EASY ESSAYS
EASY ESSAYS
Syndic Literary Journal

AA-The Adventures of Henrietta Fine – Chapter Ten

The Adventures of Henrietta Fine ~ Chapter Ten

By Paul Levitt

Narrated by Elizabeth Mansfield

Published by LeRoy Chatfield

It had all begun innocently enough.  Rodman had telephoned A.R. in the morning and asked him to bring Carolyn and me for a swim.  He wanted to celebrate our having escaped the Coast Guard and our having brought a lucrative load of liquor into the States.  A.R. had given me the $5,000 he’d promised, and Hank volunteered the same amount for my helping him with the haul.  And yet I had the jimjams.  The fledgling dove outside A.R.’s kitchen window had died.  Worse, it had died on the very day Sal attacked me.  The death itself spooked me, but the coincidence had left me looking over my shoulder.  I just knew something would happen.  The only question was when.

            Motoring out to Rodman’s estate was uneventful, even though the air, reinforced by a wind, felt like a blowtorch.  A.R.’s chauffeur never went over forty and never took chances, always varying his route through the city.  If he saw a car behind him for more than two blocks, he’d go round the corner to see if the other car followed.  On more than one occasion in the past, he’d been forced to hit the gas and cut between cars to drop off A.R. safely.  But our trip was a joy ride, and the pool party a hoot, with all the diving and splashing and noshing on puff pastry and caviar.  We were all sitting around the pool devouring oysters on the half shell and laughing about the women at Coney Island who were willing to risk arrest for appearing on the beach without stockings when the phone rang.  Hank took the call at the bar near the pool.  It was Lily.  She had prevailed upon Hank, for the sake of appearances, to invite Brad and her to his house.  The two men had never met.  Hank suggested a late afternoon pool party; Lily agreed. But now Brad wanted to come earlier.  I could hear Hank dissembling.

            “The gardeners are still here, and the pool is being cleaned.”

            A.R., a bloodhound when it came to collecting debts and scenting trouble, graciously called out to Hank that we had to be leaving.  “Another party.” 

            Hank covered the mouthpiece with his hand.  “Nix it.  You are my guest.”  Speaking into the phone, Rodman said, “I thought you said that four would be a good time.”

I knew that Hank would never let A.R. and Lily socially meet, and certainly not at his home.  A.R.’s picture had been in the papers dozens of times.  His presence would be a sure tip-off that Hank was a bootlegger.  But for Rodman to curtail the party now would be rude to A.R.  Anyway, Rodman, who prided himself on being a generous host, would never abandon a guest. 

“Really, we have to leave,” said A.R., heading for the dressing rooms.  “I got a date, you got a date.  It works out perfectly.”

            Carolyn leaned over and whispered, “Hank’s badly smitten.  I know the feeling.  You lose control.”  As she rose to follow A.R. to the dressing rooms, she asked me if I had my house key. 

The next thing I knew, Rodman was telling Lily it was all right to bring her friend.  Apparently Morgan, Lily’s snooty tennis friend, whom I had met at Mr. Courtney’s shop, had dropped by to visit.  When he put down the phone, I said:

            “If Morgan is coming, I’d rather not be here.”

            But Hank wouldn’t take no for an answer.  “When there’s a kid around, there’s less chance of trouble.”

            So my premonition of bad luck wasn’t wrong. 

            Hank profusely apologized to A.R. and Carolyn for the rump afternoon and invited me to stay at his estate for the weekend.

            “Just be careful, Henny,” A.R. teased, “he’s got a yen for you.”

            “Yeah, like a sister.”

            Putting a hand on Hank’s arm, he said, “Your trouble is   you’re Mr. Nice Guy.  Some day that dame’s gonna hurt you.”

            As the Rothsteins climbed into their Hispaño-Suiza, I could hear A.R. complaining, “A lotta good it did parking the car under a tree.  The leather seats are hotter than hell.”

            The heat grew in intensity, making breathing and movement a chore.  Hank returned to the house to doll himself up for Lily.  I showered and slipped on my white cotton sports dress.  Although trimmed with a touch of black lace, the frock left me feeling terribly underdressed for a visit from Lily.  When she and Morgan arrived, decked out in creamy soft cottons, they resembled two silver idols, except for the talcum powder that rose in puffs from their faces and fingers.  Brad seemed intent on identifying with the horsey set, because he showed up in jodhpurs and a polo cap, looking ready to saddle a pony. 

            Rodman politely greeted his guests, acting as if he and Lily were no more than distant acquaintances.  Morgan moved off to one side, conceding center stage to the star of the show, Lily.

            Turning to me, Brad frowned.  “Don’t I know you?  But of course . . . the lock shop and the. . . .”  Here he broke off.

            “Yes,” I answered discreetly, knowing that if I mentioned the apartment, I’d be asking for trouble.

            The bar phone rang.  Hank picked up the receiver and gestured toward Brad.  “It’s for you.”

            Brad looked around at the party.  “I left this number with a client.  Can I take it inside?”

            “Through the door on your right,” said Hank.

            Lily waited till Brad entered the house before speaking up.  “I’ll bet ten dollars to a nickel it was a female voice.  Right?”

“I didn’t notice,” said Hank.

            “Liar,” said Lily affectionately.

            The butler took orders for drinks.  Hank told him not to forget Mr. Gillespie’s order.  To escape from the heat, Rodman and Lily ducked under a poolside umbrella, which blocked the view from the house.  Morgan sought relief in the shade of another. 

            “A business call,” said Brad on returning.

            “No doubt having to do with a call girl,” Lily tartly replied.

            “Someday your jealousy will really drive me to cheat.  I’m going to change for a dip in the pool.” 

            As soon as the dressing door closed behind Brad, Lily led Hank down to the beach, where they passionately embraced.

            “Naughty girl,” remarked Morgan, who also witnessed the scene.  When I started to say something, she reached for her handbag and removed a copy of Town Tattle, deliberately snubbing me. 

Lily and Rodman were torrid.  “Yes siree bob!” I softly cheered.

            Lighting a cigarette and indolently blowing the smoke through her nose, Morgan remarked, “You do get around!”

            “I see things, like stuck-up broads.”

            Morgan fumed.

            The butler returned with the drinks. 

            Opening her purse, Morgan extracted a compact and powder puff.  Dabbing her face and forehead with talc, she huffed, as she reached for a British ale, “I could sure use one of those.”

            By now Lily and Rodman had returned from the beach.  The butler distributed the drinks and retired.  We all sat at a round wooden table, under an umbrella, tipping our glasses.  Ice cubes clicked and nothing was said, until Brad stopped in mid-gulp as if struck by a stroke.  Laboring to give birth to an idea, he grunted that he wanted everyone to know what he’d been thinking.

            “Spare us,” said Lily. 

            “No, wait a minute, this is important.  I read the other day that some bishop, a long time ago, figured out precisely the year and the day of the creation.”

            “Oh?” replied Lily languidly.

            “It was 4004 B.C.  October 26th, at 9:00 a.m.  A Sunday, I think.  Which proves that we couldn’t have descended from monkeys or apes.  And all these so-called fossils scientists turn up are nothing but God playing tricks on us.  He’s salted the earth with them in order to tease us.  Take dinosaurs, for example.  They never really existed.  Those big bones collecting dust in museums are just a celestial joke.”

            I puzzled over that one.  According to my Bible, before the creation of the world, the world was without form; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  Therefore, night and day, years and months, hours and minutes didn’t exist.  Or did the calendar precede creation?  Great thinkers, I decided, lived in a different world from my own.

            “The next time you have an idea,” sniffed Lily, “please give us warning.  So we have time to clear out.”

            Again the phone rang and again it was for Brad.  As Brad shambled off, Lily and Rodman chatted for a minute and then clicked their glasses in a mutual toast.

            “Cheers!” she said, smiling at him with longing.  “You always look so cool,” she said, “like those aviators who recently flew the Atlantic.  You know who I mean.”  So wanton was her stare that Rodman’s cheeks glowed and his eyes danced, as he looked into happiness through hers.  She had said, right there in front of Morgan and me that she loved Rodman. 

            Brad returned out of sorts.  “Damned business deals.  They never turn out as they should.”

            “Did she turn you down?” asked Lily

            “If you think—”

            “Some of us do, you know.”

            Brad inhaled and started to gurgle, trying to speak.  But what issued forth was only saliva, which coated his lips.

            I won’t have a scene,” Lily said.  “It’s entirely too hot for that!  I suggest we all go to town.”

            Finally finding his voice, he blurted, “I just got into my suit for a swim!” 

            “Well,” said Lily, “I wouldn’t want you to miss out,” and she shoved him into the pool. 

            Vaulting out of the water, Brad pointed a finger at Lily and bayed, “If we weren’t in company. . . !”

            “Yes?” she demurely asked.

            “Where in the hell do women get their ideas?”

            “Houdini’s playing the Palace,” I said, trying to change the subject.  “How about seeing a vaude?”

            “Why don’t we drop you off there,” suggested Lily, “and we can go on to the Hotel Astor for snacks and drinks.”

            “We’ll pick you up after the show,” said Rodman.

            “Suits me.”

            “Unless, of course, you’d like to join us.”

            Having just seen the makings of an ugly triangle, I begged off.    

            “Town on a day like this?” complained Brad.

            “Yes, town,” Lily replied.  “I’m not going to spend today and tomorrow and the rest of my life rusticating in Long Island.  Now, Brad, there’s a word for you, rusticating.  You might want to look it up.”

            A few minutes later Brad, Lily and Morgan wheeled out of the drive headed for the Gillespie house.  A few minutes later, Hank and I followed in his yellow Rolls-Royce, with the top down and the green leather seats shining like emeralds.  Wearing a pink suit and straw hat, he turned more than one head as villagers along the way stopped to gawk at Rodman’s garish tastes.  A gravel drive led up to Lily’s front door.  Hank parked the car and a housekeeper answered our ring, leading us through rooms darkened by awnings and shades and humming with electric fans that seemed only to make the heat worse.  I therefore excused myself

and meandered down to the dock, and the green wind sock.  As I looked around the bay, I could see ugly gaps in the forest owing to the nation’s expansion.  Houses were being built, sewers laid, and the inevitable need for more roads and cars running from the island to the city.  Towns would spring up, with stores and garages.  The beautiful woods and sandy beaches would soon give way to the green dreams of the real estate drummers, inviting the rich and the restless to escape the immigrant hordes.

            When I ambled back to the house, I entered through the veranda.  “I’ve heard of making a garage out of a stable,” Brad was saying to Rodman, “but I’m the first man who ever made a stable out of a garage.”

            Lily, decked out in a yellow voile blouse and white linen skirt, announced it was time that they left.  Rodman gave her one of his radiant smiles. 

            “At this moment,” she cried, “you look just like the soldier in Lexington.”

            Their eyes met, and they stared at each other, alone in another place.  She had told him that he was still the same Rodman who had courted and won her before the Great War.

            Brad Gillespie saw—and was beside himself with anger.

            Lily had grown recklessly bold in Rodman’s presence, as if he would stand between her and her gored bull of a husband, who lit a cigarette and devoured the smoke like an opium addict.  Lily and Morgan, at Morgan’s suggestion, excused themselves.  Rodman nudged me and suggested we wait in the drive.  I followed him out the front door to the shade of an elm.

            “I want Lily to tell him we’re in love,” said Rodman.

            “Geez, when she looked at you I could hear a church organ. And her voice sounded like—”

            “Wedding bells, I hope.”

            He had to be fantasizing.  Although Lily was having an affair with Hank, she was reluctant to marry him.  But now, he’d concluded, she would do more than talk.  She would act.  She would return to Lexington with him, take up from where they’d left off, and finish the story as he’d intended, with marriage. 

            When Brad and the women joined us, Brad asked Hank if he’d be willing to swap cars for the ride into the city.

            “I’ve never driven a Rolls-Royce before,” said Brad. 

Hank, looking none too happy, replied skeptically, “I don’t know.”

“Come on, sport,” said Brad, “it’ll be a new experience.  You’ll like the blue coupé; it’s a Wills-Sainte Claire, almost brand new.”

            Lily seemed keen on the idea, so Hank reluctantly agreed, pointing out that his gas tank was almost empty.  But Brad said he’d fill it just down the highway at a garage that he used.  Taking Lily’s arm, Brad led her toward the yellow car, but she pulled free and said that she’d travel with Hank.  I stood there trying to decide what to do.  The prospect of traveling with Morgan and Brad was as appealing as eating a plate full of spiders.  But Brad’s coupé was a two-seater.  Rodman, sensitive as a spinal nerve, told me to hop into the rumble seat.

            “I invited you to my party.  You stay with me.”

            Morgan and Brad, obviously glad to be rid of me, climbed into Rodman’s car—and nearly leapt out of their skins. 

            “Geez!” Brad cried, “why the hell didn’t you leave the car under a tree?”

            Hank pretended sympathy; but as his yellow Rolls-Royce hiccupped down the gravel drive, he was truly annoyed.  We followed behind.  Rodman and Lily sat a respectable distance apart until we had passed Brad filling up the yellow car at a seedy roadside garage, across the road from a billboard with some four-eyes touting the T. S. Elsinore lens.  Once Brad had passed out of sight, Lily slid over and embraced Rodman so warmly, I nearly suggested they just drop me off in the city and continue on by themselves to their love nest.  The sunlight, heavy as honey, began to broil my brains.  Rodman must have seen me wilting, because he leaned out his window to tell me to “buck up.”  Before long, Rodman spied Brad in the rear view mirror.  Lily immediately slid over to her side, maintaining a discreet distance between them.  When Brad passed us, I was convinced that if we didn’t stop soon, I would expire from sunstroke.  In my faint state, I had the impression that every other minute Brad looked over his shoulder, as if he feared that Rodman and Lily might try to ditch him and disappear. 

After the vaudeville, Rodman and Lily were parked at the curb, sitting in the yellow car. 

            “I thought you were driving Brad’s coupé?”

            Rodman joked without smiling.  “I was just letting my butler give it a spin.”

Lily failed to laugh, saying coldly that she was feeling emotionally frayed and that it would settle her down if she drove.  Changing places with Hank, she slid behind the wheel.  Although I was chattering away about Harry, the two of them were suspiciously silent.  The yellow car drove past the tenements and the tubercular tradesmen, the brownstones and the bountiful, until it reached 46th Street, where Brad turned left to Broadway—and the Palace Theatre.  Hank waited until I reached the ticket window before driving off, with Brad right on his bumper.  The four of them—Hank, Lily, Brad, and Morgan—had agreed to rent a day room at the Hotel Astor and while away the early evening over drinks and noshes.  As I feared, the merrymaking at the Astor had turned ugly, marked by accusations and denials.  Apparently Brad and Lily had charged one other with adultery, and then Brad had turned on Hank.

As we crossed the bridge to Long Island, we passed a wedding party heading into town.  Rodman stared longingly at the cars, trailing streamers and honking horns.  The scene must have reminded him of what he had lost, because he began reminiscing about Lexington.

            I could well understand.  I felt the same way about Newark, the source of my fondest memories of Pop, before he took ill.  It was a time of hope.  On summer days, we’d walk to the Weequahic Park racetrack and sit in the stands watching the riders canter and circle the oval.  Pop promised that one day, he’d buy me a horse.  And he did!  A three-foot-high wooden rocking horse, with a miniature leather saddle.  God, I must have ridden that horse ten thousand miles before I gave it away to a niece or cousin of Suzie’s.  Yes, I knew why Hank was thinking of Lexington.  It was the place of his creation, just as Newark was of mine.  Decatur and Chicago were just temporary stops on his way to being born into the world he had dreamed for himself, the one that replaced the sordid and sad with rapture and romance.        

            Lily, having said very little, suddenly asked Hank whether it was all true.

            I had no idea what she was referring to, but I guessed that it had to do with the scene at the Astor.

“When Brad called you a bootlegger and part of Arnold Rothstein’s crowd—”

Hank interrupted.  “I swear to you, Lily, it was all lies!” 

            “What?  The plans and the promises or the bootlegging?”

            “The drugstores I bought are legit.  Sure, I sell alcohol, but for religious and medical purposes.  Wine for Catholic masses and Jewish ceremonies.  Isopropanol to hospitals.  If some of the stuff falls into the wrong hands, well, I can’t help that.”

            “Walter Chase—”

            “His real name is Lester Krill.  He hates me.”

            “If he hates you, he must have a reason.”

            “I got him a job.  Every man hates his banker.  When he was prospering, he didn’t complain.”

            “Well, apparently he’s complaining now.”

            “He broke the law.”

            “Working for you!”

            “Not me, A.R.”

            “Tell me:  Are you or are you not one of his gang?”

            “He lent me some money.”

            “The truth is, Hank, I have no idea what you actually do.”

            “I keep track of the profits and losses of my drugstores, which are in twenty different states.  You might call me an accountant.”

            “Who audits your books?”

            “Uncle Sam.  I also pay taxes.”

            Hearing that Rodman was a tax-paying citizen, when so much of America was not, gave her pause.

            “What betting laws did Brad mean?”

            “Sporting matches.”

            “Do you fix them?”

            “I never bet.”

            “You didn’t answer my question!”

            “No.”

            We passed over the bridge into Long Island.  The road cut through a vast dumping ground.  I held my breath.  People are sure willing to generate garbage, so long as someone else removes it. 

            “When Brad said the drug store business was only small change and there was something else in the wind, something bigger, you looked as if you’d killed a man.”

            Rodman stridently laughed.  For some reason, I thought of fingernails scraped across a blackboard.

            “Did you ever kill anyone?”

            Rodman looked hurt, but to his credit he didn’t duck the question.  “Yes.  It was in the Argonne.  A German soldier charged me with a bayonet and I shot him.” 

            “I can’t imagine!” 

            Seeking safe ground, Rodman found it in relating what happened.  “I felt so guilty, I went through his pockets to learn his name.  In his wallet was an address and a photograph of his wife.  After the Armistice I wrote to her, explaining what had happened, and enclosed twenty dollars.  In the event she needed help, I told her where in France I could be reached.”

            “Did she write you?” 

            Rodman nodded.  “We struck up a correspondence.  I sent her a train ticket.  She met me in Paris.  Her English was poor and my German worse.  But I enjoyed being with her.  She reminded me of you, especially her hair.  I remember taking her to a bookstall on a blustery day.  Strands of her hair blew in my face.  I closed my eyes and imagined that Lotte was you.”

            “Did you make love to her?”

            “Does it matter?”

            “To me.”

            Rodman didn’t reply.

            Funny about people.  Although Lily was married and had a son, it was clear that she expected Hank to save himself just for her. 

            “Brad must have meant something,” she said.  “He has friends on the police force.” 

            The scene in the Astor really must have been ghastly, because he returned to telling war stories, meandering into a memory of the loss of a comrade.  Although I knew he was playing for sympathy, I could also see that he was deeply affected.

            “A mystery surrounds his last moments.  On a reconnaissance mission, he disappeared in the deeps of the sky.  I flew with him once.  The clouds are like oceans.  He lost his way in their impenetrable mists.  His plane was never found.  He died brilliant with youth.”  Visibly moved, he added, “To lose you, as well, would be my undoing.”

            Lily touched his arm, as the car sped into the night.  We were all deep in thought, when Hank began to recount another war story, but Lily cut him off. 

            “You can’t turn back the clock,” she said. 

            “Of course you can, if you choose.”

            “Then find another line of work.  No more drugstores, no more bootlegging, no more unsavory people.”

            I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.  Lily was one smart cookie.  I always knew it.  So did Hank, who at this moment complimented her intelligence by refusing to deny her insinuations.

            “I admit I know about these things, but so do a lot of others, including Brad.”

            “I said as much about Brad at the Astor, but you saw how he took it.  He threatened to expose you—or worse.”  This reminder so upset Lily that she floored the car as if she wished to distance herself from her lover.

            “Bootlegging’s one thing,” she said.  “Why, some of the best people in America are wets.  But the rest—”

            “If we love each other . . .”

            Lily’s silence was like a thousand years.

******

The death car, said the Post, sped out of the night clocking no less than fifty and, while trying to pass a slow-moving truck in the Borough of Queens, found itself facing a car coming from the other direction.  To avoid a head-on collision, it cut in front of the truck so sharply that the car lost control, carried wide onto the shoulder, and struck a woman hitchhiker.  What actually happened was different.  A woman suddenly dashed into the road, wildly waving her arms, as if she knew who we were and wished us to stop.  She left Lily no time to brake.  Faced with only two choices—swerve left toward an oncoming car or right into a ditch—Lily chose the former.  But the speed of the oncoming car made it impossible for us to get past the woman and return to our own lane in time.  Realizing her error, Lily wheeled back into her lane, hitting the woman dead on.

            Terrified, Lily floored it and raced through the darkness, but almost immediately Rodman ordered her to pull the car off the road and allow him to drive.  Then Lily fell into his lap, hysterical.  As Rodman consoled her, I scrambled out and ran to see the state of the woman.  It took me several minutes to reach the garage where they’d taken the body.  The station, with its two gasoline pumps, advertised:  “Cheap Service.” 

            At the end of the garage stood a circle of people.  Peering round the onlookers, I saw that the woman had been wrapped in a gray barracks blanket and placed on a work bench.  A large man, bending over her and crying, was keeping everybody else at bay.  I got a close look.  What I saw made me swallow the two sticks of gum I’d shoved into my mouth upon hearing the sickening sound of the impact.  Lying there on the table was Gertie Densmore, and standing next to her was a steely eyed Brad Gillespie.

            All you could see was her head and one arm, resting outside the blanket, with her fist clenched.  Brad leaned over the body, as if to pray or kiss the woman’s forehead; but he did neither.  From my crouching position, I could see him force her fingers apart.  In her hand rested a thin necklace chain attached, by means of a prong setting, to a diamond:  the missing Farouk.  Brazenly, he snatched the jewelry, pocketed it, and shoved his way through the crowd.  No one said a word, perhaps because his body had blocked their view.   

When I asked myself how Pop would have reacted, I realized that my father could no longer help me.  This was grave territory we had never discussed.  I was without a guide.  Alone.  For the first time in my life, I understood why people seek solace from rabbis and priests.  If one had come by, I would have begged for advice.

            Retreating to the rear of the crowd, I heard heart-rending groans coming from the office attached to the garage.  Two men were huddled together.  The one repeating Gertie’s name and holding his gut, as if any minute he’d vomit, I figured was Mr. Densmore.  A motorcycle policeman, with siren blaring, pulled up and immediately started interviewing the witnesses, each of whom contradicted the last.  Brad, wishing to leave, dismissed any doubts the policeman might have entertained about him by explaining that the woman had died before he arrived, and so moved was he by the accident that he had cried.  “Just ask the others.”

            “How do you know her?” queried the cop. 

            “I buy my gas from her husband,” Brad answered tersely, pointing to the office.  “Just ask George.”

            Why the cop wasn’t suspicious beats me.  Normally, customers don’t cry over their grease monkey’s wife.  But the policeman quickly lost interest in Brad.  A minute later, the cop was lost in his notes, taking down names and erasing them when the person corrected his spelling.  Brad said a few words to Mr. Densmore and left without having noticed me.

            The policeman, trying to sort out the facts, excused himself, explaining that he had yet to interview Mr. Densmore.  Gertie’s husband, sitting in a reclining desk chair, rocked back and forth, periodically wailing and pointing toward the garage.  I easily overheard him and the cop because the door connecting the garage to the office was missing. 

            Apparently Gertie and her husband lived in this dump, in an upstairs apartment over the garage.  Mr. Densmore complained that she often took trips to the city and came home with purchases that exceeded her allowance.  Where had they come from, the dresses and shoes and perfumes and jewelry?  He also had his doubts about the weekends that she claimed to be spending with her sister in Manhattan.  Why, he asked, did she often come home with a tan and her clothes smelling of salt water?  And who had given her a costly diamond, which he had seen among her possessions?  He staggered toward the body, saw that the jewel was missing, and howled like a wounded beast.

            Returning to his office, he blew his nose with a grease rag.  When he started talking again, it was to no one in particular.  “I know she wanted better.  She and her sister . . . they left school before they wuz teens and worked in shirt factories and dime stores and hash houses.  She didn’t want no kids.  Her girlfriends, she was always remindin’ me, scrubbed endless diapers on galvanized washboards.  ‘I don’t wanna be trapped like that,’ she would say.  ‘I wanna see the world.  I wanna different kinda life.’  Thing is, with that diamond we coulda lived good.”

            A doctor pulled up, bustled in with a black bag, and withdrew a stethoscope.  Listening for a heartbeat and finding none, he came to the profound conclusion that Gertie Densmore was dead.  For the first time, I saw the extent of her injuries, as the physician, who introduced himself as Doctor Littlewick, removed the blanket—to a collective gasp of horror.  Gertie Densmore had practically been cut in half.  One breast hung from a flap of skin and her intestines, looking like a string of red sausages, were seeping out of her belly.  I gagged, turned away, ran to the front of the garage, and puked.  When the doctor had finished his examination and conferred with the cop, I politely asked him which direction he was going. 

            “North Port,” he replied.  “Why?”

            “I need a ride home.  My boyfriend and I had an argument.  He drove off and left me.”

            “Aren’t you a little young to be dating?”

            I could see I had a bluenose on my hands.  “You’re quite right, sir,” I answered, “and I’ve sure learned my lesson.  No more boys and late nights for me.”

            “Clever child,” the doctor patronizingly said, and told me to hop in, offering to drop me off at Rodman’s estate, which belonged, I explained, to my uncle.

            “You mean that big place the prohibition agents recently raided?”

            “I wouldn’t know about that.  I just returned from London.”

            “A favorite city of mine!” he exclaimed, as we started down the road.  “What did you see?”

            I could have pinched myself.  Every time I phony up I land in the soup.

            “You know, the usual.”

            The doctor was driving a black Cadillac, with leather seats.  So I figured that he, like most Americans, had a sweet spot for cars.

            “Some automobile!”

            “Glad you like it.  My wife wanted something less . . .”

            “Showy.” 

            “Her very word!”

            “Women don’t mind being showy themselves, but when it comes to a car, they think you have to be conservative to be classy.”

            Doctor Littlewick was obviously pleased that I’d taken his side.  Once I had praised his choice in autos, he grew talky, jabbering nonstop about what he called his “philosophy of life.”  Hearing it, I decided I might have been better off walking.

            According to him what mattered most in this world was order.  “People left to themselves,” he earnestly said, “make foolish decisions.  For their own well-being, they must be controlled.  Mind you, I wish it weren’t so, but for their own good, they need rules.”  He said that in his own family, his two sons wouldn’t breathe without first asking him.  As for his daughter, she always deferred to the men, as a young woman should.

            Dr. Littlewick reminded me of the teachers I loathed.  His house sounded like a prison.  As he gabbed, I realized here was the key to Brad Gillespie.  He used money and his imposing physical presence to get what he wanted.  Lily was merely a lovely purchase, who dolled up his house and occasionally tempered his lusts.  But when it came to the choices that mattered—whom they would have as their friends, where they would live, how much money Lily could spend—by god he would decide.  Dr. Littlewick and Brad certainly had one thing in common.  Like all unimaginative men they loved rules.  Rodman was just the opposite; he believed in spontaneity.  I suddenly felt awfully sorry for Lily and for all those in the Doctor’s employ who had to kiss his behind for a buck. 

              When Dr. Littlewick finally dropped me at Rodman’s estate, I thanked him for the ride, letting out a sigh of relief as he drove off.  Rodman had arrived minutes before and called a cab to take them to Lily’s place.  

            “How did you get here?” I asked.

            “We took all the back roads—through the farming country.  I think we got away clean, but then one never knows.”

            “Where’s the car?”

            “Locked in the garage.”

            I knew the taxi would take at least fifteen minutes to reach the estate, so I asked for the key and wandered out to see the extent of the damage to Hank’s yellow car.  He had thrown a tarpaulin over it but neglected to clean the blood off the dented front end.  I filled a bucket with water and washed the chrome and the grille and the crumpled right fender.  Returning to the house, I told Hank that he ought to have one of his hired help replace the damaged parts and repaint the car. 

            “Just as long as they can’t trace it to Lily, I’m in no rush.”

            “But you may be in danger.”

            “Thanks for caring, Henny, but I’ve been in worse jams.”

            We went outside to wait for the cab.  In the moonlight I could see the heat shimmering over the road.  The weather that day had been unrelenting, easily the hottest of the year.  Lily buried her face in Hank’s chest as he cradled her in his arms. 

I told him that I’d stay behind and arrange for his car to be stripped, repainted, and taken upstate. 

            Lily couldn’t stop crying and kept repeating, “What have I done?”  She needed Rodman now.  Trembling, she sobbed, “If only we could have left five minutes earlier—or later—this might never have happened!”

            “Just be glad the yeggs strip cars all hours of the night,” I said, trying to make Hank think about unloading his Rolls.

            “Thanks, Henny, you’re a real friend.  But if the police show up, you might be arrested.” 

            Insisting that I go with them, he refused to take no for an answer, pointing out that my previous run-in with the cops would weaken my case.  Lily nodded in agreement.  I should have felt pleased that she cared, but sensed she was fearful I might turn her in.  I couldn’t help wondering whether she recognized in the headlights the woman she had seen with Brad in Cape May—and deliberately hit her.

            Rodman, rocking her in his arms, tried to dispel the dark night of her terror.  He told her it wasn’t her fault.  The woman had bolted in front of the car.  Lily had tried to avoid her but would have killed four people in a head-on collision had she not swerved.  There was nothing she could have done differently, and nothing to be done now, except leave matters to him.  He would find out who the person was and the extent of her injuries.  Whatever the cost, he would pay.  If someone had identified his yellow Rolls-Royce, he would of course take the blame.  The moment he said he’d be the fall guy, I wondered whether Lily would simply stand by and not say a word.  A few hours before I would have said impossible.  But with the collapse of her world, I was no longer sure. 

            While Rodman told her that he would keep her from harm, I spotted a book that Pop had told me to read:  Leaves of Grass.  Without asking permission, I took it.

            A horn honked.  I could see the lights of the cab.  Lily, still resting in Rodman’s arms, turned to him and said, “Tell me what happened didn’t happen.  Tell me I only imagined it.”  She kissed him.  I could see tears in Rodman’s eyes.  As they separated, Hank brushed her hair with his lips.

            I climbed in and buried myself in a corner.  Rodman and Lily sat without touching.  Hank gave the driver directions. 

            “You folks live in that house?” the cabby asked, obviously impressed by its splendor.

            “Uh huh,” Rodman said.

            “Don’t often get called way out here.  Most folks have their own cars.”

            “Mine’s in the shop.”

            “Which one you use?”

            “A place in the Bronx.”

            “There’s some top-notch garages nearby.”

            “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”

            The cabby, receiving no encouragement, clammed up.

            Speaking in whispers, Hank warily asked if they couldn’t agree to meet somewhere in town.  She shook her head no. 

            “For now, I think you’d be better off hiding.”

            Lily’s suggestion seemed odd.  But I soon understood why she said it.

            As the cab pulled up to the Gillespie’s house, Hank reassured her.  “I don’t want you to worry.  It’s all right.  I’ll take the blame.”  She tried to smile but the effort defeated her.  “I may never see you again,” he said with difficulty.  “This may be the last time.  But if you ever need me, all it will take is one word, ‘Yes.’  All you have to say is yes you want me, and I will come.  Because I shall never cease loving you.”

            I stayed behind as they walked to the house.  When Rodman returned, he tried to persuade me to leave with the cabby.

            “What about you?”

            “I’m standing watch, just in case.  Lily and I agreed on a signal.  She’ll raise the shade in her bedroom if there’s any problem.  He’s in the house now.”

            “You’ll want someone to talk to.” 

            “I really think you should go to my place and rest.”

            “I’d rather keep you company.”

            Rodman didn’t argue.  He paid the cabby, who heartily thanked him for the generous tip.  I’ll bet to this day that guy still talks about Rodman, especially in light of what happened.  But that’s shooting ahead. 

            Entering the house, Lily had gone directly to her room and pulled down the shade.  A few minutes later the lights came on in the kitchen.  Rodman stole up to the house for a squint.  I remained in the bushes.  When he returned, I asked him what he had seen. 

            “It’s all right,” he said.  “She and Brad are just talking.”

            “Do you suppose she’s telling him what happened?”

            “Hard to say.”

            Although the kitchen light remained on for almost an hour, Hank never took another look.  But after a while I couldn’t resist.  So I grabbed a peek.  What I saw made me blink.  Lily and Brad, seated at a table with a plate of cold chicken between them, were acting not like antagonists but like plotters.  Brad would say something and Lily would nod in agreement.  No one was eating.  Then Brad removed something from his pants pocket.  As if inviting bids at an auction, he held up the Farouk diamond.  When he plopped it into her palm, Lily grinned like the Cheshire cat.

In the morning, the second and last time I looked, there was no sign of Lily or Brad, and the food was untouched, making me wonder if it was chicken or a symbol for Hank, dead duck. 

                                                                        ******

            Rodman and I hitchhiked to town, catching a ride with a farmer hauling the last of his summer corn to the station.  “Country Gentleman,” he advised; “the small white kernels are best.”  From the station, we took a taxi to Rodman’s place.  Hank looked drained.  Along the highway, I could have sworn that we passed a disheveled George Densmore, looking deranged. 

            When we reached Rodman’s house, he insisted that I catch up on my sleep.  Too weak to argue, I went straight off to bed and snoozed round the clock, waking early the next day.  As I sat having my breakfast with one of Rodman’s people, Billy Solomon, an ex-con who kept an eye on the estate, Rodman forlornly appeared.  You could see what his night had been like.  It was a few minutes before nine.  Retiring to the porch, he stood facing Lily’s house.  Overnight the weather had changed.  I could smell in the air a hint of autumn.  The sound of a lawnmower caught my attention.  Mr. Sward, the gardener, was cutting the grass for the last time this season.  He stopped and called to Rodman that he’d be draining the pool.

            “Once the leaves start to fall, there’s hell to pay with the pipes.”

            “Wait till this afternoon,” Rodman told him.  Smiling at me, he said, “I want to take one last swim before the party is over.  Maybe you’ll join me later.”

            But I didn’t.  Instead, I had Billy Solomon pilot Hank’s speedboat across the bay and drop me off at the Gillespies’ dock.  The green wind sock was missing, and only an empty pole remained.  I asked Billy to wait, and hiked across the expanse of lawn, rehearsing what I planned to tell Lily.  Not wishing to be turned away at the front door, I came through the veranda and found Lily, uncharacteristically, at play with her son.  Leather valises, stacked in a row, suggested the Gillespies were about to leave on a trip.  I stood undetected and watched as she read The Patient Griselda to her son.  When she had finished, she told Tommy that although it was good for one to be patient, it was bad not to speak up when others were hurtful.  On that note I entered. 

            “Henny!” sputtered Lily, taken aback.  “Here!  How come?  I mean . . . why?  This is my son, Tommy.  But of course, you met him . . . the first time.” 

            As Lily called for the nurse, I shook hands with the little boy, who smiled politely. 

            “I know what two and two are,” said Tommy proudly.

            “I wish I did.”

            “It’s easy,” he said, as the nurse took his hand. “It’s four.”

            “I’ll bet your momma doesn’t know that.”

            Tommy laughed and skipped off.

            “What can I give you?” asked Lily.

            “An answer.”

            “For?”

            “Two and two.”

            “I’ll get you a nice ginger.”

            “No thanks, all I want is talk.”

            “Of course,” she said, sitting down on the couch and inviting me to do likewise.  “Is Hank all right?”

            “How should he be?”

            She lowered her eyes.  “Unhappy.”   

            “Good guess.”

            “Did he send you?”

            “No.”

            “Ah, then I can treat this as a social call,” she said frivolously.

            “Lily, whatever others may think, I know you’re no fool.  Underneath that beautiful face is a chess player, well aware of every move that she’s making.  I’ve watched you, and admired you, so let’s not pretend now.”

            Her next gambit was flattery.  “I see, a contest between equals.”

            “You win hands down.  I’m just Huckleberry Finn in a dress.  You’re sophisticated.  I’m not in your class.”

            She laughed in a contemptuous way, but not at me. 

            “That’s why you jettisoned Hank, wasn’t it?  He wasn’t in your class?”

            “Don’t!  I adore the man.  What am I to do, give up my social position and lose my son to marry a bootlegger?  You know very well the courts would give Tommy to Brad.  Can you imagine him raising a child?”

            “You could take Tommy and join Hank in Europe.”

            “For how long, a lifetime?  We’re Americans.  Home is here.”

            “He’d go anywhere, do anything, to be with you.”

            “Why not?” she replied with fire in her eyes.  “My cost to him would be far less than his cost to me.”

            I couldn’t imagine what she meant, until she indicated that Rodman’s friends were beneath her.  To run off with him would have cost her the company of the smart set.  She said that, as it was, since they’d become lovers, friends of hers had been staying away.  Morgan had even accused her of slumming, saying that with her beauty and wealth she could have statesmen and princes.  And yet for love of Rodman, she had been willing to throw caution to the wind, and turn a blind eye to the ways of his wealth and the character of his colleagues.

            “Why did you get started?” I asked.

            “I didn’t think it would end this way.”

            “No matter who you ran off with, the courts would still have called you an adulterer and given your son to Brad, despite the fact that he’s one as well.  You knew that from the start.”

            “I wanted a secret life.  I longed to be loved.”

            “And now you have Brad.”

            “No, I have Tommy.”

            Frankly, I didn’t believe her.  The wish to be wanted, yes; but the baloney about her son, no.  She was constantly handing the kid off to a nurse.

            “What’s the point of this discussion?” asked Lily.  “I can never go back to Hank.  Surely, you can see that.”

            What I saw was Rodman taking the fall and Brad clearing up any confusion about which man to choose by giving her the diamond.

            “Did you read the morning papers?”

            “Was it the same Gertie Densmore from the garage?”

            Sarcasm was the only way I could think to reply.  “Uh no, it was Miss Gertie Densmore from the Cudahy family in Milwaukee.  She always summers at auto garages.” 

            “You don’t think I deliberately. . . ?”

            “You tell me.”

            She lit a cigarette and changed the subject.

            “God, but Lexington was an innocent place.  Hank and I would take a picnic basket to the swimming hole.  We’d pack ham and turkey sandwiches, potato salad and coleslaw too.  We’d put the root beer and lemonade in the water to keep it cool.  The first time I met him was at the Daughters of Lexington Debutante Ball.  He and some other doughboys had wrangled a twenty-four hour pass from camp and the mayor invited them to the party.  I was dancing with Leopold Muskfit.  He’s a small-town journalist now.  Hank cut in, which no polite southern boy would ever do.  Poor Leopold looked as if his whole world had collapsed.”

            I knew she was shuckin’ and jivin’.  So I took out the newspaper article that I had stashed in my pocket and quoted the part about the police looking for the driver.  That introduced some reality.

            “I know that Mr. Rothstein owns property in Hewlett.  Is Hank hiding out there?”

            Hewlett was the location of A.R.’s old gambling place, which now stood unused.  I played dumb.

            “You must know, Henny.”

            “Why do you ask?”

            Lily opened the veranda doors and looked out at the water. “I don’t deny it.  I’m irresponsible, careless, and morally unreliable.  But I didn’t recognize Gertie Densmore in the road.  I swear, I thought I had killed a stranger.”

            “In some ways you did.  You knew nothing about her.”

            “Do you?”

            “A little.”

            “Tell me.  I want to know.”

            She drew deeply on her cigarette and expelled the smoke slowly.

            “I heard her husband talking about her.”

            “And?”

            Without mentioning the diamond, I told her about how the woman had hoped to rise in the world, and suggested that Gertie and Hank had something in common.

            “What’s that?”

            “Dreams.”

            Lily said nothing.  I wanted to tell her that she had killed the illusions of both.

            “Hank will be all right,” she said.  “He can always call Fallon.”

            I now had some idea of what had been discussed over the kitchen table.  She and Brad would set sail, Hank would plead guilty, Fallon would defend him, and Lily and Brad would stay away long enough for the whole thing to blow over.  I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and remind her that she and not Rodman was the hit-and-run driver, but I could see from her look that she wanted to believe Rodman had actually driven the car.  And why not?  She had undoubtedly led Brad and Morgan to think so; the police and the crowd at the garage would probably agree, and so too would George Densmore.

            “Who’s that man at the end of the dock?” asked Lily.

            “His name’s Billy Solomon.  He brought me here in one of Hank’s boats.”

            “He looks like an unsavory sort.”

            Now that Hank’s cover was blown and there was no reason any longer to pretend, I decided to spook her. “He’s an ex-con, out on parole.  Fallon sprung him.  Breaking arms and legs with a crowbar is his specialty.  Would you like to meet him?”

            Unfortunately, my little joke backfired. 

            She coldly replied, “Now you see why I had to leave Hank.”

            To regain the upper hand, I spitefully said, “There were witnesses.  What if they say the driver was a woman?” 

            “People are easily confused in the dark.”

            “You won’t even be there to comfort him, when they put him away.”

            “He always said he’d protect me.  That’s why he stood guard outside the house last night.”

            She snuffed out the cigarette and lit another. 

            I exploded.  “Do you realize how you’re treating his love?”

            “Henny, some day you’ll learn love’s not an object, it’s a mood.  It’s not a golden bowl.”

            That was the last straw.  I wasn’t going to hear my friend’s feelings dismissed as airy thinness.  “If the police arrest Hank,” I said, “I won’t remain silent.”

            She dropped her lit cigarette on the rug, and stared at me in trembling terror.  “You’re my friend!” 

            “So was Hank.”  I squashed the butt underfoot.  “I see no reason to burn down the house.”

            “Name your price!”

            “The diamond Brad gave you.”

            “How did you—” she began, but I cut her off.   

            “It was stolen and fenced.  It’s hot.”

            Lily’s head nearly wrenched free from her neck.  “Stolen?”  Her eyes were as big as eggs.

            “Your high-society husband,” I said with delicious relish, “buys from bums.”

            “It’s yours!”

            Here I must stop and confess that I had come to Lily’s house for two reasons:  to learn why she had abandoned Rodman, and to tell her that unless she admitted killing Gertie, I’d blow the whistle.  But my big mouth had just compromised me.  If I took a bribe from Lily, I was obliged to shut up.  At that moment, I had to make a choice, either leave the diamond behind and sing to the cops, or walk out with it and let my friend Rodman face the music alone.

                                                                        ******           

            After Billy and I returned in the speedboat, I walked along the beach.  Not long after two, I heard a sound in the distance, as if it came from the sky, the sound of a snapped string, dying away, sad.  Again I heard it, followed by a stillness broken only by the chirping of children playing at the edge of the sea.  A terrible premonition made me shudder.  I started for the house, walking, running, racing.  Billy had also heard the sound, but thought it was just a farmer picking off hawks.  We ran to the pool.  In the grass, we discovered George Densmore, dead from a shot in the head.  Rodman lay on a pneumatic mattress, slowly turning, like a leaf in a lake gently stirred by a breeze.  A thin red string stretched from Hank to the end of the pool.  He looked perfectly normal, except for the hole in his heart.

            Blinded by tears, I could hardly decipher the dial as I telephoned Lily’s house.  The housekeeper answered.  I gave her my name, but she said the Gillespies couldn’t be interrupted.  So I mentioned the word “murder.”  In the distance, I could hear Brad cursing.  When Lily finally came to the phone, her voice was aloof and flat.  Even when I shouted that Brad was a “stinking hyena” who had sent George Densmore to Rodman’s house, having filled him full of lies, her tone never changed.  Fear or shock or indifference had drained her voice of upper-class pretensions.  With the thrilling pitch gone, she sounded ordinary.  I told her that I would be arranging the funeral and begged her to come.   

            I heard a choking sound, then nothing.  “Are you still there?”

            “No” came the reply.  It was Brad.  He hung up the phone. 

            When I called A.R. to tell him what had happened, he volunteered to pay for all the expenses, but said he would never set foot in a cemetery.  “It’s the vapors,” he pleaded, “they’re bad for my stomach.”  Legs also refused to attend, as did all the other mugs and celebrities who had danced under Hank’s silver moon and drunk his imported champagnes.  The only people who joined me were his neighbor Mr. Juniper, the butler, the gardener, Billy Solomon, and Hank’s father.  The service was simple.  After Mr. Juniper spoke, the minister asked me to say a few words.  A light rain was falling but I hardly noticed.  The beautiful mahogany coffin, with its radiant brass fittings, was mounted on boards and attached to a pulley and rope.  I knew that my words would be the last before the grave diggers put the box in the ground, and knew that whatever I had to say was really for me.  So I spoke of his migration from the Midwest, his soaring dreams, and his resemblance to a crippled bird beating its luminous wings in vain.  I concluded with a prayer for reprieve, though I knew full well that Rodman was unsuited for this world.

            “When pirates menaced the tropical seas, capturing sailing ships laden with silver and gold, the bloodthirsty buccaneers invariably made the captured crew walk the plank.  Only one person was spared, the fiddler, because he was the music.  Rodman was the music, and should have been spared.”

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