CHAPTER 19

“How was your military obligation fulfilled?”

“In the Army, Charlie. This isn’t going to accomplish anything.”

“In what capacity?”

“As a doctor.”

“Psychiatrist?”

“No.”

“How long have you been a practicing psychiatrist?”

“Five years.”

“Have you ever eaten your wife out?”

“Wh…” Terrified, angry pause.

“I… I don’t know the meaning of the phrase.”

“I’ll rephrase it, then. Have you ever engaged in oral-genital practices with your wife?”

“I won’t answer that. You have no right.”

“I have all the rights. You have none. Answer, or I’ll shoot someone. And remember, if you lie and I catch you in a lie, I’ll shoot someone. Have you ever engaged in-?”

“No!”

“How long have you been a practicing psychiatrist?”

“Five years.”

“Why?”

“Wh… Well, because it fulfills me. As a person.”

“Has your wife ever had an affair with another man?”

“No.”

“Another woman?”

“How do you know?”

“She loves me.”

“Has your wife ever given you a blow job, Don?”

“I don’t know what you-”

“You know goddamn well what I mean!”

“No, Charlie, I-”

“Ever cheat on an exam in college?”

Pause. “Absolutely not.”

“On a quiz?”

“No.”

I pounced. “Then how can you say your wife has never engaged in oral-genital sex practices with you?”

“I… I never… Charlie…”

“Where did you do your basic training?”

“F-Fort Benning.”

“What year?”

“I don’t remem-”

Give me a year or I’m going to shoot somebody down here!”

“Nineteen-fifty-six.”

“Were you a grunt?”

“I… I don’t-”

“Were you a grunt? Were you a dogface?”

“I was… I was an officer. First lieu-”

I didn’t ask you for that!” I screamed.

“Charlie… Charlie, for God’s sake, calm down-”

“What year was your military obligation fulfilled?”

“N-Nineteen-sixty.”

“You owe your country six years! You’re lying! I’m going to shoot-”

“No!” He cried. “National Guard! I was in the Guard!”

“What was your mother’s maiden name?”

“G-G-Gavin.”

“Why?”

“Wh… I don’t know what you m-”

“Why was her maiden name Gavin?”

“Because her father’s name was Gavin. Charlie-”

“In what year did you do your basic training?”

“Nineteen-fifty-sev-six!”

“You’re lying. Caught you, didn’t I, Don?”

“No! I-I-”

“You started to say fifty-seven.”

I was mixed up.”

“I’m going to shoot somebody. In the guts, I think. Yes.”

Charlie, for Jesus’ sake!”

Don’t let it happen again. You were a grunt, right? In the Army?”

“Yes-no-I was an officer…”

“What was your father’s middle name?”

“J-John. Chuh-Charlie, get hold of yourself. D-D-Don’t-”

“Ever gobbled your wife, my man?”

“No!”

“You’re lying. You said you didn’t know what that meant.”

“You explained it to me!” He was breathing in fast little grunts. “Let me go, Charlie, let me g-”

“What is your religious denomination?”

“Methodist.”

“In the choir?”

“No.”

“Did you go to Sunday school?”

“Yes.”

“What are the first three words in the Bible?”

Pause. “In the beginning.”

“First line of the Twenty-third Psalm?”

“The… um… The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

“And you first ate your wife in 1956?”

“Yes-no… Charlie, let me alone…”

“Basic training, what year?”

“Nineteen-fifty-six!”

“You said fifty-seven before!” I screamed. “Here it goes! I’m going to blow someone’s head off right now!”

I said fifty-six, you bastard!” Screaming, out of breath, hysterical.

“What happened to Jonah, Don?”

“He was swallowed by a whale.”

“The Bible says big fish, Don. Is that what you meant?”

“Yeah. Big fish. ’course it was.” Pitifully eager.

“Who built the ark?”

“Noah.”

“Where did you do your basic?”

“Fort Benning.”

More confident; familiar ground. He was letting himself be lulled. “Ever eaten your wife?”

“No.”

“What?”

“No!”

“What’s the last book in the Bible, Don?”

“Revelations.”

“Actually it’s just Revelation. No s. Right?”

“Right, sure, right.”

“Who wrote it?”

“John.”

“What was your father’s middle name?”

“John.”

“Ever get a revelation from your father, Don?”

A strange, high, cackling laugh from Don Grace. Some of the kids blinked uneasily at the sound of that laugh. “Uh… no… Charlie… I can’t say that I ever did.”

“What was your mother’s maiden name?”

“Gavin.”

“Is Christ numbered among the martyrs?”

“Ye-ess…” He was too Methodist to really be sure.

“How was he martyred?”

“By the cross. Crucified.”

“What did Christ ask God on the cross?”

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

“Don?”

“Yes, Charlie.”

“What did you just say?”

“I said ’my God, my God, why…’” Pause. “Oh, no, Charlie. That’s not fair!”

“You asked a question.”

You tricked me!”

You just killed someone, Don. Sorry.”

“No!”

I fired the pistol into the floor. The whole class, which had been listening with taut, hypnotic attention, flinched. Several people screamed. Pig Pen fainted again, and he struck the floor with a satisfying meat thump. I don’t know if the intercom picked it up, but it really didn’t matter.

Mr. Grace was crying. Sobbing like a baby.

“Satisfactory,” I said to no one in particular. “Very satisfactory.”

Things seemed to be progressing nicely.

I let him sob for the best part of a minute; the cops had started toward the school at the sound of the shot, but Tom Denver, still betting on his shrink, held them back, and so that was all right. Mr. Grace sounded like a very small child, helpless, hopeless. I had made him fuck himself with his own big tool, like one of those weird experiences you read about in the Penthouse Forum. I had taken off his witch doctor’s mask and made him human. But I didn’t hold it against him. To err is only human, but it’s divine to forgive. I believe that sincerely.

“Mr. Grace?” I said finally.

“I’m going outside now,” he said. And then, with tearful rebelliousness: “And you can’t stop me!”

“That’s all right,” I said tenderly. “The game’s over, Mr. Grace. We weren’t playing for keepsies this time. No one is dead down here. I shot into the floor.”

Breathing silence. Then, tiredly: “How can I believe you, Charlie?”

Because there would have been a stampede.

Instead of saying that, I pointed. “Ted?”

“This is Ted Jones, Mr. Grace,” Ted said mechanically.

“Y-Yes, Ted.”

“He shot into the floor,” Ted said in a robot voice. “Everyone is all right.” Then he grinned and began to speak again. I pointed the pistol at him, and he shut his mouth with a snap.

“Thank you, Ted. Thank you, my boy.” Mr. Grace began to sob again. After what seemed like a long, long time, he shut the intercom off. A long time after that, he came into view on the lawn again, walking toward the enclave of cops on the lawn, walking in his tweed coat with the suede elbow patches, bald head gleaming, cheeks gleaming. He was walking slowly, like an old man. It was amazing how much I liked seeing him walk like that.

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