Authors: Patricia Highsmith
Robbery, Roland thought with astonishment. Not the same man, surely, unless someone had robbed the corpse. Roland realized that this was pretty likely, in New York. A robber might suppose the man was drunk or drugged, and seize the opportunity to relieve him of wallet and wristwatch and whatever. The street fitted, Roland thought, and the date. And the man’s age. But Spanish, with that brownish hair? Well, Roland had heard of blond Spaniards.
But they hadn’t mentioned a missing button.
On the other hand, why should they mention a missing button in an item as short as this? As clues went, a grayish brown button was infinitesimal. For the police to find the button in Roland’s right-hand pocket (he kept the button in that pocket no matter which trousers he wore) would be like finding a needle in a haystack. And noticing the absence of a button on the man’s jacket, why should the police assume the murderer had taken it?
Nevertheless, the finding of the corpse—or
corpse—gave the button a greater significance. The button became more dangerous. Roland thought of putting it in Jane’s little tin box which held an assortment of buttons, but when he opened the box and saw the hundred or more innocent buttons of all sizes there, Roland simply could not.
Throw it away, Roland thought. Down the garbage chute in the hall. Better yet and easier, straight into the big plastic bag in the kitchen. Who’d ever notice or find it? Roland realized that he wanted to keep the button.
And as the weeks went by, the button took on varying meanings to Roland. Sometimes it seemed a token of guilt, proof of what he had done, and he felt frightened. Or on days when Roland happened to be in a cheery mood, the button became a joke, a prop in a story that he had told to himself: that he had strangled a stranger and snatched a button off the stranger’s jacket to prove it.
“Absurd,” Roland murmured to himself one sunny day in his office as he stood by his window, turning the button over in his fingers, scrutinizing its grayish brown horn, its four empty holes. “Just a nutty fantasy!” Well, no need ever to
anyone about it, he thought, and chuckled. He dropped the button into his right-hand pocket and returned to his desk.
He and Jane were going to a resort hotel in the Adirondacks for the last two weeks of June, Roland’s vacation time, and of course they were taking Bertie with them. Bertie was walking better lately, but oddly this achievement came and went: he’d been walking better at three, for instance, than he was at the moment. One never knew. Jane had bought a suit of pale blue cotton—jacket and short trousers—and had patiently let out the waist by sewing in extra material, and had shortened the sleeves, “So he’ll look nice at the dinner table at the St. Marcy Lodge,” Jane said.
Roland had winced, then rapidly recovered. He had always hated taking Bertie out in public, even for walks in Central Park on Sundays, and the Lodge was going to be worse, he thought, because they’d be stuck with the same people, other guests, or under their eyes, for almost two weeks. He would have to pass through that period of curious and darting glances, unheard murmurs as people confirmed to one another, “Mongoloid idiot,” then the period of studied eyes-averted-no-staring that such a group always progressed to.
The St. Marcy Lodge was a handsomely proportioned colonial mansion set on a vast lawn, backgrounded by thick forests of pine and fir. The lobby had a homey atmosphere, the brass items were polished, the carpet thick. There was croquet on the lawn, tennis courts, horses could be rented, and there was a golf course half a mile away to which a Lodge car could take guests at any hour of the day. The dining room had about twenty tables of varying sizes, so that couples or parties could dine alone if they preferred, or join larger tables. The manager had told the Markows that the guests were never assigned tables, but had freedom of choice.
Roland and Jane preferred to take a smaller table meant for four when the dinner hour came. A pillow was brought for Bertie by a pleasant waitress, who at once changed her mind and suggested a high chair. It was easy, she said, bustling off somewhere. Roland had not protested: a high chair was safer for Bertie, because the tray part pinned him in, whereas he could topple off a cushion before anyone could right him. Bertie wore his blue suit. His ridged tongue hung out, and his eyes, though open, showed no interest in his new surroundings, which he did not even turn his head to look at.
“Isn’t it nice,” Jane said, resting her chin on her folded fingers, “that the Lodge put that crib in the room this afternoon? Just the right thing for Bertie, isn’t it?”
Roland nodded, and studied the menu. He was enduring those moments he had foreseen, when the eyes of several people in the dining room had fixed on Bertie, and for a few seconds it was worse as the waitress returned with the high chair. Roland sprang up to lift Bertie into it.
The tray part was swung over Bertie’s head to rest on the arms of the chair. Roland tugged Bertie’s broad hands up and plopped them on the wooden tray where his food would be set, but the hands slid back and dropped again at Bertie’s sides.
Jane wiped some drool from Bertie’s chin with her napkin.
The food was delicious. The eyes around them now looked at other things. Jane had edged her chair closer to Bertie’s, and she patiently fed him his mashed potatoes and tiny bits of tender roast beef. The lemon meringue pie arrived hot with beautifully browned egg white on top. Bertie brought his heavy little hand down on the right side of his plate, and his half-portion of lemon pie catapulted towards Roland. Roland caught it adroitly with his left hand and laughed, dumped it back on to Bertie’s plate, and soaked an end of his napkin in his glass of water to wash the stickiness off his palm and fingers.
So did Jane laugh, as if they were alone at home.
They finished a bottle of wine between them.
As they were walking towards the stairway in the lobby, with an idea of getting Bertie to bed, because it was nearly ten, Roland heard voices behind him.
“. . . a pity, you know? Young couple like that.”
“. . . could frighten other kids too. Did you notice that dog today, mom? That poodle?” This voice was young, female, with a giggle in it.
Roland remembered the dog, a black miniature poodle on a leash. The dog had stiffened and backed away from Bertie, growling, when Roland and Jane had been signing the register. Roland’s hand reached into his right side pocket and squeezed the button, felt its reassuring reality, its hardness. He turned by the stairway to the two women behind him, one young and one older.
“Yes, Bertie,” he said to them. “He’s not much trouble, you know. Quite harmless. Sorry if he bothers you. He’s quite a clown really. Gives us a lot of fun.” Smiling, Roland nodded for emphasis.
Jane was smiling too. “Good evening,” she said in a friendly tone to the two women.
Both the older and younger woman nodded with awkward politeness, plainly embarrassed that they had been overheard. “’Evening,” said the older.
Roland and Jane held Bertie by the hands in their usual manner, hoisting him up one step at a time, sometimes two steps. They performed this chore without thinking about it. Bertie sometimes moved his blunt little feet in their blunt shoes to touch a step, but mostly he dragged them, and his legs went limp. Roland’s right hand was still in his trousers pocket.
A pretty girl moved at a faster pace up the stairs on Roland’s right. His eyes were drawn to her. She had soft, light brown hair, a lovely profile which instantly vanished, but she glanced back at him at the landing, and their eyes met: bluish eyes, then she disappeared. Roland had been aware of a sudden attraction towards her, like a leap within him, the first such feeling he had had in years. Funny. He was not going to approach the girl, he knew. Maybe best if he avoided looking at her if he saw her again, as he probably would. Still, it was nice to know he was capable of such an emotion, even if the emotion had completely gone in regard to Jane. He squeezed the button harder than ever as they heaved Bertie up the last step to the floor level. He had killed a man in revenge for Bertie. He had superiority, in a sense, one-upmanship. He must never forget that. He could face the years ahead with that.
Where the Action Is
ere it was, some action finally—an armed holdup of a town bus—and Craig Rollins was in urgent need of a toilet! Nevertheless, Craig raised his camera once again and snapped, just as a scared-looking man was hopping down the steps of the halted bus. Then Craig ran, heading for Eats and Take-Away, where he knew there was a men’s room by the telephones.
Craig was back in something under a minute, but by then the action seemed to be over. He hadn’t heard any gunshots. A cop was blowing a whistle. An ambulance had pulled up, but Craig didn’t see anybody who was wounded.
“Take it easy, folks!” yelled a cop whose face Craig knew. “We’ve got everything in hand!”
haven’t! They got my
!” cried a woman’s voice, shrill and clear.
A June sun boiled down. It was midmorning.
of ’em!” yelled a man in an assertive way. “You just got two here!”
Craig saw some shirtsleeved police hustling two young men towards a Black Maria.
The passengers from the bus, thirty or more, milled about the street as if dazed, chatting with one another.
“Hi, Craig! Get anything good?” It was Tom Buckley, another freelance photographer a couple of years older than Craig, and friendly, though Craig considered him competition.
Craig didn’t want to ask if Tom had got a shot of the guy with the gun, because Craig had missed this shot, which might have been possible at exactly the time he had had to dash to a men’s room. “Dunno till they come out!” Craig replied cheerfully. He moved closer to the police wagon, and took a picture of the two young men, who looked about twenty, as they were urged into the back of the wagon. Tom Buckley was also snapping. One or maybe even two of Tom’s photos would make it in the afternoon edition of the
Craig was thinking. Craig shot up the rest of his roll, aiming at any place—at a cop reassuring an elderly woman, at a girl rushing from a narrow passageway into Main Street where the bus was, and being greeted by a man and woman who might have been her parents.
Then Craig went home to develop his roll. He lived with his parents in the home where he had been born, a two-story frame house in a modest residential area. Craig had turned his bathroom—itself an adjunct to the house when he had been fifteen—into his darkroom. All his pictures looked dull as could be, worse than he had expected. No action in them, apart from a cluttered street scene of people looking bewildered. Still, Craig presented them at the office of Kyanduck’s
about half past noon, imagining that Tom Buckley had got there a few minutes earlier and with better photos.
Ed Simmons bent his balding head over Craig’s ten photographs. The big messy room held seven people at their desks, and there was the usual clatter of typewriters.
“Got there a little late,” Craig murmured apologetically, not caring if Ed heard him or not.
“Hey! You got Lizzie Davis? With her
—Hey, Craig, this one is great!” Ed Simmons looked up at Craig through horn-rimmed glasses. “We’ll use this one. Just the moment
—running out of that alley! Beautiful!”
“Didn’t know her name,” Craig said, and wondered why Ed was so excited.
Ed showed the photo to a man at another desk. Others gathered to look at the picture, which was of a girl of twenty or younger, with long dark hair, her white blouse partly pulled out of her skirt top, looking anxious as she rushed forward towards a man and woman approaching her from Main Street.
“This is the girl who was nearly raped. Or maybe she even was,” Ed Simmons said to Craig. “Didn’t you know that?”
Craig certainly hadn’t heard. Raped by whom, he wondered, then the snatches of conversation that he heard enlightened him. The third holdup boy, who was still at large, had dragged Lizzie Davis off the bus and into an alley and threatened to stick a knife in her throat, or to rape her, unless she kept her mouth shut when the police came up the alley. The police hadn’t come up that alley. In the picture, Lizzie’s father, in a pale business suit and straw hat, was just about to touch his daughter’s shoulder, while her mother on the right in the picture rushed towards the girl with both arms spread.
Now he saw, in the upside-down photo on Ed’s desk, that the girl’s eyes were squeezed shut with horror or fear, and her mouth open as if she were crying or gasping for breath.
“Was she raped?” Craig asked.
The reply he got was vague, the implication being that the girl wasn’t telling. So Craig’s photo appeared on page two of the Kyanduck
that day, and one by Tom Buckley of a local cop with two of the holdup boys on the front page. Both photographs had a two-column spread.
Craig pointed out the photo to his parents that night at the supper table. Craig didn’t make it every day, or even every week, a photo in the
or the Kyanduck
His father knew Ernest Davis, the girl’s father, who was an old customer at Dullop’s Hardware, where Craig’s father was manager.
Craig received thirty dollars for his picture, which was the going rate for local photographs, no matter what they were, and Craig mentioned this, with modest pride, to his girlfriend Constance O’Leary, who was called Clancy. Craig, twenty-two and ruggedly handsome, had three or four girlfriends, but Clancy was his current favorite. She had curly reddish blonde hair, a marvelous figure, a sense of humor, and she loved to dance.
“You’re the greatest,” Clancy said, at that moment diving into her first hamburger at the Plainsman Café, just outside of town, where the jukebox boomed.
Craig smiled, pleased, “Human interest. That’s what Ed Simmons said my photo had.”
And Craig didn’t think any more about that picture of Lizzie Davis until ten days later, when on one of his visits to the
office with a batch of new photographs, Ed Simmons told Craig that the
New York Times
had telexed, wanting to use Craig’s photograph in a series of articles about crime in America.
“You’d better be pleased, Craig.”
“With a credit?” Craig was nearly speechless with surprise.
“Well, natch.—Now let’s see what you’ve got here.” Ed looked over Craig’s offerings: three photos of the Kyanduck Boy Scouts’ annual picnic at Kyanduck Park, and three of current weddings. Ed showed no visible interest. Tom Buckley had probably topped him on these events, Craig was thinking. “I’ll look ’em over again. Thanks, Craig.”
That was Ed’s phrase when he wasn’t going to buy anything.
Still, Craig’s dazed smile at the news about the
New York Times
lingered on his face as he left the office. He’d never yet had a photo in the
New York Times!
What was so great about that picture?
Craig found out some five days later. His photograph was one of three in the first of a three-part series of articles in the
New York Times
called “Crime in America’s Streets.” His photograph had been cleverly cut to show it to better advantage, Craig noticed. The text beneath said:
A young woman in a small town in Wyoming rushes towards her parents, seconds after being held hostage under threat of rape by one of a three-man armed holdup team who robbed bus passengers in midmorning.
And there was his name in tiny letters at one side of the picture: Craig Rollins.
When Craig showed the article to his parents that evening, he saw real joy and surprise in their faces. Their son with his work in the
New York Times!
“That girl Lizzie’s a changed girl, you know, Mart?” Craig’s father addressed his mother.
“Yes, I’ve heard,” said his mother. “Edna Schwartz was talking about Lizzie just yesterday. Told me Lizzie’s broken off her engagement. You know, she was supposed to get married in late June, Craig.”
Craig hadn’t known. “Was she really raped?” he asked, as if his parents might know the truth, as indeed they might, because his mother worked behind the counter of Odds and Ends, a shop that sold dry goods and buttons, and his mother chatted with nearly every woman of the town, and his father certainly saw a lot of people in the hardware store.
“She’s saying so,” his mother replied in a whisper. “At least she’s hinting at it. And nobody knows if she broke off her engagement or her boyfriend did. What’s his name, dear? Peter Walsh?”
Walsh,” corrected his father. “You know, the Walshes up on Rockland Heights,” his father added to Craig.
Craig didn’t know the Walshes, but he knew Rockland Heights, a neighborhood famous for fine houses and the well-to-do minority of the populace of Kyanduck. Snobs, he thought, to break an engagement these days because a girl’s virginity might have been lost. Like prehistoric times!
Craig looked with interest at the two following articles in the
New York Times,
which he was able to see daily at the office of the
The series was about car thefts, robberies of apartments, muggings, plus the efforts of the police in big cities to control such crime, of course, but also about the danger of its increasing, now that unemployment was spreading among the under-twenty-fives. A couple of photographs Craig admired very much: one a night-shot of a teenager picking the lock of a Chinese laundry; another of a mugging in the South Bronx, in which an elderly man had been flung to the ground, his grocery bag spilled beside him, while a boy in shorts and sneakers was diving into the inside pocket of the man’s jacket. Now these were damned good photographs! Why had they liked his so much, Craig wondered. Because Lizzie Davis’s face was pretty? Or because she really had been raped?
“You know any more details about this Lizzie Davis thing?” Craig asked Clancy on one of their dates.
“What do you mean, details? I know she broke her engagement with the Walsh boy. And she
she was raped.”
“That’s what I mean,” said Craig. “Amazing.”
“That a guy running away from a holdup pushes a girl into an alley and rapes her—in maybe five minutes or less. I just don’t believe it.”
“Oh, you don’t.”
“Well, she says so. I heard through somebody—yes, Josie MacDougal, that a journalist came to Lizzie’s house to interview her about it.”
Craig frowned. “Journalist from here? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“From Chicago, I think. And anyway, I only heard about it when it was all over. Couple of weeks ago, after the
New York Times
thing. Anyway, Lizzie doesn’t go out much any more, so I’ve heard. Stays at home. She’s like a psycho.”
“Wha-at?” said Craig. “You mean she’s gone nuts—at
?” At the same time, Craig was thinking that another photo or two of Lizzie Davis might be a good idea, salable.
“I don’t mean
” Clancy said, her freckled face sobering with thought for a moment. “Just that she’s not interested in any kind of social life any more. She’s become sort of a
That was a bit of a puzzle to Craig Rollins, but then he didn’t understand girls completely and didn’t really want to. He didn’t believe Lizzie Davis had been raped, though she might well have been threatened with it. Maybe she was putting on an act, breaking her engagement with the Walsh fellow because she didn’t really want to marry him.
The day after that evening, part of which Clancy had spent with him in his room at home, Craig received a letter that had been forwarded to him by the
His “excellent photograph” of June 10, reprinted in the
New York Times,
had won the year’s Pulitzer Prize for newspaper photography.
Craig, with lips parted in disbelief, looked at the letterhead again. It looked authentic with the committee’s name, New York address and all that, but was somebody pulling his leg? The signature at the bottom was that of Jerome A. Weidmuller, Chairman of Selections Committee. The last paragraph expressed the pleasure and congratulations of the Committee, and stated that they would be in touch in regard to bestowing an award of a thousand dollars plus a citation.
Craig was afraid to mention the Pulitzer letter to his parents. It might be a joke.
But the next day, a man who said he was the secretary of Mr. Weidmuller telephoned Craig at home. He said he had got Craig’s telephone number from the
’s office. Craig was cordially invited to a dinner to be given in New York in a few days, and he would receive an invitation by post. His return air fare would be paid, plus hotel expenses in New York for one or two nights, as he preferred. “Congratulations, Mr. Rollins,” said the voice as it signed off.
If this was a joke, it was pretty convincing, Craig thought. A bit dazed, he crumpled up the wet photograph he had been developing in his darkroom, and went to the fridge for a beer to celebrate.
When an express letter arrived that same day at 6
, Craig knew that the Pulitzer Prize affair was real. The air ticket was in the envelope, with the proviso that if he could not keep the date six days thence, he would notify the Committee and return the ticket. His hotel was booked, with dates, and the letter assured him that all expenses would be paid by the Committee.
“What was that?” asked his mother, who was preparing supper in the kitchen.
Craig had walked into the kitchen with the letter in his hand. “Well, Ma—I wasn’t sure it was true till now. I won the Pulitzer for my photo of Lizzie Davis.”
“The Pulitzer?” said his father. “The Pulitzer Prize? Didn’t know there was one for photography.”
Craig attended the dinner in New York. For a few seconds Craig was visible on the TV screen, his parents told him, among other Pulitzer Prize winners for the novel, journalism, drama and so on.
After that, Craig’s telephone began to ring. The Kyanduck
passed on callers and messages to Craig. Journalists wanted to interview him. A boy of nineteen wrote to him care of the
asking if he gave photography lessons. This letter made Craig smile, because he had never had any lessons himself, apart from a course in high school, a course he had dropped after a month, because the work had become too complicated. A university in California that Craig had never heard of wanted him to come and give a lecture, travel expenses paid, plus fee of three hundred dollars. A Philadelphia school of journalism invited him to make a speech of about forty-five minutes, and offered a fee of five hundred dollars. Craig intended to write both schools a polite letter of refusal, on the grounds that he had never made a speech in his life and that the idea terrified him. But after a good dinner at home, and mentioning these invitations to his parents, and his parents’ saying in their old-fashioned way, “Sure you can, Craig, if you just put your mind to it. Be friendly! People just want to see you and meet you now,” Craig decided to accept the California offer.