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skeletons

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Table of Contents

SKELETONS

Books by Glendon Swarthout

WILLOW RUN

THEY CAME TO CORDURA

WHERE THE BOYS ARE

WELCOME TO THEBES

THE CADILLAC COWBOYS

THE EAGLE AND THE IRON CROSS

LOVELAND

BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN

THE TIN LIZZIE TROOP

LUCK AND PLUCK

THE SHOOTIST

THE MELODEON

SKELETONS

Glendon Swarthout

SKELETONS

DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY, INC. GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK 1979

All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Swarthout,
     Glendon
     Fred*
     Skeletons.
     I. Title.
PZ3.S97i92Sk
[PS3S37-W3743]       8i3’.5’2
     ISBN: 0-385-12824-x
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 78-22370

Copyright © 1979 by Glendon Swarthout

ALL BIGHTS RESERVED

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

FIRST EDITION

JACKET DESIGN BY

MUNI LIEBLEIN

AUTHOR PHOTO BY

NYLE LEATHAM

for
Stewart Richardson

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Time

is       dead

as long as it

is being

clicked

off

by little wheels;

only

when

the

clock

stops

does

time

come

to life.

William

Faulkner

11:14

11: 14

11: 14

11: 14

I love GOOD and hate EVIL.

One thing I get a bang out of is reading aloud to a roomful of middle-aged children, ten to fourteen. I need to see how they react. What makes them laugh or cry, what grabs and engrosses them.

I was about to read a few pages, but first I had to set the stage.

“How many of you have flown?” I asked. Of the seventeen in the room, sixteen raised hands. Not surprising in New York. “Okay,” I said. “Now, how many have ever seen a fly on a plane?” Two raised hands, a few made faces. “Well, probably most of you have, and never thought about it. Next time you fly, notice. Usually you’ll see a fly or two hanging around the galley, where the stewardesses prepare meals. And why do flies fly?

Why, because they enjoy travel, just as you do. And think of it—all a fly has to do is look at a schedule, decide where he’d like to go, pick his flight, fly to that gate, buzz aboard, and away he goes. No X-ray, no hand-luggage inspection. Free. And first-class, too, because the food and booze are better.”

The phone rang.

“Jimmie?”

I went weak. Tyler Vaught.

“Wrong number,” I said.

I hung up on her, resumed. “Excuse me, kids, just my ex-wife. Where were we? Oh yes. I suppose most of you have seen JFK. Well, the next time you go out there, go to the TWA terminal, stand in the center of the big room, and look up near the ceiling, in the northeast corner. If you have good eyes, you’ll—”

The phone rang.

“Jimmie, this is Tyler.”

“I know.”

“Max is dead.”

A pregnant pause.

“Well?” she said.

“Well what?”

“Say something.”

“It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

“You bastard.”

“Tyler, what am I supposed to do? Fall apart? So the son of a bitch is dead. Good night.”

“No, wait. He was killed by a hit-and-run driver. In Harding.”

“Harding? What in hell was he doing in New Mexico?”

“Well, it’s a long story. But one night I happened to tell him about Harding—you know, my grandfathers, the gunfight, the trials, 1910,1916, and—”

“Oh no. Not that again.”

“And he got very excited. You know Max. He thought there might be a book in it. So the next day he flew out there. That was four days ago. Now he’s dead.”

“You’re breaking my heart.”

“Jimmie, why I called. His body’s being flown in from El Paso to JFK tomorrow. Someone in the family must sign for it—airline regulations—or someone authorized by the family, and turn it over to the mortuary. Well, his dear old parents live in the Bronx and they’re on their knees—Max was an only child. So they’ve authorized me to meet the body and sign for it tomorrow afternoon and Jimmie, I don’t think I can do it. Alone. Jimmie, will you go with me?”

“Hit-and-run, huh? Sorry I wasn’t the driver.”

“Please.”

“I hope they total his coffin the way they total my luggage-”

“Jimmie, I need you. I can’t—”

“Adios,
Tyler.”

I hung up on her again and readdressed my fidgety audience. “Where were we? Oh yes. Up near the TWA ceiling you’ll see a crowd of flies. Well, they’re the jet set, the pro international travelers—TWA goes everywhere. This crowd hangs around between flights and exchanges information on the best airlines and the best hotels and so on and the most-traveled of them all is Frisby. Frisby is a really worldly fly. He’s just returned from Italy, is recovering from jet lag, and thinking about having a look at Africa next. There’s a midnight departure from Kennedy to Nairobi via London. And as our story begins—the pages I’m going to read you—Frisby’s asking his friends about visas and inoculations and safaris and—”

Suddenly I didn’t feel like reading, didn’t need a roomful of kids. Tyler would call again, she never quit, and I wanted to be alone to think of different ways to say no when she did.

“Bug off, you little buggers,” I said to them. “A man’s dead and I’m not in the mood. So get lost and goodbye.”

They disappeared.

Imaginary children of course. I wish I were happily married, with my own progeny to read to, but alas, I probably never will be. Or have my own progeny. I live in an apartment on East Seventy-third, between Fifth and Madison. I used to live on East Seventy-third between Park and Lex, and it took me a long time and
beaucoup
hard work to move just two blocks west. Two blocks, even on the same street, can make all the difference status-wise in New York, a city I love everything about except the crime. I adore my block. On the ground floor of my building are Coiffeurs Piccolo Mondo, where elegant dames have their hair done and play backgammon, and an art gallery, Les Miserables. Little old ladies wearing boots and eating ice cream cones walk their dogs under my windows. There is always garbage piled in black plastic bags, and a Cadillac limousine double-parked. My real name, B. James Butters, is on my mailbox, but I use another sometimes. I am thirty-four years old and still basically a boy and had damned well better be. I stand five-eight and weigh one-fifty. I am a handsome lad with blond hair, baby blue eyes, four closets crammed with clothes, a classic car, a spectacular imagination, and an infallible funnybone. I BUBBLE. I BOUNCE.

I am also a coward. I thank God I’ve never been in a war and had to kill anyone. I have two locks and a chain on my door and have been mugged twice and handed over every cent and would have added a pint of blood and a pound of flesh on demand. Violence on the street or the screen or the page makes me physically ill. The sound of sirens in the night—I live not far from a precinct headquarters and a fire station—and I am stark awake. I lie there and listen and think of all the ghastly things people are doing to each other that very minute and get goosebumps.

Going to an airport to take delivery of a corpse was not my idea of fun and games. Even with the most exciting woman east of the Mississippi.

The phone.

“Jimmie, if you still love me.”

I did. Desperately.

“I don’t.”

WNBC did a short obit of Max Sansom on the eleven o’clock news that night. At forty-four the victim of a hit-and-run accident in New Mexico, one of America’s most popular novelists, every book a best seller, his personal life as colorful as his fiction, etc. I turned off the tube.

He made page one in the
Times
the next morning. Including a recent picture drunk and dancing with Tyler at some disco.

She phoned at noon and asked if the East Side Terminal at three was all right with me, we could bus out, and incidentally, Harrison Tremaine would meet us at JFK.

“Tremaine? Why?”

“Well, he’s Max’s publisher after all.

“Was.”

“You know I hate him practically as much as I do Max. Did.”

“He wanted to come.”

“Then you pick me up in a cab and take me out there in a cab and you pay for it. I refuse to ride a Carey bus to meet Max Sansom dead or Harry Tremaine alive.”

A somber April afternoon, a light rain falling. When we reached Kennedy, American Airlines told us the El Paso flight would be half an hour late. We went into a bar and there was Tremaine.

“B. James Butters,” he said.

“Harry,” I said.

We sat sucking drinks. Tremaine knew how I felt about him, I’d told him so, several times, to his face. He and Sansom, his big money-maker, represented to me that ruthless commercialism which has turned publishing, once a gentleman’s profession, into the merchandising of any printed matter by any means. Tremaine was at pains to look like a PUBLISHER–Savile Row suits, thirty-dollar hair stylings, Count Vronsky vodka—but it was surface. Underneath, the man was a living four-letter word. The kind of guy who thinks he pees Perrier.

“A great loss,” he sighed, making conversation, “to American literature.”

“Balls,” I said.

“In the opinion of many.”

“Big burning balls.”

Tremaine smiled. “At least he had them.”

I pushed it. “He wrote sleazy books and you sell sleazy books.”

So did he. “Max under the ground will be twice the man you are above it.”

“I never stabbed my wife in the stomach.” Sansom had been from nowhere before that. After that he made the talk shows and book clubs.

“You didn’t have her long enough. He took her away from you.”

I crunched ice. Tyler Vaught and I had been married three months when, one night at an art show in a gallery on Lexington, she’d met Max and, like a bitch in heat, gone home with, him and never come back. Even to pick up her clothes and cosmetics. One of those lovely New York happenings. We divorced. The only communication I’d had from her since then was a note, asking me to mail her grandfather’s gun, which I did.

“Tremaine,” I said, “I’ve had you up to here.” And stood up.

Tremaine stood up. “Up to where?”

That was the problem. I had twenty years on him but he had six inches and seventy-five pounds on me and besides, I abhor violence. I stood there challenging the knot in his Sulka tie and wondering how to get out of it gracefully when Tyler saved me.

“Stop it, for God’s sake, both of you,” she said. “Your timing disgusts me.”

Just then they called the El Paso arrival. I took her arm and headed for the gate and let Tremaine pick up the tab and the receipt. Business expense. The 707 nudged the ramp as he caught up with us, or rather Tyler, oozing sympathy and lust. “My dear, I have friends at American. Would you like me to do this for you?”

“Yes. Oh I would.”

“Give me the letter of authorization.”

“Thank you, Harry.”

He left us to talk to a gate attendant, who got on the phone while Tyler and I watched the deplaning passengers. Among them were some cowboy types—tall, lean, tanned men in ranch suits with snaps for buttons and string ties and boots and big, wide-brimmed Stetsons. You saw such men occasionally, even in New York, but I disbelieved them. They had to be TV models, or extras in a movie. FIFTH AVENUE FENCEBUSTERS.

BOOK: skeletons
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