Bill Todd -- Adrienne: A Novel of the Markets
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 Chapter 17


While I was writing my account of the murder, I was hardly aware of the storm. It was only when my bunk was noticeably wet that I reached up and closed the porthole. Even then, there was no question of sleep. I lay and fumed. Hiram had probably acted with the best of intentions. In the way that he had helped kill Captain Small when he thought it was necessary, he had killed Brad when he thought that was necessary.

When the storm finally blew past, I realized that they would soon have to "discover" that Brad was missing. There was no point in going to sleep even if I could. It was, in fact, not long before there was a frantic banging on my door. Hiram called out, asking if Brad were within. I opened the door and replied calmly and icily. Hiram then roused everyone else and had them scurrying on deck. At length, I joined them, just for the sake of appearances.

The sloop was put on the port tack against the light southerly breeze to retrace our route. Even if Brad hadn't been hung and sent to the bottom, the chance of finding him in the black water seemed effectively nil. Rick wanted us to be quiet so that we could hear the shouts of a swimmer. He, too, was being bossy. However, I certainly had nothing to say, and was happy for the others to remain silent as well.

As I stood in the bow away from the others, the still foaming tops of the waves shone with phosphorescence in the moonlight. Thinking that the uniformly cold and barren scene in front of me would outlast the world as I knew it, I searched the waves, not for Brad, but for any sign whatever, anything to which anyone might attach some meaning.

The real charade came when dawn broke and it was decided to search some more. I climbed the mast in silent protest, feeling better the farther I got from the others. I didn't even make a pretense of searching. I instead curled up in a secure place with my legs hooked around the cross-trees and my back against the mast. The sun warmed me as I was wafted gently back and forth, and I began to feel better. Dai went up and down a couple of times to adjust sails, but I didn't feel nearly as much anger. I said to myself at one point,

"So he's a murderer. So what. Many men are worse. Brad, for example."

The same plea might have been made for Hiram, and I now realized that there was no point in trying to bring him to justice. It would only be my word, the word of a woman who had been heard to be hysterical, against his. Besides, it would be, at best, an enormous and painful undertaking which wouldn't do me any good.

After a while I started down to stretch my legs. When I got to the level of the main yard, I happened to notice a block with no line through it dangling loosely. Neither Dai nor Hiram had thought to remove it. Seeing that only Hiram, at the wheel, was in a position to see me, I had an idea.

I found the end of a line coiled around a cleat on the mast, removed it, and worked my way out on the yard with the rope. My feet were on the foot-rope beneath the yard, and, with my arms on the heavy spar itself, I still felt secure. When I got out to the block, I ran the line through it and fashioned a loop in the end with an approximation of a hangman's knot. I then slipped the loop over my neck and made as if to jump off the yard. Just then, the sloop swerved suddenly, and I almost did lose my grip on the yard. Without looking down at Hiram, I removed the rope from my neck and left the loop dangling. It was my hypothesis, later confirmed, that Hiram would say nothing of this to me, but that, the first time no passenger was watching, the block and noose would disappear.

At noon, Rick and Hiram decided to end the search. I was not, of course, consulted. Olga and Ruth gathered around me, and we went forward where we could talk. I didn't tell them what I had seen, but I did ask if they had overheard our fight. Olga replied,

"Yes, I couldn't help hearing. I felt awfully sorry for you."

It turned out that they understood that Brad had tricked me even before I explained it. I cried at times, and so did they. Only once did I look back. Hiram was at the wheel with Dai on one side and Rick on the other. It was quite a contrast. The men, firmly in control, looked masterful as they stared stonily forward. The women, weeping in the bow, dared to do no more than peek back at them. If Brad had been there, he would have been back with the men.

Late that afternoon, we entered the harbor at Mystic, Connecticut. As soon as we were ashore, I called Janey. By that time, drained though I was, I must have seemed rather matter-of-fact as I told her that Brad had been lost at sea. Janey was very much upset, but we agreed that, since it was Sunday night, she should stay and take care of business the next morning. I told her that I would be back as soon as possible.

I then called Constanza and told her the whole story, including Hiram's part in it. It was obviously unnecessary to tell her not to tell anyone else. She insisted on coming immediately. It was a drive of only two hours, and she was in my hotel room before eleven.

Constanza's loyalties were divided between myself and Hiram, but she seemed already to assume that I wasn't going to tell the authorities what Hiram had done. I reassured her on that point. I then gave her the account of the murder which I had written, originally with the idea of giving it to the prosecutors. It disappeared into her purse, to be destroyed, I was sure, at the first opportunity.

I already knew that Constanza believed me to be better off without Brad. She was too tactful to say so directly, but she tried to persuade me, in the softest way imaginable, that no real harm had been done. It was impossible not to be reminded that I was with the widow of Scuzz Flats Tertulli. It was almost amusing. Murder, for Constanza, was the most natural thing in the world. She hadn't yet spoken to Hiram, but she pointed out that he could have had no personal motive, only a desire to help me. I responded,

"If I had thought I couldn't live with Brad, I could have divorced him in the normal American way."

"Perhaps. On the other hand, he got that far with you. He could have kept you just happy enough to allow him to go on taking advantage of you."

I suspected strongly that what she said was true, and admitted as much. I added,

"Nothing like this is ever going to happen to me again. I've dated for fifteen years, mostly with unsatisfactory results, and this is the logical outcome. I'm not going to start over again."

"Not all men are like Brad."

"No. Some are more chivalrous, like Hiram. I'll leave that type to you."

Constanza smiled and asked where Hiram was.

"He's aboard the sloop in the harbor, along with the other passengers. The inquest is being held tomorrow."

"Will that be hard for you?"

"Not so much. All I have to do is tell the truth, except for one omission."

Since it was late, Constanza spent the night, the large double bed easily accomodating both of us. I, having Brad in mind, had brought two elegant and ornate nightgowns, the sort that could almost pass for evening gowns. I gave Constanza one, and we duly admired each other's appearance as we swished dramatically around the room. Once in bed, we talked for a long time, mostly about men. I finally said, half humorously,

"You're hopelessly addicted to men."

"Yes. I suppose so. I've had good luck with them. Besides, my power only works on men."

When I woke up in the morning, I found myself on Constanza's side of the bed with my back pressed up against her. She, already awake, had her hand on my shoulder and asked if I were all right. I, coming awake quickly, apologized for hogging the bed and began to move away. She stopped me with a hand laid lightly on my hip and said,

"You need affection the second most of any person in the world. I'm the first."

With that, she began to rub my stomach gently. I found myself crying, softly at first, but then painfully, my chest aching and burning. I had thrown the covers off, and, to the extent that I could think, I felt foolish lying there in my elegant nightie, bawling helplessly. The situation finally degenerated to the point where I was functioning as an infant in the arms of a beautiful mother, one who bore no resemblence whatever to my actual one.

When I finally calmed down, Constanza spoke to me more as a sympathetic medical person than as a mother. We talked a bit in that mode, myself feeling surprisingly relaxed and easy. I said,

"I suppose I should get up, but I feel too good lying here."

I was still in the same position, on my right side, when Constanza put her hand casually on my breast. I almost jumped out of my skin, but didn't jump out of the bed. She spoke quietly and soothingly, telling me I didn't have to do anything.

When it was all over, I was doubly exhausted. Constanza, getting out of bed, said,

"This is no big thing. In an old culture, such as mine, no one worries about it. As you say, I'm addicted to men, not women."

"Then why ..."

"Because I felt like it and you wanted it."

I began to wonder if I might not continue to want the same thing. It was clear between us that this was a one-time event, a departure from Constanza's usual pattern. I, on the other hand, thought it might well become my pattern. I said so to her,

"For me it's either this sort of thing or nothing, and I don't see why it should be nothing."

Constanza smiled and made one of her wonderful faces. The implication seemed to be that I shouldn't give up on the 'real thing' so quickly, but that she would understand if I did. She then added off-handedly,

"I think, if you approached your friend, Janey, in this light, you wouldn't be refused."

I was quite surprised. So far as I knew, Constanza had met Janey only a couple of times. I pointed out that Janey seemed extremely heterosexual and had had lots of men. She replied,

"Oh yes, to be sure. But she goes with them so that she can talk about them with women."

Janey did love to talk about her varied sexual experiences. It seemed to me that she had toned it down when we were with Constanza, but the latter's sharp ears had evidently been alerted. Then, something else suddenly hit me. I burst out,

"That's why we liked to both go out with David Larsen. We could talk about him intimately, and, symbolically, ..."

Constanza put her finger to her lips to quiet me and stepped into the bathroom to take her shower.

We were in the lobby, and Constanza was just going to the harbor to see Hiram, when Heston arrived. Without saying anything at all, he hugged me. I put my arms around his neck and noticed that he smelled of outdoors and the sea. I then giggled. It was, of course, an absurd reaction. But I happened to remember that I had, one evening at dinner, jokingly promised Constanza that, if I should become a widow, I would marry Heston.

As we walked toward the hotel coffee shop, Heston asked me how I felt. I realized that I couldn't tell him what had really happened. He might already know, or he might yet be told by Hiram. On the other hand, if Hiram didn't intend to tell him, I shouldn't. I therefore answered in general terms.

"I feel better on my own account. A chapter in my life has closed with a bang, but it only lasted a few months. I can recover from that. On the other hand, I feel badly on account of Brad. He was a cad, but a minor league one. He often enjoyed life. I wish he were off somewhere enjoying it now."

"That picnic on the balcony was nice. Trouble is, people like that have less fun as they get older. They get bitter. Complain more. Sulk a lot."

It surprised me that Heston had seen Brad clearly enough to tell me something that I recognized as true, even though I wouldn't have thought of it myself. At least not in those words. Brad had, indeed, been working up a grievance against a world which didn't properly appreciate him. He would soon have started blaming whoever was nearest and most convenient.

After some more talk in that vein, I said to Heston,

"You've always puzzled me. You often don't bother to be very articulate, but, when you really want to, you can make more sense than anyone. Why do you mumble and bumble so much?"

It was the most personal thing I had ever said to him. He laughed and replied,

"I used to talk better when I was younger, but It didn't seem to do much good. I found I didn't like clever wordy people very much. I began drifting. I guess I'm still drifting."

Although he hadn't answered my question directly, I drew the inference. He hadn't liked tight relations with other people, particularly ones of his own class. When he was married to someone 'appropriate' and working in a 'suitable' job, he must have been hopelessly trapped into exactly those relations.

Instead, Heston had developed a manner which was so vague and non-committal that it deflected people. It had apparently caused most of the women who wanted to marry him, whether for his money or not, to retire in frustration. Only Hiram had really learned to play Heston's game. I mentioned Hiram, saying,

"You and he seem to have long talks together."

"Yes, he's drifting too. I'm pretty sure he's going to marry Connie, though."

"Are you glad?"

"Very much so. That solves the problem I talked with you about. Connie will manage just fine."

"She'll be a lot more demanding than you are, but I don't think she'll try to push him too far. I bet she won't want him sailing the sloop, though."

"She's spoken to me about that. She thinks it's dangerous. We've agreed to sell it."

Heston gave me one of his sunny smiles, but it was one that came, like the rest, from outer space. Quite apart from the difference in our ages, marriage would be absurd. Heston wasn't really like Scuzz Flats. Constanza had been wrong for once.

At the inquest, Heston became yet more articulate. He told everyone that, as owner, he took all responsibility for Brad's death. It was he himself, James Heston, who should have installed additional safety devices, a higher rail in particular. Of course, it was absurd that Heston was responsible, as everyone realized.

The examining officer was an old Portuguese, an ex- fisherman who apparently had political connections. He waved aside Heston's apologies and intoned in heavily accented English,

"Man lost overboard in squall. Maybe wash up somewhere, maybe not."

That was that. Or so I thought. On the way back to the hotel, just when I was feeling rather good and thought that I had all my ducks arranged in a neat row, I collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital.

Bill Todd -- Adrienne: A Novel of the Markets
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