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Authors: Stanley Elkin

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A Bad Man

BOOK: A Bad Man
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A Bad Man

Stanley Elkin

For
Joan
And for her brother
Bernard

Acknowledgment

The author wishes to express his thanks to the
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
and to Washington University for their support.

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

A Biography of Stanley Elkin

1

O
ne day a young man in an almost brimless fedora burst into the office where Feldman was dictating a letter to his secretary. He pointed a gun and said, “Reach, the jig is up, Feldman.” They were working in front of Feldman’s safe, where his department store’s daily receipts were kept. The secretary, whose name was Miss Lane, immediately pressed a button on an underledge of Feldman’s desk, and loud bells rang.

“That will bring the police before there’s time to open the safe,” she announced in the dinging din. But Feldman, who until this time had been sitting in his chair, elbows on the desk, his cheeks pushed into his palms in a position of concentration, slowly began to raise his arms.

“I’m afraid I shan’t require your services for a while, Miss Lane,” Feldman shouted.

“One false move,” the young man said, “and I’ll plug you.”

“You’ve got me covered,” Feldman admitted.

Miss Lane looked from one to the other. “What is this?” she demanded.

“It’s the jig,” Feldman explained. “It’s up.”

He was sentenced to a year in the penitentiary.

It was in the western part of the state, in the mountains, where he had never been who went East for vacations, to a shore, or who had been to Las Vegas for the shows, and twice to Europe for a month, and to the Caribbean on cruises with clothes from Sportswear.

It was not in a town, or near one, and there were no direct connections between Feldman’s city and the prison, three hundred miles away.

After his sentencing, a deputy came to him in his cell. “Tomorrow we’re going on a train ride,” he said.

Feldman didn’t sleep. Except for the few hours when he had been arrested, it was the first evening he had ever spent in a jail. He still wore the fresh blue businessman’s suit the buyer had brought him from Men’s Clothing. He wondered if he would be handcuffed. (He remembered a pair of specially wrought silver handcuffs he had once had made up for the sheriff.)

In the morning the deputy came. He was carrying a large suitcase. “Right-or left-handed?” he said.

“Pardon?”

“Left-handed or right-handed?”

“I’m right-handed.”

The deputy studied him for a moment. “It’s on your record. I could check.”

“I’m right-handed. I am.”

“Put out your right hand.” He locked up his wrist.

“You’ve scratched my watch.”

The deputy smiled. “Tell you what. I’ll give you a fiver for that. They won’t let you keep it. You can use the money in the canteen.”

“I have money.”

The deputy grinned. “They’ll take it away,” he said. “Afraid of bribes. You can keep up to five dollars. I’m giving you top dollar.”

“Take the watch,” Feldman said.

The deputy slipped the watch from his wrist and put it in a pocket of his suit coat.

“Where’s my five dollars?”

“Listen to me,” the deputy said. “You
are
green. They take everything away. They don’t give any receipts. Afraid of forgery. There are guys up there could forge a fingerprint. The state’d be in hock to the cons up to its ears if they gave out receipts. With no claim you never get anything back. You should have left everything behind. They should tell you that. I don’t know why they don’t tell you that.”

Feldman nodded. The other loop of the handcuff swung against the coins in his pocket. The empty handcuff felt like some strangely weighted sleeve he had not yet buttoned.

“Even change,” the deputy said. “Listen to me. It’s too late for you to do anything about it now. Try to complain. You can’t complain against a custom. You know? So listen to me, give me your wallet. You probably got cards, pictures. I’ll keep the money and send the wallet to your people. Why should those guys up there get it? They’re mostly single men up there. I’ve got a family. Listen to me.”

“All right,” Feldman said.

The deputy took the wallet Feldman handed him. He looked familiarly at the photographs and cards. “You want to know something funny? My wife has a charge account at your store.” He ripped the cash out of the wallet. “She needs a new dress. You may get some of this back.”

“The rich get richer,” Feldman said.

“Here’s a buck for the watch,” the deputy said. He shoved the bill behind the handkerchief in Feldman’s breast pocket. “We’ll go in a minute,” he said. He leaned down, picked up the suitcase he had brought with him into the cell, and heaved it up onto Feldman’s cot. He opened the grip and took out a strange leather harness which he fitted over his jacket. “Buckle me up in the back,” he told Feldman. “Okay, your right hand again.” He took the empty handcuff and fitted it through a metal ring that hung from a short chain attached to the harness. “Latest crimestopper. Both hands free,” the deputy explained. “Close the suitcase,” he commanded.

Feldman shut the suitcase clumsily with his left hand. He felt leashed.

“You carry that,” the deputy said. “Wait a minute.” He took a chain from his pocket and looped it quickly and intricately around Feldman’s left wrist and through the handle of the suitcase. He locked the chain. “Okay,” he said, “now we can go.”

Feldman strained against the suitcase. “Nothing in there but my pajamas and a change of underwear. The suitcase is weighted, that’s why it’s so heavy,” the deputy said.

In the train Feldman was told to take the aisle seat. The deputy would not unlock his left hand. He pressed a button on the armrest and pushed his seat back. “Long ride,” he said. “Say,” he said, looking at Feldman maneuvering the heavy suitcase stiffly with his locked left arm, his body twisted, “you don’t have to be so uncomfortable. Why don’t you shove your seat back? Here, I’ll do it.” He leaned across Feldman’s stomach and found the button on the armrest. “Now lean back.” Feldman pushed against the seat. “Hard,” the deputy said. “
Hard
.”Feldman shook his head. “Busted,” the deputy said, and leaned back against his own seat.

“We could find other seats,” Feldman said.

“No, don’t bother,” the deputy said. “The train doesn’t go straight through. We have to change in a couple of hours. It doesn’t pay.” He smiled. “Say,” he said, “look at that. There’s somebody in a mighty hurry. Look at that guy come.”

A man in a black suit was running along the station platform.

“Freedman,” Feldman said.

“What’s that? You know him?”

“It’s Freedman,” Feldman said.

“Come to tell you goodbye,” the deputy said. “That’s nice.” He lifted the window. “In here, Freedman,” the deputy called. He turned and smiled at Feldman.

In a moment the door at the end of the car was pulled open and Dr. Freedman came in. He rushed up to them. “Deputy,” he said, “Feldman. May I?” He pulled roughly against the seat in front of Feldman and turned it around. He sat down in the empty seat, facing Feldman. “So you’re going on a journey. I’d shake your hand, but—” He pointed at the handcuff.

“Mr. Feldman’s on his way to penitentiary, Mr. Freedman,” the deputy said.

“Ah, to penitentiary. Yes, I read about that. To penitentiary, is it? Crime does not pay, hey, Feldman? Well well well. What do you know?”

“Get away from me, Freedman,” Feldman said.

“Tch tch tch. I have a ticket. Here it is. To…Enden. Yes. You go perhaps further. But that’s where I leave you, where you leave me. But of course if the deputy objects I’ll find some other seat at once.
Do
you object, Deputy?”

“No sir, Mr. Freedman, I sure don’t. It’s nice to have the company.”

“Thank you. Personally, I too find that the company of honest men is welcome, but my friend Feldman here has things to think about, perhaps. I hope our chatter don’t disturb him. He’s not well, you know. I was his doctor, did you know that? Yes, indeed.
I know his condition!”

“Is that so?” asked the deputy.

“Oh yes. He has a condition. A remarkable one.”

“Freedman—”

“Medical science is still in its infancy. As a doctor I admit it. It hasn’t even begun to understand the strange ways in which life works.”

“Freedman—” Feldman said again.

“You know, Deputy, seeing him attached to you like that is very striking, very unsettling.” He looked at Feldman. “You can imagine my surprise, Feldman, when I came into this car and I saw the bonds by which you are forged to the deputy here. Knowing your history—”

“What’s that, Dr. Freedman?” the deputy asked.

“Well, it’s very strange. Years ago, when we were on terms, I made an x-ray. There was a shadow—by his heart. A strange thing. At least four inches. Lying across his heart.”


Freedman
—” Feldman said, straining forward.

“Now, now,” the deputy said. “You behave yourself. You’re in custody now. This isn’t any department store. As far as you’re concerned, this railroad train’s already your prison. That makes you a con. Now unless you want to find out right here what we can do to cons who don’t shape up, you better start acting like a con.”

“A homunculus,” Freedman said.

Feldman groaned and the deputy grabbed at the handcuff and jerked it sharply. “You be quiet,” he said.

“I didn’t know, of course, until I had had him x-rayed again. Oh, many times. I’m still not absolutely sure, but there, between the sternal ribs, and lying across his heart’s superior vena cava and aorta—a homunculus, perfectly shaped. About four inches. A fetus. There, of course, from prenatal times. He was probably meant to be a twin, but something happened. Some early Feldmanic aggrandizement, and the fetus froze there. It couldn’t have been four inches at birth. Something that large would have killed him. It must have been alive inside him—God knows how. But Feldman killed it off, didn’t you, Feldman?”

“Why didn’t you take it out?” the deputy asked.

“Well, I wanted to. He wouldn’t let me. It’s very dangerous even now. It’s probably petrified by this time. If his heart should enlarge, if he should have an attack, or perhaps even a heavy blow in the chest, the homunculus could penetrate the heart and kill him.”

The train moved out slowly and Feldman felt an exceptional urgency in his bowels.

“You ought to have that taken care of,” the deputy said. “You don’t let a thing like that go.”

Suddenly Feldman leaned forward. “How do you know?” he asked Freedman. “How do you know?”

“You saw the x-rays. You saw them,” Freedman said. “What do you think, I painted them myself?”

“It’s too strange,” Feldman said. “A fetus is curled. This is straight.”

“Why balk at that? Everything’s strange,” Freedman said. “You know, Deputy, the fact is, I thought at first it was an extra rib—something. But I’m certain now it’s what I said. There was a case in New York State—That’s why I was so surprised to see Feldman here attached to you like this.”

“Can you see the head and arms?”

“Indistinctly, Deputy, indistinctly,” Freedman said.

“It’s too much for me,” the deputy said. “Excuse me a minute, Doctor. Come along, Feldman.”

They went forward to the toilet, Feldman pulling the weighted suitcase behind him terribly. Once inside, he tried to lift it up onto the washstand. It must weigh a hundred pounds, he thought. The deputy watched him tugging at the case and smiled. Feldman felt something wrench in his arm, but at last he was able to swing the heavy case up onto the sink. It teetered dangerously and he moved against it to keep it from falling.

“Now, now,” the deputy said, “is that a way? You think the railroad wants you scratching its sinks? Anyway, how do you expect me to sit down and take my crap with you all the way over there?”

BOOK: A Bad Man
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