Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Содержание - Tres

I went back to the lounge. I examined my sterling character and wondered if it would be functional and entertaining to thud my head against the wall. My fingernails made interesting little grooves in the palms of my hands. My ears grew, extending to tall hairy points, and as I did a little pacing, they kept turning in her direction, listening for a shy summons.

When at last she came out, she wore white slacks and a black blouse, with her dark damp hair bound in a red scarf. She carried her dancing gear in a little canvas case. She looked tired and shy and rueful, and came slowly to me, meeting my glance with a multitude of little quick glances of her own. Clothing leans her, disguising ripeness.

I cupped my hand on her chin and kissed a soft, warm and humble Indian mouth. “What was it all about?” I asked her.

“A fight with Frank. Kind of a nasty one. So I guess I was trying to prove something. Now I feel like a fool.”


She sighed. “But I would have felt worse the other way. I guess. Eventually. So thanks for being smarter about me than I am.”

“My friend, it wasn’t easy.”

She scowled at me. “What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I be in love with you instead of him? He’s really a terrible man. He makes me feel degraded, Trav. But when he walks into the room, sometimes I feel as if I’ll faint with love. I think that’s why… I feel so sympathetic toward Cathy. Frank is my Junior Allen. Please help her.”

I told her I would think about it. I walked her to her little car, out in the sweet hot night, and watched her go sputtering off, carrying the ripeness, unimpaired, back to surly Frank. I listened for the roar of applause, fanfare of trumpets, for the speech and the medal. I heard the lisping flap of water against the hull, the soft mutter of the traffic on the smooth asphalt that divides the big marina from the public beach, bits of music blending into nonsense, boat laughter, the slurred harmony of alcohol, and a mosquito song vectoring in on my neck.

I kicked a concrete pier and hurt my toes. These are the playmate years, and they are demonstrably fraudulent. The scene is reputed to be acrawl with adorably amoral bunnies to whom sex is a pleasant social favor. The new culture. And they are indeed present and available, in exhausting quantity, but there is a curious tastelessness about them. A woman who does not guard and treasure herself cannot be of very much value to anyone else.

They become a pretty little convenience, like a guest towel. And the cute little things they say, and their dainty little squeals of pleasure and release are as contrived as the embroidered initials on the guest towels. Only a woman of pride, complexity and emotional tension is genuinely worth the act of love, and there are only two ways to get yourself one of them. Either you lie, and stain the relationship with your own sense of guile, or you accept the involvement, the emotional responsibility, the permanence she must by nature crave. I love you can be said only two ways.

But tension is also a fact of life, and I found myself strolling toward the big rich Wheeler where the Alabama Tiger maintains his permanent floating house party. I was welcomed with vague cheers. I nursed a drink, made myself excruciatingly amiable, suitably mysterious and witty in the proper key, and carefully observed the group relationships until I was able to identify two possibles.

I settled for a blooming redhead from Waco, Takes-us, name of Molly Bea Archer, carefully cut her out of the pack and trundled her, tipsy and willing, back to the Busted Flush. She thought it an adorable little old boat, and scampered about, ooing and cooing at the fixtures and appointments, kittenish as all get out until faced with the implacable reality of bedtime, then settled into her little social chore with acquired skill and natural diligence.

We rested and exchanged the necessary compliments, and she told me of her terrible problem whether to go back to Baylor for her senior year, or marry some adorable little old boy who was terribly in love with her, or take a wonderful job in Houston working for some adorable little old insurance company. She sighed and gave me a sisterly little kiss and a friendly little pat, and got up and went and fixed her face and crammed herself back into her shorts and halter, and after I had built two fresh drinks into the glasses we had brought from the other craft, I walked her back to the Tiger’s party and stayed fifteen more minutes as a small courtesy.

When I was alone in darkness in my bed, I felt sad, ancient, listless and cheated. Molly Bea had been as personally involved as one of those rubber dollies sailors buy in Japanese ports.

And in the darkness I began to remember the brown and humbled eyes of Cathy Kerr, under that guileless sandy thatch of hair. Molly Bea, she of the hard white breasts lightly dusted with golden freckles, would never be so humiliated by life because she could never become as deeply involved in the meaty toughness of life. She would never be victimized by her own illusions because they were not essential to her. She could always find new ones when the old ones wore out. But Cathy was stuck with hers. The illusion of love, magically changed to a memory of shame.

Maybe I was despising that, part of myself that was labeled Junior Allen. What an astonishment these night thoughts would induce in the carefree companions of blithe Travis McGee, that big brown loose-jointed boat bum, that pale-eyed, wire-haired girl-seeker, that slayer of small savage fish, that beach-walker, gin-drinker, quip-maker, peace-seeker, iconoclast, disbeliever, argufier, that knuckly, scartissued reject from a structured society.

But pity, indignation and guilt are the things best left hidden from all the gay companions. Take them out at night.

McGee, you really know how to live, old buddy.

Adorable little old buddy.

It was to have been a quiet evening at home. Until Cathy Kerr came into it, bringing unrest. At last I could admit to myself that the rubbery little adventure with the Takes-us redhead was not because I had denied myself a sudsy romp with Chook, but because I was trying to ignore the challenge Cathy had dropped in my lap. I could afford to drift along for many months. But now Cathy had created the restlessness, the indignation, the beginnings of that shameful need to clamber aboard my spavined white steed, knock the rust off the armor, tilt the crooked old lance and shout huzzah.

Sleep immediately followed decision.


THE NEXT, morning, after making laundry arrangements, I untethered my bike and pedaled to the garage where I keep Miss Agnes sheltered from brine and sun. She needs tender loving care in her declining years. I believe she is the only Rolls Royce in America which has been converted into a pickup truck. She is vintage 1936, and apparently some previous owner had some unlikely disaster happen to the upper half of her rear end and solved the problem in an implausible way.

She is one of the big ones, and in spite of her brutal surgery retains the family knack of going eighty miles an hour all day long in a kind of ghastly silence. Some other idiot had her repainted a horrid electric blue. When I found her squatting, shame-faced, in the back row of a gigantic car lot, I bought her at once and named her after a teacher I had in the fourth grade whose hair was that same shade of blue.

Miss Agnes took me down the pike to Miami, and I began making the rounds of the yacht brokers, asking my devious questions.

After a sandwich lunch, I finally found the outfit that had sold it. Kimby-Meyer. An Ambrose A. Allen, according to their record sheet, had bought a forty-foot Stadel custom back in March. They had his address as the Bayway Hotel. The salesman was out. A man named Joe True.

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