to everything an inter-office memo with Maggie's name printed in one corner. She had drawn a big exclamation mark across the memo. That was all.
Lighting my pipe, I started on the letter.
How's my favorite editor and southern beauty? (Not even prison walls dampen my trite line. Still, you must admit it has a novel ring—I bet you never received a letter before from a guy sitting in the can on a murder rap.)
I'm sure you've been wondering all these months about this sealed letter and large envelope. I hope you haven't peeped. I've sent this directly to you. Not even my agent knows about this chapter. I feel the entire concept would be far too startling for his timid soul. Yes, the chapter in the attached envelope is the last chapter of the book I shall write here in jail, and during the trial. That's correct, my sweet, I'm doing the last chapter first, and doing it with a purpose. So no cracks about my usual backward methods.
Seriously, Maggie, I feel I've stumbled upon something that is going to make for one hell of a snapper ending, probably the greatest twist in commercial literature (whatever that may mean!) for in this chapter I tell exactly what happened out in End Harbor. No matter what will have come out in court, this is the truth. (I damn near said, so help me God! No, I shall say it. This is the truth and I swear it, so help me God!)
The way I plan it, the trial will be over by the time you read this, and I will have completed the rest of the book. Of course I shall be acquitted, or at worst, appealing a light manslaughter sentence. In brief, ye wheels of justice will have made their full turn, the mills of the gods will have finished grinding, etc., etc. (This lousy pen!) And this last chapter, the truth, will work either way—proving how blind or clear-eyed old lady justice really is.
I know you haven't the smallest idea of what I'm talking about, but you'll see the light when you read this final chapter. It may surprise you, it's probably the most honest bit of scribbling I've done in years. I think I've given a frank portrait of Matt Anthony. If it isn't a pretty picture, it is true and it is me. We all know our weaknesses, the trick is to be willing to admit them. So if I come out a kind of coward, well, let's face up to it—that's what I am. You see, I had to be a coward or he would have killed me there and then, busted my heart. No point in being a dead hero, nor do I have to add anything about the terrible strength of self-preservation. You may also ask why I haven't shouted out the truth in court. Honey, I'm trapped. Maggie, if it's bad to be a coward, it's worse to be a fool, and an unbelieved fool is what I would look if I even tried to tell the truth. I think court will be like poker, you have to stay with the hand you decide to play. While I made my original decision because I was afraid of being beaten to death, now I know it's all for the best. Otherwise there wouldn't be our twist, this last chapter. If I can't say it in court, I can write it. And what you have to understand, dear girl, is that nobody is master of their fate nor captain of their soul—Mr. Henley's “Invictus” to the contrary. Perhaps in the old days when he wrote his poem. But in this atomic era far too much happens to us, so we can not be master of circumstances. Maggie, I'm probably not saying this too clearly, but it's all rather straight in my little mind.
Now, as to the last chapter. Of course as of now I have no idea how the rest of the book will turn out. But I've given a great deal of thought to this final chapter, and am rather mixed up as to whether to be subjective or objective. Or clever. It may very well be that I shall do the first part of the book with my tongue in my fat cheek. At one time I considered writing this last part as a kind of fable and be witty about the names. Call myself Mark Anthony and of course Francine would be named Cleopatra. May Fitzgerald would be called Zelda, while Prof. Henry Brown would be Prof.. Patrick Henry. And so on. Only I'm not certain (aside from whether that's being witty or not) if this chapter—as the truth—should be anything but my normal writing.
Of course if I were in my den, I would have experimented and written it several different ways. But I'm not used to scratching away with a pen, and find it very tiring. (How do some guys write a rough in long-hand?) So I've written it straight, and in the third person—as I intend (at this moment) to write the balance of the book. That's our gimmick: Matt Anthony writing as a spectator at the trial of Matt Anthony. However, by the time you're reading this I shall be in your office, either free or out on bail, and by then you will have the complete manuscript... so we can bat around any revisions. (And I know how dear rewriting is to your hard heart.)
As to publication. I think we might consider issuing it with this last chapter sealed. A sort of soft sell on: this-is-what-came-out-at-the-trial.... Now-can-you-guess-the-true-story. Naturally I shall not give the reporters a word of the truth until the book is released. As to time, I suppose the sooner the better. On the rest of the book I suggest you get cracking on it at once. (Why tell you this when you won't read the letter until the trial will be over? Stupid me.) What I'm trying to say is, if I'm found innocent, then publication must be as quickly as possible. However, if they give me manslaughter and a suspended sentence, or a fine, I will most certainly appeal. That will give us time to decide when the book shall be released. (As I will be sitting across your desk when you read this, have a bottle ready.)
Here's a bit we can use for publicity. I had to have permission to send this out of jail. I merely told 'them' it was a piece of fiction I was finishing up. They let it go after a fast reading of the first page! Of course, could be my handwriting discouraged them. (This entire chapter is worth a ton of shirts in any Chinese laundry! Told you I still have my corny humor.)
Maggie, if you should open this before the trial is over, please don't read the last chapter. You'll appreciate it more when things are finished here. Do what I ask, even as you shake your pretty head and mumble, “What is that idiot Matt Anthony up to now?” Be sorry for me, Maggie, jail has a cold loneliness to it, a reflection of man's insanity to man that...
My arm is numb with fatigue. Ah, if only I was allowed a typewriter in here. And the condemned man wrote a hearty last chapter. Well, my love, let us both hope this turns out to be the big one I've been fishing for all these years, the kind of bombshell seller I know it will be... if you get behind it.
Love and sleep comfortable,
The Last Chapter
July 25th was one of those hot summer days and May Fitzgerald was sweating as she dusted the living room. She heard Matt drive up and soon he stood in the doorway with another man, a stranger. He asked May where Francine was.
When May told him, “Mrs. Anthony is out back feeding cantaloupe to the poodle,” Matt noticed a faint smile on Henry Brown's thin face. Matt was annoyed.
Little smiles were very important to Matt Anthony. Usually he was the one who smiled, in fact he often set the stage for them. These faint (and meaningless) smiles were his 'secrets' and gave him the same false sense of superiority joining a 'secret' lodge gives other people. Matt needed to feel superior and his tiny smiles were his mystic rings and pins.
He would smile at the awe on a person's face when they found out Matt was a writer, was the Matt Anthony. Matt would grin slightly, eating up their astonishment when he told them he was also Daisy Action, and the rest of his many pen names. Or when he was called “Mad" Matt Anthony. Then Matt might not only show off his muscles, but often wrap a towel around his right fist and split a thin board with one punch. (He kept a supply of such boards on hand.) He would also make his favorite crack, “Only difference between Papa and myself—he's a far more successful hack.” And of course smile at the other person's reaction to Matt daring to call Hemingway a hack.
There was a special smile when Matt met a guest at the station and as they stepped into his Jaguar, Matt would say, “Off to the cottage,” and his big grin when they saw the large house carefully screened from the bay by a row of immense pines. Again the little smile when he casually said, “Oh, I own all the land around this end of the bay. Might call it my private bay.”
Now he turned to Brown and with a grin (of self-pity) said, “Guess that sums up my life, Hank; feeding the poodle cantaloupe. Still, it is a long way from being an English Lit instructor—only most times I can't figure in which direction it's a long way.”
“A comfortable way, at least,” Brown said, sitting in a pigskin camp chair, rubbing his broken nose. Matt was terribly envious of that busted nose.
“A 'comfortable' weight around my neck,” Matt said. “I need a minimum of twelve grand a year for living expenses. Means three books a year, unless I'm fortunate enough to have a movie or TV sale. And with my lousy luck, those have been few and far between.”
“Lord, three books a year? How many have you published, Matt?”
“Oh, I've lost count. Around 40. And a few dozen novelettes, and perhaps 500 stories. Although I haven't done much short fiction in recent years.
“How do you do it?”
Matt smiled. “The secret is to do 10 pages a day. Trouble with most writers is they're lazy. Stall themselves with crap about having to be in the mood, all that. No matter how much hell I raise, how crocked I get, I do my 10 pages a day, seven days a week. Rain or shine. Okay, Hank, don't look so damn horrified. It really isn't much. I dictate it in about two hours, then mail the tape to my secretary in New York. Hell, I once dictated a complete novel in three days. Listen, I'm a slow writer compared to a fellow like Simenon. I can't complain, where else could I make this sort of money for a 14 hour week? You know, Hank, I often think back to the old days when we'd argue for hours over a line, the right word, or—”
Francine Anthony came into the living room followed by a black poodle licking his chops, and the Hunters. The Hunters wore bathing suits. Wilma Hunter had a strong figure with sturdy hips and a great bosom. She had an average face, but intense eyes, and her very red hair was rough and kinky. Joel Hunter was slim and stooped. His face was flushed and in sharp contrast to his white-gray hair which was cropped very short—like a worn brush. He was smoking a corncob pipe and wearing thick black-shell glasses. He dropped into a chair with a decidedly feminine movement, stretching his thin legs. He said, “I've never seen a dog like that before, eating fruit like a pig.”
The poodle looked up, ran over and mounted one of Joel's legs. Joel yelled, “Matt, will you get this sexy mutt off me!”
Matt looked at Hank Brown and smiled.
Francine Anthony said sharply to the dog, “Come here, Clichy.” She walked over and kicked the poodle's backside, and he whined, then sat down and went back to licking his whiskers. Everything about Francine was small and compact. Her features were sharp and her shorts and striped blouse showed off a slightly scrawny figure. She could have been 40 years old, or 50. Her face was weather-beaten and her hair stringy and wild. She asked, “Anything in the mail, Matt?” as she ran her eyes over Brown's worn tropical suit.
“No checks; honey, this is Hank Brown. Prof. Hank Brown. We used to teach together at Brooks. Hell of a thing, haven't seen him for years, and I run into Hank in Hampton, of all places. Hank, these two slightly drunk inkers are Wilma and Joel Hunter. Perhaps you've read some of Joel's children's books, Hank. They sell faster than contraceptives.”
Joel waved as he said, “Oh, Matt, you always do that to me. ”
“I wish they did sell that fast,” Wilma Hunter said, nodding at Brown.
Francine said, “Glad to meet you, Professor. What were you doing in Hampton, Matt?”
“Out for a ride and there was old Hank waiting at the station. Must be at least 16 or 17 years since we last saw each other. Hasn't it, champ?”
“About that. I'm really an ex-professor, Mrs. Anthony,” Brown said as the poodle came over and sniffed him. Brown rubbed the dog's wooly head. The professor had big hands for a little man.
Francine lit a cigarette, blew thin clouds of smoke through her nose as she said, “Seems to me I've read something about you, Prof. Brown. A book out recently?”
Hank Brown glanced at Matt, who smiled. “I only published one book. That was quite some time ago.”
“A textbook, and a damn good one,” Matt added. “Joel, that's the racket we should be in, writing textbooks. The dough pours in, year after year.”
“But somehow your name rings a bell,” Francine said. “You can have the bedroom in the...”
“Thank you but I have to be back in New York tonight.”
There was a moment of silence which Matt enjoyed, then Francine asked him, “How many drinks did you have in Hampton?”
“I didn't even sniff a cork, my darling. I stopped to look at some new reels, glanced at the magazines,” Matt said, fingering the car keys in the pocket of his plaid shorts, certain the 'stuff' was safe in the trunk of the roadster. Brown said, “It's nearly one. I want to catch the 2:05 train.”
“Plenty of time, champ. We have a lot of talking to do. Want some lunch?”
“Thanks, Matt, but as I told you, I've already eaten.”
“How about a cocktail?” Francine said, “Matt, the doctor said—”
“Okay, honey, but the doc didn't say my guests couldn't drink. What are you guzzling these days Hank, gin and tonic, Scotch?”
“I could use a beer.”
“Splendid, I have some imported brew that's terrific Wilma?”
Wilma shook her head. Joel said, “Much too early for beer. I'll take a Scotch, please, Matt.”
Matt gave his wife a very tender smile. “Are you gassed-up for the day, yet, darling?”
“Don't be so goddamn smart, Matt. I don't want anything.”'
As Matt started for the kitchen Francine said, “Ring for May.”
“I'm not too old to fetch a drink for a buddy. And don't worry, honey, I really don't want a belt.” Once inside the kitchen Matt leaned against the door and listened. After a moment he heard Francine say, “Names stick in my mind—a lousy habit. Haven't you been in the papers recently, Prof. Brown?”
“Divorced your wife?” Wilma Hunter asked.
“What? No, no, nothing like that I... uh... refused to sign a loyalty oath and was dismissed from Brooks. I also had the misfortune to do this on a day when there wasn't much news.”
Matt grinned at the sudden hush in the living room, broken somewhat when Francine said harshly, “Oh, yes!”
Joel asked, “Why didn't you sign the damn thing? I mean, what the hell, avoid all the... mess?”
“Well,” Hank said slowly, obviously not wanting to discuss it, “I felt it wasn't a question of loyalty at all, but rather an invasion of privacy. Also, it's rather complicated. If I had signed I probably would have been called upon to... perhaps... become a kind of informer. I couldn't do that.”
There was a long silence and then Joel Hunter suddenly came to life, as if hearing the conversation for the first time. He sat up straight, his red face full of worry. He said, “Oh, my!”
Matt, who was standing in the doorway holding a large glass of dark thick beer and a jigger of Scotch, said, “Don't jump, Joel, Hank isn't a leper.”
Francine actually glared at Matt, then calling the dog, she left the room. Matt said sternly, “Fran!” The Hunters remained for a moment, ill at ease, then Wilma said, “Come along, Joel, show me what you want typed.”
Joel nodded at Brown and as he passed Matt gave him a sickly grin. “Don't forget your goddamn drink!” Matt said, shoving the glass at him, spilling Scotch on Joel's smooth chest.
Matt handed Brown the beer, sat down opposite him. “The smug sonsofbitches. Why didn't you tell them off, champ?”
“Can one explain hysteria in a few sentences? You were wrong, Matt, I am a modern leper. To associate with me can mean blacklist, loss of employment. Really, Matt, I wish you'd drive me to the station. You know I didn't want to come here.”
“Don't worry about the damn train, we have time. Hell of a deal when you, of all people, can't feel at ease in my house. But don't mind Francine, she's the world's biggest bitch.”
Hank stared at him over the glass of beer.
“We've hated each other from the moment we got married. That's why we're so compatible.”
Brown looked puzzled, as Matt knew he would. After the tiny smile, Matt said, “Francine is right for me, she's a pusher and a worrier, and you know what an easy-going slob I am. Then we have great times in bed. We're a couple of sexual sadists and since we hate each other, well... we're fantastic between the sheets. Don't look so damn shocked, Hank, I'm only telling you what...”
“Matt, why tell me?”
“Oh, come now, champ. You know damn well every man is curious—even if only passively—about every woman's sex life. Christ, not you—you just can't have become a hypocritical old bastard. Man, when you see Wilma's big knockers, don't you wonder what she's doing with a fag like Joel? Admit it, Hank: could you take your eyes off that breastwork?”
Brown looked a bit sick as he said, “A man my age loses a great deal of that... eh... curiosity and... Matt, what's happened to you?”
Matt's smile opened into a laugh. “Nothing very much, champ, I'm a success. A big gassy success. I make money. Everything I write sells, my books are translated all over the world. Don't look down your busted nose at me, champ, because I write about sex and violence. In your old age, Hank, you're naive, real simple.”
“It's a fact, you still put a halo around the word 'writer.' Let a pro tell you about writing. It requires a great deal of research—for example, I know all there is to know about police work, detection. And everything I read or see must be translated into a gimmick for a crime plot. Those floods out West the other day—I may use them in a murder story. A month ago I happened to read that a cobra can only strike down, Hot up. That's been burning and turning over in my mind ever since. I've read up on it, even. A cobra can only strike down. I'll use that... some day. Oh, my mind is full of many such fascinating thoughts. Just as my relationship with Francine helps put sex in my books and... skip the vomit look, champ, I know it sounds rough, but I'm safe. I am. I'm safe because objectively and subjectively I'm one of the few writers in America who knows exactly what he's doing. Yes, sir!”
“Matt, what are you talking about?”
“What's all this mean?”
“That I don't kid myself. That's the secret—not to fool the fooler. It means all writing today is a series of compromises. It has to be or it will never reach print. Things are reduced to the degree you compromise. You can't be honest if you compromise. Yeah, they talk about the mediocrity of TV—as though compromise hasn't leveled all our culture, our lives. Your so-called serious writers, who think they're writing honestly, they're lying in their brains and don't realize it. Don't realize they have compromised, and begin believing the stuff they write is honest. They're lost.”
Matt pounded his fist into his other palm. “Of course, it's tougher today. Different in the old days—the good old days! At least then you could write honestly because everything was so new, even the publishers couldn't detect the truth. People are too smart today. 'Greatness' gives me a laugh. One major reason for Shakespeare's 'greatness' was the mass illiteracy, hence the worship of any printed word. London could write about Alaska, Twain about the West, Hemingway about war and the Paris of 1920, Faulkner and Caldwell about the South, Lewis about main street... and not many people knew if it was real or not. Today, as a result of the travel two wars have brought, radio, TV, paperbacks, greater education in general, people are smarter. There aren't any new frontiers—unless you write about pansys, and that will soon become too well known—to write about. So people know when a writer is compromising, faking. Education has made people tolerant in an unhealthy way: they're actually cynical and indifferent to whatever issues a writer tries to give. But above all, they damn well know when he's lying, or half-lying. Well, by God, I'm no fake, I never lie to my readers!”
“Honest Matt Anthony! By what rationalization do you picture yourself writing the truth?”
“Truth? That's the whole point, champ, I don't pretend to write the truth. I write crap fantasies—the modern fairy tale: two-fisted, gonadal whimsy. But I never fool my readers or myself. Once a writer fools himself he's lost. But not little Matt. Plain and simple, I'm a hack and I'm writing to make a big buck. I haven't any fuzzy notions I'm turning out literature; I don't worry whether my name will live two seconds after I die or not.”
Matt was staring at Brown, as if waiting for an answer, an argument. Brown sipped his beer. Matt asked, “Isn't that something? I get it by the case from Austria.”
“Very good.” Brown glanced at his wrist watch. “Matt, I simply must make that train. I should have taken the early one. I'm looking for a job and I'm to see somebody this afternoon who may be able to arrange for me to ghost several textbooks.”
“Relax, champ, I'll get you there. I might even drive you into New York. Don't worry about Francine or the Hunters being uncomfortable around you. I—”
“Matt, I'm the one that's uncomfortable. I must catch that train.”
“Okay, okay, Hank. Just don't worry. I can make the station in six minutes flat. Champ, I want you to come out and spend time here. I'll clean house of all jerks, ship Fran-cine to town for a shopping spree. Just the two of us to bull about old times.”
“Thanks, Matt, but Ruth is waiting for me in Chicago.”
“Relax, champ, you've had a tough time. You need a vacation, I have the house, the beach, the boats. Ruth would agree with me.”
“Let me see how my time turns out, Matt. I might have to remain East over the weekend. I'll call you.”
“Not this weekend. I'm having Gary Rawn, the screen star, and his current gal, down. What about the following weekend?”
“I'll see how things work out. If this job comes through, I may settle in New York, Matt, let me call you.”
Matt stood up, took a boxing stance. “Great seeing you, champ. You're a breath of clean air. So we have a date. Finish your beer. I'll see if Fran needs anything in the village, then drive you to the station.”
Francine was sitting on the rear steps, sipping rye and water. The poodle was busy worrying a lemon, which he thought was a ball. Joel Hunter was stretched out on a dull red lounge—two empty glasses on the floor—glancing at an English magazine. Wilma Hunter was sewing a bra strap. Before Matt could open his mouth, Francine sprang to her feet, told him, “I've been waiting for you to step out here. Matt, are you out of your goddamned mind? If the papers, the gossip columnists, ever found out you're entertaining a Fifth Amendment Red, or that you even knew him, why Hollywood would drop the option on Slug In The Gut and you'd be ruined as a writer!”
“No, my darling, not as a writer. What you mean to say is my sales might dip. Although I even doubt that. Hank is one of the oldest friends I have, and I certainly do not intend to let anybody tell me who my friends are to be.”
“I'm telling you, Matt Anthony!” Francine said. “Keep your gentle voice down, honey. Anybody is a noun that can be both male and female.”
“You might have the decency to think of Joel's career,” Francine said, stooping to pick up her drink. “Francine, my sweet, don't tempt me.”
“Seriously, Matt,” Wilma said, “Fran is right. We're not the martyr type, we—”
“Wilma,” Matt said, his eyes staring at her breasts, “will you please explain what sort of movement would make a bra snap? I'm dead serious. They're not like an arm, or even the hips, where there is a certain amount of movement, or muscular contraction. They lay in the bra like eggs waiting... waiting for what?” (Matt loved to shock people with his clever 'hot' talk. But actually he enjoyed it because deep in his mind, Matt himself was the one most shocked by his own bold words.)
“Stop it, Matt,” Wilma said. “This isn't a joke.”
“Do you think this professor fellow will ever mention meeting me?” Joel asked.
Matt smiled down at Joel, aware of the narrow shoulders —and how huge be must look in comparison to this runt. “Joel, what do you think he's rushing back to New York for? He wants to shout it from the top of the Empire State Building. Listen to me, all of you; maybe you don't agree with what the champ did, but that's no call for this display of Goddamn rude manners.” He turned to Francine. “You acted with all the taste of a two-bit whore stuck with a lead quarter.”
“You know what you can do, Mr. Sonofabitch. If your friend wants to get his rear kicked, fine. But don't bring him here so we all get the boot.”
“As usual, you're talking sheer nonsense, honey,” Matt said. “You'll be slobbering about witches and bogeymen next.” He paused to smile. “Matter of fact you should be grateful for the champ's courage. You see, if he wanted to save his job and name people, he could have very easily named me!”
Wilma stopped sewing. “Really, Matt?”
“You?” Francine blurted the word out. “Now I've heard everything!”
“Indeed, darling, little old me,” Matt said, his voice mocking them. “I know my dearest wife thinks of me only as a drunken dumb-ox so it may come as a shock to learn I didn't quit college to write—as a jacket blurb once stated. I was thrown out for being the only instructor backing a student anti-ROTC demonstration. I was the only teacher with guts. True, that was over 20 years ago, but mere mention of my name would still make headline reading now.”
They were silent for a moment, Matt enjoying things thoroughly. Then Wilma asked, “You were the only teacher? Where was the professor at the time?”
“He was lecturing at—”
Francine stormed over to Matt, her head barely reaching the bushy grey hair on his chest. “You damn fool! Did you lend him any money? You know how tight—”
“I told you to keep your sweet voice down. Hank refused money. But I am going to see if I can do something about finding the champ a job with Longson.”
“They'll love that! Just eat it up! Bill Long is after you to make good the money—” Francine noticed the Hunters straining their ears and stopped. She shouted up at Matt, “You'll have nothing more to do with him!”
“No? I've asked him out for a weekend. If the champ gets a job in New York, I shall certainly see him as often as possible.”
“Matt Anthony, that man is not coming into my house again!”
Matt laughed. “While it isn't your house, nor mine, but the bank's, I am still able to ask my friends here.”
“Matt, I've taken all I can stand from you. I won't see us broke because of some sentimental whim of yours.” Francine started around his big bulk. Matt grabbed her shoulders, asked, “Where are you going?”
“To settle this! To tell that... Red bastard to get the hell out of here!”
Matt squeezed her shoulder and Francine's face screwed up with pain. She tried to get away but Matt shook her hard, his face going paler than his stubble of gray-white whiskers. Matt told her, “Francine, honey, some things I'll take from you because it's a kind of game between us. But Hank Brown is one of the few real things in my life. Do you understand that? He's an isle of reality in this phony world. If you ever say a single out-of-the-way word to Hank, I'll kill you! I mean that.” He pushed her away, sending Francine sprawling against the wall, then walked out.
The poodle whined, Wilma sat there pop-eyed and Joel Hunter said, “My, aren't we melodramatic!”
Francine Anthony stepped away from the wall, rubbed her shoulder.
As they walked toward the roadster, Henry Brown asked, “Something wrong, Matt? You look sick.”
“Nothing. Another row with Francine—as you probably heard.”
“I didn't hear a thing. I'm sorry I caused any—”
“It really isn't about you, champ. She's such a scheming bitch. A silly doc claims my heart does a rumba now and then. Hell, I guess he knows his stuff but... it isn't anything serious. Francine keeps harping on it. Every time I take a drink, a swim, for Christsakes she looks ready to step aside so I won't fall on her when I drop dead.”
“Don't you think you should take it easy?”
“Look, champ, I carried a large policy but two years ago we were stony and I had to borrow to the hilt on it. I couldn't meet the payments and they had to cut down the insurance. Francine wouldn't mind my dying—if I had the full policy again. She's trying to get me reinstated. I guess I couldn't pass a new physical.”
“All those books, how could you be broke?” Brown asked, getting into the Jaguar.
“Don't talk like a hick, champ. Writers never make real money. In the last census the income of the average professional writer was substandard. In a way we're like pugs: a few writers are in the top brackets, a few more make a fair living—and most writers need a working wife to keep above water. Anyway, we were building this house that year.” Matt started the car, the motor purring with power. “Hank, we're really equipped for decent living here. When you come out I'll take you tuna fishing—I have a hell of a fine sea boat and... damn I never had a chance to show you the boat, the beach. This was some visit. When you come out we'll do nothing but fish and bull about the old gang. I won't do a drop of work, won't think about my damn cobra gimmick. We were all so full of purpose, so sure of life in those days. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn't all a kind of binge. Tell me, do you ever hear of Nick and old Pete? What's become of Hazel the pretty kid with the haunting eyes?”
They talked about 'old times' while waiting for the train, an awkward conversation since neither could recall much about any one person. Brown again refused a check, said he would phone about the weekend the moment he knew about his time. When the train pulled out, Matt drove down a deserted side road and parked. He ran around to the car trunk and eagerly opened a large cardboard carton—the real reason he'd gone to Hampton.
Through the mail, and under a pen name, he had ordered a complete skin-diving outfit: mask, fins, spear gun and two compact air tanks that fastened over the back. A month ago, after he had tried a friend's outfit, there had been a bitter fight with Francine over buying one. “That's all your heart needs!” she had said.
“Nonsense. I won't go down more than 50 feet. We'll buy two and both of us can explore the bay.”
“Forget it, Matt. Or better yet, let's call the doctor and have him tell us it's okay?”
Now Matt fingered the gadgets like a happy kid. He thought, It will be a cinch, hide it in the sail locker in the boat house, she never opens that. I'll only use it at night or when Fran is away. I can stay under for nearly an hour. My God, they're always talking about the British ships sunk here in 1776—-be something if I find them. Maybe treasure! Has anybody used skin diving as a plot gimmick yet? Must have been used.
When he reached the house Joel Hunter was sleeping on a beach mat on the front lawn, a shaker of cocktails sweating in the sun beside him. Wilma was dozing in a chair, a yellow scarf flung over her eyes. The dog was curled up in the shade of the chair. For a second Matt grinned down at Wilma, mentally taking off her bathing suit—as he had, in his mind, so many times before. Couple of years, he thought, she'll be a pot. But right now... mine for the asking. What the hell am I afraid of?
He walked on into the house, walking softly. Upstairs he heard May working. Quietly he walked to the veranda, opened a closet—Fran's tackle box was gone. Matt glanced at the pines which screened the view (and the wind) of the bay. He looked at his wrist watch and nodded to himself. Crossing the rear lawn, he opened the trunk of the Jaguar, and glancing around like a ham actor, took out the cardboard box, and headed through the pines toward the boat house.
He suddenly came up on Francine, walking toward the main house. She was wearing a floppy straw hat that they had bought in Haiti and an old Italian sports shirt over her bathing suit. She was holding her fishing gear. Matt asked with real annoyance, “Where did you come from?”
“I forgot my spinning reel and... what's in the box?”
“Nothing much. Tools, oarlocks... a few things I ordered last week,” Matt said, walking past her, shielding the box with his body.
“We don't need oarlocks. Come back here, Matt.”
He kept walking. She said, “You louse, you have a case of gin in there!” Francine turned to run after him. She fell over a root, and unable to break the fall because her hands were full of tackle, she cracked her head on a large rock imbedded at the side of the rough path. The big hat didn't even touch the rock but her skull and the stone made a dull sound.
Matt dropped the box, raced back to her. He said, “Honey, are...?” as he started to lift Francine, then let the body fall again. Her head hit the stone once more—hardly any sound this time—and Matt jumped back in horror: he knew she was dead.
Matt was dazed. He stared at the body and couldn't believe what he saw. He knelt beside her and felt the back of her neck. He massaged the pulse-less wrists, turned Francine over gently and started to put his hand under her bathing suit to feel for a heart beat, but the unseeing open eyes stopped him. She wasn't stunned or hurt, she was dead.
Matt was numbed, shocked, grief-stricken: he began to weep—a little. And under all these emotions there was another one pushing its way to the top of his mind—relief. For a second the tears came, and he seemed to be kneeling in prayer and crying. But the more he stared at her body, the stronger an entirely new thought grew—one which filled him with fear and horror. He mumbled half aloud, Joel would break under any kind of questioning and Wilma—she'd hold it over me the rest of my life. No, there's only one thing to do and I have to do it damn fast—make it look “Nobody will ever believe this was an accident! The Hunters heard me say I'd kill Francine a short time ago... 'She tripped and hit her head on a rock....' No, no, oh, my God no! I wouldn't believe that myself. I'm in a hell of a jam unless... unless what? Can I make the Hunters forget they heard me threaten her? more like an accident.”
He stood up, studied the body, the ground: he was thinking clearly, the top-flight mystery writer looking for a plot witch. The rods weren't touched. Her canvas shoes hadn't been torn by the root. He pulled back the floppy hat: there was a suggestion of blood on her lips and nose but no blood on either the rock or the ground. Her forehead was discolored and of a queer shape, like a cracked egg. Matt turned the hat down over her eyes.
“Don't understand why there isn't any blood,” Matt told himself, “But it's a break. Now... Fran must have told the Hunters she was going fishing. Okay, she stood up to cast, lost her balance, struck her head on the side of the boat, fell over and drowned? No, that's out, any medical examiner could prove she was dead before she hit the water. Suppose she's found hanging over the side of the boat, just her face resting on the water? That would hold up, hitting the side of the boat would be the cause of death, not drowning. Sure, she stood up to cast, lost her balance, hit her head. Would such a blow cause death? Hell, it had to, it did! What's my alibi? Do I need one? May probably heard me drive up in the car even if the Hunters didn't. But no reason for May to check the time I arrived. As for the Hunters, they're half-bagged, shouldn't be hard to confuse them on a time lapse of a half hour. Can I work that corny bit of changing and rechanging the clocks I used in the old pulps? I'll think of... damn, wonder if anyone else is fishing in this end of the bay? Although I can swim out and back underwater with my outfit!”
Matt picked up the cardboard box and ran to the boat-house—the bay was empty. He ran back and picked up Fran-cine, carried her down to the little rowboat beached on the sand. He raced back and picked up the fishing gear, carefully studied the ground in the shade of the pine trees. He ran back, his heart pounding. He quickly put an old reel on Francine's rod, hooked and baited the line. Matt thought: Damn, good I posted all the land around here, little chance of anyone seeing me—although always a chance of some dumb kid being in the woods. I don't have to worry about fingerprints, I've often used her tackle. Now—what made her trip? A shoe lace caught on the broken duckboards. Poor Fran, always after me to fix them. Then her head would hit about... here. Would it make a dent in the wooden gunwale?” I think so. But have I the guts to bang Fran's head against the boat?
Matt quickly stripped nude, found a large rock on the sandy bottom of the water, a rock almost as large and smooth as a skull. He took careful aim and banged it on the gunwale, slightly crushing the wood. It seemed to make a terrific sound and Matt froze for a second, waiting to see if the noise brought anybody on the run.
For a horrible, fleeting moment, his nerves started to snap, like the rubber bands flying off an open golf ball. He forced himself to be calm as he thought: I have to get this over with. If anybody sees me now, this second, I'm cooked. Oh, my God, I have to be careful. I must think clearly... so very very clearly. And I must work fast.
Throwing the rock as far out into the bay as he could, Matt then washed the beaten wood to remove any particles of rock or sand. Feeling sick to his quivering stomach he deposited Fran's body on the seat and worked a shoelace under the duckboard. With sudden inspiration he jerked her canvas shoe hard enough to snap the lace, leaving part of it still entwined in the boards. Taking the bailing can, he doused the shoe and lace with water to remove any prints. The sun would soon dry the shoe. Beside, a damp shoe was common in a rowboat.
Racing time, Matt put on the face mask and tested the air tanks. They worked fine. Strapping the big rubber flippers on his feet, Matt next put the anchor in the front of the boat, after first dragging the rope through the water to remove the sand. Then, pushing the boat free of the beach, he was about to pull the outboard down into the water and start it... but yanked his hand back as if he had touched a flame. “That was close!” he whispered to himself. “Real dumb! Motor makes such a racket it might have been heard at the house. Damn, I have to think, think clearly.”
He started swimming, one hand holding the bow of the boat, swimming and drifting out with the tide, carefully checking the bay and the boat. “There's only two holes in this,” Matt told himself. “Somebody can be watching me from the lousy woods. And the post office clerk in Hampton might remember my getting the package, even under a phony name. Knowing I have this diving outfit could make the cops suspicious... nothing I can do about it now but chance it. Oh, God.”
Several hundred yards from the shore, Fran's favorite spot for King fish, Matt pulled the anchor over. He let out some fishing ling, and on further thought, released the brake on the reel so the line went out with the tide: Fran would have had the reel free when she started to cast. Next, Matt adjusted the mask on his face and the air intake. Closing his eyes he reached up, nearly tipping the boat, cupped his free hand around the back of her head... opening his eyes he brought the front of her skull down exactly where the rock had hit the side of the boat.
Her body hung over the side of the boat, the floppy hat resting on the water, one limp hand in the water. The fishing rod stuck out at a crazy angle from under her bent body. Matt swam to the stern and pulled the tilted outboard so that the propeller was in the water. Then, floating on his back, he slowly ran his eyes over the boat, checking every detail— his heart pounding so he wondered if he was about to have an attack. The weight of her body made the rowboat list to that side, but there wasn't any danger of it tipping, nor of the corpse falling overboard. The anchor was holding, and swimming closer he saw traces of blood and hair in the smashed wood.
For a long moment Matt stared at his wife, at the body he had enjoyed and tormented so often. His grief and sorrow twisted his stomach into a knot. He swam over and held on to the anchor rope, pulled off the glass face plate and gave up. A moment later his strength and calm returned and he submerged and swam toward the shore. His nose was bleeding slightly as he stood up on the beach and his ears ached. He carefully spread the mask and oxygen tanks on the docks to dry. As he walked up and down, letting the sun warm and dry his skin, he thought: Perhaps tomorrow I'll drive back to Hampton, hang around the post office. No way the clerk can place the exact day when the box arrived. Or is there? It was insured. Why am I worrying about the damn package so much?
Dressing, he debated whether it would be best to hide the lung in the boat house, or take it back to the car trunk. He could always say Fran had known all about his ordering the skin diving outfit. Then why under a pen name? But then he had checking accounts under his several writing names... Matt decided to hide the box in the sail locker but it worried him. Somehow, he had a feeling the aqua-lung was the weak link in things.
Walking back toward the house, he nearly fainted when passing the spot where Fran had fallen; but forced himself to study it for a moment, then walked on—rapidly. Exactly forty-seven minutes had elapsed. And Joel Hunter was still sleeping on the beach mat and Wilma snoozing in the chair. Matt sat (gently) in another chair, noticing with relief that neither of them was wearing a watch. He wanted a drink real badly, looked at the cocktail shaker but didn't touch it As Matt picked up a magazine from the wrought iron table, the poodle stretched and yawned, came over and sniffed at Matt's legs. Matt glanced at the house. May? But afternoons were her hardest time. Of course, she might have looked out of the window, might have even noticed him sitting down just now... Still, there was little chance of May being certain of the time. Matt thought: Hell with May, let me set up the Hunters. Use the time switch I had in the first Inspector O'Cohen book. Jeez, so damn much hinges on this play.
Matt pushed the poodle so his hind legs touched Joel. Joel blinked. Shielding his sleepy, drunken eyes with a slim hand he said, “Oh, it's you, Matt. Want to take a swim?”
“Fishing. What a delicious day. The sun is just exquisite.”
Matt glanced at his watch—holding up his wrist for Joel to see—knowing he was too far away for Joel to make out the hands. It was 3:27 p.m. as Matt said casually, “It's only a quarter to three. Why not wait until Fran returns?”
Joel nodded and Matt opened the magazine. After staring up at the clean sky for a moment, Joel dozed off. Matt glanced at Wilma—she was still sleeping. He watched the even movements of her chest and smiled into the magazine. He thought: This sure changes things. Poor Fran was right, no sense in having Hank around too much. Risky. I'll try to help him,... whatever way I can and... I can't even fully realize yet what this does mean. Why, I can get married again! First I'll take a trip to Europe, fruit around, then settle down with a young babe. Oh, God, I sound like an old roue. I need a drink, but bad.
At exactly 3:30 P.M. he picked up a pebble, tossed it at Wilma's bare stomach, pretended he was reading. Wilma sat up, pushing her breasts out as she stretched. She tasted her tongue, ran a hand over her thighs. She said, “I feel dehydrated—if that's the right word. Anything left in the shaker?”
Matt rubbed his eyes, yawned, then got up and carried the shaker to her. They each took a swig of mostly ice water and he said, forcing himself to sound gay, “I'd love to see you naked now—dehydrated nude.”
“Stop it. What's the time?” He tried not to show his relief as he held his wrist in front of her face. “Three-thirty. Going to sleep the afternoon away?
“Be too late for a swim soon,” Wilma said. She got up and went over and tickled Joel's ear with her big toe. “Rise and shine, sleepy-head. It's nearly four.”
Joel sat up, yawning. “Wish I'd put some oil on myself. Scotch and the sun—best sleep pill ever invented.”
Matt said softly but clearly, “You've been snoring for the last three quarters of an hour. I could hardly finish this article for the racket.”
“Now, Matt, I really don't snore.”
“Yes, you do.” Matt reached over and stuck his wrist in Joel's red face. “Remember when you asked me the time before and I showed you the watch and you saw it was only 2:45? Well, now it's 3:30 and man, you should have the appetite of a lumber jack because you've been sawing logs and making a hell of a racket all that time.”
“Prof. Anthony and his corny lectures on the fine art of snoring,” Wilma said. “Frankly, if Joel does snore he does it artistically, like he does everything else.”
“Thank you, my good wifey,” Joel said. “Fran have any hick?”
“Why, I didn't hear her return,” Matt said. “Surprising, too, she usually doesn't have patience for more than an hour's fishing.” Matt rubbed his eyes. “I read a lot, listening to Joel snoring. Rather interesting article on Africa. Read it, Joel, you might try a serious kids book—plight of two half-colored kids in Capetown.” Matt shadow-boxed his way over to the house, called for May. When she appeared— an apron over her shorts—he asked, “Has Fran come back yet?”
“No. I haven't seen her.”
“Would you mind going down to the beach and if she's within shouting distance, tell her we're ready to go swimming,” Matt said, thinking: It should take her about three minutes to reach the dock.
He glanced at his watch as he returned to the Hunters. Exactly three minutes and eight seconds later they all heard May scream.
Matt was dictating in his den when the village cop knocked on the door. He'd had several good hookers and while Matt wasn't high, his nerves were relaxed. To his surprise— and admiration—he had been able to get into the story he was working on and had actually done a dozen pages.
Matt stood in the doorway and nodded at the local cop, said, “Hello, Ted,” and glanced at the thickset man standing behind the young policeman. The dumpy-looking man was wearing a cheap and badly fitting summer suit. The coconut straw hat—still on his head—was stained with sweat and other things. The plain sports shirt struggled to circle the bull neck. The man looked like a barrel of lard to most people, but Matt, who had gone in for weight lifting and had studied muscles, knew the man was tremendously strong.
With a mild note of apology in his voice, Ted said, “Sorry to disturb you again, Mr. Anthony. Ah... this here is Detective Walter Kolcicki, from the D.A.'s office in the county seat.”
“Not disturbing me at all. How do you do, Detective Kolcicki,” Matt held out his hand. Kolcicki's hand weighed a ton.
“Let's sit down. I got some routine questions.” The detective's voice was low, almost bored.
“Of course,” Matt said, amused by the round stupid face. He walked to his desk and pulled up two chairs. “I was in the midst of some work. I not only have a deadline to meet, but I find work helps take my mind off the tragedy.”
Kolcicki sat down beside the desk, nodded at Ted who had remained in the doorway. As Ted started to close the door, from the outside, Matt called out, “Ask May to give you some imported beer I have.”
Matt sat down and tried to smile. Kolcicki stared at Matt, his eyes large and emotionless. Matt asked, “Have you ever read any of my books?”
“Well, I'm anxious to cooperate in every way.”
Kolcicki pushed his hat back on his head, said nothing.
“You may be interested in knowing I have worked with the New York City Police Department, and with the D.A's office in Los Angeles. In my work I...”
“Did you threaten to kill your wife this afternoon?” Kolcicki's voice was hard and blunt.
Mart's heart began to race as he held out his hands, shrugged. “No. Not really.”
“These other people, the Hunters, they say you did.”
“Oh I said it, you know, we had a little fuss. Words that have no real... hell, man, you call somebody a bastard without meaning it.”
“I never say it unless I mean it. You bastard, why did you kill her?”
Matt nearly jumped out of his chair. He fought to control his voice as he asked, “Do you realize what you're saying?”
“Now see here, while I understand you have a job to do, I've been through a great deal today and... Look, there's nothing to be gained by bluffing. I talked to the police and the medical examiner, and both their reports clearly state my wife's death was an accident. Obviously while fishing she—”
Detective Kolcicki said a common four letter word, one that Matt had used hundreds of times in his books, yet it never sounded as harsh and brutal as when it came from the detective's fat mouth.
Matt began to sweat and the pounding of his heart shook his whole body. He had read and written a great deal about the third degree methods of the police, undoubtedly exaggerating it in his mind, and had a deadly fear of such torture. There was a case where the police drilled a suspect's teeth until... Matt ran a hand over his face, forced himself to say calmly and slowly, “Hadn't we