Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Inspiring Novel > On The Road > Part One Chapter 11
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
Part One Chapter 11

I was two weeks late meeting Remi Bonc?ur. The bus trip from Den- ver to Frisco was uneventful except that my whole soul leaped to it the nearer we got to Frisco. Cheyenne again, in the afternoon this time, and then west over the range; crossing the Divide at midnight at Creston, arriving at Salt Lake City at dawn--a city of sprinklers, the least likely place for Dean to have been born; then out to Nevada in the hot sun, Reno by nightfall, its twinkling Chinese streets; then up the Sierra Ne- vada, pines, stars, mountain lodges signifying Frisco romances--a little girl in the back seat, crying to her  mother, "Mama when do we get home to Truckee?" And Truckee itself, homey Truckee, and then down the hill to the flats of Sacramento. I suddenly realized I was in Califor- nia. Warm, palmy air--air you can kiss--and palms.  Along the storied Sacramento River on a superhighway; into the hills again; up, down; and suddenly the vast expanse of bay (it was just before dawn) with the  sleepy  lights  of Frisco  festooned  across.  Over  the  Oakland  Bay Bridge I slept  soundly for the first time since Denver; so that I was rudely jolted in the bus station at Market and Fourth into the memory of the fact that I was three thousand two hundred miles from my aunt's house in Paterson, New Jersey. I  wandered out like a haggard ghost, and  there  she  was,  Frisco--long,  bleak  streets  with  trolleywires  all shrouded in fog and whiteness. I stumbled around a few blocks. Weird bums (Mission and Third) asked me for dimes  in  the dawn. I heard music somewhere. "Boy, am I going to dig all this later! But now I've got to find Remi Bonc?ur."
Mill City, where Remi lived, was a collection of shacks in a val- ley,  housing-project shacks built for Navy Yard workers during the war; it was in a canyon, and a deep one, treed profusedly on all slopes. There were  special  stores and barber shops and tailor shops for the people of the project. It was, so they say, the only community in Amer- ica where whites and Negroes lived together voluntarily; and that was so, and so wild and joyous a place I've never seen since. On the door of Remi's shack was the note he had pinned up there three weeks ago.
If nobody's home climb in through the window. Signed,I climbed in and there he was, sleeping with his girl, Lee Ann-- on a bed he stole from a merchant ship, as he told me later; imagine the deck engineer of a merchant ship sneaking over the side in the middle of the night with a bed, and heaving and straining at the oars to shore. This barely explains Remi Bonc?ur.
 The reason I'm going into everything that happened in San Fran is  because it ties up with everything else all the way down the line. Remi Bonc?ur and I met at prep school years ago; but the thing that really linked us together was my former wife. Remi found her first. He came into my dorm room one night and said, "Paradise, get up, the old maestro has come to see you." I got up and dropped some pennies on the floor when I put my pants on. It was four in the afternoon; I used to sleep all the time in college. "All right, all right, don't drop your gold all over the place. I have found the gonest little girl in the world and I am going straight to the Lion's Den with her tonight." And he dragged me to meet her. A week later she was going with me. Remi was a tall, dark, handsome Frenchman (he looked like a kind of Marseille black- marketeer of twenty); because he was French he had to  talk in jazz American; his English was perfect, his French was perfect. He liked to dress  sharp,  slightly  on  the  collegiate  side,  and  go  out  with  fancy blondes and spend a lot of money. It's not that he ever blamed me for taking off with his girl; it was only a point that always tied us together; that guy was loyal to me and had real affection for me, and God knows why.
When I found him in Mill City that morning he had fallen on the beat and evil days that come to young guys in their middle twen- ties. He was hanging around waiting for a ship, and to earn his living he had a job as a special guard in the barracks across the canyon. His girl Lee Ann had a  bad tongue and gave him a calldown every day. They spent all week saving pennies and went out Saturdays to spend fifty bucks in three hours. Remi wore shorts around the shack, with a crazy Army cap on his head. Lee Ann went around with her hair up in pincurls. Thus attired, they yelled at each other all week. I never saw so many snarls in all my born days. But on Saturday night, smiling gra- ciously at each other, they took off like a pair of successful Hollywood characters and went on the town. 
Remi woke up and saw me come in the window. His great laugh,  one  of  the  greatest  laughs  in  the  world,  dinned  in  my  ear. "Aaaaah  Paradise, he comes in through the window, he follows in- structions to a  T.  Where have you been, you're two weeks late!" He slapped me on the back, he punched Lee Ann in the ribs, he leaned on the wall and laughed  and  cried, he pounded the table so you could hear  it  everywhere  in  Mill  City,  and  that  great  long  "Aaaaah"  re- sounded around the canyon.  "Paradise!" he screamed. "The one and only indispensable Paradise."
I had just come through the little fishing village of Sausalito,and the first thing I said was, "There must be a lot of Italians in Sausali- to."
"There must be a lot of Italians in Sausalito!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "Aaaaah!" He pounded himself, he fell on the bed, he almost  rolled on the floor. "Did you hear what Paradise said? There must be a lot of Italians in Sausalito? Aaaah-haaa! Hoo! Wow! Wheel" He got red as a beet, laughing. "Oh, you slay me, Paradise, you're the funniest man in the world, and here you are, you finally got here, he came in through the window, you saw him, Lee Ann, he followed in- structions and came in through the window. Aaah! Hooo!"
The strange thing was that next door to Remi lived a Negro called Mr. Snow whose laugh, I swear on the Bible, was positively and finally the one greatest laugh in all this world. This Mr. Snow began his laugh from the supper table when his old wife said something casual; he got up, apparently  choking, leaned on the wall, looked up to hea- ven, and started; he staggered through the door, leaning on neighbors' walls; he was drunk with it, he reeled throughout Mill City in the sha- dows, raising his whooping  triumphant call to the demon god that must have prodded him to do it. I don't know if he ever finished sup- per. There's a possibility that Remi, without knowing it, was picking up from this amazing man, Mr. Snow. And though Remi was having worklife problems and bad lovelife with a sharp-tongued woman, he at least had learned to laugh almost better than anyone in the world, and I saw all the fun we were going to have in Frisco.
The pitch was this: Remi slept with Lee Ann in the bed across the room, and I slept in the cot by the window. I was not to touch Lee Ann. Remi at once made a speech concerning this. "I don't want to find you two playing  around when you think I'm not looking. You can't teach the old maestro a new tune. This is an original saying of mine." I looked at Lee Ann. She was a fetching hunk, a honey-colored creature, but there was hate in her eyes for both of us. Her ambition was to mar- ry a rich man. She came from a small town in Oregon. She rued the day she ever took up with Remi. On one of his big showoff weekends he spent a hundred dollars on her and she thought she'd found an heir. Instead she was hung-up in this shack, and for lack of  anything else she had to stay there. She had a job in Frisco; she had to take the Grey- hound bus at the crossroads and go in every day. She never forgave Remi for it.
I was to stay in the shack and write a shining original story for a Hollywood studio. Remi was going to fly down in a stratosphere liner with this harp under his arm and make us all rich; Lee Ann was to go with him; he was going to introduce her to his buddy's father, who was a famous director and an intimate of W. C. Fields. So the first week I stayed in the shack in Mill City, writing furiously at some gloomy tale about New York  that I thought would satisfy a Hollywood director, and the trouble with it was that it was too sad. Remi could barely read it, and so he just carried it down to Hollywood a few weeks later. Lee Ann was too bored and hated us too much to bother reading it. I spent countless rainy hours drinking coffee and scribbling. Finally I told Re- mi it wouldn't do; I wanted a job; I had to depend on them for ciga- rettes. A shadow of disappointment crossed  Remi's  brow--he was al- ways being disappointed about the funniest things. He had a heart of gold.
He arranged to get me the same kind of job he had, as a guard in the barracks. I went through the necessary routine, and to my sur- prise the  bastards hired me. I was sworn in by the local police chief, given a badge, a club, and now I was a special policeman. I wondered what Dean and Carlo and Old Bull Lee would say about this. I had to have navy-blue trousers to go with my black jacket and cop cap; for the first two weeks I had to wear Remi's trousers; since he was so tall, and had a potbelly from eating voracious  meals  out of boredom, I went flapping around like Charlie Chaplin to my first night of work. Remi gave me a flashlight and his .32 automatic.
"Where'd you get this gun?" I asked.
"On my way to the Coast last summer I jumped off the train at North  Platte, Nebraska, to stretch my legs, and what did I see in the window but this unique little gun, which I promptly bought and barely made the train."
And I tried to tell him what North Platte meant to me, buying
the whisky with the boys, and he slapped me on the back and said I was the funniest man in the world.
With the flashlight to illuminate my way, I climbed the steep walls of the south canyon, got up on the highway streaming with cars Frisco-bound in the night, scrambled down the other side, almost fall- ing, and came to the bottom of a ravine where a little farmhouse stood near a creek and where every blessed night the same dog barked at me. Then it was a fast walk along a silvery, dusty road beneath inky trees of California--a road like in iThe Mark of Zorroi and a road like all the roads you see in Western B movies. I used to take out my gun and play cowboys in the dark. Then I climbed another hill and there were the  barracks.  These  barracks  were  for  the  temporary  quartering  of overseas  construction  workers.  The  men  who came  through stayed there, waiting for their ship. Most of them  were bound for Okinawa. Most of them were running away from  something--usually the law. There were tough groups from Alabama, shifty men from New York,all kinds from all over. And, knowing full well how horrible it would be to work a full year in Okinawa, they drank. The job of the special guards was to see that they didn't tear the barracks down. We had our headquarters in  the  main building, just a wooden contraption with panel-walled offices. Here at a rolltop desk we sat around, shifting our guns off our hips and yawning, and the old cops told stories.
It was a horrible crew of men, men with cop-souls, all except Remi and myself. Remi was only trying to make a living, and so was I, but these men wanted to make arrests and compliments from the chief of police in town. They even said that if you didn't make at least one a month you'd be  fired. I gulped at the prospect of making an arrest. What actually  happened  was that I was as drunk as anybody in the barracks the night all hell broke loose.
This was a night when the schedule was so arranged that I was all alone for six hours--the only cop on the grounds; and everybody in the  barracks seemed to have gotten drunk that night. It was because their ship  was leaving in the morning. They drank like seamen the night before the anchor goes up. I sat in the office with my feet on the desk, reading iBlue  Booki adventures about Oregon and the north country, when suddenly I realized there was a great hum of activity in the usually quiet night. I went out. Lights were burning in practically every damned shack on the grounds. Men were shouting, bottles were breaking. It was do or die for me. I took my flashlight and went to the noisiest door and knocked. Someone opened it about six inches.
"What do iyoui want?"
I said, "I'm guarding these barracks tonight and you boys are supposed to keep quiet as much as you can"--or some such silly re- mark. They slammed the door in my face. I stood looking at the wood of it against my nose. It was like a Western movie; the time had come for me to assert  myself. I knocked again. They opened up wide this time. "Listen," I said, "I don't want to come around bothering you fel- lows, but I'll lose my job if you make too much noise."
 "Who are you?" "I'm a guard here." "Never seen you before." "Well, here's my badge."
"What are you doing with that pistolcracker on your ass?" "It isn't mine," I apologized. "I borrowed it."
"Have a drink, fer krissakes." I didn't mind if I did. I took two.
I said, "Okay, boys? You'll keep quiet, boys? I'll get hell, you "It's all right, kid," they said. "Go make your rounds. Come back for another drink if you want one."
And I went to all the doors in this manner, and pretty soon I was as drunk as anybody else. Come dawn, it was my duty to put up the  American flag on a sixty-foot pole, and this morning I put it up upside down and went home to bed. When I came back in the evening the regular cops were sitting around grimly in the office.
"Say, bo, what was all the noise around here last night? We've had complaints from people who live in those houses across the can-yon."
"I don't know," I said. "It sounds pretty quiet right now."
"The whole contingent's gone. You was supposed to keep order around here last night--the chief is yelling at you. And another thing-- do you know you can go to jail for putting the American flag upside down on a government pole?"
"Upside down?" I was horrified; of course I hadn't realized it. I did it every morning mechanically.
"Yessir," said a fat cop who'd spent twenty-two years as a guard in  Alcatraz. "You could go to jail for doing something like that." The others nodded grimly. They were always sitting around on their asses; they were  proud of their jobs. They handled their guns and talked about them. They were itching to shoot somebody. Remi and me. 
The cop who had been an Alcatraz guard was potbellied and about sixty, retired but unable to keep away from the atmospheres that had nourished his dry soul all his life. Every night he drove to work in his '35  Ford, punched the clock exactly on time, and sat down at the rolltop desk. He labored painfully over the simple form we all had to fill out every night--rounds, time, what happened, and so on. Then he leaned back and  told  stories. "You should have been here about two months ago when me and Sledge" (that was another cop, a youngster who wanted to be a Texas  Ranger and had to be satisfied with his present lot) "arrested a drunk in Barrack G. Boy, you should have seen the blood fly. I'll take you over there tonight and show you the stains on the wall. We had him bouncing from  one wall to another. First Sledge hit him, and then me, and then he subsided and went quietly. That fellow swore to kill us when he got out of  jail--got thirty days. Here it is isixtyi days, and he ain't showed up." And this was the big point of the story. They'd put such a fear in him that he was too yellow to come back and try to kill them.
The old cop went on, sweetly reminiscing about the horrors of Alcatraz. "We used to march 'em like an Army platoon to breakfast. Wasn't  one  man  out  of step.  Everything  went like  clockwork.  You should have seen it. I was a guard there for twenty-two years. Never had any trouble. Those boys knew we meant business. A lot of fellows get soft guarding  prisoners, and they're the ones that usually get in trouble. Now you take you--from what I've been observing about you, you seem to me a little bit too ileenenti with the men." He raised his pipe and looked at me sharp. "They take advantage of that, you know."
I knew that. I told him I wasn't cut out to be a cop.
"Yes, but that's the job that you iapplied fori. Now you got to make  up your mind one way or the other, or you'll never get any- where. It's  your duty. You're sworn in. You can't compromise with things like this. Law and order's got to be kept." 
I didn't know what to say; he was right; but all I wanted to do was  sneak out into the night and disappear somewhere, and go and find out what everybody was doing all over the country.
The other cop, Sledge, was tall, muscular, with a black-haired crew-cut and a nervous twitch in his neck--like a boxer who's always punching one fist into another. He rigged himself out like a Texas Ran- ger of old. He wore a revolver down low, with ammunition belt, and carried a small quirt of some kind, and pieces of leather hanging eve- rywhere,  like a  walking  torture chamber: shiny shoes,  low-hanging jacket, cocky hat,  everything but boots. He was always showing me holds--reaching down  under my crotch and lifting me up nimbly. In point of strength I could have thrown him clear to the ceiling with the same hold, and I knew it well; but I never let him know for fear he'd want a wrestling match. A wrestling match with a guy like that would end up in shooting. I'm sure he was a better shot; I'd never had a gun in my life. It scared me even to load one. He  desperately wanted to make arrests. One night we were alone on duty and he came back red- faced mad.
"I told some boys in there to keep quiet and they're still making noise. I told them twice. I always give a man two chances. Not three. You come with me and I'm going back there and arrest them."
"Well, let imei give them a third chance," I said. "I'll talk to them."
 "No, sir, I never gave a man more than two chances." I sighed. 
Here we go. We went to the offending room, and Sledge opened the door and told everybody to file out. It was embarrassing. Every single one  of us  was  blushing.  This  is  the  story  of America.  Everybody's doing what they  think they're supposed to do. So what if a bunch of men talk in loud voices  and drink the night? But Sledge wanted to prove something. He made sure to bring me along in case they jumped him. They might have. They were all brothers, all from Alabama. We strolled back to the station, Sledge in front and me in back. 
One of the boys said to me, "Tell that crotch-eared mean-ass to take it easy on us. We might get fired for this and never get to Okinawa."
"I'll talk to him."
In the station I told Sledge to forget it. He said, for everybody to hear, and blushing, "I don't give anybody no more than two chances."
"What the hail," said the Alabaman, "what difference does it make? We might lose our jobs." Sledge said nothing and filled out the arrest forms. He arrested only one of them; he called the prowl car in town. They  came and took him away. The other brothers walked off sullenly. "What's Ma going to say?" they said. One of them came back to me. "You tell that Tex-ass son of a bitch if my brother ain't out of jail tomorrow night he's going to get his ass fixed." I told Sledge, in a neu- tral way, and he said nothing. The brother was let off easy and nothing happened. The contingent shipped out; a new wild bunch came in. If it hadn't been for Remi Bonc?ur I wouldn't have stayed at this job two hours.
But Remi Bonc?ur and I were on duty alone many a night, and that's when everything jumped. We made our first round of the even- ing in a  leisurely way, Remi trying all the doors to see if they were locked and hoping to find one unlocked. He'd say, "For years I've an idea to develop a  dog into a super thief who'd go into these guys' rooms and take dollars out of their pockets. I'd train him to take noth- ing but green money; I'd make him smell it all day long. If there was any humanly possible way, I'd train him to take only twenties." Remi was full of mad schemes; he talked  about that dog for weeks. Only once he found an unlocked door. I didn't like the idea, so I sauntered on down the hall. Remi stealthily opened it up. He came face to face with the barracks supervisor. Remi hated that man's face. He asked me, "What's the name of that Russian author you're always talking about-- the one who put the newspapers in his shoe and walked around in a stovepipe hat he found in a garbage pail?" This was an exaggeration of what I'd told Remi of Dostoevski. "Ah, that's it--that's it--Dostioffski. A man with a face like that supervisor can only have one name--it's Dos- tioffski."  The  only unlocked door he ever found belonged to Dosti- offski. D. was asleep when he heard someone fiddling with his doork- nob. He got up in his pajamas. He came to the door looking twice as ugly as usual. When Remi opened it he saw a haggard face suppurated with hatred and dull fury.
"What is the meaning of this?"
"I was only trying this door. I thought this was the--ah--mop room. I was looking for a mop."
"What do you imeani you were looking for a mop?" "Well--ah."
And I stepped up and said, "One ............

Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved