Chapter no 45

East of Eden

Joe Valery got along by watching and listening and, as he said himself, not sticking his neck out. He had built his hatreds

little by little—

beginning with a mother who neglected him, a father who alternately

whipped and

slobbered over him. It had been easy to transfer his developing hatred to the teacher who disciplined him

and the

policeman who

chased him and the priest who lectured him. Even before the first magistrate looked down on him, Joe had developed a fine stable of hates toward the whole world he knew.

Hate cannot live alone. It must have love as a trigger, a goad, or a stimulant. Joe early developed a gentle protective love for Joe. He comforted and flattered and cherished Joe. He set up walls to save Joe from a hostile world. And gradually Joe became proof against wrong. If Joe got into trouble, it was because the

world was in angry

conspiracy against him. And if Joe attacked the world, it was revenge and they damn well deserved it—the sons of bitches. Joe lavished every care on his love, and he perfected a lonely set of rules which might have gone like this:

  1. Don’t believe nobody. The bastards are after you.
  2. Keep your mouth

    shut. Don’t stick your neck out.

  3. Keep your ears open. When they make a slip, grab on to it and wait.
  4. Everybody’s a son of

    a bitch and whatever you do they got it coming.

  5. Go at everything roundabout.
  6. Don’t never trust no dame about nothing.
  7. Put your faith in

dough. Everybody wants it. Everybody will sell out for it. There were other rules,

but they were refinements. His system worked, and since he knew no other, Joe had no basis of comparison with other systems. He knew it was necessary to be smart and he considered himself smart. If he pulled something off, that was smart; if he failed, that was bad luck. Joe was not very successful but he got by and with a minimum of

effort. Kate kept him because she knew he would do anything in the world if he were paid to do it or was afraid not to do it. She had no illusions about him. In her business Joes were necessary. When he first got the job with Kate, Joe looked for the

weaknesses on which he lived

—vanity, voluptuousness,

anxiety or conscience, greed, hysteria. He knew they were there because she was a woman. It was a matter of considerable shock to him to learn that, if they were there, he couldn’t find them. This dame thought and acted like a man—only tougher, quicker, and more clever. Joe made a

few mistakes and Kate

rubbed his nose in them. He developed an admiration for her based on fear.

When he found that he couldn’t get away with some things, he began to believe he couldn’t

get away with

anything. Kate made a slave of him just as he had always made slaves of women. She fed him, clothed him, gave him orders, punished him.

Once Joe recognized her

as more clever than himself, it was a short step to the

belief that she was more clever than anybody. He thought that she possessed the two great gifts: she was smart and she got the breaks—and you couldn’t want no better than that. He was glad to do her hatchet work—and afraid not to. Kate don’t make no mistakes, Joe said. And if you played along with her, Kate took care of you. This went beyond thought and became a habit pattern. When he got Ethel floated over the county line, it was all in the day’s work. It was Kate’s business and she was smart.


Kate did not sleep well when the arthritic pains were bad. She could almost feel her

joints thicken and knot. Sometimes she tried to think of

other things, even

unpleasant ones, to drive the pain and the distorted fingers from her mind. Sometimes she tried to remember every detail in a room she had not seen

for a long


Sometimes she looked at the ceiling and projected columns of figures and added them.

Sometimes she


memories. She built Mr. Edwards’ face and his clothes and the word that was stamped on the metal clasp of his suspenders. She had never noticed it, but she knew the word was “Excelsior.”

Often in the night she thought of Faye, remembered her eyes and hair and the tone of her voice and how her hands fluttered and the little lump of flesh beside her left thumbnail, a scar from an ancient cut. Kate went into her feeling about Faye. Did she hate or love her? Did she pity her? Was she sorry she had killed her? Kate inched over her own thoughts like a measuring worm. She found she had no feeling about

Faye. She neither liked nor disliked her or her memory. There had been a time during her dying when the noise and the smell of her had made anger rise in Kate so that she considered killing her quickly to get it over.

Kate remembered how

Faye had looked the last time she saw her, lying in her purple casket, dressed in white, with the undertaker’s smile on her lips and enough powder and rouge to cover her sallow skin.

A voice behind Kate had said, “She looks better than she has in years.” And another voice had answered,

“Maybe the same thing would do me some good,” and there

was a double snicker. The first voice would be Ethel, and the second Trixie. Kate

remembered her own half-humorous reaction. Why, she had thought, a dead whore

looks like anybody else.

Yes, the first voice must

have been Ethel. Ethel always got into the night thinking, and Ethel always brought a shrinking fear with her, the stupid, clumsy, nosy bitch— the lousy old bag. And it happened very often that Kate’s mind would tell her, “Now wait a moment. Why is she a lousy old bag? Isn’t it because you made a mistake? Why did you float her? If you’d used your head and kept her here—”

Kate wondered where

Ethel was. How about one of those agencies to find Ethel— at least to find where she went? Yes, and then Ethel would tell about that night and show the glass. Then there’d be two noses sniffing instead of one. Yes, but what difference would that make? Every time Ethel got a beer in her she would be telling somebody. Oh, sure, but they would think she was just a buzzed old hustler. Now an agency

man—no—no agencies.

Kate spent many hours with Ethel. Did the judge

have any idea it was a frame

—too simple? It shouldn’t have been an even hundred

dollars. That was obvious. And how about the sheriff? Joe said they dropped her over the line into Santa Cruz County. What did Ethel tell the deputy who drove her out? Ethel was a lazy old bat. Maybe she had stayed in Watsonville.

There was

Pajaro, and that was a railroad section, and then the Pajaro River and the bridge into Watsonville. Lots of section hands went back and forth,

Mexicans, some Hindus.

That puddlehead

Ethel might have thought she could turn enough tricks with the track workers. Wouldn’t it be funny if she had never left Watsonville,

thirty miles

away? She could even slip in over the line and see her friends if she wanted to.

Maybe she came to Salinas sometimes. She might be in Salinas right now. The cops weren’t likely to keep too much on the look for her.

Maybe it would be a good idea to send Joe over to Watsonville to see if Ethel was there. She might have gone on to Santa Cruz. Joe could look there too. It wouldn’t take him long. Joe

could find any hooker in any town in a few hours. If he found her they could get her back somehow. Ethel was a fool. But maybe when he found her it would be better if Kate went to her. Lock the door. Leave a “Do not disturb” sign. She could get to

Watsonville, do


business, and get back. No taxis. Take a bus. Nobody saw anybody on the night buses. People sleeping with their shoes off and coats rolled up behind their heads. Suddenly she knew she would be afraid to go to Watsonville. Well, she could

make herself go. It would stop all this wondering.

Strange she hadn’t thought of sending Joe before. That was perfect. Joe was good at some things, and the dumb bastard thought he was clever. That was the kind easiest to handle. Ethel was stupid.

That made her hard to handle.

As her hands and her mind grew more crooked,

Kate began to rely more and more on Joe Valery as her

assistant in chief, as her go-between, and

as her

executioner. She had a basic fear of the girls in the house

—not that they were more untrustworthy than Joe but

that the hysteria which lay very close to the surface might at any time crack through their caution and

shatter their sense of self-preservation and tear down not only themselves but their


Kate had

always been able to handle this ever-present danger, but now



calcium and the slow growth of apprehension caused her to need help and to look for it from Joe. Men, she knew, had a little stronger wall against self-destruction than the kind of women she knew.

She felt that she could

trust Joe, because she had in her files a notation relating to one Joseph Venuta who had walked away from a San Quentin road gang in the fourth year of a five-year sentence for robbery. Kate had never mentioned this to Joe Valery , but she thought it might

have a


influence on him if he got out of hand.

Joe brought the breakfast tray every morning—green China tea and cream and toast. When he had set it on her bedside table he made his report and got his orders for the day. He knew that she

was depending on him more and more. And Joe was very slowly and quietly exploring the possibility of taking over entirely. If she got sick enough there might be a chance. But very profoundly Joe was afraid of her. “Morning,” he said.

“I’m not going to sit up for it, Joe. Just give me the

tea. You’ll have to hold it.” “Hands bad?”

“Yes. They get better after a flare up.” “Looks like you had a bad night.”

“No,” said Kate. “I had a good night. I’ve got some new medicine.”

Joe held the cup to her

lips, and she drank the tea in

little sips, breathing in over it to cool it. “That’s enough,” she said when the cup was only half empty. “How was the night?”

“I almost came to tell you last night,” said Joe. “Hick came in from King City. Just sold his crop.

Bought out

the house.

Dropped seven hundred not counting what he give the girls.”

“What was his name?” “I don’t know. But I hope he comes in again.” “You should get the name, Joe. I’ve told you that.”

“He was cagey.”

“All the more reason to

get his name. Didn’t any of the girls frisk him?”

“I don’t know.” “Well, find out.”

Joe sensed a


geniality in her and it made him feel good. “I’ll find out,” he assured her. “I got enough to go on.”

Her eyes went over him, testing and searching, and he knew something was coming. “You like it here?” she asked softly.

“Sure. I got it good here.”

“You could have it

better—or worse,” she said. “I like it good here,” he said uneasily, and his mind cast about for a fault in himself. “I got it real nice here.”

She moistened her lips with



tongue. “You and I can work together,” she said.

“Any way you want it,”

he said ingratiatingly, and a surge of pleasant expectation grew in him. He waited patiently. She took a good long time to begin.

At last she said, “Joe, I don’t like to have anything stolen.”

“I didn’t take nothing.”

“I didn’t say you did.” “Who?”

“I’ll get to it, Joe. Do you

remember that


buzzard we had to move?” “You

mean Ethel

what’s-her-name?” “Yes. That’s the one.

She got away with something. I didn’t know it then.” “What?”

A coldness crept into her voice. “Not your business, Joe. Listen to me! You’re a smart fellow. Where would you go to look for her?” Joe’s

mind worked

quickly, not with reason but with experience and instinct. “She was pretty beat up. She wouldn’t go far. An old hustler don’t go far.” “You’re

smart. You think she might be

in Watsonville?”

“There or maybe Santa

Cruz. Anyways, I’ll give odds she ain’t farther away than San Jose.”

She caressed her fingers tenderly. “Would you like to

make five hundred, Joe?” “You want I should find her?”

“Yes. Just find her.

When you do, don’t let her know. Just bring me the address. Got that? Just tell me where she is.”

“Okay,” said Joe. “She must of rolled you good.” “That’s

not your

business, Joe.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

“You want I should start right off?”

“Yes. Make it quick, Joe.”

“Might be a little tough,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”

“That’s up to you.” “I’ll go to Watsonville this afternoon.” “That’s good, Joe.”

She was thoughtful. He knew she was not finished and that she was wondering whether she should go on. She decided.

“Joe, did—did she do anything—well, peculiar—

that day in court?” “Hell, no. Said she was

framed like they always do.”

And then


came back to him that he hadn’t noticed at the time. Out of his memory Ethel’s voice came, saying, “Judge, I

got to see you alone. I got to tell you something.” He tried to bury his memory deep so that his face would not speak.

Kate said, “Well, what was it?”

He had been too late.

His mind leaped for safety. “There’s something,” he said to gain time. “I’m trying to think.”

“Well, think!” Her voice was edged and anxious. “Well—” He had it. “Well, I heard her tell the cops—let’s see—she said

why couldn’t they let her go south. She said she had relatives in San Luis Obispo.”

Kate leaned quickly

toward him. “Yes?” “And the cops said it was too damn far.” “You’re

smart, Joe.

Where will you go first?” “Watsonville,” he said.

“I got a friend in San Luis. He’ll look around for me. I’ll give him a ring.”

“Joe,” she said sharply. “I want this quiet.”

“For five hundred you’ll get it quiet and quick,” said

Joe. He felt fine even though her eyes were suited and inspective again. Her next words jarred his stomach loose from his backbone. “Joe, not to change the subject—does

the name

Venuta mean anything to you?”

He tried to answer

before his throat tightened. “Not a thing,” he said. “Come back as soon as you can,” Kate said. “Tell

Helen to come in. She’ll take over for you.”


Joe packed his suitcase, went to the depot, and bought a ticket for Watsonville. At Castroville, the first station north, he got off and waited four hours for the Del Monte express from San Francisco to Monterey, which is at the end of a spur line. In Monterey he climbed the

stairs of the Central Hotel, registered as John Vicker. He went downstairs and ate a steak at Pop Ernst’s, bought a bottle of whisky, and retired to his room.

He took off his shoes and his coat and vest,

removed his collar and tie, and lay down on the bed. The whisky and a glass were on the table beside the brass bed. The overhead light shining in his face didn’t bother him. He didn’t notice it. Methodically he primed his brain with half a tumbler of whisky and then he crossed his hands behind his head and crossed his ankles and he brought out thoughts and impressions and perceptions and instincts and

began matching them.

It had been a good job

and he had thought he had her fooled. Well, he’d underrated her. But how in hell had she got onto it he was wanted?

He thought he might go to Reno or maybe to Seattle. Seaport towns—always good.

And then—now wait


minute. Think about it.

Ethel didn’t steal

nothing. She had something. Kate was scared of Ethel.

Five hundred was a lot of dough to dig out a beat-up whore. What Ethel wanted to

tell the judge was, number one, true; and, number two, Kate was scared of it. Might be able to use that. Hell!—not with

her holding that

jailbreak over him. Joe wasn’t going to serve out the limit with penalties.

But no harm in thinking about it. Suppose he was to gamble four years against— well, let’s say ten grand. Was that a bad bet? No need to decide. She knew it before and didn’t turn him in.

Suppose she thought he was a good dog.

Maybe Ethel might be a hole-card.

Now—wait—just think about it. Maybe it was the breaks. Maybe he ought to draw his hand and see. But

she was so goddam smart. Joe wondered if he could play against her. But how, if he just played along?

Joe sat up and filled his glass full. He turned off his light and raised his shade. And as he drank his whisky he watched a skinny little

woman in a bathrobe washing her stockings in a basin in a room on the other side of the air shaft. And the whisky muttered in his ears.

It might be the breaks.

God knows, Joe had waited long enough. God knows, he hated the bitch with her sharp

little teeth. No need to decide right now.

He raised his window quietly and threw the writing

pen from the table against the window across the air shaft.

He enjoyed the scene of fear and apprehension before the skinny dame yanked her shade down.

With the third glass of whisky the pint was empty.

Joe felt a wish to go out in the street and look the town over. But then his discipline took over. He had made a rule, and kept to it, never to leave his room when he was drinking. That way a man never got in trouble. Trouble meant cops, and cops meant a check-up, and that would surely mean a

trip across the bay to San Quentin and no road gang for good behavior this time. He put the street out of his mind.

Joe had another pleasure he saved for times when he was alone, and he was not aware it was a pleasure. He indulged it now. He lay on

the brass bed and went back in time over his sullen and miserable childhood and his fretful and vicious growing up. No luck—he never got the breaks. The big shots got the breaks. A few snatch jobs he got away with, but the tray of pocketknives? Cops came right in his house and got him. Then he was on the books and they never let him alone. Guy in Daly City

couldn’t shag a crate of strawberries

off a


without they’d pick up Joe. In school he didn’t have no luck neither. Teachers against him, principal against him. Guy couldn’t take that crap. Had to get out.

Out of his memory of bad luck a warm sadness

grew, and he pushed it with more memories until the tears came to his eyes and his lips quivered with pity for the lonely lost boy he had been.

And here he was now—look at him—a rap against him, working in a whorehouse when other men had homes

and cars. They were safe and happy and at night their blinds were pulled down against Joe. He wept quietly until he fell asleep.

Joe got up at ten in the morning and ate a monster breakfast at Pop Ernst’s. In the early afternoon he took a bus

to Watsonville and

played three games of

snooker with a friend who came to meet him in answer to a phone call. Joe won the last game and racked his cue.

He handed his friend two ten-dollar bills.

“Hell,” said his friend, “I don’t want your money.” “Take it,” said Joe.

“It ain’t like I give you anything.”

“You give me plenty.

You say she ain’t here and you’re the baby that would know.”

“Can’t tell me what you want her for?”

“Wilson, I tol’ you right first an’ I tell you now, I don’t know. I’m jus’ doing a job of work.”

“Well, that’s all I can do. Seems like there was this convention—what was it?— dentists, or maybe Owls. I don’t know whether she said she was going or I just figured it myself. I got it

stuck in my mind. Give Santa Cruz

a whirl.

Know anybody?” “I

got a few

acquaintances,” said Joe. “Look up H. V. Mahler, Hal Mahler. He runs Hal’s poolroom. Got a game in back.”

“Thanks,” said Joe. “No—look, Joe. I don’t want your money.”

“It ain’t my money— buy a cigar,” said Joe.

The bus dropped him

two doors from Hal’s place. It

was suppertime but the stud game was still going. It was an hour before Hal got up to go to the can and Joe could follow

and make a

connection. Hal peered at Joe with large pale eyes made huge by thick glasses. He buttoned his fly slowly and adjusted his black alpaca sleeve guards and squared his green

eyeshade. “Stick

around till the game breaks,” he said. “Care to sit in?” “How many playing for

you, Hal?” “Only one.”

“I’ll play for you.” “Five bucks an hour,” said Hal.

“An’ ten per cent if I win?”

“Well, okay.

Sandy-haired fella Williams is the house.”

At one o’clock in the morning Hal and Joe went to Barlow’s Grill. “Two rib steaks and french fries. You want soup?” Hal asked Joe. “No. And no french

fries. They bind me up.” “Me too,” said Hal. “But I eat them just the same. I

don’t get enough exercise.”

Hal was a silent man

until he was eating. He rarely spoke unless his mouth was

full. “What’s your pitch?” he asked around steak.

“Just a job. I make a hundred bucks and you get twenty-five—okay?”

“Got to have like proof

—like papers?”

“No. Be good but I’ll get by without them.” “Well, she come in and

wants me to steer for her. She wasn’t no good. I didn’t take twenty a week off her. I probably wouldn’t of knew what become of her only Bill Primus seen her in my place and when they found her he come in an’ ast me about her. Nice fella, Bill. We got a nice force here.”

Ethel was not a bad woman—lazy, sloppy, but

good-hearted. She wanted dignity and importance. She was just not very bright and not very pretty and, because of these two lacks, not very lucky. It would have bothered Ethel if she had known that when they pulled her out of the sand where waves had left her half buried, her skirts were pulled around her ass.

She would have liked more dignity.

Hal said, “We got some crazy bohunk bastards in the sardine fleet. Get loaded with ink an’ they go nuts. Way I figure, one of them sardine crews took her out an’ then jus’ pushed her overboard. I don’t see how else she’d get in the water.”

“Maybe she jumped off the pier?”

“Her?” said Hal through potatoes. “Hell, no! She was too blamed lazy to kill herself. You want to check?” “If you say it’s her, it’s

her,” said Joe, and he pushed a twenty and a five across the table.

Hal rolled the bills like a cigarette and put them in his vest pocket. He cut out the triangle of meat from the rib steak and put it in his mouth. “It was her,” he said. “Want a piece of pie?”

Joe meant to sleep until noon but he awakened at

seven and lay in bed for quite a long time. He planned not to get back to Salinas until

after midnight. He needed more time to think.

When he got up he looked in the mirror and

inspected the expression he planned to wear. He wanted to look disappointed but not too disappointed. Kate was so goddam clever. Let her lead. Just follow suit. She was about as wide open as a fist.

Joe had to admit that he was scared to death of her.

His caution said to him, “Just go in and tell her and get your five hundred.” And he answered his caution savagely, “Breaks.

How many breaks did I ever get? Part of the breaks is knowing a break when you get it. Do I want to be a lousy

pimp all my life? Just play it close. Let her do the talking. No harm in that. I can always tell her later like I just found out if it don’t go good.”

“She could have you in a cell block in six hours flat.” “Not if I play ’em close.

What I got to lose? What breaks did I ever get?”


Kate was feeling better. The new medicine seemed to be doing her some good. The pain in her hands was abated, and it seemed to her that her fingers were straighter, the knuckles not so swollen. She had had a good night’s sleep, the first in a long time, and she felt good, even a little excited. She planned to have

a boiled egg for breakfast. She got up and put on a dressing gown and brought a hand mirror back to the bed.

Lying high against the

pillows, she studied her face.

The rest had done

wonders. Pain makes you set your jaw, and your eyes grow falsely bright with anxiety, and the muscles over the temples and along the cheeks, even the weak muscles near to the nose, stand out a little, and that is the look of sickness and of resistance to


The difference in her

rested face was amazing. She looked ten years younger. She opened her lips and looked at her teeth. Time to go for a cleaning. She took care of her teeth. The gold bridge where the molars were gone was the only repair in her mouth. It was remarkable how young she looked, Kate thought. Just one night’s sleep and she snapped back. That was another thing that fooled them. They thought she would be weak and delicate.

She smiled to herself— delicate like a steel trap. But then she always took care of herself—no liquor, no drugs, and recently she had stopped

drinking coffee. And it paid off. She had an angelic face. She put the mirror a little higher so that the crepe at her throat did not reflect.

Her thought jumped to

that other angelic face so like hers—what was his name?— what the hell was his name— Alec? She could see him, moving slowly past, his white surplice edged with lace, his sweet chin down and his hair glowing

under the

candlelight. He held the oaken staff and its brass cross angled ahead of him. There was

something frigidly

beautiful about him,

something untouched and untouchable.

Well, had

anything or anybody ever really touched Kate—really got through and soiled her? Certainly not. Only the hard outside had been brushed by contacts. Inside she was intact

—as clean and bright as this boy Alec—was that his name?

She chuckled—mother

of two sons—and she looked like a child. And if anyone had seen her with the blond one—could they have any doubt? She thought how it

would be to stand beside him in a crowd and let people find out for themselves. What would—Aron, that was the name—what would he do if he knew? His brother knew.

That smart little son of a bitch

—wrong word—must not call him that. Might be too true.

Some people believed it. And not smart bastard either— born in holy wedlock. Kate laughed aloud. She felt good. She was having a good time. The smart one—the dark one—bothered her. He was like


She had

respected Charles—and

Charles would probably have killed her if he could.

Wonderful medicine—it

not only stopped the arthritic pain, it gave her back her courage. Pretty soon she could sell out and go to New York as she had always planned. Kate thought of her fear of Ethel. How sick she must- have been—the poor dumb old bag! How would it be to murder her with kindness? When Joe found her, how about—well, how about taking her on to New York? Keep her close.

A funny notion came to Kate. That would be a

comical murder, and a murder no


under any

circumstances could solve or even suspect. Chocolates— boxes of chocolates, bowls of fondant, bacon, crisp bacon— fat, port wine, and then butter, everything soaked in butter and whipped cream; no vegetables, no fruit—and no amusement either. Stay in the house, dear. I trust you. Look after things. You’re tired. Go to bed. Let me fill your glass. I got these new sweets for you. Would you like to take the box to bed? Well, if you don’t feel good why don’t you take a physic? These cashews are nice, don’t you think? The old bitch would blow up and burst in six

months. Or how about a tapeworm? Did anyone ever use tapeworms? Who was the man who couldn’t get water to his mouth in a sieve— Tantalus?

Kate’s lips were smiling sweetly and a gaiety was coming over her. Before she went it might be good to give a party for her sons. Just a simple little party with a circus afterward for her darlings—her jewels. And then she thought of Aron’s beautiful face so like her own and a strange pain—a little collapsing pain—arose in her chest. He wasn’t smart. He couldn’t protect himself. The dark


might be

dangerous. She had felt his quality. Cal had beaten her. Before she went away she would teach him a lesson. Maybe—why, sure—maybe a dose of the clap might set that young man back on his heels.

Suddenly she knew that she did not want Aron to know about her. Maybe he could come to her in New

York. He would think she had always lived in an elegant little house on the East Side. She would take him to the theater, to the opera, and people

would see them

together and wonder at their loveliness, and recognize that they were either brother and sister or mother and son. No one could fail to know. They could go together to Ethel’s funeral. She would need an oversized coffin and six wrestlers to carry it. Kate was so filled with amusement at her thoughts that she did not hear Joe’s knocking on the door. He opened it a crack and looked in and saw her gay and smiling face. “Breakfast,” he said and nudged the door open with the edge of the linen-covered tray. He pushed the door closed with his knee. “Want it there?” he asked and gestured toward the gray room with his


“No. I’ll have it right

here. And I want a boiled egg and a piece of cinnamon toast. Four and a half minutes on the egg. Make sure. I don’t want it gooey.”

“You must feel better, ma’am.”

“I do,” she said. “That

new medicine is wonderful. You look dragged by dogs, Joe. Don’t you feel well?” “I’m all right,” he said

and set the tray on the table in front of the big deep chair. “Four and a half minutes?” “That’s right. And if

there’s a good apple—a crisp apple—bring that too.”

“You ain’t et like this since I knew you,” he said.

In the kitchen, waiting

for the cook to boil the egg, he was apprehensive. Maybe she knew. He’d have to be careful. But hell! she couldn’t hate him for something he didn’t know. No crime in that.

Back in her room he

said, “Didn’t have no apples. He said this was a good pear.”


like that even

better,” said Kate.

He watched her chip off

the egg and dip a spoon into the shell. “How is it?” “Perfect!” said Kate.

“Just perfect.”

“You look good,” he said.

“I feel good. You look

like hell. What’s the matter?” Joe went into it warily. “Ma’am, there ain’t nobody needs five hundred like I do.”

She said


“There isn’t anyone who needs—”


“Forget it. What are you trying to say? You couldn’t find her—is that it? Well, if you did a good job looking, you’ll get your five hundred. Tell me about it.” She picked up the salt shaker and scattered a few grains into the open eggshell.

Joe put an artificial joy on his face. “Thanks,” he

said. “I’m in a spot. I need it. Well, I looked in Pajaro and Watsonville. Got a line on her in Watsonville but she’d went to Santa” Cruz. Got a smell of her there but she was gone.”

Kate tasted the egg and added more salt. “That all?” “No,” said Joe. “I went it blind there. Dropped down to San Luis an’ she had been there too but gone.”

“No trace? No idea where she went?”

Joe fiddled with his fingers. His whole pitch, maybe

his whole life,

depended on his next words, and he was reluctant to say them.

“Come on,” she said at last. “You got something— what is it?”

“Well, it ain’t much. I

don’t know what to think of it.”

“Don’t think. Just tell.

I’ll think,” she said sharply. “Might not even be


“For Christ’s sake!” she said angrily.

“Well, I talked to the last

guy that seen her. Guy named Joe, like me—”

“Did you get his

grandmother’s name?” she asked sarcastically.

“This guy Joe says she loaded up on beer one night an’ she said how she’s going to come back to Salinas an’ lay low. Then she dropped out of sight. This guy Joe didn’t know nothing more.” Kate was startled out of control. Joe read her quick start, the apprehension, and then the almost hopeless fear and weariness. Whatever it was, Joe had something. He had got the breaks at last.

She looked up from her lap and her twisted fingers. “We’ll forget the old fart,” she said. “You’ll get your five hundred, Joe.”

Joe breathed shallowly,

afraid that any sound might

drag her out of her self-absorption. She had believed him. More than that, she was

believing things he had not told her. He wanted to get out of the room as quickly as possible. He said, “Thank you, ma’am,” but very softly, and he moved silently toward the door.

His hand was on the

knob when she spoke with elaborate casualness. “Joe, by the way—”


“If you should hear anything about—her, let me know, will you?”

“I sure will. Want me to dig into it?”

“No. Don’t bother. It isn’t that important.”

In his room, with the

door latched, Joe sat down and folded his arms. He smiled

to himself.


instantly he began to work out the future course. He decided to let her brood on it till, say, next week. Let her relax, and then bring up Ethel again. He did not know what his weapon was or how he was going to use it. But he did know that it was very sharp and he itched to use it. He would have laughed out loud if he had known that Kate had gone to the gray room and locked its door, and that she sat still in the big

chair and her eyes were closed.

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