“EERIE … PSYCHIC … STARTLING. The goose bumps grow a little fuller on your arms as predictable events somehow become unpredictable. The story itself … winds down into a peace shattered by screams.”
—Chicago Tribune Book World
“ONE OF THOSE CAN’T-PUT-IT-DOWN-UNTIL-THE-LAST-PAGE-IS-TURNED MONSTERS that has readers all over the country missing sleep.”
—United Press International
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“Heartbreak Hotel,” words and
music by Mae Boren Axton, Tommy
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© 1956 by Tree Publishing Co., Inc.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Copyright © 1976 by William Goldman
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3. The Work is Done
Other Books by This Author
All magic, it goes without saying, is illusion. The effect of the illusion is how it appears to the audience. The preparation for the illusion is everything—from the crimping of a card to the practicing of ten thousand hours. If the preparation has been sufficient and proper, then the execution of the illusion is inexorable: before you’re even started, the work is done.
By the great ones, and I would be lying if I didn’t include myself, magic is the ultimate entertainment: they, the audience, will never forget you, or hold you less than kindly in their hearts. What I’m saying, all you beginners out there, is this: you do it right, they can’t love you enough …
He was old, and usually he did not hunt near Melody Lake. But just before dark he had startled a decent buck, and tracked it, forgetting time. It was cold when he gave it up, and across the lake he saw the main house lit, and lower down by the shore, a single lit cabin.
The screams started coming from the cabin.
At first he thought they were female screams, but sound can be deceptive over water, and after a moment, he began to have serious doubts. They could have been coming from a man, a woman, some giant cat. Finally, he wasn’t certain they came from a living throat at all.
Even with the loaded shotgun in his arms, he began to shiver. The screams drew him closer, though they had every reason not to: he was frightened, he was old, it wasn’t his business, he didn’t know the people, his own wife would start worrying soon.
Still the screams forced him forward.
And slowly, step by doubting step, gun ready, he moved around the water toward the sound, toward the one lit cabin and whatever was left inside …
Trust me for a while.
I understand that’s really the line the spider hit the fly with, not “come into my parlor” as popular legend has it, and I also realize I am not always your most Walter Cronkite type fella, sturdy, staunch, etc. But in this particular instance, there is just no doubt in my you-should-pardon-the-expression mind that I know whereof I speak.
Corky thinks I’m crazy, natch.
Somebody sure is.
I don’t know quite how to put this without sounding unduly melodramatic, but something, and I wish to Christ I understood what, is happening to Corky.
He is changing.
Look—nothing wrong with change. And I’m not implying this is something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and there’s some giant pod from outer space beginning to inhabit his cranium.
And I’m also aware that he’s functioning full out, his career is rocketing right along and the broads he’s all the time picking up never seem to have any complaints—why he always only sees them once though, I’ll never figure, it’s like they fall off the face of the earth or something, but his sex life isn’t all that much my business, probably he bores easy—and not only is he doing good and screwing good, he’s still as decent and thoughtful a guy I guess who’s come down the pike of late.
But goddammit, I see signs.
Example: the moodiness. Never used to be there. And if he would get down on himself in the old days, I could always zing him a little, force some kind of rise out of him, snap him to. No more.
Now there’s these long silences.
And he’s closing off. He used to be so open you’d almost want to advise him to lie a little. Well he’s lying now. And not just a little either.
My deepest fear? I think Corky’s cracking.
Query: define for those of us with less intellectual equipment than thee, oh wise one, “cracking.”
A kosher Freudian would answer thusly: the state of being balmy; of having misplaced the marbles, loosened the screw.
Follow-up query: and you actually mean to conclude that just because a close friend gets quiet on occasion and on other occasions fibs—this is proof to you that he is becoming loony tunes?
No, I guess not, but I also can’t sit here and ignore the fact that this very afternoon in front of God and everybody, he got, for the first time in his life, a migraine—can you believe that?—in the 1970’s?—it’s right out of a Joannie Crawford flick for chrissakes.
He was being quiet for what I thought was too long a period, so I asked, “Something the matter?”
“No, should there be?” Corky answered.
But a little too innocent for me to buy completely, so I hit him with a follow-up: “You sure been staring out the window for a while.”
“I’m thinking is all.”
He shrugs. “Things.”
“That’s pretty specific.”
“Nothing, really, just a couple little things that are maybe kind of bothering me.”
“Schmucko,” I said logically and soft. “If things are bothering you then logically, by definition, something must be the matter. So I simply ask again, what?”
—and he explodes—
Corky. Yelling, screaming. The same Corky who is so sweet you want to whoopse, as I never tire of pointing out to him, is insulting the shit out of me.
This is my journal, and I can put in what I want to put in and leave out what I want to leave out and I choose to leave out the
He cut off then. Started to pace. Stopped. Started again. Slowed. Then the blinking. You could sense something. Now he stopped the second time. Little almost imperceptible pulsing in his temple area. He stood there and you could actually see the moment when the pain whipped down, descended like a snowfall.
Do I have to tell you I had tears behind my eyes?
Tactful comment: this is starting to seem just the least bit flitty, Fats old stick.
Honest reply: I know, I know, and we’re not, but I can’t help the way it sounds. “Tears.” “Migraines.” Sometimes I think that if me and Corky only had one of those infinitely complicated unceasingly sado-masochistic homosexual relationships, boy, how simple life would be …
The Wisdom According to Fats Entry for: 10 October, 1975
Found at: 7 Gracie Terrace
20 October, 1975
The Contents of This
Entire Journal Will
Be Listed As:
POLICE EXHIBIT D
In the middle of Manhattan is the Frick, and in the middle of the Frick is the Garden Court, many columned, a gently curving glass roof over it all. There is a small fountain in the center, and the room is filled with plants imbedded in dirt so rich and black it seems almost painted. There are a few marble benches where you can sit and rest and look at the plants and listen to the quiet falling of the water. If there is a more peaceful place in the central city, it remains thus far undiscovered.
And it was in the Garden Court of the Frick Museum at close to six o’clock, on the 11th of October that Corky Withers, seated alone in the corner, began silently to weep.
The crying gave no warning, had no build. One moment he was staring at the fountain, dry-eyed, the next he was caught up in quiet tears. He reached for his handkerchief, wiped a few times, but it didn’t help, so he buried his face in his hands.
“I don’t suppose you want to talk.”
Corky looked up into the old woman’s face. He had seen her around, sometimes helping at the little stand where they sold books and postcards.
“You come here often,” she said.
Corky made a nod.
“You like the paintings?”
“This room,” Corky said. “It’s so peaceful I feel good here.”
She pointed to his face. “If this is what you’re like when you feel good, I’d hate to see you when you’re happy.”
Corky had to laugh. After a moment, he dried his eyes. “Thank you,” he said.
“Things will get better, you’ll see.”
“Things are getting better, that’s what’s so crazy.”
She sat down alongside him on the bench. “I’m Miss Flanagan, what’s your name?”
“Corky people call me.”
“Why really were you crying—I’m a terrible snoop.”
“Never at tears.”
“I got a piece of wonderful news yesterday.’ ”
“I’m not laughing,” Miss Flanagan said. “But that’s not to say I don’t see the humor.”
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Corky said.
“Because I’ve noticed you before and you’ve always reminded me of somebody and I just realized who. You look like a young Spencer Tracy.”
“Big ears and big nose you mean?”
She shook her head. “It’s in the eyes. I believe you. You should run for president. I always thought that Spencer Tracy would have made a wonderful president.”
From a doorway, a guard appeared. “Closing up shop, May.”
Miss Flanagan nodded and stood. Corky did the same. “Where do you live?” he asked. “You’re not the only snoop on the block.”
“I have a room up in Yorkville.”
“I go that way. Let me taxi you home.”
“I’m not in the habit of traveling with strange men.”
“I only drink blood on Tuesdays,” Corky told her.
She studied his eyes. “Just like Spencer Tracy,” she said, she held out her arm. “It would be my pleasure.” He smiled his good smile and guided her to the street, helped her into a cab. It was the first time she had taken one, she said, in eleven years, except once when a rainstorm hit just after she’d bought a brand new pair of shoes.
They got out on the corner of 87th and First—her room was halfway in toward York—and on the corner, as he paid, she stopped and stared at the tiny jewelry shop that was closing up on the corner. She waved to the little man inside. “He’s very nice, Mr. Shaber, he lets me window-shop all I want,” she said when Corky came alongside.
“You do it a lot?”
“Before I go home.”
She nodded. “Just for a minute or two.” She pointed to a lovely design of silver chains. “I always tell Mr. Shaber I’m saving for one.”
Corky took her into the shop. “Gold would look better on you,” he said. He pointed to a slender strand of gold. “Price, please?” he said.
“For the choker? Hundred and ten plus tax.”
“Fine,” Corky said and got out his wallet, put two hundred in cash on the counter, held out his hand for the choker. “Turn around,” he said to Miss Flanagan.
“Don’t you play games with me.”
“Turn around, that’s an order.”
She half turned. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I can,” and he gestured for her to finish turning. When she did he put the choker around her throat, fixed the clasp properly.
She just stared at herself in the mirror, then at Corky. “Are you rich?”
He shrugged. “Not yet. Maybe I could be.”
Mr. Shaber returned with the change, handed it over.
Miss Flanagan was looking at herself in the mirror again. “It’s really mine?”
“Oh stop it.”
“You don’t think it’s too tight or anything?”
“I think it’s just the newness of the feel,” Mr. Shaber told her. “Wear it awhile. I can always have it made a little longer if you decide.”
“ ’Night,” Corky said, and he opened the door for her.
As they turned onto 87th she said, “Thank you but I really want to know why you’re doing this.”
“I don’t know. You made me laugh when I was crying. I like to please people.”
“Have you done this kind of thing before?”
“Never. Probably never will again.”
“What can I do in exchange?”
“You don’t get it, May—we’re even now.”
“Can I at least make you some coffee?”
“I’m not in the habit of coffee-ing with strange women.”
She laughed, touched the gold. “It does feel tight.”
“Probably just the newness.”
“Will you have coffee?”
“I’ll walk you to your door. Maybe you’ll change your mind, not want me inside.”
“No. I trust you.”
“Is there any reason they shouldn’t?”
Corky felt his eyes go cold. “Not for me to say …”
THE MYSTERY OF THE GOLDEN CHOKER
I’m not about to knock Georges or Dame Agatha off their thrones, but right from the start, as soon as I saw the thing, I knew it was weirdo time. I asked, as casually as only I can, what the fuck it was.
Corky shrugged, as casually as only he can. “Just a thing. Choker I think they’re called.”
“And we’re wearing gold this year, is that it, Hermione?”
“It’s not mine.”
“Possession is nine-tenths, schmucko.”
He looked at me. “Please. I would really appreciate it more than you can imagine if we don’t pursue this.”
“I’m not pursuing, who’s pursuing, but when
“It didn’t even cost hardly a hundred.” Corky got out a cigarette. “Want one?”
I said sure and we smoked awhile.
“Don’t do this, huh? I asked please,” he said finally.
“Just smoking is all I’m doing,” I told him.
“It’s the silence.”
“You want I should put on my tap shoes and do my Annette Funicello routine?”
“It was just an impulse. I bought it for Miss Flanagan, she’s an old lady.”
“Oh I believe that. I get those impulses hourly. I’m acquiring the Taj Mahal for the milkman tomorrow.”
He’s starting to pace now, inhaling tense and deep. “It was too tight for her. She asked me to take it back. The jeweler said he’d loosen it but when I got to the store he was shut so I’ll take it in later.”
“Why the impulse?”
He looked at me. “You’ll make more out of it than I feel like just now.”
“Why the impulse?”
“You just gonna keep on saying that?”
“Throughout eternity, Heathcliff—why the impulse?”
He wouldn’t look at me and he was talking lickety-fuckingsplit. “I was at the Frick, I was listening to the fountain, I started to cry, Miss Flanagan works there, she got me out of my mood, I felt I owed her something, no big deal, see?”
“You cried? In public?”
“I knew you’d make more—”
“—just hold it—day before yesterday, you play Babs Stanwyck and get a migraine—which just happened to be the day the agency called and said there was some tv interest. The next day, weeping, which just happened to be the day the agency called again to say things were starting to simmer on the tv deal.”
Corky put out his cigarette. “Why couldn’t this legendary Miss Flanagan take the choker back to the jeweler herself?”
“I don’t believe you. I think you’re hiding something.”
“What would I be hiding?”
“I don’t know—call the Frick and get her on the phone—”