Black House
Chapter Seven

 Stephen King

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GOD MAY KNOW where Henry Leyden found that astounding suit, but we certainly do not. A costume shop? No, it is too elegant to be a costume; this is the real thing, not an imitation. But what sort of real thing is it? The wide lapels sweep down to an inch below the waist, and the twin flaps of the swallowtail reach nearly to the ankles of the billowing, pleated trousers, which seem, beneath the snowfield expanse of the double-breasted waistcoat, to ride nearly at the level of the sternum. On Henry's feet, white, high-button spats adorn white patent-leather shoes; about his neck, a stiff, high collar turns its pointed peaks over a wide, flowing, white satin bow tie, perfectly knotted. The total effect is of old-fashioned diplomatic finery harmoniously wedded to a zoot suit: the raffishness of the ensemble outweighs its formality, but the dignity of the swallowtail and the waistcoat contribute to the whole a regal quality of a specific kind, the regality often seen in African American entertainers and musicians.
Escorting Henry to the common room while surly Pete Wexler comes along behind, pushing a handcart loaded with boxes of records, Rebecca Vilas dimly remembers having seen Duke Ellington wearing a white cutaway like this in a clip from some old film . . . or was it Cab Calloway? She recalls an upraised eyebrow, a glittering smile, a seductive face, an upright figure posed before a band, but little more. (If alive, either Mr. Ellington or Mr. Calloway could have informed Rebecca that Henry's outfit, including the "high-drape" pants with a "reet pleat," terms not in her vocabulary, had undoubtedly been handmade by one of four specific tailors located in the black neighborhoods of New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, or Los Angeles, masters of their trade during the thirties and forties, underground tailors, men now alas as dead as their celebrated clients. Henry Leyden knows exactly who tailored his outfit, where it came from, and how it fell into his hands, but when it comes to persons such as Rebecca Vilas, Henry imparts no more information than is already likely to be known.) In the corridor leading to the common room, the white cutaway appears to shine from within, an impression only increased by Henry's oversized, daddy-cool dark glasses with bamboo frames, in which what may be tiny sapphires wink at the corners of the bows.
Is there maybe some shop that sells Spiffy Clothes of Great 1930s Bandleaders? Does some museum inherit this stuff and auction it off ? Rebecca cannot contain her curiosity a moment longer. "Mr. Leyden, where did you get that beautiful outfit?"
From the rear and taking care to sound as though he is muttering to himself, Pete Wexler opines that obtaining an outfit like that probably requires chasing a person of an ethnicity beginning with the letter n for at least a couple of miles.
Henry ignores Pete and smiles. "It's all a matter of knowing where to look."
"Guess you never heard of CDs," Pete says. "They're like this big new breakthrough."
"Shut up and tote them bales, me bucko," says Ms. Vilas. "We're almost there."
"Rebecca, my dear, if I may," Henry says. "Mr. Wexler has every right to grouse. After all, there's no way he could know that I own about three thousand CDs, is there? And if the man who originally owned these clothes can be called a nigger, I'd be proud to call myself one, too. That would be an incredible honor. I wish I could claim it."
Henry has come to a halt. Each, in a different way, shocked by his use of the forbidden word, Pete and Rebecca have also stopped moving.
"And," Henry says, "we owe respect to those who assist us in the performance of our duties. I asked Mr. Wexler to shake out my suit when he hung it up, and he very kindly obliged me."
"Yeah," Pete says. "Plus I also hung up your light and put your turntable and speakers and shit right where you want 'em."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Wexler," Henry says. "I appreciate your efforts in my behalf."
"Well, shit," Pete says, "I was only doing my job, you know? But anything you want after you're done, I'll give you a hand."
Without benefit of a flash of panties or a glimpse of ass, Pete Wexler has been completely disarmed. Rebecca finds this amazing. All in all, sightless or not, Henry Leyden, it comes to her, is far and away the coolest human being she has ever been privileged to encounter in her entire twenty-six years on the face of the earth. Never mind his clothes ¡ª where did guys like this come from?
"Do you really think some little boy vanished from the sidewalk out in front of here this afternoon?" Henry asks.
"What?" Rebecca asks.
"Seems like it to me," Pete says.
"What?" Rebecca asks again, this time to Pete Wexler, not Henry. "What are you saying?"
"Well, he ast me, and I tol' him," Pete says. "That's all."
Simmering dangerously, Rebecca takes a stride toward him. "This happened on our sidewalk? Another kid, in front of our building? And you didn't say anything to me or Mr. Maxton?"
"There wasn't nothin' to say," Pete offers in self-defense.
"Maybe you could tell us what actually happened," Henry says.
"Sure. What happened was, I went outside for a smoke, see?" This is less than strictly truthful. Faced with the choice of walking ten yards to the Daisy corridor men's room to flush his cigarette down a toilet or walking ten feet to the entrance and pitching it into the parking lot, Pete had sensibly elected outdoor disposal. "So I get outside and that's when I saw it. This police car, parked right out there. So I walked up to the hedge, and there's this cop, a young guy, I think his name is Cheetah, or something like that, and he's loadin' this bike, like a kid's bike, into his trunk. And something else, too, only I couldn't see what it was except it was small. And after he did that, he got a piece a chalk outta his glove compartment and he came back and made like X marks on the sidewalk."
"Did you talk to him?" Rebecca asks. "Did you ask him what he was doing?"
"Miz Vilas, I don't talk to cops unless it's like you got no other choice, know what I mean? Cheetah, he never even saw me. The guy wouldn't of said nothing anyhow. He had this expression on his face ¡ª it was like, Jeez, I hope I get to the crapper before I drop a load in my pants, that kind of expression."
"Then he just drove away?"
"Just like that. Twenty minutes later, two other cops showed up."
Rebecca raises both hands, closes her eyes, and presses her fingertips to her forehead, giving Pete Wexler an excellent opportunity, of which he does not fail to take full advantage, to admire the shape of her breasts underneath her blouse. It may not be as great as the view from the bottom of the ladder, but it'll do, all right, yes it will. As far as Ebbie's dad is concerned, a sight like Rebecca Vilas's Hottentots pushing out against her dress is like a good fire on a cold night. They are bigger than you'd expect on a slender little thing like her, and you know what? When the arms go up, the Hottentots go up, too! Hey, if he had known she was going to put on a show like this, he would have told her about Cheetah and the bicycle as soon as it happened.
"All right, okay," she says, still flattening the tips of her fingers against her head. She lifts her chin, raising her arms another few inches, and frowns in concentration, for a moment looking like a figure on a plinth.
Hoo-ray and hallelujah, Pete thinks. There's a bright side to everything. If another little snotnose gets grabbed off the sidewalk tomorrow morning, it won't be soon enough for me.
Rebecca says, "Okay, okay, okay," opens her eyes, and lowers her arms. Pete Wexler is staring firmly at a point over her shoulder, his face blank with a false innocence she immediately comprehends. Good God, what a caveman. "It's not as bad as I thought. In the first place, all you saw was a policeman picking up a bike. Maybe it was stolen. Maybe some other kid borrowed the bike, dumped it, and ran away. The cop could have been looking for it. Or the kid who owned the bike could have been hit by a car or something. And even if the worst did happen, I don't see any way that it could hurt us. Maxton's isn't responsible for whatever goes on outside the grounds."
She turns to Henry, who looks as though he wishes he were a hundred miles away. "Sorry, I know that sounded awfully cold. I'm as distressed about this Fisherman business as everyone else, what with those two poor kids and the missing girl. We're all so upset we can hardly think straight. But I'd hate to see us dragged into the mess, don't you see?"
"I see perfectly," Henry says. "Being one of those blind men George Rathbun is always yelling about."
"Hah!" Pete Wexler barks.
"And you agree with me, don't you?"
"I'm a gentleman, I agree with everybody," Henry says. "I agree with Pete that another child may well have been abducted by our local monster. Officer Cheetah, or whatever his name is, sounded too anxious to be just picking up a lost bicycle. And I agree with you that Maxton's cannot be blamed for anything that happened."
"Good," Rebecca says.
"Unless, of course, someone here is involved in the murders of these children."
"But that's impossible!" Rebecca says. "Most of our male clients can't even remember their own names."
"A ten-year-old girl could take most of these feebs," Pete says. "Even the ones who don't have old-timer's disease walk around covered in their own . . . you know."
"You're forgetting about the staff," Henry says.
"Oh, now," Rebecca says, momentarily rendered nearly wordless. "Come on. That's . . . that's a totally irresponsible thing to say."
"True. It is. But if this goes on, nobody will be above suspicion. That's my point."
Pete Wexler feels a sudden chill ¡ª if the town clowns start grilling Maxton's residents, his private amusements might come to light, and wouldn't Wendell Green have a field day with that stuff ? A gleaming new idea comes to him, and he brings it forth, hoping to impress Miz Vilas. "You know what? The cops should talk to that California guy, the big-time detective who nailed that Kinderling asshole two-three years ago. He lives around here somewhere, don't he? Someone like that, he's the guy we need on this. The cops here, they're way outta their depth. That guy, he's like a whaddayacallit, a goddamn resource."
"Odd you should say that," Henry says. "I couldn't agree with you more. It is about time Jack Sawyer did his thing. I'll work on him again."
"You know him?" Rebecca asks.
"Oh, yes," Henry says. "That I do. But isn't it about time for me to do my own thing?"
"Soon. They're all still outside."
Rebecca leads him down the rest of the corridor and into the common room, where all three of them move across to the big platform. Henry's microphone stands beside a table mounted with his speakers and turntable. With unnerving accuracy, Henry says, "Lot of space in here."
"You can tell that?" she asks.
"Piece of cake," Henry says. "We must be getting close now."
"It's right in front of you. Do you need any help?"
Henry extends one foot and taps the side of the flat. He glides a hand down the edge of the table, locates the mike stand, says, "Not at the moment, darlin'," and steps neatly up onto the platform. Guided by touch, he moves to the back of the table and locates the turntable. "All is co-pacetic," he says. "Pete, would you please put the record boxes on the table? The one on top goes here, and the other one right next to it."
"What's he like, your friend Jack?" Rebecca asks.
"An orphan of the storm. A pussycat, but an extremely difficult pussy-cat. I have to say, he can be a real pain in the bunghole."
Crowd noises, a buzz of conversation interlaced with children's voices and songs thumped out on an old upright piano, have been audible through the windows since they entered the room, and when Pete has placed the record boxes on the table, he says, "I better get out there, 'cuz Chipper's probly lookin' for me. Gonna be a shitload of cleanup once they come inside."
Pete shambles out, rolling the handcart before him. Rebecca asks if there is anything more Henry would like her to do for him.
"The overhead lights are on, aren't they? Please turn them off, and wait for the first wave to come in. Then switch on the pink spot, and prepare to jitterbug your heart out."
"You want me to turn off the lights?"
"You'll see."
Rebecca moves back across to the door, turns off the overhead lights, and does see, just as Henry had promised. A soft, dim illumination from the rank of windows hovers in the air, replacing the former brightness and harshness with a vague mellow haze, as if the room lay behind a scrim. That pink spotlight is going to look pretty good in here, Rebecca thinks.
Outside on the lawn, the predance wingding is winding down. Lots of old men and women are busily polishing off their strawberry shortcakes and soda pop at the picnic tables, and the piano-playing gent in the straw boater and red sleeve garters comes to the end of "Heart and Soul," ba bump ba bump ba ba bump bump bump, no finesse but plenty of volume, closes the lid of the upright, and stands up to a scattering of applause. Grandchildren who had earlier complained about having to come to the great fest dodge through the tables and wheelchairs, evading their parents' glances and hoping to wheedle a last balloon from the balloon lady in the clown suit and frizzy red wig, oh joy unbounded.
Alice Weathers applauds the piano player, as well she might: forty years ago, he reluctantly absorbed the rudiments of pianism at her hands just well enough to pick up a few bucks at occasions like this, when not obliged to perform his usual function, that of selling sweatshirts and baseball caps on Chase Street. Charles Burnside, who, having been scrubbed clean by good-hearted Butch Yerxa, decked himself out in an old white shirt and a pair of loose, filthy trousers, stands slightly apart from the throng in the shade of a large oak, not applauding but sneering. The unbuttoned collar of the shirt droops around his ropy neck. Now and then he wipes his mouth or picks his teeth with a ragged thumbnail, but mainly he does not move at all. He looks as though someone plunked him down by the side of a road and drove off. Whenever the careering grandkids swerve near Burny, they instantly veer away, as if repelled by a force field.
Between Alice and Burny, three-fourths of the residents of Maxton's belly up to the tables, stump around on their walkers, sit beneath the trees, occupy their wheelchairs, hobble here and there ¡ª yakking, dozing, chuckling, farting, dabbing at fresh strawberry-colored stains on their clothing, staring at their relatives, staring at their trembling hands, staring at nothing. Half a dozen of the most vacant among them wear conical party hats of hard, flat red and hard, flat blue, the shades of enforced gaiety. The women from the kitchen have begun to circulate through the tables with big black garbage bags, for soon they must retire to their domain to prepare the evening's great feast of potato salad, mashed potatoes, creamed potatoes, baked beans, Jell-O salad, marshmallow salad, and whipped-cream salad, plus of course more mighty strawberry shortcake!
The undisputed and hereditary sovereign of this realm, Chipper Max-ton, whose disposition generally resembles that of a skunk trapped in a muddy hole, has spent the previous ninety minutes ambling about smiling and shaking hands, and he has had enough. "Pete," he growls, "what the hell took you so long? Start racking up the folding chairs, okay? And help shift these people into the common room. Let's get a goddamn move on here. Wagons west."
Pete scurries off, and Chipper claps his hands twice, loudly, then raises his outstretched arms. "Hey, everybody," he bellows, "can you truly believe what a gol-durn gorgeous day the good Lord gave us for this beautiful event? Isn't this something?"
Half a dozen feeble voices rise in agreement.
"Come on, people, you can do better than that! I want to hear it for this wonderful day, this wonderful time we're all having, and for all the wonderful help and assistance given us by our volunteers and staff!"
A slightly more exuberant clamor rewards his efforts.
"All right! Hey, you know what? As George Rathbun would say, even a blind man could see what a great time we're all having. I know I am, and we're not done yet! We got the greatest deejay you ever heard, a fellow called Symphonic Stan, the Big-Band Man, waiting to put on a great, great show in the common room, music and dancing right up to the big Strawberry Fest dinner, and we got him cheap, too ¡ª but don't tell him I said that! So, friends and family, it's time to say your good-byes and let your loved ones cut a rug to the golden oldies, just like them, ha ha! Golden oldies one and all, that's all of us here at Maxton's. Even I'm not as young as I used to be, ha ha, so I might take a spin across the floor with some lucky lady.
"Seriously, folks, it's time for us to put on our dancing shoes. Please kiss Dad or Mom, Granddad or Grandma good-bye, and on your way out, you may wish to leave a contribution toward our expenses in the basket on top of Ragtime Willie's piano right over here, ten dollars, five dollars, anything you can spare helps us cover the costs of giving your mom, your dad, a bright, bright day. We do it out of love, but half of that love is your love."
And in what may seem to us a surprisingly short amount of time, but does not to Chipper Maxton, who understands that very few people wish to linger in an elder-care facility any longer than they must, the relatives bestow their final hugs and kisses, round up the exhausted kiddies, and file down the paths and over the grass into the parking lot, along the way a good number depositing bills in the basket atop Ragtime Willie's upright piano.
No sooner does this exodus begin than Pete Wexler and Chipper Maxton set about persuading, with all the art available to them, the oldsters back into the building. Chipper says things like, "Now don't you know how much we all want to see you trip the light fantastic, Mrs. Syverson?" while Pete takes the more direct approach of, "Move along, bud, time to stir your stumps," but both men employ the techniques of subtle and not-so-subtle nudges, pushes, elbow grasping, and wheelchair rolling to get their doddering charges through the door.
At her post, Rebecca Vilas watches the residents enter the hazy common room, some of them traveling at a rate a touch too brisk for their own good. Henry Leyden stands motionless behind his boxes of LPs. His suit shimmers; his head is merely a dark silhouette before the windows. For once too busy to ogle Rebecca's chest, Pete Wexler moves past with one hand on the elbow of Elmer Jesperson, deposits him eight feet inside the room, and whirls around to locate Thorvald Thorvaldson, Elmer's dearest enemy and fellow inhabitant of D12. Alice Weathers wafts in under her own guidance and folds her hands beneath her chin, waiting for the music to begin. Tall, scrawny, hollow-cheeked, at the center of an empty space that is his alone, Charles Burnside slides through the door and quickly moves a good distance off to the side. When his dead eyes indifferently meet hers, Rebecca shivers. The next pair of eyes to meet hers belong to Chipper, who pushes Flora Flostad's wheelchair as if it held a crate of oranges and gives her an impatient glare completely at odds with the easy smile on his face. Time is money, you bet, but money is money, too, let's get this show on the road, pronto. The first wave, Henry had told her ¡ª is that what they have here, the first wave? She glances across the room, wondering how to ask, and sees that the question has already been answered, for as soon as she looks up, Henry flashes her the okay sign.
Rebecca flips the switch for the pink spot, and nearly everybody in the room, including a number of old parties who had appeared well beyond response of any kind, utters a soft aaah. His suit, his shirt, his spats blazing in the cone of light, a transformed Henry Leyden glides and dips toward the microphone as a twelve-inch LP, seemingly magicked out of the air, twirls like a top on the palm of his right hand. His teeth shine; his sleek hair gleams; the sapphires wink from the bows of his enchanted sunglasses. Henry seems almost to be dancing himself, with his sweet, clever sidestepping glide . . . only he is no longer Henry Leyden; no way, Renee, as George Rathbun likes to roar. The suit, the spats, the slicked-back hair, the shades, even the wondrously effective pink spot are mere stage dressing. The real magic here is Henry, that uniquely malleable creature. When he is George Rathbun, he is all George. Ditto the Wisconsin Rat; ditto Henry Shake. It has been eighteen months since he took Symphonic Stan from the closet and fit into him like a hand into a glove to dazzle the crowd at a Madison VFW record hop, but the clothes still fit, oh yes, they fit, and he fits within them, a hipster reborn whole into a past he never saw firsthand.
On his extended palm, the spinning LP resembles a solid, unmoving, black beachball.
Whenever Symphonic Stan puts on a hop, he always begins with "In the Mood." Although he does not detest Glenn Miller as some jazz aficionados do, over the years he has grown tired of this number. But it always does the job. Even if the customers have no choice but to dance with one foot in the grave and the other on the proverbial banana peel, they do dance. Besides, he knows that after Miller was drafted he told the arranger Billy May of his plan to "come out of this war as some kind of hero," and, hell, he was as good as his word, wasn't he?
Henry reaches the mike and slips the revolving record onto the platter with a negligent gesture of his right hand. The crowd applauds him with an exhaled oooh.
"Welcome, welcome, all you hepcats and hepkitties," Henry says. The words emerge from the speakers wrapped in the smooth, slightly above-it-all voice of a true broadcaster in 1938 or 1939, one of the men who did live remotes from dance halls and nightclubs located from Boston to Catalina. Honey poured through their throats, these muses of the night, and they never missed a beat. "Say, tell me this, you gates and gators, can you think of a better way to kick off a swingin' soiree than with Glenn Miller? Come on, brothers and sisters, give me yeahhh."
From the residents of Maxton's ¡ª some of whom are already out on the floor, others wheelchair-bound on its edges in various postures of confusion or vacuity ¡ª comes a whispery response, less a party cry than the rustle of an autumn wind through bare branches. Symphonic Stan grins like a shark and holds up his hands as if to still a hopped-up multitude, then twirls and spins like a Savoy Ballroom dancer inspired by Chick Webb. His coattails spread like wings, his sparkling feet fly and land and fly again. The moment evaporates, and two black beachballs appear on the deejay's palms, one of them spinning back into its sleeve, the other down to meet the needle.
"All-reety all-righty all-rooty, you hoppin' hens and boppin' bunnies, here comes the Sentimental Gentleman, Mr. Tommy Dorsey, so get off your money and grab your honey while vocalist Dick Haymes, the pride of Buenos Aires, Argentina, asks the musical question 'How Am I to Know You?' Frank Sinatra hasn't entered the building yet, brethren and sistren, but life is still fine as mmm-mmm wine."
Rebecca Vilas cannot believe what she is seeing. This guy is getting just about everyone out onto the floor, even some of the wheelchair cases, who are dipping and swirling with the best of them. Dolled up in his exotic, astonishing outfit, Symphonic Stan ¡ª Henry Leyden, she reminds herself ¡ª is corny and breathtaking, absurd and convincing, all at once. He's like . . . some kind of time capsule, locked into both his role and what these old people want to hear. He has charmed them back into life, back into whatever youth they had left in them. Unbelievable! No other word will do. People she had written off as shuffling basket cases are blooming right in front of her. As for Symphonic Stan, he's carrying on like an elegant dervish, making her think of words like suave, polished, urbane, unhinged, sexy, graceful, words that do not connect except in him. And that thing he does with the records! How is that possible?
She does not realize that she is tapping her foot and swaying in time to the music until Henry puts on Artie Shaw's "Begin the Beguine," when she literally begins her own beguine by starting to dance by herself. Henry's hepcat jive-dance, the sight of so many white-haired, blue-haired, and bald-headed people gliding around the floor, Alice Weathers beaming happily in the arms of none other than gloomy Thorvald Thorvaldson, Ada Meyerhoff and "Tom Tom" Boettcher twirling around each other in their wheelchairs, the sweeping pulse of the music driving everything beneath the molten radiance of Artie Shaw's clarinet, all of these things abruptly, magically coalesce into a vision of earthly beauty that brings tears stinging to her eyes. Smiling, she raises her arms, spins, and finds herself expertly grasped by Tom Tom's twin brother, eighty-six-year-old Hermie Boettcher, the retired geography teacher in A17 formerly considered something of a stick, who without a word fox-trots her right out to the middle of the floor.
"Shame to see a pretty girl dancing all on her lonesome," Hermie says.
"Hermie, I'd follow you anywhere," she tells him.
"Let's us get closer to the bandstand," he says. "I want a better look at that hotshot in the fancy suit. They say he's blind as a bat, but I don't believe it."
His hand planted firmly at the base of her spine, his hips swerving in time to Artie Shaw, Hermie guides her to within a foot of the platform, where the Symphonic One is already doing his trick with a new record as he waits for the last bar of the present one. Rebecca could swear that Stan/Henry not only senses her presence before him but actually winks at her! But that is truly impossible . . . isn't it?
The Symphonic One twirls the Shaw record into its sleeve, the new one onto the platter, and says, "Can you say 'Vout'? Can you say 'Solid'? Now that we're all limbered up, let's get jumpin' and jivin' with Woody Herman and 'Wild Root.' This tune is dedicated to all you beautiful ladies, especially the lady wearing Calyx."
Rebecca laughs and says, "Oh, dear." He could smell her perfume; he recognized it!
Undaunted by the steamy tempo of "Wild Root," Hermie Boettcher slides into a back step, extends his arm, and spins Rebecca around. On the first beat of the next bar, he catches her in his arms and reverses direction, spinning them both toward the far end of the platform, where Alice Weathers stands next to Mr. Thorvaldson, gazing up at Symphonic Stan.
"The special lady must be you," Hermie says. "Because that perfume of yours is worth a dedication."
Rebecca asks, "Where'd you learn to dance like this?"
"My brother and I, we were town boys. Learned how to dance in front of the jukebox at Alouette's, over by Arden." Rebecca knows Alouette's, on Arden's Main Street, but what was once a soda fountain is now a lunch counter, and the jukebox disappeared around the time Johnny Mathis dropped off the charts. "You want a good dancer, you find yourself a town boy. Tom Tom, now he was always the slickest dancer around, and you can plunk him in that chair, but you can't take away his rhythm."
"Mr. Stan, yoo-hoo, Mr. Stan?" Alice Weathers has tilted her head and cupped her hands around her mouth. "Do you take requests?"
A voice as flat and hard as the sound of two stones grinding together says, "I was here first, old woman."
This implacable rudeness brings Rebecca to a halt. Hermie's right foot comes gently down atop her left, then swiftly moves off, doing her no more injury than a kiss. Towering over Alice, Charles Burnside glares at Thorvald Thorvaldson. Thorvaldson steps back and tugs at Alice's hand.
"Certainly, my dear," says Stan, bending down. "Tell me your name and what you'd like to hear."
"I am Alice Weathers, and ¡ª "
"I was here first," Burny loudly repeats.
Rebecca glances at Hermie, who shakes his head and makes a sour face. Town boy or not, he is as intimidated as Mr. Thorvaldson.
" 'Moonglow,' please. By Benny Goodman."
"It's my turn, you jackass. I want that Woody Herman number called 'Lady Magowan's Nightmare.' That one's good."
Hermie leans toward Rebecca's ear. "Nobody likes that fella, but he gets his own way."
"Not this time," Rebecca says. "Mr. Burnside, I want you to ¡ª "
Symphonic Stan silences her with a wave of his hand. He turns to face the owner of the remarkably unpleasant voice. "No can do, mister. The song is called 'Lady Magowan's Dream,' and I didn't bring that snappy little item with me this afternoon, sorry."
"Okay, bud, how about 'I Can't Get Started,' the one Bunny Berigan did?"
"Oh, I love that," Alice says. "Yes, play 'I Can't Get Started.' "
"Happy to oblige," Stan says in Henry Leyden's normal voice. Without bothering to jive around or spin the records on his hands, he simply exchanges the LP on the turntable for one from the first box. He seems oddly wilted as he steps to the mike and says, "I've flown around the world on a plane, I settled revolutions in Spain. Can't get started. Dedicated to the lovely Alice Blue Gown and the One Who Walks by Night."
"You're no better'n a monkey on a stick," says Burny.
The music begins. Rebecca taps Hermie on the arm and moves up alongside Charles Burnside, for whom she has never felt anything but mild revulsion. Now that she has him in focus, her outrage and disgust cause her to say, "Mr. Burnside, you are going to apologize to Alice and to our guest here. You're a crude, obnoxious bully, and after you apologize, I want you to get back into your room, where you belong."
Her words have no effect. Burnside's shoulders have slumped. He has a wide, sloppy grin on his face, and he is staring empty-eyed at nothing in particular. He looks too far gone to remember his own name, much less Bunny Berigan's. In any case, Alice Weathers has danced away, and Symphonic Stan, back at the far end of the platform and out of the pink spot, appears to be deep in thought. The elderly couples sway back and forth on the dance floor. Off to the side, Hermie Boettcher pantomimes dancing and quizzes her with a look.
"I'm sorry about that," she says to Stan/Henry.
"No need to apologize. 'I Can't Get Started' was my wife's favorite record. I've been thinking about her a lot, the past few days. Sort of took me by surprise." He runs a hand over his sleek hair and shakes out his arms, visibly getting back into his role.
Rebecca decides to leave him alone. In fact, she wants to leave everyone alone for a little while. Signaling regret and the press of duty to Hermie, she makes her way through the crowd and exits the common room. Somehow, old Burny has beaten her to the corridor. He shuffles absently toward Daisy wing, head drooping, feet scuffing the floor.
"Mr. Burnside," she says, "your act may fool everyone else, but I want you to know that it doesn't fool me."
Moving by increments, the old man turns around. First one foot shifts, then a knee, the spavined waist, the second foot, finally the cadaverous trunk. The ugly bloom of Burny's head droops on its thin stalk, offering Rebecca a view of his mottled scalp. His long nose protrudes like a warped rudder. With the same dreadful slowness, his head lifts to reveal muddy eyes and a slack mouth. A flash of sheer vindictiveness rises into the dull eyes, and the dead lips writhe.
Frightened, Rebecca takes an instinctive step backward. Burny's mouth has moved all the way into a horrible grin. Rebecca wants to escape, but anger at having been humiliated by this miserable jerk lets her hold her ground.
"Lady Magowan had a bad, bad nightmare," Burny informs her. He sounds drugged, or half asleep. "And Lady Sophie had a nightmare. Only hers was worse." He giggles. "The king was in his countinghouse, counting out his honeys. That's what Sophie saw when she fell asleep." His giggling rises in pitch, and he says something that might be "Mr. Munching." His lips flap, revealing yellow, irregular teeth, and his sunken face undergoes a subtle change. A new kind of intelligence seems to sharpen his features. "Does you know Mr. Munshun? Mr. Munshun and his li'l friend Gorg? Does you know what happened in Chicago?"
"Stop this right now, Mr. Burnside."
"Duz you know uff Fridz Haarman, him who wazz zo loff-ly? Dey called him, dey called him, dey called him 'da Vamp, Vamp, Vamp of Hanover,' yez dey dud, dud, dud. Evveybuddy, evveybuddy, evvey-buddy haz godz nide-marez all da dime, dime, dime, ha ha ho ho."
"Stop talking like that!" Rebecca shouts."You're not fooling me!"
For a moment, the new intelligence flares within Burny's dim eyes. It almost instantly retreats. He licks his lips and says, "Way-gup, Burn-Burn."
"Whatever," Rebecca says. "Dinner is downstairs at seven, if you want it. Go take a nap or something, will you?"
Burny gives her a peeved, murky look and plops a foot down on the floor, beginning the tedious process that will turn him around again. "You could write it down. Fritz Haarman. In Hanover." His mouth twists into a smile of unsettling slyness. "When the king comes here, maybe we can dance together."
"No, thanks." Rebecca turns her back on the old horror and clacks down the hallway on her high heels, uncomfortably aware of his eyes following her.
Rebecca's nice little Coach handbag lies flat on her desk in the windowless vestibule to Chipper's office. Before going in, she pauses to rip off a sheet of notepaper, write down Fritz Harmann(?), Hanover(?), and slip the paper into the bag's central compartment. It might be nothing ¡ª it probably is ¡ª but who knows? She is furious that she let Burnside frighten her, and if she can find a way to use his nonsense against him, she will do her best to expel him from Maxton's.
"Kiddo, is that you?" Chipper calls out.
"No, it's Lady Magowan and her freakin' nightmare." She strides into Chipper's office and finds him behind his desk, happily counting out the bills contributed that afternoon by the sons and daughters of his clientele.
"My li'l Becky looks all ticked off," he says. "What happened, one of our zombies stomp on your foot?"
"Don't call me Becky."
"Hey, hey, cheer up. You won't believe how much your silver-tongued boyfriend conned out of the relatives today. A hundred and twenty-six smackers! Free money! Okay, what went wrong, anyhow?"
"Charles Burnside spooked me, that's what. He ought to be in a mental hospital."
"Are you kidding? That particular zombie is worth his weight in gold. As long as Charles Burnside can draw breath into his body, he will always have a place in my heart." Grinning, he brandishes a handful of bills. "And if you have a place in my heart, honey-baby, you'll always have a place at Maxton's."
The memory of Burnside saying, The king was in his countinghouse, counting out his honeys makes her feel unclean. If Chipper were not grinning in that exultant, loose-lipped way, Rebecca supposes, he would not remind her so unpleasantly of his favorite resident. Evveybuddy haz godz nide-marez all da dime, dime, dime ¡ª that wasn't a bad description of the Fisherman's French Landing. Funny, you wouldn't think Old Burny would take more notice of those murders than Chipper. Rebecca had never heard him mention the Fisherman's crimes, apart from the time he groused that he would not be able to tell anyone he was going fishing until Dale Gilbertson finally got off his big fat butt, and what kind of crappy deal was that?