Read Inherent Vice Online

Authors: Thomas Pynchon

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Political, #Satire

Inherent Vice

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas Pynchon

INHERENT VICE

2009

 

 

Under the paving-stones, the beach!

Graffito, Paris, May 1968

 

ONE

SHE CAME ALONG THE ALLEY AND UP THE BACK STEPS THE WAY
she always used to. Doc hadn

t seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half of a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe & the Fish T-shirt. Tonight she was all in flatland
gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore
she

d never look.


That you, Shasta?


Thinks he

s hallucinating.


Just the new package I guess.

They stood in the street light through the kitchen window there

d
never been much point putting curtains over and listened to the thump
ing of the surf from down the hill. Some nights, when the wind was
right, you could hear the surf all over town.


Need your help, Doc.


You know I have an office now? just like a day job and everything?


I looked in the phone book, almost went over there. But then I
thought, better for everybody if this looks like a secret rendezvous.

Okay, nothing romantic tonight. Bummer. But it still might be a pay
ing gig.

Somebody

s keepin a close eye?


Just spent an hour on surface streets trying to make it look good.


How about a beer?

He went to the fridge, pulled two cans out of the case he kept inside, handed one to Shasta.


There

s this guy,

she was saying.

There would be, but why get emotional? If he had a nickel for every
time he

d heard a client start off this way, he could be over in Hawaii now,
loaded day and night, digging the waves at Waimea, or better yet hiring somebody to dig them for him ...

Gentleman of the straightworld persuasion,

he beamed.


Okay, Doc. He

s married.


Some
...
money situation.

She shook back hair that wasn

t there and raised her eyebrows
so what.

Groovy with Doc.

And the wife—she knows about you?

Shasta nodded.

But she

s seeing somebody too. Only it isn

t just the
usual—they

re working together on some creepy little scheme.


To make off with hubby

s fortune, yeah, I think I heard of that happenin once or twice around L.A. And ... you want me to do what, exactly?

He found the paper bag he

d brought his supper home in and got busy pretending to scribble notes on it, because straight-chick uniform, makeup supposed to look like no makeup or whatever, here came
that old well-known hardon Shasta was always good for sooner or later. Does it ever end, he wondered. Of course it does. It did.

They went in the front room and Doc laid down on the couch and Shasta stayed on her feet and sort of drifted around the place.


Is, they want me in on it,

she said.

They think I

m the one who
can reach him when he

s vulnerable, or as much as he ever gets.


Bareass and asleep.


I knew you

d understand.


You

re still trying to figure out if it

s right or wrong, Shasta?


Worse than that.

She drilled him with that gaze he remembered so well. When he remembered.

How much loyalty I owe him.


I hope you

re not asking me. Beyond the usual boilerplate people owe anybody they

re fucking steady—


Thanks, Dear Abby said about the same thing.


Groovy. Emotions aside, then, let

s look at the money. How much of
the rent

s he been picking up?


All of it.

Just for a second, he caught the old narrow-eyed defiant grin.


Pretty hefty?


For Hancock Park.

Doc whistled the title notes from

Can

t Buy Me Love,

ignoring the look on her face.

You

re givin him IOUs for everything, o

course.


You fucker, if I

d known you were still this bitter—


Me? Trying to be professional here, is all. How much were wifey and
the b.f. offering to cut you in for?

Shasta named a sum. Doc had outrun souped-up Rollses full of indignant smack dealers on the Pasadena Freeway, doing a hundred in the fog and trying to steer through all those crudely engineered curves,
he

d walked up back alleys east of the L.A. River with nothing but a bor
rowed

fro pick in his baggies for protection, been in and out of the Hall of Justice while holding a small fortune in Vietnamese weed, and these
days had nearly convinced himself all that reckless era was over with, but
now he was beginning to feel deeply nervous again.

This
...

carefully now,

this isn

t just a couple of X-rated Polaroids, then. Dope planted in the glove compartment, nothin like

at.
..

Back when, she could go weeks without anything more complicated
than a pout. Now she was laying some heavy combination of face ingre
dients on him that he couldn

t read at all. Maybe something she

d picked up at acting school.

It isn

t what you

re thinking, Doc.


Don

t worry, thinking comes later. What else?


I

m not sure but it sounds like they want to commit him to some loony bin.


You mean legally? or a snatch of some kind?


Nobody

s telling me, Doc, I

m just the bait.

Come to think of it, there

d never been this much sorrow in her voice either.

I heard you

re seeing somebody downtown?

Seeing. Well,

Oh, you mean Penny? nice flatland chick, out in search
of secret hippie love thrills basically—


Also some kind of junior DA in Evelle Younger
’s
shop?

Doc gave it some thought.

You think somebody there can stop this before it happens?


Not too many places I can go with this, Doc.


Okay, I

ll talk to Penny, see what we can see. Your happy couple— they have names, addresses ?

When he heard her older gent

s name he said,

This is the same
Mickey Wolfmann who

s always in the paper? The real-estate big shot?


You can

t tell anybody about this, Doc.


Deaf and dumb, part of the job. Any phone numbers you

d like to share?

She shrugged, scowled, gave him one number.

Try to never use it.


Groovy, and how do I reach you?


You don

t. I moved out of the old place, staying where I can anymore, don

t ask.

He almost said,

There

s room here,

which in fact there wasn

t, but he

d seen her looking around at everything that hadn

t changed, the authentic English Pub Dartboard up on the wagon wheel and the
whorehouse swag lamp with the purple psychedelic bulb with the vibrat
ing filament, the collection of model hot rods made entirely of Coors
cans, the beach volleyball autographed by Wilt Chamberlain in Day-Glo
felt marker, the velvet painting and so forth, with an expression of, you would have to say, distaste.

He walked her down the hill to where she was parked. Weeknights out here weren

t too different from weekends, so this part of town was already all ahoot with funseekers, drinkers and surfers screaming in the
alleys, dopers out on food errands, flatland guys in for a night of hustling stewardesses, flatland ladies with all-too-grounded day jobs hoping to be
mistaken for stewardesses. Uphill and invisible, traffic out on the boulevard to and from the freeway uttered tuneful exhaust phrases which went echoing out to sea, where the crew
s of oil tankers sliding along,
hearing them, could have figured it for wildlife taking care of nighttime
business on an exotic coast.

In the last pocket of darkness before the glare of Beachfront Drive, they came to a pause, a timeless pedestrian gesture in these parts that usually announced a kiss or at least a grabbed ass. But she said,

Don

t
come any further, somebody might be watching by now.


Call me or something.


You never did let me down, Doc.


Don

t worry. I

ll—


No, I mean really ever.


Oh
...
sure I did.


You were always true.

It had been dark at the beach for hours, he hadn

t been smoking
much and it wasn

t headlights—but before she turned away, he could swear he saw light falling on her face, the orange light just after sunset
that catches a face turned to the west, watching the ocean for someone to
come in on the last wave of the day, in to shore and safety.

At least her car was the same, the Cadillac ragtop she

d had forever, a

59 Eldorado Biarritz bought used at one of the lots over on Western
where they stand out close to the traffic so it

ll sweep away the smell
of whatever they

re smoking. After she drove away, Doc sat on a bench
down on the Esplanade, a long slopeful of lighted windows ascending
behind him, and watched the luminous blooms of surf and the lights of
late commuter traffic zigzagging up the distant hillside of Palos Verdes.
He ran through things he hadn

t asked, like how much she

d come to
depend on Wolfmann

s guaranteed level of ease and power, and how
ready was she to go back to the bikini and T-shirt lifestyle, and how free
of regrets? And least askable of all, how passionately did she really feel about old Mickey? Doc knew the likely reply—

I love him,

what else? With the unspoken footnote that the word these days was being way too
overused. Anybody with any claim to hipness

loved

everybody, not to
mention other useful applications, like hustling people into sex activities
they might not, given the choice, much care to engage in.

Back at his place, Doc stood for a while gazing at a velvet painting from one of the Mexican families who set up their weekend pitches along the boulevards through the green flatland where people still rode horses, between Gordita and the freeway. Out of the vans and into the
calm early mornings would come sofa-width Crucifixions and Last Sup
pers, outlaw bikers on elaborately detailed Harleys, superhero badasses in Special Forces gear packing M16s and so forth. This picture of Docs showed a Southern California beach that never was—palms, bikini babes, surfboards, the works. He thought of it as a window to look out of when he couldn

t deal with looking out of the traditional glass-type one in the other room. Sometimes in the shadows the view would light up, usually when he was smoking weed, as if the contrast knob of Creation had been messed with just enough to give everything an under-glow, a luminous edge, and promise that the night was about to turn epic somehow.

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