Born Out of Due Time, Chapter 16 Expanded, Revised, Cut
This chapter has been cut in two and considerably expanded, filling in crucial details of Smith's visit to the Icehole
The beauty of a flock of white doves is better enhanced by a black crow than by a pure white swan.
As Anterus Smith slowly made his way to the surface, he wondered how much of the Sleepdown dream was recovered memory and how much was an implant concocted for the sole purpose of leading him astray. The invented story the doctor had told him about Jane rang a bell, and so did his plan to escape, though he did not recollect how—or if—he had managed it. As images of that previous escape came back to him, he sat bolt upright in the cot, already damp with his sweat. He felt his chest tighten and, close to panic, all rational calculation was overwhelmed by the need to get away.
Fortunately, he was not strapped down, and, when he crept across the room, he found the door unlocked. As he opened it slowly, he got a glimpse of Caterina, who was coldly dressing down Asbury in a "refined vocabulary most unpleasantly emphatic." Her severely classical features were as hard as’ a marble bust of Artemis setting the hounds on Actaeon, and the happy look on Asbury’s face was a mixture of shame and fear.
Doing his best to assume a jaunty manner, he greeted them.
“Buona sera, signorina e salve, Franco. Come si va? Che succede?”
Caterina turned her head to see Anterus, and, though she looked momentarily relieved, she immediately jerked her head back to glare at Asbury, who picked up Anterus’ clue.
”Niente male, Antero, oppure dovrei chiamarla Andrea—è più italiano?”
“Va bene Andrea. Di solito faccio chiamarmi così in Italia. But Frank, where did you learn to speak such good Italian, as they used to say in war movies?”
“I studied at your Harvard University,” he said in an impeccable imitation of Sessue Hayakawa. “Actually, I spent a year in Rome. I was at loose ends and thought about turning Papist and studying for the priesthood.”
“It’s the same old story—Boccaccio’s tale about Abraham, the Jew with a Christian friend? He decided to go check out the Church in Rome, and his friend tried to talk him out of it?”
“Yes, but the Jewish friend came back Catholic, because if the church could survive all the corruption in Rome, it had to be guided by the Holy Ghost?”
“Yes, well, it had the opposite effect on me. In those days I was a good-looking young man…. The witty Monsignor always referred to me as Angelico…. He is still on the loose, by the way, instructing young me in certain specialized arts.”
“I’m sorry to hear this.”
“Don’t be. I don’t hate the Catholic Church—every organization has more than a few rotten eggs, and their disgusting behavior had two good effects.”
“First, I realized I was really attracted by the tradition and the theology but really had no vocation.”
“And the second…”
“That I was an am a ravening heterosexual. It was not long after that ‘I met a beautiful and intelligent girl studying art history, and we are proud parents of two spoiled brats.”
“Where are they? Here in Nadir?”
“No, I’m not that cruel. They’re still in Bloomington, Indiana, where my wife teaches part time. I managed to get home several times a month and make up for it by working overtime while I’m here. It’s not that there is anything else to do in Nadir.”
“You must miss them.”
“Well, I do, yes, very much, but I needed a job, and this was the best offer I could get. I had done some work in Dr. Freeman’s lab, when I was a student at Columbia, and this is a great opportunity to combine some technical experience with public relations and foundation management—which is where I’m headed.”
“I thought you were an ordained minister.”
“I am, but the Methodist Church these days is somewhere between the Unitarians and Bernie Sanders. Besides, I’m tired of churchy people, especially the clergy. Freeman’s an atheist, but that’s better than being a social worker who calls himself reverend.”
“Speaking of Freeman, is he busy?
When Asbury went off to check, Caterina erupted again.
“Frank’s a nice guy, I think, but he is so in awe of Ben Freeman, he doesn’t comprehend the damage they could be doing to their subjects. They didn’t know about your past history or what the game today might have done.”
Anterus quickly took her the hand.
“I wish that were true. In Frank’s case, you may be right, but Freeman knows a lot. Don’t worry. I think I’m all right now. They tricked themselves.”
“But you were…”
“Yes, I was almost lost… Look, I’ll come to see you as soon as I can. I think I’m closing in on them—or vice versa. Either way, things are coming to a head, and, I have to see Freeman. But you have to get moving—You have an appointment over in Zenith for two. It’s with Doctor Johnson Hilding. I checked—he’s in the Medical Arts Building right downtown. You don’t have too much time. Better take a taxi. Show up by 1:45 but don’t give any name to the staff. This one is off the books.”
Caterina started to bridle at receiving instructions: “Are you also telling me what do to?”
“I’m sorry. All this has put me on edge, and I don’t seem to be getting enough sleep. I’m tired most of the time. Probably I’m just worried about Mac and Penny. I’ll be good,” and nodded “Yes” to Anterus’ repeated instruction to see the doctor. She left just as Asbury returned to tell him Doctor Freeman could see him immediately.
Anterus knocked on the office door and entered. Freeman, was completely absorbed in correlating different sources of data and making abstruse calculations, and as the door opened, he looked up from his desk. The look of acute concentration remained for a second or two, then quickly faded into a joviality that was nonetheless astute. For a man who must have been—with such a career behind him—in his sixties at least, he looked surprisingly vigorous. No, he decided, ‘surprising’ wasn’t the correct word. His vigor seemed entirely natural. It belonged to him the way beauty belongs to certain women, whom we can not imagine being anything different.
“Smith, delighted as always to see you. We’re sorry if the game turned out a little rougher than we anticipated. Young Todd seems to have got carried away. He turned it from an experiment based on Axelrod’s theory of cooperation into something more like one of the experiments reported on in The Authoritarian Personality.”
“Yes, but who, I wonder, was the authority?”
Freeman ignored the implication and asked if he was attending the retreat.
“Yes, it sounds like the round-up of the usual suspects.”
Freeman bristled. “Suspects? Suspected of what? Oh, I see a little joke from the movies. Yes, most of the staff are coming and bringing their wives.”
“Will Mrs. Freeman be joining us? I understand she is in town.”
“Is she, already? I didn’t know. She has so much to do at home, she only visits me here once a month, and I go home on most weekends. There isn’t much for her to do in Nadir.”
“Yes, Nadir is not much for Stepping Stones—it is too full of dead selves. How does your son find Nadir?”
“Son? Where did you get the idea I had a son? My wife and I decided to have no children—it would not be fair to bring children into this world the way it is.”
“Is that part of the Stepping Stones’ creed?”
“Not at all. We are quite laissez-faire in personal matters. I keep forgetting to bring you by the brochure I promised. There is some discussion of what are sometimes described as “the social issues”—divorce, abortion, gender identity..… You would see that we are really quite normal, all-American even.”
The familiar phrase sounded odd, pronounced in the precise desiccated tones of someone who makes a living by analyzing the mineral content of sweat and torturing animals into performing pointless and unproductive activities that are foreign to its nature. The doctor went to a shelf and took a pamphlet from a stack.
“You may find this helpful.”
Smith took the pamphlet and read the title: “Fourteen Steps to a Richer Life and Brighter Future.”
“Fourteen! You’ve taken two steps beyond Alanon!” .
“Still the jester, Mr. Smith. That’s quite all right. Humor keeps a man’s temperament in balance. Like sex, it serves essential if rather basic functions, but a man who cannot take a joke is dangerous.”
“That is certainly a point on which we agree. I’d been meaning to ask you, Doctor, how it would be possible for the human race to transcend its limitations. The march to a brighter future is littered with stragglers and casualties.”
“We don’t pretend to have a simple answer. We take an integral approach that includes political and economic improvements, a transformation of education, scientific developments in medicine and nutrition, and, above all, a cultivation of man’s higher spiritual faculties.”
“Is there a contradiction here? Most mystics have ignored or even rejected material well-being.”
“Yes, longing for union with the god-head, they hurried to leave this world.”
“Like the Platonist who jumped off a cliff after reading one of the master’s discourses…?”
“Yes, exactly. What the poor fellow did not realize is that the longer you live in this world—assuming full or almost full possession of your faculties—the farther you will advance toward perfection both of human knowledge and, I hope you won’t misconstrue this, of human existence.”
Smith pretended not to appreciate the implications.
“In essence, the Stepping Stones are engaged in a more inclusive application of some of the things you are doing here..”
“Yes, but on a much vaster scale.”
“So you are reviving Nietzsche’s dream of the Superman?”
“Not at all. His Superman was an anti-social monster, something out of one of Ayn Rand’s morbid delusions. Our ideal is closer to the Christian brotherhood of man.”
“Christian or Rosicrucian?”
“Been doing your homework, I see. Why do we have to choose? I hope we can talk these things over at our leisure during the Retreat. We have a lot of free time. Some waste it on fishing or picking flowers. I don’t have time for such things.”
“I’m sure we shall, Doctor.”
When Smith returned to his office, Corey Todd was lurking in the hall, waiting for him.
“Hey man, I hope there’s no hard feelings. I played football in high school, and sometimes when I get into a game, I get too caught up in the competition. Once after a game, I kicked the sh-t out of the quarterback who overthrew me three times.”
“I know how it is. No hard feelings.” Corey stuck out his hand and Smith took it and began to unlock his door.
Corey offered to take him out for a beer after work, but Smith put him off explaining he had some things to finish before leaving for a dinner appointment. “How about tomorrow afternoon?”
Corey looked at him with a hint of suspicion behind his smile. “Sure thing. I know you have more important things to do. Anyway, I’ve got work to do, though I’d rather take a nap. See you.”
Still shaking his head, Smith buzzed Shawn Borowski to find out if the termite infestation had spread to his office again. Shawn told him no but in a roundabout way indicated that he wanted to talk about Jackson. Smith asked him to come to his office about three.
Going to his desk, he saw that his phone was blinking. There were several increasingly urgent messages from Justin Wright, who wanted to see him that afternoon. One more invitation to take a trip on the Ship of Fools. Instead of phoning back to make an appointment, Smith decided to take him by surprise. He knocked once and, without waiting for a response, opened the door and walked into the room. Wright looked up from the screen that had been absorbing more than his attention.
“Oh, Anterus. Right. I’ve been looking for you. Frank Asbury told me the Sleepdown took more time than usual. I hope there was nothing wrong.”
“You ought to know, you were there.”
“Well, yes, initially, but you’ll recall I left once the game started.”
“No, I don’t in fact, but it hardly matters.”
“You’re right. Of course it doesn’t. I just wanted to make sure you were aware that whatever did happen, I wasn’t there.”
“What do you think happened?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Frank said.… Just skip it. It doesn’t matter.”
“What doesn’t matter?”
“Nothing. I just heard that Corey may have gone out of control, and I wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“That’s very kind of you, Justin. I haven’t been better for as long as I can remember.”
“That’s good to hear. I wish I could say the same. By the way, how long can you remember? I thought you had some problems along those lines.”
“Really? Who could have told you such a thing?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter.”
“What doesn’t matter?”
“Look, Smith, can we cut the cross talk—and don’t say ‘What cross talk?’”
“If I were speaking in such a vein, I’d have to ask, ‘What do you mean, cross talk?,’ and then where would we be?”
Smith was beginning to feel as if he had been playing a game of Musical Personalities, and that it was his turn to do the Carol Lombard. Justin Wright was certainly no William Powell. Perhaps he could be Franklin Pangborn, forever prissy and nonplussed.
“You know, Justin. This is not really crosstalk.”
“Because in classic crosstalk neither or both of the parties know what they are doing. With Mantan Moreland and Ben Carter doing their “incomplete sentences,” it’s hard to tell if both are psychic or just supposed to be dumb.”
“Mantan Moreland? Are you telling me there was really an actor named Mantan? What bigots gave him that name?”
“I believe it was his parents. You obviously have never watched a Charlie Chan movie. Anyway, I seem to have made you my straight man. Sorry, it was really unintentional.”
“Is this what they call stichomythia?”
“Not at all. Stichomythia is, strictly speaking, dramatic dialogue in verse, with each party taking a line…”
“Gosh, I bet you know everything. And what you don’t know, Katie does—or Doctor Ross.”
“Careful, your Guido is showing.”
“Your friend Caruana. A classic case of class envy.”
Wright looked distinctly uncomfortable but carefully made up his grisly Rotarian smile.
“You’re a very funny guy. I like that. A sense of humor is important, I always say. (Were had Smith heard that?). I hardly know the lieutenant, but in my job I never know when we’ll need help with a break-in or a rogue employee. It doesn’t hurt to have allies on the force.”
“Just watch out these allies don’t turn into masters. As Chandler says of cops, ‘No one yet has invented a way of saying good bye to them.”
“You’re full of pointless erudition, aren’t you, Anterus? Actually, I’m envious, really. You and Katie and Ross. While I was trudging through business school getting B’s and A minuses, you were boning up for cocktail parties, conversation with the glitterati about highbrow writers like this guy Chandler. Honestly, it enhances your value around here. But I know someone who knows more than you and Ross and Katie all put together. What, you’re not interested? Scared of the competition?”
“Can’t you hear my knees knocking? Aren’t you going to tell me who this mysterious genius is?”
“It’s the monsignor, of course. I think you and he will hit it off great.” He put his grin back on. “You’re a lot alike. But there’s one big difference. With you and Ross, you learn things just for the sake of knowing them. The Monsignor… [He hesitated]… he also know how to use what he knows to make things happen.”
“You mean he’s a kind of intellectual engineer?”
“Yeah, that’s not a bad way of putting it. You oughta hear, when he and Ben Freeman get started talking about the practical application of—I think they call them ‘spiritual exercises.’”
“Sounds like magic.”
“In a way, maybe what they call white magic, except with the Doc it’s gotta be, you know, scientific, mathematical and all that. But getting back to the game…”
“You sound like Casey Coleman…”
“The sports announcer? That’s going back a ways. My old man loved that guy. I’m serious, Smith. What happened exactly? I know they were experimenting with virtual reality pain. How real did it seem?”
“You should know…”
“I wasn’t part of it so how would I know? You don’t think I had anything to do with it?”
“Of course not, Justin. I only meant you run things around here, and therefore you’d know as much as anyone else.”
“Oh, is that all? Yeah, I see your point. True enough. Speaking of which, we’ll soon be at the retreat taking up what the board likes to call ‘governance and succession issues.’ You’ve been here a few days now and must have formed some ideas. Where do you see this place headed?”
“I’m not a visionary, much less a prophet..”
“You mean like those guys in the Old Testament—Elijah and Joshua? They could read the future?”
“Actually Joshua was more like a judge—a warleader.”
“I’m Catholic. [Ingratiating grin.] We don’t read the Bible, we just learn the Catechism.”
“Well, that’s something, anyway. No, prophets don’t so much read the future as they read the present. They have insight into the realities that escape the attention of men too much absorbed by greed and ambition.”
“Okay, Elijah. Read me the present. What do you think the board is going to decide…you know, about what roles Ross and I—and you, for that matter, are going to play?”
“For that matter or this matter or any matter, I scarcely count for anything, while you matter a great deal. A lot of whatever happens lies in your hands. A great deal is riding on your decisions.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. I was hoping I could count on you. And I want you to know one thing. You and Ross, I know, think a great deal about loyalty, and I want you to know you can count on me. I probably shouldn’t say any more.”
“You’re probably right. It’s enough that we understand each other.”
Justin Wright did his imitation of the Cheshire Cat but it was Anterus Smith who did the disappearing act.
Back in his office, Smith had a few minutes to consider what he could say to Shawn. The less the better, he decided. As soon as the kid showed up, he asked what Smith knew about Forrest Jackson. Smith explained he had been worried about Jackson and had dictated a memorandum to Mrs. Goodine, in order to shield Ross, if anything went wrong. Asked about his head injuries, he told him he had tripped and fallen in his house, which was enough of the truth, though Shawn, who looked skeptical, continued to pump him about Wright, Freeman, and Dyson. Smith played dumb, and it was obvious that Shawn, who had a low regard for other people’s intelligence, was secretly pleased to think that he could see past Smith and the others. He seemed reluctant to leave.
"What's on your mind, Shawn? Don't hold back."
“Listen, Smith. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I can’t take part in any more of your fun and games.”
“My wife thinks the risks are too great.”
“Your wife, you told your wife? You agreed not to.”
“I know, but she always sees through me. She has her ways—she’s part Japanese. I can still help with technical stuff, but don’t count on me for anything dangerous.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Give your wife my regards. You should be grateful someone as insightful as she must be cares whether you live or die.”
Shawn, with the look of someone prepared to resent a remark if he could manage to understand it, left without saying good-bye.
Smith was not disappointed in Shawn, because he had known better, from the first, than to trust him. The walls of his tiny office seemed to be closing in on him, and he needed some time to think over what had been happening and some quiet place where no one could derail his train of thought. Sudden hunger pangs reminded him of his scanty breakfast, and he decided to grab a roast beef sandwich and a beer at the Ice Hole. Beer might slow the spinning in his head. Smith was not used to spending so much time indoors, and even Nadir’s drab and dirty streets—dull gray under the thick cloud-cover that had rolled in from the lake—seemed refreshing.
In other places he had lived, the first hint of Autumn chill could be refreshing, but in Nadir it came as a presentiment of imminent death. He walked past boarded up shops and buildings torn down and turned into parking lots for the city workers whose salaries and pensions were bankrupting the dwindling number of taxpayers who were left behind by more fortunate neighbors who had fled the coming wrath and moved south.
He went up to the bar and asked Darlene to make him a sandwich. He sipped a Leinie while he was waiting. There were two fishermen at the bar, dressed in regulation Orvis khaki including hats festooned with flies and vests rigged out with pliers, clippers, and tools he could not identify—dangling from lanyards. One was tall and lean, with the pale blond hair and vague blue eyes that would make him an honorary Nadirite. He had an impressive camera on the bar next to his beer. The other was shorter, stocky, with balding hair shaved down to a stubble. The Montalbano look. From their accents—and their anxiety over the Cubs— they were from suburban Chicago. They looked over Smith with the look of a cocker spaniel hoping to get some attention.
“You boys been doing any good?”
The Swede smiled, but Montalbanom with a jovial voice, almost shouted. “You bet. Knocked him dead all morning, so we knocked off and drove into Nadir for a couple of drinks and maybe dinner.”
“You picked a strange town to eat in.”
“Yeah, so it seems. Never been here before.”
“Fishing the Wissakodie? This is one of the good times for the river. I hear they’re hitting hard in the Big Bend.”
“That’s just where we caught them—big browns. B This place is kind of interesting though—the sort of joint my old man used to go to on fishing trips up here. Say Dick, why don’t you take a picture of that poster with Willy the Penguin.”
Darlene brought him his sandwich, which he took over to a dark both in the corner, explaining he had some work to do. The fishermen, who seemed anxious for conversation with anyone but each other, watched him as he crossed the room. Putting a Do Not Disturb sign on his face, he fiddled with a pen and notebook, pretending to work. Just for something to do, he started listing elements of the puzzle and giving them approximate dates. He worked backwards:
His first meeting with Sean Borowski—that was simple.
His arrival in Nadir—he could only guess that it was perhaps 14-18 months ago.
The time he had spent in Italy and Greece. Not a clue.
He was dimly aware of spending time in San Francisco, but when or doing what, he did not recall.
The experiment in Chicago. He could not remember anything except that he felt he had been in his 20’s, which would put the date perhaps somewhere between 2005 and 2010.
Nothing made any sense, and that nothing including his suspicious about Freeman. After an hour of going over the same ground, repeatedly, it was something of a relief when Joey came out of his office and walked over to the table.
“I been hearin stuff about you, p’fessor. You’d better watch your step. Sal Nicosia is small-time trouble, and nobody really cares what you done to him. The lieutenant ’s a different story. He practically runs this town.”
“What about the sheriff or the DA?”
“Sottili swings a big stick, he’s done a few people dirt, and but he’s not dirty enough to be dangerous, and Johnny San Paola is getting old. Time was he gave orders to Caruana,. Now they’re more like partners, only Guy’s gettin to be the senior partner.”
“Is that just because the sheriff is ready to retire?”
“That’s partly it, but Johnny is the old-style crooked cop—takes bribes, looks the other way, and anyone who gets too close finds himself in trouble or in the hospital. The lieutenant is more, how do they say?, hyperactive. He finds out things people don’t want found out. Sometimes he just holds them up for cash, but sometimes he puts the information in the bank, as a kinda investment.”
“So he’s an extortionist.”
“You could call it that.”
“Why doesn’t Sottili do something. They’re on opposite sides, aren’t they?”
“Nobody knows why, but the best guess is Guy has somep’n on Vince. You know, dey was pals growin up. All I knows is that dey used to go after each other—little things slipped to the press, evidence disappearing—that kinda thing—but a few years back they called a truce. Caruana don’t mess with Sottili and the DA looks the other way so long as the lieutenant don’t get caught with somep’n he can’t explain. Besides, Sottili wouldn’t help you even if he could. Thinks you’re a wise ass.”
“Then what’s going on now that you wanted to tell me about?”
“It’s that place you work. Sottili has a stake in Doc Ross, and the lieutenant is workin for the other side—or so the word is. He ain’t done nothin yet, but he’s not gonna forget what you done to Sal, and he’s layin for you, waiting for ya to make just one mistake.”
“Thanks for the tip, Joey. I’ll try to be careful. You’re sure about this?”
“Hell no. Only a complete chump is sure about anything. Guy could just be the the smalltime crooked cop he seems to be—pure as the driven snow outside the coalyard. I figure you should play the percentages, in which case “careful” may not be good enough. Gone would be better. This town is crookeder than Miami or Chicago, and you [enunciating very clearly] do not have any friends who can do you any good.”
“Does Caruana have anything on Ross?”
“What could he have? From what I hear, the guy’s some kinda saint. I don't know what the lieutenant has in mind. Maybe he just wants to take Sottili's place as Ross's best friend. It would be a smart move. Whatever he's doin, you should get out of the way.”
From the corner of his eye, Anterus caught a glimpse of the fishermen, still gabbing about the Cubbies and taking occasional pictures of the Icehole.
“You know these birds, Joey?”
“Nah, just the usual types. Probably went to some fly-fishing school and want to impress each other.”
“You do any trout fishing?”
“Yeah, when I was a kid with worms.”
“Not since. I have no interest.”
“I hear they’re getting big browns in Big Bend—you know, the wide spot in the river.”
“Those are going to be very expensive trout. You know the river’s closed this time of the year, south of Highway 20."
“Yes, I know, and you know. These birds must just have got a license, and they don’t know.”
“Maybe they don’t read the regs.”
Smith held up his hand. “No photographs, boys.”
“The stocky fisherman smiled and looked mildly offended. “Sorry. I’m just taking pictures of the local atmosphere to show my golf buddies. Did I do something wrong.”
“Not really. It’s just my image belongs to me, and it’s good manners to ask.”
“OK, I’m asking. Mind if I include you in a picture.”
“Yes, I do.”
Montalbano laid some money on the bar, slid off the school, and took his buddy with him. As they were going out the door, they passed Rick Dyson, who stared at them hard for a second. Catching sight of Smith, he hesitated abut butting in on a private conversation, but Anterus waved him over.
“Friends of yours, Rick?”
“Never met them. They look Chicago suburbs.”
“So they do. It’s a good harmless look.”
Joey snorted, “You’re gettin too suspicious—paranormal? But when I seen em goin out, I might of recanized one of em.”
“The tall one?”
“I can’t tell one Swede from another. No, the short guy with the shaved head. Remember what Bonnie was sayin about IRS agents sniffin around. He pointed one out to me the other night—looked a lot like this guy.”
“You sure? Of course I’m not sure. Maybe 50-50 at best. But I got enough trouble of my own with taxes. I’ll leave you two boys to chew the rag.”
When Joey had made his elephantine way back to his office, Dyson sat down.
“It depends. I have no clue about who’s out to get Mac Ross, but I’m pretty sure Ben Freeman and Justin Wright are out to get me.”
“Why do you say that?”
Smith explained what had taken place in the morning session and gave a brief account of his fencing match with Justin.
“It sounds like they may be playing on your team, Rick.”
“If they are, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. You know I’m officially retired.”
“Officially. That means news for public consumption, like Eisenhower declaring we did not have spy planes flying over the Soviet Union.”’
“For an amnesiac, you have a hell of a memory, Anterus.”
“Some things stick.”
“Look, I’ve got to go and make some calls. I’m worried about Sal. They’re supposed to seal him off from everyone—I don’t even wanting him talking to a lawyer for a few days, but people make mistakes. Are we on for this evening?
Smith nodded and took his plate and bottle up to the bar.