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Authors: Jerzy Kosinski

Cockpit

BOOK: Cockpit
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Cockpit

B
OOKS BY
J
ERZY
K
OSINSKI
 

NOVELS

The Painted Bird

Steps

Being There

The Devil Tree

Cockpit

Passion Play

Pinball

The Hermit of 69th Street

Blind Date

ESSAYS

Passing By

Notes of the Author

The Art of the Self

NONFICTION

(Under the pen name Joseph Novak)

The Future Is Ours, Comrade

No Third Path

Cockpit
a novel
 

Jerzy Kosinski

 

 

Copyright © 1975 by Jerzy Kosinski

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

 

Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America
Originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Kosinski, Jerzy N., 1933-1991.

 

     Cockpit / Jerzy Kosinski.

            p.    cm.

     eBook ISBN-13: 978-0-8021-9578-4

      I. Title.

   [PS3561.08C6    1998]

  813’.54—dc21                        98-14019

Grove Press
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

 

For Katherina,
the sound and touch of my life

Author’s note.
This book is wholly fiction. Any resemblance to the present or past is gratuitous and similarity to any actual event or character is accidental and not intended.

 

But I dwell now well in the making of the future. Little by little, time is kneading me into shape. A child is not frightened at the thought of being patiently turned into an old man. I too play my games. I count the dials, the levers, the buttons, the knobs of my kingdom.

 

ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY
,
Flight to Arras

 

Cockpit

Although we have known each other for a long time and have spoken often, we have never spoken intimately. I was intrigued by you the first time we met at your party. Since then, I have wanted to see you alone but could never bring myself to ask.

You probably do not recall that, during the party, I headed toward one of the bathrooms, locking your bedroom door behind me. If anyone had tried to enter the room during my inspection of it, I would have explained I had locked that door because I had not been able to lock the one to the bathroom. I opened your closets and checked the proportion of evening dresses to sports clothes, noting their quality and condition. I examined your underwear and the heels and soles of your shoes. Then I flipped through some of the letters I found on your desk, read a few, and glanced over your checkbook, telephone and hotel bills and airline ticket receipts.

In the bathroom, I surveyed your cosmetics and studied the vials of pills in your medicine cabinet. I wrote down the name of each doctor on the label, the prescription date and indicated dosage, then took a sample from every bottle.

That evening, I talked to a couple in their thirties who said they had known you for years. The woman, a bit drunk, said, “Look at me, Mr. Tarden. Once, a long time ago, I was soft and moist and supple. It was a time, if you can imagine, when staying thin wasn’t a losing battle, when I didn’t suffer from lower back pain, when I wasn’t on my way to a drying-out tank like so many other women. Now my only unique features are my fingerprints, which developed even before I was born. When I was in high school, any idiot could foresee the kind of man I would marry, what our children would be like and the sort of home we would live in. Anyone could have predicted then that my life would become as dried out and bleached by alcohol and boredom as my hair and skin are by the sun and wind.” She raised her Scotch in a mocking salute. Her husband joined her in the toast and they both laughed, displaying their capped teeth, white against their dark tans.

When I returned home from the party, I took out the pills I had stolen from your bathroom and looked through the most recent edition of the
Physicians’ Desk Reference,
which includes full-sized, color reproductions of all currently marketed medications. I identified the proper chemical name of each of your drugs and read about its composition, use and side effects. For some reason, learning these details increased my desire to know you. The afternoon we met by accident and I drove you home, I wanted to invite you to the apartment I rent as Tarden, the only name you know me by. But I was afraid that, if I did see you alone, you might be upset by what I had to say, by my desire to share my life with you. I did not want to just tell you about my past. I wanted you to relive it.

Instead of taking you to my apartment, I dropped you off at your home and drove toward the theater district. I pulled alongside the curb, where prostitutes lounged against the buildings waiting to be picked up, made my choice and motioned her to come over. I told her what I wanted and we agreed on a price.

Later, at my apartment, while she was taking a shower, I felt terribly dizzy. I sank into a chair, exhausted and sweating.

I had difficulty breathing and suddenly my heartbeat seemed irregular. I heard the girl singing in my bathroom, and wondered what would happen if I should die right then. It wasn’t the thought of dying that disturbed me, but that I might die without leaving a trace.

I saw it all: the girl would come out of the bathroom and find me sprawled on the floor. Having made sure I was dead, she would look through my pockets, take whatever money she found, pick up anything that seemed valuable and start to leave. But to open the door from the inside, she would have to know the three-digit combinations of the locks. She would panic, take a drink to build her courage and struggle unsuccessfully with the locks once more. Then she would give up and put back the money and the stolen articles before calling the police.

I could see the detectives force open the door, discover the body, then ask her sarcastically what she had done to break my heart. They would search the apartment for papers that might identify me and would then try to determine the cause of death. The locked drawers would contain hundreds of negatives and photographs of women taken in the apartment, nothing more. The police would joke about the man whose passion for women had killed him, and leave without finding any identification.

I have stored my important documents in vaults I rent under assumed names in residential hotels, banks and post office boxes, all prepaid on a long-term basis. I can retrieve the most essential papers at any time, and if I need to leave the country suddenly I can do so without having to return to any place that might be identified as my home.

Ever since I left the Service, I have simultaneously maintained similar apartments in major cities, every apartment located on one of the top floors of a large high-rise, each rented from a different landlord under a different assumed
name. All the buildings can be entered through separate lobbies on different streets, as well as by underground garages and service entrances.

I keep master keys for all my apartments in each location, in order to be able to enter any apartment without carrying many sets of keys with me all the time; a duplicate set to each apartment is hidden somewhere in every building. I put the keys inside a small, magnetic box, which I then attach to a basement steam pipe, an incinerator shaft or some such inconspicuous place.

To be completely satisfactory, each building must have more than one staircase and elevator. I have always alternated among the apartments and never stay in any of them more than four weeks at a time. I don’t know the other tenants and I doubt if they would recognize me. Each of my apartments consists of a furnished central room with floodlamps set up for portrait and figure photography, a small kitchen, a bathroom and some space that I have converted into a photographic darkroom. I have covered the walls with a layer of cork and hung heavy curtains between the main rooms and foyers to make each apartment soundproof. I have installed locks on every door. Under each darkroom’s large work counter, I have cushioned a space large enough to sit up or stretch out in, and covered the front of it with a false wall. I can remain there for hours, unseen, hearing every sound in the apartment. With an ear-plug listening device that feeds from the main phone wiring, I can monitor incoming and outgoing telephone calls.

From my niche, I can also trigger various explosions all over the apartment. Those in the kitchen and bathroom would stun anyone who happened to be in either room and give me ample time to escape unseen. I have also set a charge in the main room that would create enough diversion to let me dash from the darkroom, through the foyer and out the door. It would also shatter the window, and,
should I suffer a sudden seizure when alone and be unable to telephone for help, I could set off an explosion that would bring the police and the emergency rescue squad.

I always pay three years’ rent in advance. I also give the management a substantial cash deposit to pay bills including utilities, telephone and cable television. The landlords welcome the front money and probably assume I am a bachelor or a widower who travels a lot, and is anxious not to let the rental agreement lapse during his stay abroad. No landlord has ever bothered me about my absences.

I recently read about a man who lived alone in a small house in the suburbs. He, too, had no family and went out so seldom that few of his neighbors ever saw him. They had forgotten he even existed, until the postman noticed his mail piling up and notified the police. They found the old man at his kitchen table in front of a portable television set, his shirt unbuttoned, his tie loosened, his body already decomposing. The coroner confirmed what the police assumed from the date of the newspaper under his hand: he had been dead for two months. The set had burned out. I realized that with only a prostitute in attendance at my death I would be no better off than this man.

As soon as the girl finished her shower and left, I called Valerie, whom I had been dating for over a year. She was a resident in orthopedics whose field was joint injuries, especially those incurred by athletes. Among her patients at a suburban medical institute were men who had been perfect physical specimens, whose limbs were now useless conglomerations of torn cartilage and shattered bones.

Because of her heavy schedule, Valerie had to live at the hospital in the suburbs and could spend the night with me in the city only twice a week. I would drive out to the hospital and when she was on call, we would sit in the cafeteria for hours talking and drinking cup after cup of coffee. She told me that, at first, the other residents and the athletes from the outpatient clinic openly ridiculed her for seeing
me, a man so much older than herself. Some of them thought I was keeping her. Yet once they found out I was wealthy, they all suggested she give up medicine for the good life I could provide. She knew that, although a lot of my funds were frozen, there was plenty for both of us to live on and I promised to set up an unconditional trust fund for her, in case she ever decided to leave me. I assured her that I did not expect her to love me. She would live with me, but she would be as free as I to see other people.

Valerie said that, by appointing myself her liberator, I was actually prohibiting her from shaping her own existence; I was concerned only with my own future and had created an illusion of what I wanted her to be.

BOOK: Cockpit
11.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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