I handled the twine, and looked at the knots. In a line, two knots, a space, three knots, a long space, then a series of three, six, four, and nine knots.
I ran to knock on Mrs. Gutierrez’s door.
When she opened it and saw me, she welled over. Tears dropped from her eyes as she saw my face. She put her tortilla-scented hand out to touch my cheeks. “Aw, poor, poor. Come in, oh, poor, sit down. Sit. You wanta eat? I bring something. Sit, no, no, sit. Coffee, yes?” She brought me coffee and wiped her eyes. “Poor Fannie. Poor man. What?”
I unfolded the newspaper and held it out for her to see.
“No read inglese,” she said, backing off.
“Don’t have to read,” I said. “Did Fannie ever come up to phone and bring this paper with her?”
“No, no!” Her face changed color with memory. “Estupido! Si. She came. But I don’t know who she call.”
“Did she talk a long while, a long time?”
“Long time?” She had to translate my words for a few seconds, then she nodded vigorously. “Si. Long. Long she laugh. Oh, how she laugh and talk, talk and laugh.”
While she was inviting Mr. Night and Time and Eternity to come over, I thought.
“And she had this paper with her?”
Mrs. Gutierrez turned the paper over like it was a Chinese puzzle. “Maybe si, maybe no. This one, some other. I dunno. Fannie is with God.”
I turned, weighing 380 pounds, and leaned toward the door, the folded newspaper in my hands.
“I wish I were,” I said. “Please, may I use your phone?”
On a hunch I did not dial the Green Envy number. Instead, counting the knots, I dialed the numbers of blind Henry’s twine.
“Janus Publications,” said a nasal voice. “Green Envy. Hold.”
The phone was dropped to the floor. I heard heavy feet shuffling through wintry mounds of crumpled paper.
“It fits!” I yelled, and scared Mrs. Gutierrez, who jumped back. “The number fits.” I yelled at the Green Envy paper in my hand. For some reason Henry had knotted the Janus publication’s number onto his remembrance twine.
“Hello, hello!” I shouted.
Far off in the Green Envy office I could hear some maniac shrieking because he was trapped and electrocuted by a bin of wildly berserk guitars. A rhinoceros and two hippos were dancing a fandango in the latrine to rebut the music. Someone typed during the cataclysm. Someone else was playing a harmonica to a different drummer.
I waited four minutes, then jammed the phone down and stormed out of Mrs. Gutierrez’s, raving.
“Mister,” said Mrs. Gutierrez, “why you so upset?”
“Upset, upset, who’s upset!” I cried. “Christ, people don’t come back to phones, I got no money to get out to that damn place, wherever it is in Hollywood, and there’s no use calling back, the damn phone’s off the hook, and time’s running out, and where the hell is Henry. He’s dead, damn it!”
Not dead, Mrs. Gutierrez should have said, merely sleeping.
But she didn’t say and I thanked her for her silence and stormed down the hallway, not knowing what to do. I didn’t even have money for the stupid red trolley car to Hollywood. I …
“Henry!” I shouted down the stairwell.
“Yes?” said a voice behind me.
I whirled around. I yelled. There was nothing but darkness there.
“Henry. Is that…?”
“Me,” said Henry, and stepped out into what little light there was. “When Henry decides to hide, he truly hides. Holy Moses Armpits was here. I think he knows that we know what he knows about this mess. I just skedaddled out my apartment door when I heard him prowl the porch outside my view window, I just dropped and jumped. Left stuff, I don’t care, on the floor. You find it?”
“Yes. Your cane. And the string with knots for numbers.”
“You want to know about them knots, that number?”
“I heard crying in the hall, day before Fannie’s gone forever. There she is, at my door. I open it to let all that sadness in. Not often I see her upstairs, it kills her to climb. I shouldn’t’ve done it, no, shouldn’t have done it, she says, all my fault she says, over and over. Watch this junk, Henry, take this junk, here, what a fool I am she says, and she gave me some old phonograph records and some newspapers, special, she said, and I thanked her and thought what the hell and she went down the hall crying for herself being a fool and I just put the old newspapers by and the records and didn’t think a long while till after Fannie was tributed and sung after and gone, and then this morning I ran my hand over those fool papers and thought, what is this? And I called Mrs. Gutierrez and said, “What?” and in Mexican and English she looked over the paper and saw the words, you see ’em, circled in ink, the same words in five different issues of the paper and the same number, and I got to thinking, why was Fannie crying so hard, and what’s this number, so I knotted the knots and called. You call?”
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