THINGS then did not delay in turning curious. If one object behind her discovery of what she was to label the Tristero System or often only The Tristero (as if it might be something's secret title) were to bring to an end her encapsulation in her tower, then that night's infidelity with Metzger would logically be the starting point for it; logically. That's what would come to haunt her most, perhaps: the way it fitted, logically, together. As if (as she'd guessed that first minute in San Narciso) there were revelation in progress all around her. Much of the revelation was to come through the stamp collection Pierce had left, his substitute often for herthousands of little colored windows into deep vistas of space and time: savannahs teeming with elands and gazelles, galleons sailing west into the void, Hitler heads, sunsets, cedars of Lebanon, allegorical faces that never were, he could spend hours peering into each one, ignoring her. She had never seen the fascination. The thought that now it would all have to be inventoried and appraised was only another headache. No suspicion at all that it might have something to tell her. Yet if she hadn't been set up or sensitized, first by her peculiar seduction, then by the other, almost offhand things, what after all could the mute stamps have told her, remaining then as they would've only ex-rivals, cheated as she by death, about to be broken up into lots, on route to any number of new masters?
It got seriously under way, this sensitizing, either with the letter from Mucho or the evening she and Metzger drifted into a strange bar known as The Scope. Looking back she forgot which had come first. The letter itself had nothing much to say, had come in response to one of her dutiful, more or less rambling, twice-a-week notes to him, in which she was not confessing to her scene with Metzger because Mucho, she felt, somehow, would know. Would then proceed at a KCUF record hop to look out again across the gleaming gym floor and there in one of the giant keyholes inscribed for basketball see, groping her vertical backstroke a little awkward opposite any boy heels might make her an inch taller than, a Sharon, Linda or Michele, seventeen and what is known as a hip one, whose velvet eyes ultimately, statistically would meet Mucho's and respond, and the thing would develop then groovy as it could when you found you couldn't get statutory rape really out of the back of your law-abiding head. She knew the pattern because it had happened a few times already, though Oedipa had been most scrupulously fair about it, mentioning the practice only once, in fact, another three in the morning and out of a dark dawn sky, asking if he wasn't worried about the penal code. "Of course," said Mucho after a while, that was all; but in his tone of voice she thought she heard more, something between annoyance and agony. She wondered then if worrying affected his performance. Having once been seventeen and ready to laugh at almost anything, she found herself then overcome by, call it a tenderness she'd never go quite to the back of lest she get bogged. It kept her from asking him any more questions. Like all their inabilities to communicate, this too had a virtuous motive.
It may have been an intuition that the letter would be news less inside that made Oedipa look more closely at its outside, when it arrived. At first she didn't see. It was an ordinary Muchoesque envelope, swiped from the station, ordinary airmail stamp, to the left of the cancellation a blurb put on by the government, REPORT ALL OBSCENE MAIL To YOUR POTSMASTER. Idly, she began to skim back through Mucho's letter after reading it to see if there were any dirty words. "Metzger," it occurred to her, "what is a pots-master?" "Guy in the scullery," replied Metzger authoritatively from the bathroom, "in charge of all the heavy stuff, canner kettles, gunboats, Dutch ovens . . ." She threw a brassiere in at him and said, "I'm supposed to report all obscene mail to my pots-master." "So they make misprints," Metzger said, "let them. As long as they're careful about not pressing the wrong button, you know?" It may have been that same evening that they happened across The Scope, a bar out on the way to L.A., near the Yoyodyne plant. Every now and again, like this evening, Echo Courts became impossible, either because of the stillness of the pool and the blank windows that faced on it, or a prevalence of teenage voyeurs, who'd all had copies of Miles's passkey made so they could check in at whim on any bizarre sexual action. This would grow so bad Oedipa and Metzger got in the habit of dragging a mattress into the walk-in closet, where Metzger would then move the chest of drawers up against the door, remove the bottom drawer and put it on top, insert his legs in the empty space, this being the only way he could lie full length in this closet, by which point he'd usually lost interest in the whole thing.
The Scope proved to be a haunt for electronics assembly people from Yoyodyne. The green neon sign outside ingeniously depicted the face of an oscilloscope tube, over which flowed an ever-changing dance of Lissajous figures. Today seemed to be payday, and everyone inside to be drunk already. Glared at all the way, Oedipa and Metzger found a table in back. A wizened bartender wearing shades materialized and Metzger ordered bourbon. Oedipa, checking the bar, grew nervous. There was this je ne sais quoi about the Scope crowd: they all wore glasses and stared at you, silent. Except for a couple-three nearer the door, who were engaged in a nose-picking contest, seeing how far they could flick it across the room.
A sudden chorus of whoops and yibbles burst from a kind of juke box at the far end of the room. Everybody quit talking. The bartender tiptoed back, with the drinks. "What's happening?" Oedipa whispered. "That's by Stockhausen," the hip graybeard informed her, "the early crowd tends to dig your Radio Cologne sound. Later on we really swing. We're the only bar in the area, you know, has a strictly electronic music policy. Come on around Saturdays, starting midnight we have your Sinewave Session, that's a live get-together, fellas come in just to jam from all over the state, San Jose, Santa Barbara, San Diego" "Live?" Metzger said, "electronic music, live?" "They put it on the tape, here, live, fella. We got a whole back room full of your audio oscillators, gunshot machines, contact mikes, everything man. That's for if you didn't bring your ax, see, but you got the feeling and you want to swing with the rest of the cats, there's always something available."
"No offense," said Metzger, with a winning Baby Igor smile. A frail young man in a drip-dry suit slid into the seat across from them, introduced himself as Mike Fallopian, and began proselytizing for an organization known as the Peter Pinguid Society."You one of these right-wing nut outfits?" inquired the diplomatic Metzger. Fallopian twinkled. "They accuse us of being paranoids." "They?" inquired Metzger, twinkling also. "Us?" asked Oedipa. The Peter Pinguid Society was named for the commanding officer of the Confederate man-of-war "Disgruntled," who early in 1863 had set sail with the daring plan of bringing a task force around Cape Horn to attack San Francisco and thus open a second front in the War For Southern Independence. Storms and scurvy managed to destroy or discourage every vessel in this armada except the game little "Disgruntled," which showed up off the coast of California about a year later. Unknown, however, to Commodore Pinguid, Czar Nicholas II of Russia had dispatched his Far East Fleet, four corvettes and two clippers, all under the command of one Rear Admiral Popov, to San Francisco Bay, as part of a ploy to keep Britain and France from (among other things) intervening on the side of the Confederacy. Pinguid could not have chosen a worse time for an assault on San Francisco. Rumors were abroad that winter that the Reb cruisers "Alabama" and "Sumter" were indeed on the point of attacking the city, and the Russian admiral had, on his own responsibility, issued his Pacific squadron standing orders to put on steam and clear for action should any such attempt develop. The cruisers, however, seemed to prefer cruising and nothing more.
This did not keep Popov from periodic reconnoitering. What happened on the 9th March, 1864, a day now held sacred by all Peter Pinguid Society members, is not too clear. Popov did send out a ship, either the corvette "Bogatir" or the clipper "Gaida-mak," to see what it could see. Off the coast of either what is now Carmel-by-the-Sea, or what is now Pismo Beach, around noon or possibly toward dusk, the two ships sighted each other. One of them may have fired, if it did then the other responded; but both were out of range so neither showed a scar afterward to prove anything. Night fell. In the morning the Russian ship was gone. But motion is relative. If you believe an excerpt from the "Bogatir" or "Gaidamak" 's log, forwarded in April to the General-Adjutant in St Petersburg and now somewhere in the Krasnyi Arkhiv, it was the "Disgruntled" that had vanished during the night.
"Who cares?" Fallopian shrugged. "We don't try to make scripture out of it. Naturally that's cost us a lot of support in the Bible Belt, where we might've been expected to go over real good. The old Confederacy.
"But that was the very first military confrontation between Russia and America. Attack, retaliation, both projectiles deep-sixed forever and the Pacific rolls on. But the ripples from those two splashes spread, and grew, and today engulf us all.
"Peter Pinguid was really our first casualty. Not the fanatic our more left-leaning friends over in the Birch Society chose to martyrize." "Was the Commodore killed, then?" asked Oedipa. Much worse, to Fallopian's mind. After the confrontation, appalled at what had to be some military alliance between abolitionist Russia (Nicholas having freed the serfs in 1861) and a Union that paid lip-service to abolition while it kept its own industrial laborers in a kind of wage-slavery, Peter Pinguid stayed in his cabin for weeks, brooding.
"But that sounds," objected Metzger, "like he was against industrial capitalism. Wouldn't that disqualify him as any kind of anti-Communist figure?"
"You think like a Bircher," Fallopian said. "Good guys and bad guys. You never get to any of the underlying truth. Sure he was against industrial capitalism. So are we. Didn't it lead, inevitably, to Marxism? Underneath, both are part of the same creeping horror." "Industrial anything," hazarded Metzger.
"There you go," nodded Fallopian.
"What happened to Peter Pinguid?" Oedipa wanted to know."He finally resigned his commission. Violated his upbringing and code of honor. Lincoln and the Czar had forced him to. That's what I meant when I said casualty. He and most of the crew settled near L.A.; and for the rest of his life he did little more than acquire " wealth." "How poignant," Oedipa said. "What doing?" "Speculating in California real estate," said Fallopian. Oedipa, halfway into swallowing part of her drink, sprayed it out again in a glittering cone for ten feet easy, and collapsed in giggles."What," said Fallopian. "During the drought that year you could've bought lots in the heart of downtown L. A. for .63 apiece."
A great shout went up near the doorway, bodies flowed toward a fattish pale young man who'd appeared carrying a leather mail sack over his shoulder.
"Mail call," people were yelling. Sure enough, it was, just like in the army. The fat kid, looking harassed, climbed up on the bar and started calling names and throwing envelopes into the crowd. Fallopian excused himself and joined the others.
Metzger had taken out a pair of glasses and was squinting through them at the kid on the bar. "He's wearing a Yoyodyne badge. What do you make of that?" "Some inter-office mail run," Oedipa said. "This time of night?" "Maybe a late shift?" But Metzger only frowned. "Be back," Oedipa shrugged, heading for the ladies' room. On the latrine wall, among lipsticked obscenities, she noticed the following message, neatly indited in engineering lettering: "Interested in sophisticated fun? You, hubby, girlfriends. The more the merrier. Get in touch with Kirby, through WASTE only, Box 7391, L. A." WASTE? Oedipa wondered. Beneath the notice, faintly in pencil, was a symbol she'd never seen before, a loop, triangle and trapezoid, thus...
It might be something sexual, but she somehow doubted it. She found a pen in her purse and copied the address and symbol in her memo book, thinking: God, hieroglyphics. When she came out Fallopian was back, and had this funny look on his face.
"You weren't supposed to see that," he told them. He had an envelope. Oedipa could see, instead of a postage stamp, the hand struck initials PPS.
"Of course," said Metzger. "Delivering the mail is a government monopoly. You would be opposed to that."
Fallopian gave them a wry smile. "It's not as rebellious as it looks. We use Yoyodyne's inter-office delivery. On the sly. But it's hard to find carriers, we have a big turnover. They're run on a tight schedule, and they get nervous. Security people over at the plant know something's up. They keep a sharp eye out. De Witt," pointing at the fat mailman, who was being hauled, twitching, down off the bar and offered drinks he did not want, "he's the most nervous one we've had all year."
"How extensive is this?" asked Metzger."Only inside our San Francisco chapter. They've set up pilot projects similar to this in the Washington and I think Dallas chapters. But we're the only one in California so far. A few of your more affluent type members do wrap their letters around bricks, and then the whole thing in brown paper, and send them Railway Express, but I don't know."
"A little like copping out," Metzger sympathized."It's the principle," Fallopian agreed, sounding defensive. "To keep it up to some kind of a reasonable volume, each member has to send at least one letter a week through the Yoyodyne system. If you don't, you get fined." He opened his letter and showed Oedipa and Metzger.
Dear Mike, it said, how are you? Just thought I'd drop you a note. How's your book coming? Guess that's all for now. See you at The Scope. "That's how it is," Fallopian confessed bitterly, "most of the time." "What book did they mean?" asked Oedipa.
Turned out Fallopian was doing a history of private mail delivery in the U.S., attempting to link the Civil War to the postal reform movement that had begun around 1845. He found it beyond simple coincidence that in of all years 1861 the federal government should have set out on a vigorous suppression of those independent mail routes still surviving the various Acts of '45, '47, '51 and '55, Acts all designed to drive any private competition into financial ruin. He saw it all as a parable of power, its feeding, growth and systematic abuse, though he didn't go into it that far with her, that particular night. All Oedipa would remember about him at first, in fact, were his slender build and neat Armenian nose, and a certain affinity of his eyes for green neon.
So began, for Oedipa, the languid, sinister blooming of The Tristero. Or rather, her attendance at some unique performance, prolonged as if it were the last of the night, something a little extra for whoever'd stayed this late. As if the breakaway gowns, net bras, jeweled garters and G-strings of historical figuration that would fall away were layered dense as Oedipa's own street-clothes in that game with Metzger in front of the Baby Igor movie; as if a plunge toward dawn indefinite black hours long would indeed be necessary before The Tristero could be revealed in its terrible nakedness. Would its smile, then, be coy, and would it flirt away harmlessly backstage, say good night with a Bourbon Street bow and leave her in peace? Or would it instead, the dance ended, come back down the runway, its luminous stare locked to Oedipa's, smile gone malign and pitiless; bend to her alone among the desolate rows of seats and begin to speak words she never wanted to hear?
The beginning of that performance was clear enough. It was while she and Metzger were waiting for ancillary letters to be granted representatives in Arizona, Texas, New York and Florida, where Inveracity had developed real estate, and in Delaware, where he'd been incorporated. The two of them, followed by a convertibleful of the Paranoids Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard and their chicks, had decided to spend the day out at Fangoso Lagoons, one of Inverarity's last big projects. The trip out was uneventful except for two or three collisions the Paranoids almost had owing to Serge, the driver, not being able to see through his hair. He was persuaded to hand over the wheel to one of the girls.
Somewhere beyond the battening, urged sweep of three-bedroom houses rushing by their thousands across all the dark beige hills, somehow implicit in an arrogance or bite to the smog the more inland somnolence of San Fransisco did lack, lurked the sea, the unimaginable Pacific, the one to which all surfers, beach pads, sewage disposal schemes, tourist incursions, sunned homosexuality, chartered fishing are irrelevant, the hole left by the moon's tearing-free and monument to her exile; you could not hear or even smell this but it was there, something tidal began to reach feelers in past eyes and eardrums, perhaps to arouse fractions of brain current your most gossamer microelectrode is yet too gross for finding. Oedipa had believed, long before leaving Kinneret, in some principle of the sea as redemption for Southern California (not, of course, for her own section of the state, which seemed to need none), some unvoiced idea that no matter what you did to its edges the true Pacific stayed inviolate and integrated or assumed the ugliness at any edge into some more general truth. Perhaps it was only that notion, its arid hope, she sensed as this forenoon they made their seaward thrust, which would stop short of any sea.
They came in among earth-moving machines, a total absence of trees, the usual hieratic geometry, and eventually, shimmying for the sand roads, down in a helix to a sculptured body of water named Lake In-verarity. Out in it, on a round island of fill among blue wavelets, squatted the social hall, a chunky, ogived and verdigrised, Art Nouveau reconstruction of some European pleasure-casino. Oedipa fell in love with it. The Paranoid element piled out of their car, carrying musical instruments and looking around as if for outlets under the trucked-in white sand to plug into. Oedipa from the Impala's trunk took a basket filled with cold eggplant parmigian' sandwiches from an Italian drive-in, and Metzger came up with an enormous Thermos of tequila sours. They wandered all in a loose pattern down the beach toward a small marina for what boat owners didn't have lots directly on the water.
"Hey, blokes," yelled Dean or perhaps Serge, "let's pinch a boat." "Hear, hear," cried the girls. Metzger closed his eyes and tripped over an old anchor. "Why are you walking around," inquired Oedipa, "with your eyes closed, Metzger?" "Larceny," Metzger said, "maybe they'll need a lawyer." A snarl rose along with some smoke from among pleasure boats strung like piglets along the pier, indicating the Paranoids had indeed started someone's outboard. "Come on, then," they called. Suddenly, a dozen boats away, a form, covered with a blue polyethylene tarp, rose up and said, "Baby Igor, I need help.""I know that voice," said Metzger. "Quick," said the blue tarp, "let me hitch a ride with you guys." "Hurry, hurry," called the Paranoids.
"Manny Di Presso," said Metzger, seeming less than delighted. "Your actor/lawyer friend," Oedipa recalled. "Not so loud, hey," said Di Presso, skulking as best a polyethylene cone can along the landing towards them. "They're watching. With binoculars." Metzger handed Oedipa aboard the about-to-be-hijacked vessel, a ly-foot aluminum trimaran known as the "Godzilla II," and gave Di Presso what he intended to be a hand also, but he had grabbed, it seemed, only empty plastic, and when he pulled, the entire covering came away and there stood Di Presso, in a skin-diving suit and wraparound shades.
"I can explain," he said.
"Hey," yelled a couple voices, faintly, almost in unison, from up the beach a ways. A squat man with a crew cut, intensely tanned and also with shades, came out in the open running, one arm doubled like a wing with the hand at chest level, inside the jacket.
"Are we on camera?" asked Metzger dryly. "This is real," chattered Di Presso, "come on." The Paranoids cast off, backed the "Godzilla H" out from the pier, turned and with a concerted whoop took off like a bat out of hell, nearly sending Di Presso over the fantail. Oedipa, looking back, could see their pursuer had been joined by another man about the same build. Both wore gray suits. She couldn't see if they were holding anything like guns. "I left my car on the other side of the lake," Di Presso said, "but I know he has somebody watching."
"Who does," Metzger asked. "Anthony Giunghierrace," replied ominous Di Presso, "alias Tony Jaguar.""Who?" "Eh, sfacim'," shrugged Di Presso, and spat into their wake. The Paranoids were singing, to the tune of "!AdesteFideles":
Hey, solid citizen, we just pinched your bo-oat,Hey, solid citizen, we just pinched your boat . . . grabassing around, trying to push each other over the side. Oedipa cringed out of the way and watched Di Presso. If he had really played the part of Metzger in a TV pilot film as Metzger claimed, the casting had been typically Hollywood: they didn't look or act a bit alike. "So," said Di Presso, "who's Tony Jaguar. Very big in Cosa Nostra, is who.""You're an actor," said Metzger. "How are you in with them?" "I'm a lawyer again," Di Presso said. "That pilot will never be bought, Metz, not unless you go out and do something really Darrow like, spectacular. Arouse public interest, maybe with a sensational defense."
"Like what." "Like win the litigation I'm bringing against the estate of Pierce Inveracity." Metzger, as much as cool Metzger could, goggled. Di Presso laughed and punched Metzger in the shoulder. "That's right, good buddy."
"Who wants what? You better talk to the other executor too." He introduced Oedipa, Di Presso tipping his shades politely. The air suddenly went cold, the sun was blotted out. The three looked up in alarm to see looming over them and about to collide the pale green social hall, its towering pointed windows, wrought-iron floral embellishments, solid silence, air somehow of waiting for them. Dean, the Paranoid at the helm, brought the boat around neatly to a small wooden dock, everybody got out, Di Presso heading nervously for an outside staircase. "I want to check on my car," he said. Oedipa and Metzger, carrying picnic stuff, followed up the stairs, along a balcony, out of the building's shadow, up a metal ladder finally to the roof. It was like walking on the head of a drum: they could hear their reverberations inside the hollow building beneath, and the delighted yelling of the Paranoids. Di Presso, Scuba suit glistening, scrambled up the side of a cupola. Oedipa spread a blanket and poured booze into cups made of white, crushed, plastic foam. "It's still there," said Di Presso, descending. "I ought to make a run for it."
"Who's your client?" asked Metzger, holding out a tequila sour. "Fellow who's chasing me," allowed Di Presso, holding the cup between his teeth so it covered his nose and looking at them, arch."You ran from clients?" Oedipa asked. "You flee ambulances?" "He's been trying to borrow money," Di Presso said, "since I told him I couldn't get an advance against any settlement in this suit."
"You're all ready to lose, then," she said. "My heart isn't in it," Di Presso admitted, "and if.I can't even keep up payments on that XKE I bought while temporarily insane, how can I lend money?" "Over 30 years," Metzger snorted, "that's temporary.""I'm not so crazy I don't know trouble," Di Presso said, "and Tony J. is in it, friends. Gambling mostly, also talk he's been up to show cause to the local Table why he shouldn't be in for some discipline there. That kind of grief I do not need."Oedipa glared. "You're a selfish schmuck."
"All the time Cosa Nostra is watching," soothed Metzger, "watching. It does not do to be seen helping those the organization does not want helped."
"I have relatives in Sicily," said Di Presso, in comic broken English. Paranoids and their chicks appeared against the bright sky, from behind turrets, gables, ventilating ducts, and moved in on the eggplant sandwiches in the basket. Metzger sat on the jug of booze so they couldn't get any. The wind had risen.
"Tell me about the lawsuit," Metzger said, trying with both hands to keep his hair in place. "You've been into Inveracity’s books," Di Presso said. "You know the Beaconsfield filter thing." Metzger made a noncommittal moue.
"Bone charcoal," Oedipa remembered."Yeah, well Tony Jaguar, my client, supplied some bones," said Di Presso, "he alleges. Inverarity never paid him. That's what it's about.""Offhand," Metzger said, "it doesn't sound like Inverarity. He was scrupulous about payments like that. Unless it was a bribe. I only did his legal tax deductions, so I wouldn't have seen it if it was. What construction firm did your client work for?""Construction firm," squinted Di Presso.
Metzger looked around. The Paranoids and their chicks may have been out of earshot. "Human bones, right?" Di Presso nodded yes. "All right, that's how he got them. Different highway outfits in the area, ones inveracity had bought into, they got the contracts. All drawn up in most kosher fashion, Manfred. If there was payola in there, I doubt it got written down.""How," inquired Oedipa, "are road builders in any position to sell bones, pray?""Old cemeteries have to be ripped up," Metzger explained. "Lake in the path of the East San Narciso Freeway, it had no right to be there, so we just barrelled on through, no sweat.""No bribes, no freeways," Di Presso shaking his head. "These bones came from Italy. A straight sale. Some of them," waving out at the lake, "are down there, to decorate the bottom for the Scuba nuts. That's what I've been doing today, examining the goods in dispute. Till Tony started chasing, anyway. The rest of the bones were used in the R&D phase of the filter program, back around the early '50's, way before cancer. Tony Jaguar says he harvested them all from the bottom of Lago di Pieta."
"My God," Metzger said, soon as this name registered. "GI's?" "About a company," said Manny Di Presso. Lago di Pieta was near the Tyrrhenian coast, somewhere between Naples and Rome, and had been the scene of a now ignored (in 1943 tragic) battle of attrition in a minor pocket developed during the advance on Rome. For weeks, a handful of American troops, cut off and without communications, huddled on the narrow shore of the clear and tranquil lake while from the cliffs that tilted vertiginously over the beach Germans hit them day and night with plunging, enfilading fire. The water of the lake was too cold to swim: you died of exposure before you could reach any safe shore. There were no trees to build rafts with. No planes came over except an occasional Stuka with strafing in mind. It was remarkable that so few men held out so long. They dug in as far as the rocky beach would let them; they sent small raids up the cliffs that mostly never came back, but did succeed in taking out a machine-gun, once. Patrols looked for routes out, but those few that returned had found nothing. They did what they could to break out; failing, they clung to life as long as they could. But they died, every one, dumbly, without a trace or a word. One day the Germans came down from the cliffs, and their enlisted men put all the bodies that were on the beach into the lake, along with what weapons and other materiel were no longer of use to either side. Presently the bodies sank; and stayed where they were till the early '50'5, when Tony Jaguar, who'd been a corporal in an Italian outfit attached to the German force at Lago di Pieta and knew about what was at the bottom, decided along with some colleagues to see what he could salvage.
All they managed to come up with was bones. Out of some murky train of reasoning, which may have included the observed fact that American tourists, beginning then to be plentiful, would pay good dollars for almost anything; and stories about Forest Lawn and the American cult of the dead; possibly some dim hope that Senator !McCarthy, and others of his persuasion, in those days having achieved a certain ascendancy over the rich cretini from across the sea, would somehow refocus attention on the fallen of WW II, especially ones whose corpses had never been found; out of some such labyrinth of assumed motives, Tony Jaguar decided he could surely unload his harvest of bones on some American someplace, through his contacts in the "family," known these days as Cosa Nostra. He was right. An import-export firm bought the bones, sold them to a fertilizer enterprise, which may have used one or two femurs for laboratory tests but eventually decided to phase entirely into menhaden instead and transferred the remaining several tons to a holding company, which stored them in a warehouse outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, for maybe a year before Bea-consfield got interested.
"Aha," Metzger leaped. "So it was Beaconsfield bought them. Not inveracity. The only shares he held were in Osteolysis, Inc., the company they set up to develop the filter. Never in Beaconsfield itself.""You know, blokes," remarked one of the girls, a long-waisted, brown-haired lovely in a black knit leotard and pointed sneakers, "this all has a most bizarre resemblance to that ill, ill Jacobean revenge play we went to last week.""The Courier's Tragedy," said Miles, "she's right. The same kind of kinky thing, you know. Bones of lost battalion in lake, fished up, turned into charcoal""They've been listening," screamed Di Presso, "those kids. All the time, somebody listens in, snoops; they bug your apartment, they tap your phone""But we don't repeat what we hear," said another girl. "None of us smoke Beaconsfields anyway. We're all on pot." Laughter. But no joke: for Leonard the drummer now reached into the pocket of his beach robe and produced a fistful of marijuana cigarettes and distributed them among his chums. Metzger closed his eyes, turned his head, muttering, "Possession."
"Help," said Di Presso, looking back with a wild eye and open mouth across the lake. Another runabout had appeared and was headed toward them. Two figures in gray suits crouched behind its windshield. "Metz, I'm running for it. If he stops by here don't bully him, he's my client." And he disappeared down the ladder. Oedipa with a sigh collapsed on her back and stared through the wind at the empty blue sky. Soon she heard the "Godzilla II" starting up.
"Metzger," it occurred to her, "he's taking the boat? We're marooned."
So they were, until well after the sun had set and Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard and their chicks, by holding up the glowing roaches of their cigarettes like a flipcard section at a football game to spell out alternate S's and O's, attracted the attention of the Fangoso Lagoons Security Force, a garrison against the night made up of one-time cowboy actors and L. A. motorcycle cops. The time in between had been whiled away with songs by the Paranoids, and juicing, and feeding pieces of eggplant sandwich to a flock of not too bright seagulls who'd mistaken Fangoso Langoons for the Pacific, and hearing the plot of The Courier's Tragedy, by Richard Wharfinger, related near to unintelligible by eight memories unlooping progressively into regions as strange to map as their rising coils and clouds of pot smoke. It got so confusing that next day Oedipa decided to go see the play itself, and even conned Metzger into taking her.
The Courier's Tragedy was being put on by a San Fransisco group known as the Tank Players, the Tank being a small arena theatre located out between a traffic analysis firm and a wildcat transistor outfit that hadn't been there last year and wouldn't be this coming but meanwhile was underselling even the Japanese and hauling in loot by the steam shovelful. Oedipa and a reluctant Metzger came in on only a partly-filled house. Attendance did not swell by the time the play started. But the costumes were gorgeous and the lighting imaginative, and though the words were all spoken in Transplanted Middle Western Stage British, Oedipa found herself after five minutes sucked utterly into the landscape of evil Richard Wharfinger had fashioned for his 17th-century audiences, so preapocalyptic, death-wishful, sensually fatigued, unprepared, a little poignantly, for that abyss of civil war that had been waiting, cold and deep, only a few years ahead of them.
Angelo, then, evil Duke of Squamuglia, has perhaps ten years before the play's opening murdered the good Duke of adjoining Faggio, by poisoning the feet on an image of Saint Narcissus, Bishop of Jerusalem, in the court chapel, which feet the Duke was in the habit of kissing every Sunday at Mass. This enables the evil illegitimate son, Pasquale, to take over as regent for his half-brother Niccold, the rightful heir and good guy of the play, till he comes of age. Pasquale of course has no intention of letting him live so long. Being in thick with the Duke of Squamuglia, Pasquale plots to do away with young Niccol6 by suggesting a game of hide-and-seek and then finessing him into crawling inside of an enormous cannon, which a henchman is then to set off, hopefully blowing the child, as Pasquale recalls ruefully, later on in the third act,
Out in a bloody rain to feed our fields Amid the Maenad roar of niter’s song And sulfur's cantus firmus.
Ruefully, because the henchman, a likeable schemer named Ercole, is secretly involved with dissident elements in the court of Faggio who want to keep Niccold alive, and so he contrives to stuff a young goat into the cannon instead, meanwhile smuggling Niccol6 out of the ducal palace disguised as an elderly procuress.This comes out in the first scene, as Niccol6 confides his history to a friend, Domenico. Niccol6 is at this point grown up, hanging around the court of his father's murderer, Duke Angelo, and masquerading as a special courier of the Thurn and Taxis family, who at the time held a postal monopoly throughout most of the Holy Roman Empire. What he is trying to do, ostensibly, is develop a new market, since the evil Duke of Squamuglia has steadfastly refused, even with the lower rates and faster service of the Thurn and Taxis system, to employ any but his own messengers in communicating with his stooge Pasquale over in neighboring Faggio. The real reason Niccold is waiting around is of course to get a crack at the Duke.
Evil Duke Angelo, meanwhile, is scheming to amalgamate the duchies of Squamuglia and Faggio, by marrying off the only royal female available, his sister Francesca, to Pasquale the Faggian usurper. The only obstacle in the way of this union is that Francesca is Pasquale's mother her illicit liaison with the good ex-Duke of Faggio being one reason Angelo had him poisoned to begin with. There is an amusing scene where Francesca delicately seeks to remind her brother of the social taboos against incest. They seem to have slipped her mind, replies Angelo, during the ten years he and Francesca have been having their affair. Incest or no, the marriage must be; it is vital to his long-range political plans. The Church will never sanction it, says Francesca. So, says Duke Angelo, I will bribe a cardinal. He has begun feeling his sister up and nibbling at her neck; the dialogue modulates into the fevered figures of intemperate desire, and the scene ends with the couple collapsing onto a divan.
The act itself closes with Domenico, to whom the naive Niccol6 started it off by spilling his secret, trying to get in to see Duke Angelo and betray his dear friend. The Duke, of course, is in his apartment busy knocking off a piece, and the best Domenico can do is an administrative assistant who turns out to be the same Ercole who once saved the life of young Niccol6 and aided his escape from Faggio. This he presently confesses to Domenico, though only after having enticed that informer into foolishly bending over and putting his head into a curious black box, on the pretext of showing him a pornographic diorama. A steel vise promptly clamps onto the faithless Domenico's head and the box muffles his cries for help. Ercole binds his hands and feet with scarlet silk cords, lets him know who it is he's run afoul of, reaches into the box with a pair of pincers, tears out Domenico's tongue, stabs him a couple times, pours into the box a beaker of aqua regia, enumerates a list of other goodies, including castration, that Domenico will undergo before he's allowed to die, all amid screams, tongueless attempts to pray, agonized struggles from the victim. With the tongue impaled on his rapier Ercole runs to a burning torch set in the wall, sets the tongue aflame and waving it around like a madman concludes the act by screaming,Thy pitiless unmanning is most meet,
Thinks Ercole the zany Paraclete.
Descended this malign, Unholy Ghost, Let us begin thy frightful Pentecost. The lights went out, and in the quiet somebody across the arena from Oedipa distinctly said, "Ick." Metzger said, "You want to go?" "I want to see about the bones," said Oedipa. She had to wait till the fourth act. The second was largely spent in the protracted torture and eventual murder of a prince of the church who prefers martyrdom to sanctioning Francesca's marriage to her son. The only interruptions come when Ercole, spying on the cardinal's agony, dispatches couriers to the good-guy element back in Faggio who have it in for Pasquale, telling them to spread the word that Pasquale's planning to marry his mother, calculating this ought to rile up public opinion some; and another scene in which Niccol6, passing the time of day with one of Duke Angelo's couriers, hears the tale of the Lost Guard, a body of some fifty hand-picked knights, the flower of Faggian youth, who once rode as protection for the good Duke. One day, out on manoeuvres near the frontiers of Squamuglia, they all vanished without a trace, and shortly afterward the good Duke got poisoned. Honest Niccol6, who always has difficulty hiding his feelings, observes that if the two events turn out to be at all connected, and can be traced to Duke Angelo, boy, the Duke better watch out, is all. The other courier, one Vittorio, takes offense, vowing in an aside to report this treasonable talk to Angelo at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, back in the torture room, the cardinal is now being forced to bleed into a chalice and consecrate his own blood, not to God, but to Satan. They also cut off his big toe, and he is made to hold it up like a Host and say, "This is my body," the keenwitted Angelo observing that it's the first time he's told anything like the truth in fifty years of systematic lying. Altogether, a most anti-clerical scene, perhaps intended as a sop to the Puritans of the time (a useless gesture since none of them ever went to plays, regarding them for some reason as immoral).
The third act takes place in the court of Faggio, and is spent murdering Pasquale, as the culmination of a coup stirred up by Ercole's agents.
While a battle rages in the streets outside the palace, Pasquale is locked up in his patrician hothouse, holding an orgy. Present at the merrymaking is a fierce black performing ape, brought back from a recent voyage to the Indies. Of course it is somebody in an ape suit, who at a signal leaps on Pasquale from a chandelier, at the same time as half a dozen female impersonators who have up to now been lounging around in the guise of dancing girls also move in on the usurper from all parts of the stage. For about ten minutes the vengeful crew proceed to maim, strangle, poison, burn, stomp, blind and otherwise have at Pasquale, while he describes intimately his varied sensations for our enjoyment. He dies finally in extreme agony, and in marches one Gennaro, a complete nonentity, to proclaim himself interim head of state till the rightful Duke, Niccol6, can be located.
There was an intermission. Metzger lurched into the undersized lobby to smoke, Oedipa headed for the ladies' room. She looked idly around for the symbol she'd seen the other night in The Scope, but all the walls, surprisingly, were blank. She could not say why, exactly, but felt threatened by this absence of even the marginal try at communication latrines are known for. Act IV of The Courier's Tragedy discloses evil Duke Angelo in a state of nervous frenzy. He has learned about the coup in Faggio, the possibility that Niccolo may be alive somewhere after all. Word has reached him that Gennaro is levying a force to invade Squamuglia, also a rumor that the Pope is about to intervene because of the cardinal's murder. Surrounded by treachery on all sides, the Duke has Ercole, whose true role he still does not suspect, finally summon the Thurn and Taxis courier, figuring he can no longer trust his own men. Ercole brings in Niccol6 to await the Duke's pleasure. Angelo takes out a quill, parchment and ink, explaining to the audience but not to the good guys, who are still ignorant of recent developments, that to forestall an invasion from Faggio, he must assure Gennaro with all haste of his good intentions. As he scribbles he lets drop a few disordered and cryptic remarks about the ink he's using, implying it's a very special fluid indeed. Like This pitchy brew in France is "encre" hight; In this might dire Squamuglia ape the Gaul, For "anchor" it has ris'n, from deeps untold.
The swan has yielded but one hollow quill, The hapless mutton, but his tegument; Yet what, transmuted, swart and silken Hows Between, was neither plucked nor harshly flayed, But gathered up, from wildly different beasts. All of which causes him high amusement. The message to Gennaro completed and sealed, Niccol6 tucks it in his doublet and takes off for Faggio, still unaware, as is Ercole, of the coup and his own impending restoration as rightful Duke of Faggio. Scene switches to Gennaro, at the head of a small army, on route to invade Squamuglia. There is a lot of talk to the effect that if Angelo wants peace he'd better send a messenger to let them know before they reach the frontier, otherwise with great reluctance they will hand his ass to him. Back to Squamuglia, where Vittorio, the Duke's courier, reports how Niccol6 has been talking treason. Somebody else runs in with news that the body of Domenico, Niccole's faithless friend, has been found mutilated; but tucked in his shoe was a message, somehow scrawled in blood, revealing Niccolo's true identity. Angelo flies into an apoplectic rage, and orders Niccolo's pursuit and destruction. But not by his own men. It is at about this point in the play, in fact, that things really get peculiar, and a gentle chill, an ambi- , guity, begins to creep in among the words. Heretofore the naming of names has gone on either literally or as metaphor. But now, as the Duke gives his fatal command, a new mode of expression takes over. It can only be called a kind of ritual reluctance. Certain things, it is made clear, will not be spoken aloud; certain events will not be shown onstage; though it is difficult to imagine, given the excesses of the preceding acts, what these things could possibly be.
The Duke does not, perhaps may not, enlighten us. Screaming at Vittorio he is explicit enough about who shall not pursue Niccolo: his own bodyguard he describes to their faces as vermin, zanies, poltroons. But who then will the pursuers be? Vittorio knows: every flunky in the court, idling around in their Squamuglia livery and exchanging Significant Looks, knows. It is all a big in-joke. The audiences of the time knew. Angelo knows, but does not say. As close as he comes does not illuminate, Let him that vizard keep unto his grave, That vain usurping of an honored name; We'll dance his masque as if it were the truth, Enlist the poniards swift of Those who, sworn To punctual vendetta never sleep, Lest at the palest whisper of the name Sweet Niccolo hath stolen, one trice be lost In bringing down a fell and soulless doom Unutterable. . . .
Back to Gennaro and his army. A spy arrives from Squamuglia to tell them Niccolo's on the way. Great rejoicing, in the midst of which Gennaro, who seldom converses, only orates, begs everybody remember that Niccol6 is still riding under the Thurn and Taxis colors. The cheering stops. Again, as in Angelo's court, the curious chill creeps in. Everyone onstage (having clearly been directed to do so) becomes aware of a possibility. Gennaro, even less enlightening than Angelo was, invokes the protection of God and Saint Narcissus for Niccolo, and they all ride on. Gennaro asks a lieutenant where they are; turns out it's only a league or so from the lake where Faggio's Lost Guard were last seen before their mysterious disappearance.
Meanwhile, at Angelo's palace, wily Ercole's string has run out at last. Accosted by Vittorio and half a dozen others, he's charged with the murder of Domenico. Witnesses parade in, there is the travesty of a trial, and Ercole meets his end in a refreshingly simple mass stabbing. We also see Niccol6, in the scene following, for the last time. He has stopped to rest by the shore of a lake where, he remembers being told, the Faggian Guard disappeared. He sits under a tree, opens Angelo's letter, and learns at last of the coup and the death of Pasquale. He realizes that he's riding toward restoration, the love of an entire dukedom, the coming true of all his most virtuous hopes. Leaning against the tree, he reads parts of the letter aloud, commenting, sarcastic, on what is blatantly a pack of lies devised to soothe Gennaro until Angelo can muster his own army of Squamuglians to invade Faggio. Offstage there is a sound of footpads. Niccol6 leaps to his feet, staring up one of the radial aisles, hand frozen on the hilt of his sword. He trembles and cannot speak, only stutter, in what may be the shortest line ever written in blank verse: "T-t-t-t-t . . ." As if breaking out of some dream's paralysis, he begins, each step an effort, to retreat. Suddenly, in lithe and terrible silence, with dancers' grace, three figures, long-limbed, effeminate, dressed in black tights, leotards and gloves, black silk hose pulled over their faces, come capering on stage and stop, gazing at him. Their faces behind the stockings are shadowy and deformed. They wait. The lights all go out.
Back in Squamuglia Angelo is trying to muster an army, without success. Desperate, he assembles those flunkies and pretty girls who are left, ritually locks all his exits, has wine brought in, and begins an orgy. The act ends with Gennaro's forces drawn up by the shores of the lake. An enlisted man comes on to report that a body, identified as Niccol6 by the usual amulet placed round his neck as a child, has been found in a condition too awful to talk about. Again there is silence and everybody looks at everybody else. The soldier hands Gennaro a roll of parchment, stained with blood, which was found on the body. From its seal we can see it's the letter from Angelo that Niccol6 was carrying. Gennaro glances at it, does a double-take, reads it aloud. It is no longer the lying doc*ment Niccolo read us excerpts from at all, but now miraculously a long confession by Angelo of all his crimes, closing with the revelation of what really happened to the Lost Guard of Faggio. They were surprise every one massacred by Angelo and thrown in the lake. Later on their bones were fished up again and made into charcoal, and the charcoal into ink, which Angelo, having a dark sense of humor, used in all his subsequent communications with Faggio, the present doc*ment included.
But now the bones of these Immaculate Have mingled with the blood of Niccold, And innocence with innocence is join'd, A wedlock whose sole child is miracle: A life's base lie, rewritten into truth. That truth it is, we all bear testament, This Guard of Faggio, Faggio's noble dead. In the presence of the miracle all fall to their knees, bless the name of God, mourn Niccolo, vow to lay Squamuglia waste. But Gennaro ends on a note most desperate, probably for its original audience a real shock, because it names at last the name Angelo did not and Niccol6 tried to, He that we last as Thum and Taxis knew now recks no lord but the stiletto's Thorn, And Tacit lies the gold once-knotted horn. No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow, who’s once been set his tryst with Trystero. Trystero. The word hung in the air as the act ended and all lights were for a moment cut; hung in the dark to puzzle Oedipa Maas, but not yet to exert the power over her it was to.
The fifth act, entirely an anticlimax, is taken up by the bloodbath Gennaro visits on the court of Squamuglia. Every mode of violent death available to Renaissance man, including a lye pit, land mines, a trained falcon with envenom'd talons, is employed. It plays, as Metzger remarked later, like a Road Runner cartoon in blank verse. At the end of it about the only character left alive in a stage dense with corpses is the colorless administrator, Gennaro.
According to the program, The Courier's Tragedy had been directed by one Randolph Driblette. He had also played the part of Gennaro the winner. "Look, Metzger," Oedipa said, "come on backstage with me."
"You know one of them?" said Metzger, anxious to leave. "I want to find out something. I want to talk to Driblette." "Oh, about the bones." He had a brooding look. Oedipa said, "I don't know. It just has me uneasy. The two things, so close.""Fine," Metzger said, "and what next, picket the VA.? March on Washington? God protect me," he addressed the ceiling of the little theatre, causing a few heads among those leaving to swivel, "from these lib, over-educated broads with the soft heads and bleeding hearts. I am 35 years old, and I should know better." "Metzger," Oedipa whispered, embarrassed, "I'm a Young Republican.""Hap Harrigan comics," Metzger now even louder, "which she is hardly old enough to read, John Wayne on Saturday afternoon slaughtering ten thousand Japs with his teeth, this is Oedipa Maas's World War II, man. Some people today can drive VW's, cany a Sony radio in their shirt pocket. Not this one, folks, she wants to right wrongs, 20 years after it's all over. Raise ghosts. All from a drunken hassle with Manny Di Presso. Forgetting her first loyalty, legal and moral, is to the estate she represents. Not to our boys in uniform, however gallant, whenever they died."
"It isn't that," she protested. "I don't care what Beaconsfield uses in its filter. I don't care what Pierce bought from the Cosa Nostra. I don't want to think about them. Or about what happened at Lago di Pieta, or cancer . . ." She looked around for words, feeling helpless. "What then?" Metzger challenged, getting to his feet, looming. "What?" "I don't know," she said, a little desperate. "Metzger, don't harass me. Be on my side.""Against whom?" inquired Metzger, putting on shades."I want to see if there's a connection. I'm curious." "Yes, you're curious," Metzger said. "I'll wait in the car, OK?"
Oedipa watched him out of sight, then went looking for dressing rooms; circled the annular corridor outside twice before settling on a door in the shadowy interval between two overhead lights. She walked in on soft, elegant chaos, an impression of emanations, mutually interfering, from the stub-antennas of everybody's exposed nerve endings.
A girl removing fake blood from her face motioned Oedipa on into a region of brightly-lit mirrors. She pushed in, gliding off sweating biceps and momentary curtains of long, swung hair, till at last she stood before Driblette, still wearing his gray Gennaro outfit. "It was great," said Oedipa. "Feel," said Driblette, extending his arm. She felt. Gennaro's costume was gray flannel. "You sweat like hell, but nothing else would really be him, right?"
Oedipa nodded. She couldn't stop watching his eyes. They were bright black, surrounded by an incredible network of lines, like a laboratory maze for studying intelligence in tears. They seemed to know what she wanted, even if she didn't.
"You came to talk about the play," he said. "Let me discourage you. It was written to entertain people. Like horror movies. It isn't literature, it doesn't mean anything. Wharfinger was no Shakespeare." "Who was he?" she said. "Who was Shakespeare? It was a long time ago." "Could I see a script?" She didn't know what she was looking for, exactly. Driblette motioned her over to a file cabinet next to the one shower."I'd better grab a shower," he said, "before the Drop-The-Soap crowd get here. Script’s in the top drawer." But they were all purple, Dittoed worn, torn, stained with coffee. Nothing else in the drawer. "Hey," she yelled into the shower. "Where's the original? What did you make these copies from?"
"A paperback," Driblette yelled back. "Don't ask me the publisher. I found it at Zapf's Used Books over by the freeway. It's an anthology, Jacobean Revenge Plays. There was a skull on the cover." "Could I borrow it?" "Somebody took it. Opening night parties. I lose at least half a dozen every time." He stuck his head out of the shower. The rest of his body was wreathed in steam, giving his head an eerie, balloon-like buoyancy. Careful, staring at her with deep amusement, he said, "There was another copy there. Zapf might still have it. Can you find the place?"Something came to her viscera, danced briefly, and went. "Are you putting me on?" For a while the furrowed eyes only gazed back.
"Why," Driblette said at last, "is everybody so interested in texts?" "Who else?" Too quickly. Maybe he had only been talking in general. Driblette's head wagged back and forth. "Don't drag me into your scholarly disputes," adding "whoever you all are," with a familiar smile. Oedipa realized then, cold corpse-fingers of grue on her skin, that it was exactly the same look he'd coached his cast to give each other whenever the subject of the Trystero assassins came up. The knowing look you get in your dreams from a certain unpleasant figure. She decided to ask about this look."Was it written in as a stage direction? All those people, so obviously in on something. Or was that one of your touches?"
"That was my own," Driblette told her, "that, and actually bringing the three assassins onstage in the fourth act. Wharfinger didn't show them at all, you know." "Why did you? Had you heard about them somewhere else?""You don't understand," getting mad. "You guys, you're like Puritans are about the Bible. So hung up with words, words. You know where that play exists, not in that file cabinet, not in any paperback you're looking for, but" a hand emerged from the veil of shower-steam to indicate his suspended head"in here. That's what I'm for. To give the spirit flesh. The words, who cares? They're rote noises to hold line bashes with, to get past the bone barriers around an actor's memory, right? But the reality is in this head. Mine. I'm the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming out of my mouth, eyes, sometimes other orifices also."
But she couldn't let it quite go. "What made you feel differently than Wharfinger did about this, this Trystero." At the word, Driblette's face abruptly vanished, back into the steam. As if switched off. Oedipa hadn't wanted to; say the word. He had managed to create around it the same aura of ritual reluctance here, offstage, as he had on. "If I were to dissolve in here," speculated the voice out of the drifting steam, "be washed down the drain into the Pacific, what you saw tonight would vanish too. You, that part of you so concerned, God knows how, with that little world, would also vanish. The only residue in fact would be things Wharfinger didn't lie about. Perhaps Squamuglia and Faggio, if they ever existed. Perhaps the Thurn and Taxis mail system. Stamp collectors tell me it did exist. Perhaps the other, also. The Adversary. But they would be traces, fossils. Dead, mineral, without value or potential.
"You could fall in love with me, you can talk to my shrink, you can hide a tape recorder in my bedroom, see what I talk about from wherever I am when I sleep. You want to do that? You can put together clues, develop a thesis, or several, about why characters reacted to the Trystero possibility the way they did, why the assassins came on, why the black costumes. You could waste your life that way and never touch the truth. Wharfinger supplied words and a yarn. I gave them life. That's it." He fell silent. The shower splashed."Driblette?" Oedipa called, after a while. His face appeared briefly. "We could do that." He wasn't smiling. His eyes waited, at the centers of their webs."I'll call," said Oedipa. She left, and was all the way outside before thinking, I went in there to ask about bones and instead we talked about the Trystero thing. She stood in a nearly deserted parking lot, watching the headlights of Metzger's car come at her, and wondered how accidental it had been. Metzger had been listening to the car radio. She got in and rode with him for two miles before realizing that the whimsies of nighttime reception were bringing them KCUF down from Kinneret, and that the disk jockey talking was her husband, Mucho.