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Authors: Patricia Highsmith

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BOOK: Mermaids on the Golf Course
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“I’m not going. I can’t.” He went on, over Michèle’s protestations. “Do you think I can face my parents—admit to them that the clock’s been stolen?”

Why mention the clock, unless he wanted to ruin Christmas, Michèle thought. She knew it was useless to try to persuade him to come, so she gave it up. “I’ll go—and take their presents.” So she did, and left Charles at home to sulk, and to wait for a possible telephone call from the police, he had said.

Michèle had gone out laden with Charles’s parents’ presents as well as those for her own parents. Charles had said he would turn up at her parents’ Neuilly apartment at 8
P.M.
or so. But he did not. Michèle’s parents suggested that she telephone Charles: maybe he had fallen asleep, or was working and had lost track of time, but Michèle did not telephone him. Everything was so cheerful and beautiful at her parents’ house—their tree, the champagne buckets, her nice presents, one a travel umbrella in a leather case. Charles and the clock story loomed like an ugly black shadow in the golden glow of her parents’ living room, and Michèle again blurted out the events.

Her father chuckled. “I remember that clock—I think. Nothing so great about it. It wasn’t made by Cellini after all.”

“It’s the sentiment, however, Edouard,” said Michèle’s mother. “A pity it had to happen just at Christmas. And it was careless of you, Michèle. But—I have to agree with you, yes, they were simply little urchins of the
street,
and they were tempted.”

Michèle felt further strengthened.

“Not the end of the world,” Edouard murmured, pouring more champagne.

Michèle remembered her father’s words the next day, Christmas Day, and on the day after. It was not the end of the world, but the end of something. The police had not found the clock, but Charles believed they would. He had spoken to them with some determination, he assured Michèle, and had brought them a colored drawing of the clock which Charles had made at the age of fourteen.

“Naturally the thieves wouldn’t pawn it so soon,” Charles said to Michèle, “but they’re not going to drop it in the Seine either. They’ll try to get cash for it sooner or later, and then we’ll nail them.”

“Frankly, I find your attitude unchristian and even cruel,” said Michèle.

“And I find your attitude—silly.”

It was not the end of the world, but it was the end of their marriage. No later words, no embrace if it ever came, could compensate Michèle for that remark from her husband. And, just as vital, she felt a deep dislike, a real aversion to her within Charles’s heart and mind. And she for him? Was it not a similar feeling? Charles had lost something that Michèle considered human—if he had ever had it. With his poorer, less privileged background, Charles should have had more compassion than she, Michèle thought. What was wrong? And what was right? She felt muddled, as she sometimes did when she tried to ponder the phrases of carols, or of some poems, which could be interpreted in a couple of ways, and yet the heart, or sentiment always seemed to seek and find a path of its own, as hers had done, and wasn’t this right? Wasn’t it right to be forgiving, especially at this time of year?

Their friends, their parents counseled patience. They should separate for a week or so. Christmas always made people nervous. Michèle could come and stay at Yvonne’s and Bernard’s apartment, which she did. Then she and Charles could talk again, which they did. But nothing really changed, not at all.

Michèle and Charles were divorced within four months. And the police never found the clock.

A Shot from
Nowhere

T
he hotel room in which Andrew Spatz lay was yellowish and vaguely dusty, like the dry little plaza beyond his single window, like the town itself. The town was called Quetzalan. Three days ago, Andrew had taken a local bus from the city of Jalapa, not caring where the bus wandered to, and he had got off with his suitcase and box of oil paints, brushes and sketch pads in this town, because it had pleased him at his first glimpse through the bus window. It looked like a town that nobody knew of or cared about. It looked real. And on the plaza he had found the Hotel Corona, maybe the only hotel in the town.

Now, unfortunately, he was suffering from the usual intestinal cramps, and since yesterday he thought he had a fever, though in the heat it was hard to tell. In the early mornings, he set out and walked up in the hills around the town and made sketches to be used later, possibly, for paintings. He sketched everywhere, from an iron bench in the plaza, from a curb, from a table in a bar. But when noon came, and after he had had a simple meal of tacos and beans and a beer, it was time to hide from the sun for a few hours, like everyone else. Quetzalan fell silent as a ghost town from half past twelve until nearly four every afternoon. And the yellow sun bore down with unnecessary force, as if to grind into the consciousness of man and beast and plant the fact that it had conquered, that rain and coolness were far away, maybe gone forever. Andrew had strange dreams when he dozed in the afternoons.

On one afternoon he awakened from a dream of red snakes in a cave in a desert. The snakes did not notice him in the dream, he did not feel in any danger, but the dream was disturbing. Andrew threw off the sheet he had pulled over himself against the inevitable fly or two, and went to the basin in the corner of his room. He took off his drip-dry shirt, wet it again in cool water, and put it back on. His window was open about ten inches top and bottom, but no breeze came.

Andrew glanced at the window, and a movement outside caught his attention.

There was the boy again, with his milk pan for the kittens. The boy looked about thirteen, barefoot in soiled white trousers and white shirt with sleeves rolled up. He was only some six yards away from where Andrew stood in his room, so Andrew could see clearly the tin pie plate and the milk in it. Now as a skinny brindle kitten staggered from some bushes in the plaza, Andrew knew that the boy was going to draw the pan back, as he had done before.

A second kitten appeared, and as the two kittens hunched and lapped, the boy looked over his shoulder, grinning mischievously, as if to see if anyone were watching him. The plaza and the surrounding walks and streets were quite deserted. A grown cat, so thin its bones made shadows in its fur, galloped from the hotel side of the plaza towards the milk pan, and Andrew heard the boy giggle softly, and saw him scramble to his feet, spilling a little of the milk from the pan he was taking away. Why?

Andrew pulled on his jeans, shoved his feet into sneakers, and ran out of his room. Within seconds, he was outside the hotel door on the sidewalk. The boy was walking toward Andrew, but at an angle off to Andrew’s right.

“Porquè
—” Andrew stopped, hearing faint laughter from somewhere left of him.

The boy trotted away, dumping what remained of the milk on the street.

On his left, Andrew saw a group of three or four men, one with a hand camera of the kind that could make movies. Were they shooting a film? Was that why the boy had to repeat the cat-feeding scene? The men were middle-aged, and looked like ordinary Mexicans, though not peasants. Andrew saw one laugh, and wave a hand in a gesture that might mean “The hell with it” or “Muffed that one again.” At any rate, they turned away, drifted out of Andrew’s sight.

Back in his room, Andrew removed sneakers and jeans and again lay on his bed on his back. What was the meaning of it? Why were three or four men, one with a camera, out in the hot sun at 2
P.M.
? Was the boy an actor or was he a little sadist? Strange.

Andrew felt that the whole past month had been strange. The girl he was in love with in New York, the girl he had thought would last, had met someone else a month ago. This had so thrown him, he hadn’t been able to attend classes at the Art Students League for two or three days, and he had felt a bit suicidal or at least self-destructive. He had telephoned his married sister Esther in Houston, and she had invited him to come and stay for a few days. He had not talked much to his sister, but she had been cheering. And there was Mexico which he had never seen, so near when one was already in Houston, so he had taken a slow, cheap train south. Everything he had seen was different, fascinating. But as yet Andrew didn’t know what to make of his life, or of his feelings now.

His nap was ended by the jukebox of the Bar Felipe starting up in a corner of the square, which meant it was around four. The jukebox would play nonstop till nearly midnight. Andrew washed at the basin, dressed again, and gathered his sketching equipment. The hotel lobby was deserted as usual when he walked out, though there were a couple of other guests in the hotel, Mexican men, both very quiet.

At the Bar Felipe, Andrew treated himself to an iced tea, and kept an eye out for the men or any one of them whom he had seen watching the boy with the kittens. And for the boy himself. None of these came in through the open doors or walked past on the sidewalk. Other customers of Felipe, workmen with tattered sombreros, wearing tire-soled sandals, came up to the bar to drink a bottle of beer or the brightly colored orange drink that seemed very popular, and they all glanced at Andrew, but didn’t stare at him as they had on his first day in town. A dog, thin as a whippet but of indeterminable breed, came up to Andrew’s table hopefully, but Andrew hadn’t ordered any potato chips or peanuts.

Andrew was pleased with his work of that afternoon. He had sketched two landscapes with color pencils, introducing a lot of purple in the yellow and tan hills. One drawing showed the cluster of tan and pinkish houses that formed the town.

He dined at a tiny restaurant he had discovered in a side street off the plaza, a place hardly bigger than a kitchen, with only four tables. It catered to laborers, Andrew had observed, plus a couple of men of sixty or so who were unshaven and always slightly drunk. Andrew ordered
frijoles refritos,
tortillas, and a mug of boiled milk. The smell of peppery meat in the place sickened him.

The next day repeated the day before it. Sketching in the morning, a light lunch, an orange in his room afterwards. Fruit you had to peel was free of germs, Andrew remembered, and the sweet juice was wonderfully refreshing. Beads of sweat stood on his forehead and seemed to return as soon as he had wiped them away.

Gradually, then all at once, the silence of the siesta period fell outside his window. Not a footstep sounded, not the twitter of a bird. It was the sun’s time, and the time lasted nearly four hours while life cowered in little rooms like his, in shade anywhere. Andrew was lying on his back with a wet towel across his forehead, when he heard the
tink
of metal on cement. With nervous energy, and out of curiosity, he got up to see what might be moving outside.

The boy was there, in the same clothing, in the same place, and with the same pie tin of milk. And here came one kitten shakier than yesterday. And there was the boy’s smile over his shoulder, quick and furtive.

Andrew’s sun-bleached brows drew closer together as he stared. Now—yes,
now
the boy was sliding the pan back from the kitten who had been joined by the second kitten, and the boy set one foot under him, ready to rise with the pan.

There was a crack like a gunshot, not loud, but shocking in the silence.

The boy sagged at once, the pan made a little clatter and the milk spilled. The kittens lapped greedily. And here came the galloping older cat, the skinny brindle, as before.

A film, Andrew thought, still staring. Then he saw a red spot on the boy’s shirt. It spread downward along the boy’s right side. A plastic paint container that the boy had opened? Was the camera turning? The boy did not move.

Andrew got into his jeans and sneakers with crazy speed and left his room. He stopped on the sidewalk and looked left, expecting to see the camera crew again, but the corner there was deserted. No one was in sight, except the boy.

Andrew wet his lips, hesitated, then took a couple of steps in the direction of the boy, looked again to his left for the camera crew, then went on. The blood, or whatever it was, had reached the sidewalk and was flowing towards the street gutter. One of the kittens was in fact interested in it.

“Hey!” Andrew said. “
Hey,
boy!” Andrew stretched a hand out, but did not touch the boy’s shoulder. The boy’s eyes were half open. Andrew now saw the bullet hole in the white shirt.

He trotted towards the Bar Felipe, thinking that Felipe would be more easily aroused than the hotel proprietor, who seemed to close himself behind a couple of doors at the back of the hotel during siesta time.

“Hey!—
Felipe
!” Andrew knocked on the closed wooden doors of the bar. “Open!—
Por favor! Es importante
!” After a few seconds, Andrew tried again. He banged with his fist. He looked around the square. Not a shutter had opened, not a head showed at any window. Crazy!

“Qué quiere?”
asked Felipe, having opened his door a little. He wore only pajama trousers and was barefoot.

“Un niño—herido!”
Andrew gasped, pointing.

Felipe took two cautious steps on to the hot sidewalk, so he could see along the plaza’s side, and at once jumped back into the shade of his doorway, waved a hand angrily and said something which Andrew took to mean “Don’t bother me with that!”

“But—a doctor—or the police!” Andrew pushed against the doors which Felipe was trying rapidly to close, then heard a bolt being slid on the other side. Andrew trotted back to his hotel.

The hotel desk was deserted. Andrew banged his palm a couple of times on the little bell on the counter. “Señor
Diego
!”

There was nothing to stop him from using the telephone behind the counter, but he didn’t know the police number and didn’t see a directory.

“Señor
Diego
!” Andrew went to the closed door to the left of the counter and knocked vigorously.

He heard a grumbling shout from behind the door, then house-slippered footsteps.

Señor Diego, a middle-sized man with gray in his hair and mustache, looked at Andrew with surprise and annoyance. “What’s the matter?” he asked, pulling his cotton bathrobe closer about him.

“A boy is dead! Out there!” Andrew pointed. “Didn’t you hear the shot? A couple of minutes ago?”

Señor Diego frowned, walked a few paces across his lobby, and peered through the open doors of the hotel. The boy was quite visible from here. The three cats, the two kittens and the older cat, were still lapping at the blood, but with less enthusiasm, as the blood was drying or not flowing any longer. “Bad boy,” Señor Diego commented softly.

“But—we telephone the police?”

Señor Diego blinked and seemed to ponder. It was the first time Andrew had seen him without his glasses.

“The police or a doctor!—Or we carry him in?”

“No!” Señor Diego gave Andrew a scathing glance—as if he detested him, Andrew felt—and moved towards the door of his living quarters. Then he turned and looked at Andrew. “The police will find him.”

“But maybe he’s not
dead
!” Andrew felt torn between an impulse to carry the boy into the hotel, and to leave him as he was for police detectives to determine where the shot had come from. Andrew went behind the counter to the telephone, picked it up, and was looking at the disk of emergency numbers on the telephone’s base, when Señor Diego yanked the telephone from his hands.

“All right, the police!
Then
you will see . . .”

Andrew could not understand the rest.

Señor Diego dialed a number. Then he mumbled several words into the telephone. “
Sí-sí,
Hotel Corona. Okay.” He hung up, and shook his head nervously. “Do not move from this hotel!” he commanded, scowling at Andrew.

Anger flowed through Andrew, and his face felt as if it were going to explode. He went off down the hall to his room, whose door was slightly open still.
Do not move from this hotel!
Why should he? Andrew let cold water run in his basin. His face looked dark pink in the mirror. He took off his shirt again, wet it, and put it back on. At once he was too cool, even shivering. He had been listening for the sound of a car motor, and now it came. Andrew went to his window, but his eyes were drawn first to the boy in white who lay on the plaza’s sidewalk, in sun and shadow. No cats now. A car door banged shut.

He heard voices in the lobby, then the creak of a couple of shutters in the plaza. A policeman in faded khaki and a visored cap bent over the boy, touched the boy’s shoulder, then straightened and walked towards the hotel door.

Two policemen and Señor Diego came into Andrew’s room. Suddenly all three seemed to be talking at once, but quite calmly, as in a dream, Andrew thought. The policemen questioned him calmly. Andrew kept saying, “I
heard
the shot, yes . . . I was
here
. . . Just ten minutes ago . . . No, no. Not me,
no!
I have no gun. I saw the boy fall! . . . Ask Señor Felipe!” Andrew pointed. “I went—”

“Señor Felipe!” said the oldest of the policemen, who now numbered three, and threw a smile at Señor Diego.

Andrew knew that he had not made his story clear. But why hadn’t he? What he was saying was quite simple, even if his Spanish was primitive. He watched the policemen conferring. His ears started ringing, he wanted to sit down, but instead went to his window for some air. Three or four people now milled about the fallen boy, not touching him. Curious townspeople had at last emerged.

“You come with us,” said a mustached policeman, reaching towards Andrew as if to take him by the wrist.

BOOK: Mermaids on the Golf Course
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