I lay there for half hour trying to make up my mind what to do. Part of me wanted to let him get good and drunk and see if anything came out. I didn't think any-thing much would happen to him in his own study in his own house. He might fall down again but it would be a long time. The guy had capacity. And somehow a drunk never hurts himself very badly. He might get back his mood of guilt, More likely, this time he would just go to sleep.
The other part of me wanted to get out and stay out, but this was the part I never listened to. Because if I ever had I would have stayed in the town where I was born and worked in the hardware store and married the boss's daughter and had five kids and read them the funny paper on Sunday morning and smacked their heads when they got out of line and squabbled with the wife about how much spending money they were to get and what programs they could have on the radio or TV set. I might even have got rich-small-town rich, an eight-roam house, two cars in the garage, chicken every Sunday and the Reader's Digest on the living room table, the wife with a cast iron permanent and me with a brain like a sack of Portland cement. You take it, friend., I'll take -the big sordid dirty crooked city.
I got up and went back to the study. He was just sitting there staring at nothing, the Scotch bottle more than half empty, a loose frown on his face and a dull glitter in his eyes. He looked at me like a horse looking over a fence.
"What d'you want?"
"Nothing. You all right?"
"Don't bother me. I have a little man on my shoulder telling me stories."
I got another sandwich off the tea wagon and another glass of beer. I munched the sandwich and drank the beer, leaning against his desk.
"Know something?" he asked suddenly, and his voice suddenly seemed much more dear. "I had a male secretary once. Used to dictate to him. Let him go. He bothered me sitting there waiting for me to create. Mistake. Ought to have kept him. Word would have got around I was a homo. The dever boys that write book reviews because they can't write anything else would have caught on and started giving me the buildup. Have to take care of their own, you know. They're all queen, every damn one of them. The queer is the artistic arbiter of our age, chum. The pervert is the top guy now."
"That so? Always been around, hasn't he?"
He wasn't looking at me. He was just talking. But he heard what I said.
"Sure, thousands of years. And especially in all the great ages of art. Athens, Rome, the Renaissance, the Elizabethan Age, the Romantic Movement in France-loaded with them. Queen all over the place. Ever read The Golden Bough? No, too long for you. Shorter version though. Ought to read it. Proves our sexual habits are pure conventions like-wearing a black tie with a dinner jacket. Me. I'm a sex writer, but with frills and straight."
He looked up at me and sneered. "You know something? Fm a liar. My heroes are eight feet tall and my heroines have callouses on their bottoms from lying in bed with their knees up. Lace and ruffles, swords and coaches, elegance and leisure, duels and gallant death. All lies. They used perfume instead of soap, their teeth rotted because they never deaned them, their fingernails smelled of stale gravy. The nobility of France urinated against the walls in the marble- corridors of Versailles, and when you finally got several sets of underclothes off the lovely marquise the first thing you noticed was that she needed a bath. I ought to write it that way."
"Why don't you?"
He chuckled. "Sure, and live in a five-room house in Compton-if I was that lucky." He reached down and patted the whiskey bottle. "You're lonely, pal. You need company."
He got up and walked fairly steadily out of the room. I waited, thinking about nothing. A speedboat came racketing down the lake. When it came in sight I could see that it was high out of the water on its step and towing a surfboard with a husky sunburned lad on it. I went over to the french windows and watched it make a sweeping turn. Too fast, the speedboat almost turned over. The surfboard rider danced on one foot trying to hold, his balance, ihen went shooting off into the- water. The speedboat drifted to a stop and the man in the water came up to it in a lazy crawl, then went back along the tow rope and rolled himself on to the surfboard.
Wade came back with another bottle of whiskey. The speedboat picked up and went off into the distance. Wade put his fresh bottle down beside the other. He sat down and brooded.
"Christ, you're not going to drink all that, are you?"
He squinted his eyes at me. "Take off, buster. Go on home and mop the kitchen floor or something. You're in my light." His voice was thick again. He had taken a couple in the kitchen, as usual.
"If you want me, holler."
"I couldn't get low enough to want you."
"Yeah, thanks. I'll be around until Mrs. Wade comes home. Ever hear of anybody named Paul Marston?"
His head came up slowly. His eyes focused, but with effort. I could see him fighting for controL He won the fight for the moment. His face became expressionless.
"Never did," he said carefully, speaking very slowly, "Who's he?"
The next time I looked in on him he was asleep, with his mouth open, his hair damp withsweat, and reeking of Scotch. His lips were pulled back from his teeth in a loose grimace and the furred surface of his tongue looked dry.
One of the whiskey bottles was empty. A glass on the table had about two inches in it and the other bottle was about three quarters full. I put the empty on the tea wagon and rolled it out of the room, then went back to close the french windows and turn the slats of the blinds. The speedboat might come back and wake him. I shut the study door.
I wheeled the tea wagon out to the kitchen, which was blue and white and large and airy and empty, I was still hungry. I ate another sandwich and drank what was left of the beer, then poured a cup of coffee and drank that. The beer was flat but the coffee was still hot. Then I went back to the patio. It was quite a long time before the speedboat came tearing down the lake again. It was almost four o'clock when I heard its distant roar swell into an ear- splitting howl of noise. There ought to be a law. Probably was and the guy in the speedboat didn't give a damn. He enjoyed making a nuisance of himself, like other people I was meeting. I walked down to the edge of the lake.
He made it this time. The driver slowed just enough on the turn and the brown lad on the surfboard leaned far out against the centrifugal pull. The surfboard was almost out of the water, but one edge stayed in and then the speedboat straightened out and the surfboard still had a rider and they went back the way they had come and that was that. The waves stirred up by the boat came charging in towards the shore of the lake at my feet. They slapped h3rd against the piles of the short landing and jumped the tied boat up and down. They were still slapping it around when I turned back to the house.
As I reached the patio I heard a bell chiming from the direction of the kitchen. When it sounded again I decided that only the front door would have chimes. I crossed to it and opened it.
Eileen Wade was standing there looking away from the house. As she turned she said: "I'm sorry, I forgot my key." Then she saw me. "Oh-I thought it was Roger or Candy."
"Candy isn't here. It's Thursday."
She came in and I shut the door. She put a bag down on the table between the two davenports. She looked cool and also distant. She pulled off a pair of white pigskin gloves.
"Is anything wrong?"
"Well, there's a little drinking being done. Not bad. He's asleep on the couch in his study."
"He called you?"
"Yes, but not for that. He asked me to lunch. I'm afraid he didn't have any himself."
"Oh." She sat down slowly on a davenport. "You know, I completely forgot it was Thursday. The cook's away too. How stupid."
"Candy got the lunch before he left. I guess I'll blow now. I hope my car wasn't in your way."
She smiled. "No. There was plenty of room. Won't you have some tea? I'm going to have some,"
"All right." I didn't know why I said that. I didn't want any tea. I just said it.
She slipped off a linen jacket. She hadn't worn a hat. "I'll just look in and see if Roger is all right."
I watched her cross to the study door and open it. She stood there a moment and dosed the door and came back.
"He's still asleep. Very soundly. I have to go upstairs for a moment. I'll be right down."
I watched her pick up her jacket and gloves and bag and go up the stairs and into her room. The door closed. I crossed to the study with the idea of rempvi-ng the bottle ofhooch. If he was still asleep, he wouldn't need it.