An unformed shadow rose up on the glass, the way it does when the surface is pebbly and opaque. I lifted the pistol to high port and got ready. I could see the class out of the corner of my right eye, watching with absorbed fascination, the way you watch the last reel of a James Bond movie, when the body count really soars.
A clenched sound, sort of a whimper, came out of my throat.
The door opened, and Irma Bates came back in. She looked around peevishly, not happy to find everyone staring at her. George Yannick began to giggle and said, “Guess who’s coming to dinner.” It didn’t make anyone else laugh; it was George’s own private yuck. The rest of us just went on staring at Irma.
“What are you looking at me for?” she asked crossly, holding the knob. “Peo-ple do go to the bathroom, didn’t you know that?” She shut the door, went to her seat, and sat down primly.
It was almost noon.
Frank Philbrick was right on time. Chink, and he was on the horn. He didn’t seem to be puffing and blowing as badly, though. Maybe he wanted to placate me. Or maybe he’d thought over my advice on
his speaking voice and had decided to take it. Stranger things have happened. God knows.
“Listen, that stray shot that came through the window wasn’t intentional. One of the men from Lewiston-”
“Let’s not even bother, Frank,” I said. “You’re embarrassing me and you’re embarrassing these people down here, who saw what happened. If you’ve got any integrity at all, and I’m sure you do, you’re probably embarrassing yourself.”
Pause. Maybe he was collecting his temper. “Okay. What do you want?”
“Not much. Everybody comes out at one o’clock this afternoon. In exactly”–I checked the wall clock-“fifty-seven minutes by the clock down here. Without a scratch. I guarantee it. ”
“Why not now?”
I looked at them. The air felt heavy and nearly solemn, as if between us we had written a contract in someone’s blood.
I said carefully, “We have a final piece of business down here. We have to fin-ish getting it on.”
“What is it?”
“It doesn’t concern you. But we all know what it is.” There wasn’t a pair of eyes that showed uncertainty.
They knew, all right, and that was good, because it would save time and effort. I felt very tired.
“Now, listen carefully, Philbrick, so we have no misunderstanding, while I de-scribe the last act of this little comedy. In about three minutes, someone is going to pull down all the shades in here.”
“No way they are, Decker.” He sounded very tough.
I let the air whistle through my teeth. What an amazing man he was. No wonder he screwed up all his drive-safely spiels. “When are you going to get it through your head that I’m in charge?” I asked him.
“Someone is going to pull the shades, Philbrick, and it won’t be me. So if you shoot someone, you can pin your badge to your ass and kiss them both good-bye. ”
“Silence gives consent,” I said, trying to sound merry. I didn’t feel merry. “I’m not going to be able to see what you’re doing either, but don’t get any clever ideas. If you do, some of these people are going to get hurt. If you sit until one, every-thing will be fine again and you’ll be the big brave policeman everybody knows you are. Now, how ’bout it?”
He paused for a long time. “I’m damned if you sound crazy,” he said finally.
“How about it?”
“How do I know you’re not going to change your mind, Decker? What if you want to try for two
o’clock? Or three?”
“How about it?” I asked inexorably.
Another pause. “All right. But if you hurt any of those kids . . .”
“You’ll take away my Junior Achiever card. I know. Go away, Frank.”
I could feel him wanting to say something warm, wonderful, and witty, some-thing that would summarize his position for the ages, something like: Fuck off, Decker, or: Cram it up y’ass, Decker; but he didn’t quite dare. There were, after all, young girls down here. “One o’clock,” he repeated. The intercom went dead. A moment later he was walking across the grass.
“What nasty little masturbation fantasies have you got lined up now, Charlie?” Ted asked, still grinning.
“Why don’t you just cool it, Ted?” Harmon Jackson asked remotely.
“Who will volunteer to close the shades?” I asked. Several hands went up. I pointed to Melvin Thomas and said, “Do it slowly. They’re probably nervous.”
Melvin did it slowly. With the canvas shades pulled all the way down to the sills, the room took on a half-dreamlike drabness. Lackluster shadows clustered in the comers like bats that hadn’t been getting enough to eat. I didn’t like it. The shadows made me feel very jumpy indeed.
I pointed to Tanis Gannon, who sat in the row of seats closest to the door. “Will you favor us with the lights?”
She smiled shyly, like a deb, and went to the light switches. A moment later we had cold fluorescents, which were not much better than the shadows. I wished for the sun and the sight of blue sky, but said nothing. There was nothing to say. Tanis went back to her seat and smoothed her skirt carefully behind her thighs as she sat down.
“To use Ted’s adequate phrase,” I said, “there is only one masturbation fan-tasy left before we get down to business-or two halves of one whole, if you want to look at it that way. That is the story of Mr.
Carlson, our late teacher of chemistry and physics, the story that good old Tom Denver managed to keep out of the papers but which, as the saying goes, remains in our hearts.
“And how my father and I got it on following my suspension.”
I looked at them, feeling a dull, horrid ache in the back of my skull. Somewhere it had all slipped out of my hands. I was reminded of Mickey Mouse as the sor-cerer’s apprentice in the old Disney cartoon Fantasia. I had brought all the brooms to life, but now where was the kindly old magician to say abracadabra backwards and make them go back to sleep?
Pictures whirled in front of my eyes, hundreds of them, fragments from dreams, fragments from reality. It was impossible to separate one from the other. Lunacy is when you can’t see the seams where they stitched the world together anymore. I supposed there was still a chance that I might wake up in my bed, safe and still at least half-sane, the black, irrevocable step not taken (or at least not yet), with all the characters of this particular nightmare retreating back into their subcon-scious caves. But I wasn’t
banking on it.
Pat Fitzgerald’s brown hands worked on his paper plane like the sad, moving fingers of death itself.
There was no one reason why I started carrying the pipe wrench to school.
Now, even after all of this, I can’t isolate the major cause. My stomach was hurting all the time, and I used to imagine people were trying to pick fights with me even when they weren’t. I was afraid I might collapse during physical-edu-cation calisthenics, and wake up to see everybody around me in a ring, laughing and pointing . . . or maybe having a circle jerk. I wasn’t sleeping very well. I’d been having some goddamn funny dreams, and it scared me, because quite a few of them were wet dreams, and they weren’t the kind that you’re supposed to wake up after with a wet sheet. There was one where I was walking through the base-ment of an old castle that looked like something out of an old Universal Pictures movie. There was a coffin with the top up, and when I looked inside I saw my father with his hands crossed on his chest. He was neatly decked out-pun in-tended, I guess-in his dress Navy uniform, and there was a stake driven into his crotch. He opened his eyes and smiled at me. His teeth were fangs.
In another one my mother was giving me an enema and I was begging her to hurry because Joe was outside waiting for me. Only, Joe was there, looking over her shoulder, and he had his hands on her breasts while she worked the little red rubber bulb that was pumping soapsuds into my ass. There were others, featuring a cast of thousands, but I don’t want to go into them. It was all Napoleon XIV stuff.
I found the pipe wrench in the garage, in an old toolbox. It wasn’t a very big piece, but there was a rust-clotted socket on one end. And it hefted heavy in my hand. It was winter then, and I used to wear a big bulky sweater to school every day. I have an aunt that sends me two of those every year, birthday and Christmas. She knits them, and they always come down below my hips. So I started to carry the pipe wrench in my back pocket. It went everyplace with me. If anyone ever noticed, they never said. For a little while, it evened things up, but not for long. There were days when I came home feeling like a guitar string that has been tuned five octaves past its proper position. On those days I’d say hi to Mom, then go upstairs and either weep or giggle into my pillow until it felt as if all my guts were going to blow up. That scared me. When you do things like that, you are ready for the loony bin.