14

(1)

Arthur found himself growing increasingly irritated with the way things were going. Allen had been fired from his latest job—filling invoices and loading trucks at the J. C. Penney distribution center—when David came on the spot unexpectedly and crashed a forklift into a steel pillar. Tommy wandered around Lancaster and Columbus looking, unsuccessfully, for a new j,ob. Ragen was working for Foley on a regular basis— guarding shipments of guns and drugs—and was drinking too much vodka and smoking too much marijuana. After Ragen had spent four days in Indianapolis tracing a confiscated shipment of guns, he ended up in Dayton. Someone took too many downers and Tommy, finding himself on Interstate 70 feeling dizzy and sick to his stomach, gave up the spot to David, who was arrested on a complaint from a motel owner. At the hospital, they pumped Davids stomach and treated him for an overdose, but the police let him go when the motel owner decided not to sign the complaint. When Allen got back to Lancaster, Marlene stayed with him. Then one of the undesirables—the Brooklyn accent revealed it to be Philip—took an overdose of red capsules. Marlene called the emergency squad and went along to the hospital. After they pumped his stomach again, she stayed and comforted him.

She told him she knew he was mixed up with some bad people and she was afraid he was going to get into deep trouble, but even if he did, she was going to stand by him. Arthur was annoyed at the thought and knew that finding one of them helpless and vulnerable like this aroused the maternal instinct in her. He couldn’t tolerate it.

Marlene began spending more and more time at the apartment, making life very difficult. Arthur had to be constantly vigilant to make certain she did not discover the secret. Increasingly, there was lost time he couldn’t account for. He was certain that someone was dealing drugs—he had discovered a bail receipt in a pocket—and he learned that one of them had been arrested for filling illegal drug prescriptions. He was also quite certain that someone was having sex with Marlene.

Arthur decided he needed to get away from Ohio, and this would be the right time to use a passport he had asked Ragen to purchase through one of his underworld connections.

He examined the two passports Ragen had bought through Foley, one. in the name of Ragen Vadascovinich and the other in the name of Arthur Smith. They were either stolen and altered or superb forgeries. They would certainly stand up under close scrutiny.

He called Pan American Airlines, booked a one-way ticket to London, took what money he could find in closets, drawers and books, and packed his bags. He was going home.

The flight to Kennedy and then across the Atlantic was uneventful. When he placed his bag on the counter at Heathrow Airport, the customs official waved him through.

In London, Arthur checked into a small hotel above a pub in Hopewell Place, thinking that the name might well be prophetic. He lunched alone at a small but select restaurant, then took a taxi to Buckingham Palace. He had missed the changing of the guard, but he planned to see it another day. He felt comfortable wandering about the streets of the city and greeted passers-by with a “Top of the day” or “Smashing afternoon.” He decided tomorrow he would buy a bowler and an umbrella.

For the first time in his memory, there were people around him who spoke as he did. The traffic moved on the correct side of the street, and the bobbies gave him a sense of security.

He visited the Tower of London and the British Museum, and dined on fish and chips and warm English beer. When he went to his room that night, remembering his favorite Sherlock Holmes movies, he made a mental note to visit 221b Baker Street the next day. He would inspect the place and make sure it was being kept up as a suitable memorial to the great detective. He felt he had come home at last.

The next morning, the loud ticking of the wall clock was the first thing Allen heard. He opened his eyes and stared around him. He jumped out of bed. It was an old-fashioned hotel, with an iron bedstead, curlicue-patterned wallpaper and a threadbare rug on the floor. It sure was no Holiday Inn. He looked for the bathroom, but there was none. Allen pulled on his trousers and peered out in the hallway.

Where the hell was he? He went back to the room, dressed and headed downstairs to see if he could identify his surroundings. On the stairs, he passed a man coming up with a tray.

“Bit o’ breakfast, gov’nah?” the man asked. “Bloomin’ lovely day. ”

Allen ran down the steps, out the front door, into the street, and looked around. He saw the black taxicabs with the big license plates, the pub sign, the traffic on the wrong side of the street.

“Holy shit! What the hells going on? What the hell’s the matter with me?” He ran up and back, shouting, terrified and angry at the same time. People turned to look at him, but he didn’t care. He hated himself for waking up in different places all the time, for not being able to control himself. He just couldn’t take this anymore. He wanted to die. He dropped to his knees and beat his fists into the curb, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Then, realizing that if a policeman came by, he’d be hauled off to the nut house, Allen jumped to his feet. He dashed back to his room, where he found in his suitcase a passport with the name “Arthur Smith.” Inside it was the receipt of a one-way plane ticket to London. Allen slumped on the bed. What had Arthur had in mind? Crazy bastard!

Searching through his pockets, he found seventy-five dollars. Where was he going to get the money to get home? A return ticket would probably cost three or four hundred bucks. “Goddamn! Jesus Christ! Holy hell!”

He started to pack Arthur’s clothes to check out, and then he stopped. “The hell with it. It’ll serve him right.” He left the luggage and clothes.

He took the passport, walked out of the hotel without paying and hailed a cab. “Take me to the international airport.”

“Heathrow or Gatwick?”

He rummaged through the passport and looked at the oneway ticket. “Heathrow,” he said.

All the way there, he worked out how he was going to handle it. Seventy-five dollars wouldn’t get him very far, but if he used his wits and put up a good front, there had to be a way to get on a plane back home. At the airport he paid the driver and ran into the terminal.

“Jesus Christ!” he shouted. “I don’t know what happened! I got off the plane at the wrong time! I was drugged. I left my ticket, my luggage, everything on the plane. Nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to get off. There must’ve been something in my food or drink. I fell asleep, and when I woke up, I got out to stretch my legs. Nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to get off the plane. My tickets, my traveler’s checks, everything’s gone.”

A guard tried to calm him down and led him to the passport-control office.

“I got off the plane at the wrong time!” he shouted. “I was coming over. I was supposed to go to Paris. But I got off the plane at the wrong time. I’ve been wandering dazed. There was something in my drink. It’s the airline’s fault. Everything’s on the plane. I’ve only got a few dollars in my pocket. How’m I gonna get back to the United States? Ohmigod, I’m stranded. I can’t afford a ticket home! I’m no deadbeat. Look, I wouldn’t pull something to come over here and spend one day in London. You gotta help me get home.”

A sympathetic young woman listened to his pleas and told him she would do what she could for him. He waited in the lounge, pacing back and forth, chain-smoking as he watched her making several phone calls.

“There is one thing we can do,” she said. “We can put you on stand-by for a return flight to the States. Once you get home, you’ll have to pay for the return ticket.”

“Of course!” he said. “I’m not trying to beat the ticket. I’ve got money at home. All I want to do is get back, and I’ll pay it right away.”

He kept babbling away at whoever would listen to him, and finally he could see that they were desperate to get him off their hands. It was what he counted on. They finally put him on a 747 back to the States.

“Thank God!” he whispered as he sank into the seat and fastened his safety belt. He didn’t trust himself to go to sleep, so he kept awake reading every magazine on board. When he got back to Columbus, a security official drove him to Lancaster. Allen found money from paintings he’d sold just where he’d hidden it—behind a loose board in the broom closet—and paid for the return ticket.

“I want to thank you,” he told his escort. “Pan Am has been very understanding. As soon as I get a chance, I’m going to write a letter to the president of your company and tell them what a wonderful job you’re doing.”

Alone in the apartment, Allen became very depressed. He tried to communicate with Arthur. It took a long time, but Arthur finally came out and looked around. When he saw he was no longer in London, he refused to have anything to do with anyone.

“You’re all a bunch of worthless blighters,” he grumbled.

And then he turned his back and sulked.

(2)

At the end of September, Allen was hired by the huge Anchor Hocking Glass Corporation, where Billy’s sister Kathy had once worked. His job was to pack the glassware as the women took it off the moving belt. But sometimes he worked as a selector, examining the product just off the belt. It was a torturous job to stand there—ears deafened by the roar of the flame jets and air blowers—pick up the still-warm glasses, examine them for defects and stack them on open trays for the packers to remove. There was a great deal of switching between Tommy, Allen, Philip and Kevin.

With Arthurs approval, Allen had rented a three-bedroom duplex apartment in Somerford Square in the northeast section of Lancaster—1270K Sheridan Drive. Everyone liked the place. Allen liked the gray, weathered fence that hid the apartments from view of the parking area and the highway. Tommy had a room of his own for his electronic equipment, and there was a separate room for a studio. Ragen had a walk-in closet that he could lock in one of the bedrooms upstairs, where he kept all his guns except the 9-millimeter automatic. He kept that on top of the refrigerator, back where none of the children would see or reach it.

Marlene came to the apartment every evening after her job at Hecks department store. When he worked the second shift, she would wait for him to get home around midnight, and she would stay most of the night. Before morning, she would always go back to her parents’ home.

Marlene was finding Billy moodier and more unpredictable than ever before. At times he would storm around the apartment, smashing things. He would stare at the walls in a trance, or he would go to the easel and paint in a fury. Always, he was a soft-spoken, considerate lover.

Tommy didn’t tell her that he was getting shaky. He was missing work. And he was missing time. Things seemed to be happening closer and closer together; they were moving into another bad mix-up time. Arthur should have been in control, but for some reason he was losing domination. No one was minding the store.

Arthur blamed the confusion on Marlene and insisted that the relationship be broken off. Tommy felt his heart jump. He wanted to protest, but he was too afraid of Arthur to tell him that he had fallen in love with Marlene. He knew he had shaved the rules close enough several times to be in danger of being classified as undesirable. Then he heard Adalanas voice.

“That’s not fair,” she said.

“I am always fair,” Arthur said.

“It’s not right for you to make rules and break all bonds and ties of love and affection between us and the people outside.”

She’s right, Tommy thought, but he kept silent.

“Marlene is suppressing the talents and skills of all of us,” Arthur said. “She makes accusations, takes up time with foolish quarrels and interferes with the expansion of our minds.”

“I don’t think it’s right to send her away,” she insisted. “She’s a caring person.”

“For God’s sake!” Arthur said. “Tommy and Allen still work in a bloody factory. I had expected them to be there a few months at the most, using that as a base from which to find a decent strategic or technical job that would utilize and expand their skills. No one is expanding their minds anymore.”

“What’s more important—expanding your mind or showing your feelings? Maybe that’s the wrong question, because you don’t have feelings. Oh, maybe it’s possible to become a very productive and outstanding person by suppressing your emotions and living only with logic, but you’ll be so lonely you’re not going to be worth anything to anybody.”

“Marlene goes,” Arthur said, deciding he had demeaned himself long enough in arguing with Adalana. “I don’t care who handles it, but this relationship must be terminated.”

Marlene later described the events of that evening before their first breakup. They’d been arguing. He was acting weird and she thought he was on drugs. He was lying on the floor, really mad at her about something—she had no idea what it was. He had his gun in his hand, turning it on his finger, pointing it at his head.

He never pointed the gun at her and she wasn’t frightened for herself, only for him. She saw him staring at a fish-cord lamp he had brought home one evening; then he jumped up, fired at the lamp, and it exploded. There was a hole in the wall.

He put the gun down on the bar, and when he turned away, she grabbed it, running out of the apartment. She got down the stairs and into the car before he caught up to her. Just as she pulled away from the curb, he jumped on the hood and glared at her through the windshield with a look of rage in his face. He had what looked like a screwdriver in his hand, and he was banging it on the glass. She stopped the car, got out and gave him the gun back. He took it and went back inside without a word.

She drove home, assuming it was over between them.

Later that evening, Allen went to Grilli s and ordered a hot “Stromboli hero” sandwich—Italian sausage, provolone cheese and extra tomato sauce—to go. He watched the counter man wrap it, steaming hot, in aluminum foil and put it into a white paper bag.

Back at the apartment, he set the paper bag on the counter and went to the bedroom to change his clothes. He felt like painting tonight. He kicked his shoes off and walked into the closet, bending over to find his slippers. As he stood up, he banged his head on the shelf and slumped down, angry and dazed. The closet door had swung shut behind him. He tried to push the door open, but it was stuck. “Oh, Christ!” he muttered as he jumped up and hit his head again . . .

Ragen opened his eyes to find himself holding his head and sitting on the floor amid a pile of shoes. He rose, kicked the door open and looked around. He was annoyed. These mix-up times were becoming more upsetting and confusing every day. At least he had gotten rid of that woman.

He wandered through the apartment, trying to sort things out. If he could only reach Arthur, perhaps he could find out what was going on. Well, what he did need was a drink. He walked into the kitchen and noticed the white paper bag on the counter. He didn’t remember seeing it there before. He glared at the bag suspiciously and pulled out a bottle of vodka from under the bar. While he was pouring it over ice, he heard an odd noise coming from the bag. He backed away and stared as it moved gently, leaning to one side.

When the bag moved again, he let out his breath slowly and backed up. He remembered a defanged cobra he had once left in a paper bag in front of a slumlords door as a warning. Perhaps this one was not defanged. He put his hand up to the top of the refrigerator behind him and felt for his gun. He pulled it down quickly, took aim and fired.

The paper bag flew off the counter against the wall. He ducked behind the bar and peered over it cautiously, keeping the gun trained on the bag. It lay on the floor. Very carefiilly, he walked around the bar and used the barrel of the gun to rip open the top of the bag. There he saw the bloody mess, jumped back and fired a second time, yelling, “I shoot you again, you bastard!”

He kicked it a few times, but when it didn’t move, he opened it and stared inside in disbelief at the tomato-sauce-and-cheese sandwich with a big hole in it.

Then he laughed. He realized that the heat of the Stromboli in the aluminum foil had made it move. Feeling silly at wasting two rounds of ammunition on a sandwich, he put the bag on the kitchen counter, returned the gun to the top of the refrigerator and drank his vodka. He poured another, took it with him into the living room and turned on the television set. It was news time, and he thought he might find out what day it was. Before the news was over, he fell asleep . . .

Allen woke up, wondering how he had gotten out of the closet. He felt his head. Just a slight bump. Well, what the hell, he might as well paint that portrait of Billy’s sister, Kathy, that he’d been planning. He started into the studio, then realized he’d forgotten to eat.

Back at the bar, he poured himself a Coke and looked for his sandwich. He was sure he’d left it on the bar. Then he saw it on the counter. The damned bag looked crumpled. What the hell? The sandwich was all messy, with the aluminum foil shredded and tom and tomato sauce all over the place. What kind of Stromboli sandwich was that?

He picked up the phone, dialed Grillis and, \yhen he got the manager, blasted him. “I buy a sandwich and this thing is all mangled. Looks like its been put through a blender.”

“I’m sorry, sir. If you’ll bring it back, we’ll make you another one.”

“No thanks. I just wanted you to know you’ve lost a customer. ”

He slammed down the phone and stomped into the kitchen to fry himself some eggs. He sure as hell wasn’t going to give Grillis any more of his business.    ,

Two weeks later, Tommy took advantage of the mix-up time and called Marlene. There were some things of hers in the |apartment, he told her. She ought to come over and get them. She came by after work and they sat and talked through the evening. She started dropping in regularly again.

Things were back to what they had been before, and Ragen I blamed it all on Arthur’s inability to control the family.

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