Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Содержание - Siete


IN THE morning I tried the William Callowells of Troy New York.

Such chances run small. If he lasted out that war, and stayed out of a police action, and avoided civil disaster, maybe he could be a roamer, that address gone stale in a transient world.

Troy had a pair of them. William B. William M. The efficient operator took the numbers of both from Troy information, and I tried it by the alphabet. William B.‘s home gave us another number. A girl said it was Double A Plastics, and three minutes later I had the wary voice of William B. A pilot in World War Two? Hell, no, he was twenty-six years old, and a chemical engineer and he had lived in Troy less than a year and knew there was another Wm. in the book, but knew nothing about him. Thanks so much. You are entirely welcome. My LDO left the circuit open and I heard a woman answer the William M. number. She had a small unsteady voice. She responded in a very formal manner. “I regret to say that Mr. Callowell passed away last March.”

I asked to speak to her. “Mrs. Callowell, I am sorry to hear about your husband.”

“It was a blessing. I prayed for his release.”

“I just wonder if he was the Mr. Callowell I’m trying to locate. Was he a pilot in World War Two?”

“My goodness no! You must mean my son. My husband was eighty-three years of age.”

“Can I get in touch with your son, Mrs. Callowell?”

“Why, if you had called yesterday you could have talked to him. We had a wonderful visit.”

“Where can I reach him?”

“The operator said you are calling from Florida. Is it terribly urgent?”

“I would like to reach him.”

“Just a moment. I have it written down here. His home, of course, is in Richmond, Virginia. Let me see. Today is the… third, isn’t it. He will be at the convention in New York City through Tuesday the ninth. At the Americana Hotel. I suppose you could reach him there, but he said there would be a great many meetings and he would be very busy.”

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Callowell. By the way, where was your son’s overseas duty?”

“In India. He has always wanted to go back and see the country again. He wrote such wonderful letters from there. I saved them all. Maybe one day he will have the chance.”

I hung up and finished my half cup of tepid coffee. I phoned an airline. They had one at the right time. Idlewild by 2:50 p.m. Lois seemed very disconcerted at the prospect of being left alone. She looked as if her teeth might chatter. Her eyes were enormous. I instructed her as I packed, and made her write down the briefing. Mail, laundry, phone, groceries, the manual switch to kick the air conditioner back on, garbage disposal, reliable local doctor, how to lock up, etc., television channels, cozy bookshelf, fire extinguishers, and a few small items of standard marine maintenance. She bit a pale lip and scribbled it all. She needed neither car nor bike. Everything, including the public beach, was walkable. Take the white pills every four hours. Take a pink one if you start to shake apart.

At the gangplank I kissed her like any commutation ticket husband, told her to take care of herself, scuttled toward Miss Agnes, slapping my hip pocket where the money and the credit cards were. The unemployed merit no credit cards. But I had a guarantor, a man for whom I had done a sticky and dangerous favor, a man whose name makes bank presidents spring to attention and hold their shallow breaths. The cards are handy, but I hate to use them. I always feel like a Thoreau armored with a Leica and a bird book. They are the little fingers of reality, reaching for your throat. A man with a credit card is in hock to his own image of himself.

But these are the last remaining years of choice. In the stainless nurseries of the future, the feds will work their way through all the squalling pinkness tattooing a combination tax number and credit number on one wrist, followed closely by the L.T. and T. team putting the permanent phone number, visaphone doubtless, on the other wrist. Die and your number goes back in the bank. It will be the first provable immortality the world has ever known.

Manhattan in August is a replay of the Great Plague of London. The dwindled throng of the afflicted shuffle the furnace streets, mouths sagging, waiting to keel over. Those still healthy duck from one air-conditioned oasis to the next, spending a minimum time exposed to the rain of black death outside.

By five minutes of four I was checked into the hotel. They had a lot of room. They had three conventions going and they still had a lot of room. Once inside the hotel, I was right back in Miami. Same scent to the chilled air, same skeptical servility, same glorious decor-as if a Brazilian architect had mated an air terminal with a manufacturer of cotton padding. Lighting, dramatic. At any moment the star of the show will step back from one of the eight (8) bars and break into song and the girlies will come prancing in. Keep those knees high, kids. Keep laughing.

Wm. M. Callowell, Jr., was not listed under his own name, but under the Hopkins-Callowell, Inc. suite, 1012-1018. I asked the desk which convention that was.

“Construction,” he said. “Like they make roads.”

A man in the suite answered the phone with a young, hushed and earnest voice, and said he would check Mr. Callowell’s agenda. He came back in a moment and said in an even more hushed voice, “Sir, he just this moment returned from a meeting. He’s having a drink here now, sir.”

“Will he be there long?”

“I would imagine at least a half hour.”

I checked myself in a full-length mirror. I smiled at Mr. Travis McGee. A very deep tan is a tricky thing. If the clothing is the least bit too sharp, you look like an out-of-season ball player selling twenty pay life. If it is too continental, you look like a kept ski instructor. My summer city suit was Rotarian conservative, dark, nine-ounce orlon looking somewhat but not too much like silk. Conservative collar on the white shirt. Rep tie. A gloss on the shoes. Get out there and sell. Gleam those teeth. Look them square in the eye. You get out of it what you put into it. A smile will take you a long way. Shake hands as if you meant it. Remember names.

There were a dozen men in the big room. They had big voices and big laughs and big cigars and big glasses of whiskey. Junior executives were tending bar for them, sidling in to laugh at the right time, not too loudly, at all evidences of wit. They wore no badges. That is the key to the small and important convention. No badges, no funny hats. Any speakers they get are nationally known. And they order their food off the full menu.

One of the juniors told me that Mr. Callowell was the one over there by the big windows, with the glasses and mustache. William Callowell was in his middle forties. Average size. Somewhat portly. It was difficult to see what he looked like. He had a stand-up ruff of dense black hair, big glasses with black frames, a black mustache, and he smoked a big black pipe. There didn’t seem to be enough skin showing. The only thing unchangeably his was a wide fleshy nose with a visible pattern of pores. He was talking with two other men. They stopped abruptly when I was six feet away and they all stared at me.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Mr. Callowell, when it’s convenient I’d like a word with you.”

“You one of the new Bureau people?” one of his friends asked.

“No. My name is McGee. It’s a personal matter.”

“If it’s that opening, this isn’t the time or the place, McGee,” Callowell said in a soft unfriendly voice.

“Opening? I gave up working for other people when I was twenty years old. I’ll wait in the hall, Mr. Callowell.”

I knew that would bring him out fast. They have to know where you fit. They have those shrewd managerial eyes, and they can look at a man and generally guess his salary within ten per cent either way. It is a survival reaction. They’re planted high on the side of the hill, and they want to know what’s coming up at them, and how fast.

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