/ Language: English / Genre:sf

Up Christopher to Madness

Harlan Ellison


Up Christopher to Madness

by Harlan Ellison and Avram Davidson

GuidedRoman circii tours—those on wheels—of Greenwich Village and the Bowery, invariably include visits to (or passing notice of) such taverns as The White Horse, McSorley’s, Julius’s, Leo’s, The Jumble Shop. But only Red Fred’s Village Voyages takes out-of-towners and uptowners to Aunt Annie’s Ale House. Which is, perhaps, the reason so few out-of-towners and uptowners are found weighted down with old typewriters in the East River. The Ale House’s clientele is—in the parlance of the fuzz—unsavory. A mugging-cum-swimfest w/typewriter was, therefore, not uncommon at Aunt Annie’s. (Times, of course, change, and He Who Would Stay Abreast must change with them: In the good bad old days a man who had been weighted down with an Oliver the size of a small threshing machine stayed weighted. Try that with an Olivetti or a Hermes thin as a wafer, and the victim-elect is not only likely to decline the nomination but to emerge, damp and annoyed, and start grinding an ice-pick point—or other uncivil, though not altogether unexpected, behavior.)

No matter what they may mutter at Charles Street Station House, it was accident, nothing but accident, which brought Red Fred and a bumper crop of sweating hayseeds (Royal Arch Masons from Chitling Switch, Nebraska: retired elocution teachers from East Weewaw, Wis., wearied with the season’s labors, shuddering at the very sight of prunes, prisms, and cheese: and other specimens habitans of The Great American Heartland) on the scene at the exact moment, Greenwich Village Meridian Time, when Angie the Rat, a prominent Six-for-Fiver—having compounded his interest once too often to expect further indulgence of Big Patsy the horse-player—was unceremoniously, but none the less effectively, sent where the bad loansharks go. One bullet in the left larynx, one bullet in the right larynx, and one bullet in the precise center of the umbilical quadrant. The reubens, male and female, scattering with shrieks and squeals, the assailants leisurely made their escape in an oyster-grey Edsel (which proved, of course, to be stolen).

Such amenities, confirming what had heretofore been mere wicked suspicions, instantly brought the yokels back for more. More, MORE; and, for the moment, left the competition nowhere. Fred might even have dispensed with the jumbo beret, the black tinted-lens horn rims, and the chestnut-colored beaver, which served him in lieu of neon signs and barkers; only he was stubborn.

And to be brutally honest (dealing as we are with clinical detail), Fred had to wear the beret, shades and foliage. He was not called Red Fred for naught. His name still appeared with inglorious regularity on subversive lists circulated by private, alphabetized agencies; and he thought it best to await the Revolution incognito.

It was, perhaps, because the assassins had hyped up his almost moribund business that Red Fred thought with mild kindnesses (when he thought of them at all) of Big Patsy and his two side-boys, whose names at this stage of narration are unnecessary. One can well imagine Red Fred’s dismay, then, at the appearance, the following Tuesday, of Gook, the blind beggar (whose bobby was serving alternate Thursday nights as a Civil Defense sky watcher), who informed him that Big Patsy was indeed anxious to see the tour guide posthaste. This, to make clear Red Fred’s attitude was (in the fullest Hitchcockian sense of the cliché), for the birds.

Gook made it abundantly evident, however, that if Red Fred did not bust his tuchus getting down to the empty loft building, on the corner of Bleecker and Bank streets, it might well fall on him the next time he went by. And that Big Patsy would be most reluctantly compelled to come and get him.

There was even some mention of sulphuric acid.

Red Fred, as a consequence, put on a clean shirt (for had not Big Patsy once remarked in Aunt Annie’s that if there was one thing he could not abide, it was a slob?) and made haste to keep his appointment.

The loft building in point was a massive; brooding structure more reminiscent of a tyrannosaurus coprolite than a hideout for wayward horse-players. Big, black, brooding, it hovered over the corners of Bleecker and Bank as though it was hungry. Red Fred had the distinct impression it was hungry for him.

Red Fred’s height was five feet six inches, and his hair was not only thinning in front but—as though anxious to do its part all down the line—was also departing steadily from the rear. The shades he wore were corrective lenses ground along the thickness lines of a cathode ray tube. He was, in short, short and balding and near-sighted.

He was also a coward, a thief, and scared out of his gourd.

The loading dock door of the old loft building stood ominously ajar, as though someone had been standing behind it, waiting for Red Fred to come in sight through a crack in the splintering jamb. Red Fred whistled a tremulous note or two from “The Peat Bog Soldiers” and opened the door, stepping through quickly.

When the length of rubber hose connected with his skull, it was arithmetically-placed at that soft juncture of temple and ear known to exponents of the sage art of karate as peachy-keen for sending an opponent to the land of turquoise torpors.

Red Fred gracefully settled across the polished shoes of Big Patsy’s chief arm-man, Wallace “Gefilte” Fish. The name now becomes of importance. Carry on.

It is not to be thought that Wallace was fond of gefilte fish; in point of fact, he detested it, but, just as a man with two left feet may admire the ability to dance, so did Wallace admire intelligence, a quality in which he was, lamentably, deficient. His knowledge of science could have been covered by a 1¼ grain kiddy aspirin tablet, and belonged—if it belonged anywhere—to the era of high-buttoned shoes and one-piece underwear: Wallace was convinced that sea-food was good for building up the brain.

Unfortunately, any item of this nature which derived from salt water caused Wallace to break out into something which resembled an illustration from a dermatology textbook. Enter (as Shakespeare might have said) gefilte fish—an item of nourriture composed of carp, white-fish, and pike: every one of them strictly a fresh-water creature.

Keep this in mind.

When Fred returned to full cognizance of his surroundings, he saw what he by now was fully convinced was a dreadful sight, viz.: (reading from right to left) Wallace, Big Patsy, and the latter’s second assistant, a cat-like creature with ginger-colored hair, skin, and eyes, known far and wide simply as The Kerry Pig.

All three were dressed as if ready to attend an undertaker’s psalm-sing, and the expressions on their respective faces were approximately somber.

“This,” said Big Patsy, “is a mere sample. Free. If you like it, we can supply the full treatment.”

“At,” offered The Kerry Pig, “no extra cost.” The sound which Wallace uttered may perhaps not be precisely transliterable as “Duh”; but that is close enough for anyone not a registered phonologist. It was intended to indicate affirmation.

“Gentlemen,” said Fred, thinking it wise to remain flat on his back, but all set to roll like a hoop-snake at the first sign of a kick-twitchy foot; “Gentlemen, I bear you no malice for this monstrous incivility, realizing as I do that you are victims of The System.” Here he paused to turn aside his head to spit. “And hence no better than pawns, as it were, of the War-mongers and their other ilk in the high councils of Monopoly Capitalism: but wherein have I offended thee, pray tell?”

Big Patsy sneered. The Kerry Pig snorted. Wallace uttered The Sound. “That is rich,” said Big Patsy, sneering. “That is very rich, indeed. You,” he said, pointing a long, thick, impeccably manicured finger, “are a bird. I will tell you wherein you have offended us. As of two o’clock yesterday afternoon every gendarme and shamus in New York City it is looking for us with photographs pasted as it were on the undersides of their caps (if uniformed). They have this idea, which it’s a lie, a slander, and a base canard, that it was we whom give Angie the Rat them lead Miltowns to swallow.”

Fred received this intelligence with some surprise, it being well-known, from Canal to Fourteenth, that Big Patsy y Cia, avoided photography with a zeal which would have done honor to an Old Rite Amishman.

“The reason the constables they have this absurd notion,” continued Big P., “is that one of them Hoosiers who you were esquiring around The Village at the moment of The Rat’s demise, had nothing better to do with his time but get out his old Brownie and snap the three of us at the moment of our departure, which it was purely coincidental, I need hardly add.”

“Instead of getting down on his knees and yelling an Act of Contrition in the poor man’s ear,” said The Kerry Pig.

“As a result of which,” Big Patsy continued, “every pothead, hippie, hipster and lady of the evening is now free to walk the city streets unmolested, whilst the entire might of the law is coincided on hunting we three down as if we were wild beasts of the field or suchlike: which it’s All Your Fault.” And he gazed at Red Fred with no small measure of discontent.

“And in conclusion,” Wallace Fish began, concluding with alarming rapidity as Big Patsy deftly inserted his elbow between the aforementioned’s fifth and sixth ribs.

“In conclusion,” Big Patsy took up the standard for his stricken comrade, “since the source of our discomfort stems at least indirectly from your direction, I and the boys has held solemn conclave together and have, like, decided that the source of our deliverance will emanate from the selfsame source, to wit—you.”

“I don’t understand,” said Red Fred.

“I do not stutter,” Big Patsy informed him:

“Do I understand you want me to get you out of here? Is that what I am to understand?”

Big Patsy beamed benevolently. He tugged at the dimpled front of his Countess Mara tie and allowed a fatherly twinkle to infest his right eye. “As they said in them halcyon days of the Red and Blue Network, you have answered the $64 question. Or we could introduce your person to an entirely new and novel version of The Watusi.”

“Mashed potatoes!” added Wallace Fish.

Red Fred suddenly felt harassed. The Worker’s Handbook had some pretty stiff things to say about allowing the pawns of the Capitalist/Fascist Demagogues to knuckle you under. “I’ll do no such thing.”

Fourteen seconds, six feet and one hundred and twenty-nine bruises later, Red Fred, rationalizing wildly on The Worker’s Handbook interpretation, acquiesced in cavalier style: “I’ll do that very thing.”

It should be pointed out at this juncture that Red Fred’s Village Voyages were not conducted on a renovated bus; they were not conducted on foot; they were not in fact conducted by plane, train, chariot, felucca or yak-cart. They were conducted on a series of small open-sided wagons, hitched together and pulled by a tiny steam engine built to look like a tandem pair of pink gastropods. A fringed awning surmounted this perambulating snailery; a charming caboose played denouement with the legend RED FRED’S VILLAGE VOYAGES affixed thereon; and several ladies and gentlemen of the species homo hippicus were employed to station themselves at irregular intervals around the cars. See authentic bohemian Greenwich Village. Cha-cha-cha!

On the second Wednesday in August following Angie the Rat’s handsome funeral (13 heart-broken mourners 13), Red Fred’s Village Voyages putted lackadaisically past the heat-prostrated eyeballs of one hundred and sixteen of New York’s Finest, beating its way uptown toward the East Side Airlines Terminal. Aboard were only Red Fred and three authentic, bohemian (what they used to call) beatniks.

The shades were by Ray-Ban, the slacks of Italian silk, the berets and bop-kick goatees courtesy of a four-year-old photo of Dizzy Gillespie in Down Beat and the open-toed thong sandals from Allan Bloch. They looked flea-ridden, esoteric and intense. One of them slept. One of them scratched. One of them sweated.

The “boys” were leaving the scene.

To split: to, like, make it. If you got eyes.

And other ethnic phrases of a similar nature.

The police re-marked the caravan sleepily. The intelligence that Fred had, on more than one occasion, denounced them as cossacks, kulaks, and cosmopolite hirelings of the infamous Joint Distribution Committee, had not yet reached them. True, from time to time, more as a conditioned reflex than anything else, they served him with a warrant for violating City Statute 1324 (entitled: An Ordinance Against Running Stagecoaches On Streets Not Illuminated With Gaslamps); and at Yuletide they put the arm on him for “charitable” contributions odd and sundry. But aside from that, he was seldom bothered by them.

As the snail undulated its way along MacDougal Street there came into sight at a point just abaft The Kettle of Fish a tall, gaunt, gold-encrusted police officer with a face like a horse who has not only just read Baudelaire for the first time but has scribbled How True! in the margin.

This was Captain Cozenage, whose record while in charge of the Homicide Squad was without parallel in the annals of crime: as a result of which he had been, in rapid succession, switched to the Loft Robberies, Pigeon Drop, Unlicensed Phrenologists, and Mopery Squads: and was now entrusted with a letter-of-marque to suppress steamboat gamblers on the East River. (“Only stay the Hell out of Headquarters!” begged the Commissioner.) His staff consisted, in its entirety, of Patrolman Ottolenghi, a hot lay-preacher for the Exmouth Brethren, an obscure and dehydrated evangelical sect believed at City Hall—quite erroneously—to exert an enormous influence in the boondocks of Staten Island. When Cozenage struck out, windmills for miles around quivered; for this reason—and because of fear being the ingrained better part of Red Fred’s valor—the snailery bolted to a halt beside Manhattan’s own Javert.

“Good morning, Captain,” Red Fred greeted him, rather nervously. With Cozenage you never knew what was coming next; he had once read through one of Fred’s impassioned printed appeals to the Workers and Peasants of the Bronx and found nothing more to complain of than two dangling participles and an improper use of the ethical dative; and then proceeded to summons him for entering into the verbal indentureship of a minor without consent of a magistrate; a reference to Fred’s casual hiring of a high school boy to help pass out the pamphlets, which puzzled the bejeezus out of sixteen judges before being finally tossed out of court.

“You people from out of town?” Captain Cozenage now inquired gloomily of the caravan’s three passengers.

“Like the most, Pops,” Big Patsy answered, striving monstrously to counterfeit the personality he had assumed, but feeling, vaguely, that he was somehow not succeeding. With some earnest hope of mending matters, he added, “Just now on our way back to Muncie, Indiana, home of the largest mason-jar factory in the civilized world.”

The Captain nodded. “‘Native of Cyther’s cloudless clime,’” he intoned. “‘In silent suffering you paid the price/And expiated ancient cults of vice/With generations of forbidden crime.’”

Big Patsy shuddered, turned ashen, and wished to Hell that he had dressed in his best: how they would guffaw at Charles Street Station, at such time they saw him in this antic motley.

But Cozenage merely smiled with gloomy unction. “Bawdy-Lair,” he murmured. “‘FLOR DEE MOLL.’ Now then!” (Big Patsy, The Kerry Pig, Wallace, and Red Fred, swallowed, convinced that the agent de police was merely playing cat-and-mouse with them.) “Did you people encounter any suspicious characters on your trip?”

Silence.

“Nobody tried to entice you into any little games of three-card monte in the passenger saloon of a sidewheel steamer?” Captain Cozenage inquired, hopefully.

Four heads were dumbly shaken from side to side. The Captain’s face fell. He had, some three months earlier, interrupted a bocca tournament on a shad-barge moored off South Street; but since then, nothing.

Patrolman Ottolenghi now for the first time made himself heard. “‘And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day,’” he groaned, “‘saith the Lord: there shall be many dead bodies in every place, they shall cast them forth in silence.’ Brethren—” he began. The Kerry Pig slowly and mesmerically crossed himself.

“Well, Captain,” Red Fred ventured timorously, “I’ve got to be getting these folks around. Heh. Heh.”

Ottolenghi, rolling his vacuous blue eyes in terrible righteousness, flailed wildly in the direction of the Caricature espresso house, intoning sonorously, “‘Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven…’” and seemed intent to expound in uninvited and morbid detail on this theme when Big Patsy, endeavoring at one and the same time to Method-act his role and allay the officer’s fervor, added sotto voce:

“I’m hip! Wail, baby!”

At which comment Cozenage’s eyebrows, like a pair of startled caterpillars, squirmed upwards. “Oh, pansies, eh? Queers, huh! We got enough a them preverts walking the streets down here without you fags from outta town coming in to start trouble, pinchin’ sailors on shore leave, and like that.”

Suddenly beset by a tidal wave in a YMCA swimming pool, Red Fred felt a frantic leap in his bosom. “Oh, no, no indeed no, Captain, these gentlemen aren’t—”

“Enough! Enough!” cried the good Captain. “I’ve heard sufficient out of the lot of you. Ottolenghi, let’s take ‘em down for questioning.”

He mumbled vaguely about faggaluh, and made to step onto the running board of the little snail steam engine.

Bit Patsy (his life flashing by at 16 mm…and not worth living a second time) leaped over the small retaining wall between the lead car and the engine, shoved Red Fred aside and floored the accelerator of the still-running machine. The snailery careened forward, throwing Cozenage to the sidewalk.

Ottolenghi ranted. Second Corinthians.

Red Fred shrieked.

Cozenage cursed, in meter.

Wallace “Gefilte” Fish fainted.

The Kerry Pig began to cry.

And like thieves in the night, the Fearful Four burst out into the open, streaking for uptown, and the anonymity of TWA flight 614 to Orly Airport.

Now if this were some vehicle of fiction, rather than a sober chronicling of real-life people in real-life situations, Captain Cozenage would have leaped to his feet, streaked down MacDougal to the police callbox on the corner of Minetta Lane—and thrown home an alarm that would have instantly set patrol car radios crackling with APBs for Big Patsy, his accomplices, and semi-innocent Red Fred. But, since no such melodramatic incidents are involved in day-to-day routine police investigatory work, Patrolman Ottolenghi stooped and helped his superior to his feet, assisted him in brushing off his suit, aided in the rather awkward re-adjustment of Captain Cozenage’s holster harness, and nodded understandingly, as the good Captain pouted:

“That’s a helluva way to treat an officer of the law.”

So while Red Fred and his group were hysterically splitting the scene, Captain Cozenage and his staff turned their attentions to rumors of a high-dice game going on among a pre-puberty peer-group in the tool shed of a private quay off the foot of Christopher Street.

Let’s face it…that is the way the old cop flops.

Big Patsy, sweating copiously, and not from the sun (that Stone that Puts the Stars to Flight), either: Big Patsy, we say, observing that there appeared to be not only no pursuit but no indication of public interest in the caterpillar’s rapid transit from Rechov MacDougal—save it might be a grumpy moue of, “Cool it, paddys!” from a passing citizen of Nigerian extraction as Old 96 tore past at a rapid 38 m.p.h., narrowly missing him—beat his way around the Horn and entered the semi-sacrosanct purlieus of Washington Square.

At which juncture he found his intention of losing the caravan in the first cul-de-sac and bespeaking a mechanical clarence, or taxi-cab, for Kennedy International, frustrated by the unforeseen presence of a teeming mob of citizens; all of whom greeted his arrival with loud huzzahs of joy.

“Oh, goody, the answering service did manage to get in touch with you!” cried a busty matron in harlequin bifocals and bermudas which, though roomy, were not quite roomy enough. See now The Kerry Pig, tears still wet on his ginger-colored face, hastily avert his eyes.

Red Fred groggily clung to the controls. Big Patsy considered swift flight, but the sans-culottes were all around him, thick as fallen leaves in Vallembrossa or pollen-footed bees on the violet-woven slopes of Mount Hymettus: choose one. (One from Column “A” and two from Column “B” or two from “A” and one from “B”—you get egg roll, either way.) Squealing merrily, the citizens climbed—thronged, rather; swarmed—aboard, displaying banners with such strange devices as Save The Village, Hold That (Tammany) Tiger, Destruction Of Landmarks Must Cease, Preserve Low-Rent Housing, Urban Renewers Go Home, and sic c.

“Where to?” Fred demanded groggilyer.

The question was answered by hundreds of determined holders of the elective franchise as if by one: “To City Hall!”

Aw0000,” bawled The Kerry Pig, burying his face in his hands.

“Any minute now, any goddam minute now,” Big Patsy cried, “Groucho, Harpo and Chico will come through chasing a turkey with croquet mallets. An prob’ly Zeppo and Gummo, too,” he added, esoterically.

“WHERE TO, GANG!” shouted one of the Seekers of Justice and Retribution, harkening for the expected answer.

“CITY HALL! CITY HALL!” it came thundering back from hundreds of sweaty faces.

“City Hall?” asked Wallace Fish in a small voice.

“City Hall,” Red Fred replied resignedly, shrugging his shoulders.

“And not to meet Grover Whalen, either,” he added, mixed emotions melding mucously in his voice. He headed crosstown with the expression of one who not only has his hand on the throttle, but expects momentarily to be a-scalded to death by steam. As if in a reverie, or waking dream, he automatically drove his train of cars along its familiar route. The perfervid shouts and groans of the passengers fell but faintly on his inner ears. It he failed to aid Big Patsy, Wallace “Gefilte” Fish, and The Kerry Pig in making good their escape from the Constabulary, the three would beyond doubt find an occasion to tread and trample him into the consistency of a creole gumbo, even if they had to break stir to do it. And, on the other hand, if he should be taken up by the gendarmerie in this affair, not only did he stand excellent chance of being stood in the stocks with his ears cropped for violating the Idlers’ and Gamesters’ Accomplices Act III of William and Mary 12 c; but the police—excitable as children, but much stronger—might easily do him a mischief.

The best thing might well be to ditch the whole crowd at the first possibility, make for the Barclay Street Ferry, and head West. He could, after all, just as easily take tourists on guided tours of North Beach, Telegraph Hill, and Fishermen’s Wharf.

The more he thought of this, the more it appealed to him. He hummed a few bars of “Which Side Are You On?” and gave the throttle several more knots.

At which point the Earth opened (or so it seemed) and swallowed him up.

Or down. Amidst the groans and shrieks of the affrighted passengers none was louder than that of The Kerry Pig, who found himself spread all over the progressive matron in harlequins, whose too-tight bermudas under stress and strain had popped seams, gores, and gussets all to Hell and gone. A close second, however, in the Terrified Scream Department was the matron herself, who was not only badly hung-up by the sudden come-down, but did not realize that The Pig was as pure in mind, word, and contemplated deed as the Snowe before the Soote hath Smutch’t it; and feared grievously that he would do her a mischief.

And whilst the lot of them writhed and roared like Fiends in the Pit, a work crew from the office of the Borough President, which had dug clear across Wooster Street a trench worthy of Flanders’ Field, mud and all, but had neglected to barricade it properly, gathered round the rim and shook their fists, threatening the abruptly disembogued with dark deeds if they did not instantly quit the excavation and cease interfering with the work. “Dig we must!” one of the drudge roustabouts chittered, half in frenzy, half by rote. At first the language of the navvies was sulphurous in the extreme, but on observing that the fosse contained numerous women, none of whom were old, and all of whom were distressed, they became gallantly solicitous and reached down large hairy hands to help the ladies out.

The men were allowed to emerge as best they might.

Red Fred surveyed, aghast, the splintered wreckage of his equipage.

And, having seen it all from her place across the street, Aunt Annie De Kalb, a wee wisp of a woman, but with the tensile strength of beryllium steel, hurried across with band-aids, germicides, words of comfort, and buckets of hot nourishing lentil soup. In this mission of mercy she was ably assisted by her barmaids, Ruby and Gladys, both graduates of the Municipal Female Seminary on Eighth and Greenwich, where they had majored in handling obstreperous bull dykes; and Aunt Annie’s bouncer, Homer, a quiet sullen homunculus whose every lineament bespoke, not gratified desire, but a refutation of the charge that Piltdown Man was a hoax. In a trice they had jostled away the lewd excavators (eye-intent on garter belts, pudenda and puffies) and were busy with the Florence Nightingale bit.

Fred tottered to a telephone in the Ale House to call a garage. He found the instrument pre-empted by Doc Lem Architrave, an unfrocked osteopath, who was vainly trying to impress Bellevue with the urgent need for an ambulance.

“—fractures, dislocations, and hemorrhages,” the ex-bone-popper was shouting: “Cheyne-Stokes breathing, cyanosis, and prolapses of the uteri!”

“Yeah, well, like I say,” a bored voice on the other end of the line said, “when a machine comes in, which we can spare it, we’ll, like, send it out presently. How do you, like, spell ‘Wooster’? Is it W-u or W-o-u?”

Fred tottered out again.

He found that all the victims, their own wounds forgotten, were now gathered six and seven deep in a circle around Wallace Fish, who was lying on the ground, flat on his back, and drumming his heels. His collar had been ripped open, revealing a throat as reddish-purple, congested, and studded with bumps as his face. Big Patsy was trying, so far successfully, to ward off a boss-ditchdigger who, convinced that the afflicted had suffered a crushed trachea, proposed to open a fresh respiratory passage with a knife the approximate size of a petty officer’s cutlass.

“He’s been poisoned!” cried a voice in the crowd.

“Flesh, probably,” insisted another yet, a jackhammer operator whose numerous tattoos peeped coyly through a thicket of hair as black and springy as the contents of an Edwardian sofa. “I hope this will be a lesson to you, fellows, about eating flesh. Now we vegetarians—”

Big Patsy turned control of the putative performer of tracheotomies over to Homer, who held him a la Lascoon, and bent solicitiously over his stricken liege-man, who gurgled wordlessly.

“It might be something he eat,” he admitted. “Wallace has what I mean a very sensitive stomach and—” A sudden idea transfixed him visibly. He turned his head. “Aunt Annie,” he demanded, “what, besides lentils, was in that now hot soup which we all, including Wallace, partook of so heartily to soothe our jangled nerves?”

Fred tried to indicate to him, by winks, shrugs, twitches, and manual semaphore, that he and his two genossen were supposed to be beatniks, names unknown; and that such revelatory references were dangerous and uncalled for, and, in all probability, ultra vires and sub judice. But to no avail.

“Why,” said Aunt Annie, a shade vexed that her cuisine be called into question: “it was a nice fresh chowder, the speciality for today, with some lovely sweet plum tomatoes, lentils to be sure, a few leeks which I scrubbed them thoroughly, and a mere sprinkling of marjoram, fennel, and dill—”

“Chowder? What kind of chowder?”

“Why, codfish,” said Aunt Annie.

Big Patsy groaned. The Kerry Pig whimpered, and knelt in prayer. Wallace turned up his eyes, gagged, and drummed his heels once again. 6/8 time.

“Codfish. A salt-water fish. And Wallace with his elegy—Get a ambulance!” the words broke from his chest in an articulate roar.

Once again Red Fred trotted for the phone, and once again he was beaten to it by Doc Lem Architrave, whose appearance on the streets so early in the day must be attributed to his having been hauled from his bed at the Mills Hotel peremptorily to do his deft (though alas! illicit) best to relieve the population explosion on behalf of some warm-hearted Village girl who had probably breezed in from New Liverpool, Ohio, only a few months previously; for, had she been around the Village longer, she had known better than to—

But enough.

Once again the Doc dialed Bellevue, but this time he was answered by a voice as sharply New England as the edge of a halibut knife.

“Aiyyuh?” asked the voice.

“Ambulance!” yelled Doc Architrave. “Corner Wooster and Bleecker! Emergency case of codfish allergy!”

“Codfish allergy?” The voice was electrified. “Well. I snum! Sufferin’ much? I presume likely! Ambulance Number Twenty-Three! Corner of Wooster and Bleecker! codfish anergy. Terrible thing!” And, over the phone, the sound of Number Twenty-Three’s siren was heard to rise in an hysterical whine and then die off in the distance.

In what seemed like a matter of seconds the same sound began to increase (this is called the Doppler effect) and Old 23 came tearing up to the side of the stricken Wallace. Treatment was prompt and efficacious and involved the use of no sesquipedalian wonderomyacin: a certain number of minims of adrenalin, administered hypodermically (the public interest—to say nothing of the AMA—forbids our saying exactly how many minims) soon had him right as rain again. He was standing on his feet when Red Fred, alerted by the almost osmotic disappearance of Doc Lem Architrave, observed that the fuzz had made the scene after all.

The carabinieri consisted of, reading them left to right, Captain Cozenage, Patrolman Ottolenghi, Police-Surgeon Anthony Gansevoort, and Sergeants G. C. and V. D. O’Sullivan: the latter being identical twins built along the lines of Sumo wrestlers, commonly, if quizzically, referred to (though never in their presence) as The Cherry Sisters.

Red Fred, Big Patsy, Wallace “Gefilte” Fish, and The Kerry Pig, swallowed. He swallowed, we swallowed, they swallowed all four.

After a short and pregnant pause, the next voice heard was that of Ottolenghi, “‘The wicked fleeth,’” he observed, more in sorrow than in wrath, “‘when no man pursueth.’”

The Kerry Pig, Wallace “Gelfilte” Fish, Big Patsy, and Red Fred hung their heads.

“Well, you have led us a merry chase,” commented Dr. Gansevoort, “haven’t they boys?” Cozenage said, “Ha.” Or—to be more precise—”Ha!” Ottolenghi sighed softly. The twins O’Sunivan made, as one man, a deep, disgruntled-sounding noise which started somewhere near the sphincter pylorus and thence spread outward and upward; not unlike that made by the Great Barren Land Grizzly when disturbed untimely during the mating season. Eskimo legend to the effect that this creature’s love-spasms last nine days is, in all likelihood, grossly exaggerated.

“We had heard that you had heard that we were looking for you in connection with the sudden death of Angie the Rat,” continued the police-surgeon. “But—for some reason—we have been unable to make contact with you to confirm what doubtless reached your ears as a rumor. Namely that, acting on information received from the personal physician of the late Rat, an autopsy was performed upon him in addition to the routine excavations required by law. Which revealed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he dropped dead of a heart condition of long-standing, aggravated by the consumption of one dozen veal-stuffed peppers, two bowls of minestrone, and a pint of malaga, just before he stepped out of the restaurant to the scene of his death.”

Again a silence, broken only by the burly jackhammerman’s warning his compeers yet again to avoid the fatal lure of flesh-eating.

“Then—” began Big Patsy. “You mean—We didn’t—Theyaren’t—”

“Yes?”

“That is—uh—nobody is what you might call guilty? Of having murdered the Rat, I mean?”

The police-surgeon smiled. “Nobody at all,” he said. “Oh, those bullets you put into him would have caused him a more than merely momentary inconvenience had he been alive at the time of their entry. But as he had died about a second before, why—”

Big Patsy guffawed. Wallace chuckled. The Kerry Pig tittered. Red Fred sighed happily. “In that case,” said Big Patsy, “we three are as free as birds, are we not? The minions of the law have nothing on us.”

But, oh, he was so very, very wrong. See now Captain Cozenage begin a smile like that of a Congo crocodile making ready for the dental attentions of the dik-dik bird.

“Inasmuch as the late deceased was dead at the time the bullets struck his inert flesh, the utterers of said bullets—namely you—are thereby guilty of mutilating a corpse. An offense, may I point out to you, under the Body-Snatchers’ Act of 1816 as revised, 1818. Take them away, boys,” he said.

Ottolenghi secured the poor Pig, whilst the Troll Twins each applied a hand, or hands, to the persons of Big Patsy and Wallace “Gefilte” Fish.

“All right, you people.” said the Captain, as the doors of the pie wagon closed behind Jeans Valjeans I, II, and III, “break it up…”

Red Fred stood for a moment not daring to move. But, it was soon clear, the cops were not interested in him. Not today, anyway. His reverie was broken by the voice of the matron in harlequin spectacles. “Under the circumstances,” she said, holding her burst bermudas together in a manner not altogether adequate, “I’m afraid our Protest Pilgrimage to City Hall is out. Inasmuch as you have failed to fulfill your contract, verbal as it was, to transport us, no liability lies against us. In other words,” she concluded, waspishly, “we don’t owe you a grumpkin, buster!”

And she marched away, wig-wagging steatopygously.

The by-now-thoroughly bemused Fred stood and stared. He was free of the local Lubianka, true, but that said, what remained? His only means of livelihood now lay shattered at the bottom of a municipal ditch, and already the ditchdiggers were making coarse suggestions as to what he might do with it. There was nothing else but submission to the extortionate demands of a towing-and-repair service. If, indeed, the poor snailery was not beyond both.

At that moment there was a roaring and a rushing. Braking to a sudden halt were two hot-rods and a dozen motorcycles. Out (and off) climbed a number of young men clad in black-leather jackets with eagles on the back; and with hair trimmed in the manner of the rectal feathers of the order Anatidae.

“Oh, no!” groaned Fred. “A rumble! That’s all I need!”

“Par’m me, sir,” said the first young man, “but you got us all wrong.” He plucked a piece of pasteboard from the pocket of his black leather jacket and handed it over.