Chapter no 5

The Secret History

WHEN THE LIGHTS came on, and the circle of darkness leaped back into the mundane and familiar boundaries of the living room—cluttered desk; low, lumpy sofa; the dusty and modishly cut draperies that had fallen to Francis after one of his mother’s decorating purges—it was as if I’d switched on the lamp after a long bad dream; blinking, I was relieved

to discover that the doors and windows were still where they were supposed to be and that the furniture hadn’t rearranged itself, by diabolical magic, in the dark.

The bolt turned. Francis stepped in from the dark hall. He was breathing hard, pulling with dispirited jerks at the fingertips of a glove.

“Jesus, Henry,” he said. “What a night.”

I was out of his line of vision. Henry glanced at me and cleared his throat discreetly. Francis wheeled around.

I thought I looked back at him casually enough, but evidently I didn’t. It must have been all over my face.

He stared at me for a long time, the glove half on, half off, dangling limply from his hand.

“Oh, no,” he said at last, without moving his eyes away from mine. “Henry. You didn’t.”

“I’m afraid I did,” Henry said.

Francis squeezed his eyes tight shut, then reopened them. He had got very white, his pallor dry and talcumy as a chalk drawing on rough paper. For a moment I wondered if he might faint.

“It’s all right,” said Henry. Francis didn’t move.

“Really, Francis,” Henry said, a trifle peevishly, “it’s all right. Sit down.”

Breathing hard, he made his way across the room and fell heavily into an armchair, where he rummaged in his pocket for a cigarette.

“He knew,” said Henry. “I told you so.”

Francis looked up at me, the unlit cigarette trembling in his fingertips. “Did you?”

I didn’t answer. For a moment I found myself wondering if this was all some monstrous practical joke. Francis dragged a hand down the side of his face.

“I suppose everybody knows now,” he said. “I don’t even know why I feel bad about it.”

Henry had stepped into the kitchen for a glass. Now he poured some Scotch in it and handed it to Francis. “Deprendi miserum est,” he said.

To my surprise Francis laughed, a humorless little snort.

“Good Lord,” he said, and took a long drink. “What a nightmare. I can’t imagine what you must think of us, Richard.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I said this without thinking, but as soon as I had, I realized, with something of a jolt, that it was true; it really didn’t matter that much, at least not in the preconceived way that one would expect.

“Well, I guess you could say we’re in quite a fix,” said Francis, rubbing his eyes with thumb and forefinger. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with Bunny. I wanted to slap him when we were standing in line for that damned movie.”

“You took him to Manchester?” Henry said.

“Yes. But people are so nosy and you never do really know who might be sitting behind you, do you? It wasn’t even a good movie.”

“What was it?”

“Some nonsense about a bachelor party. I just want to take a sleeping pill and go to bed.” He drank off the rest of his Scotch and poured himself another inch. “Jesus,” he said to me. “You’re being so nice about this. I feel awfully embarrassed by this whole thing.”

There was a long silence.

Finally I said: “What are you going to do?”

Francis sighed. “We didn’t mean to do anything,” he said. “I know it sounds kind of bad, but what can we do about it now?”

The resigned note in his voice simultaneously angered and distressed me. “don’t know,” I said. “Why for God’s sake didn’t you go to the police?”

“Surely you’re joking,” said Henry dryly.

“Tell them you don’t know what happened? That you found him lying out in the woods? Or, God, I don’t know, that you hit him with the car, that he ran out in front of you or something?”

“That would have been a very foolish thing to do,” Henry said. “It was an unfortunate incident and I am sorry that it happened, but frankly I do not see how well either the taxpayers’ interests or my own would be served by my spending sixty or seventy years in a Vermont jail.”

“But it was an accident. You said so yourself.” Henry shrugged.

“If you’d gone right in, you could’ve got off on some minor charge.

Maybe nothing would have happened at all.”

“Maybe not,” Henry said agreeably. “But remember, this is Vermont.”

“What the hell difference does that make?”

“It makes a great deal of difference, unfortunately. If the thing went to trial, we’d be tried here. And not, I might add, by a jury of our peers.”


“Say what you like, but you can’t convince me that a jury box of poverty-level Vermonters would have the remotest bit of pity for four college students on trial for murdering one of their neighbors.”

“People in Hampden have been hoping for years that something like this would happen,” said Francis, lighting a new cigarette off the end of the old one. “We wouldn’t be getting off on any manslaughter charges. We’d be lucky if we didn’t go to the chair.”

“Imagine how it would look,” Henry said. “We’re all young, well educated, reasonably well off; and, perhaps most importantly, not Vermonters. And I suppose that any equitable judge might make allowances for our youth, and the fact that it was an accident and so forth, but—”

“Four rich college kids?” said Francis. “Drunk? On drugs? On this guy’s land in the middle of the night?”

“You were on his land?”

“Well, apparently,” said Henry. “That’s where the papers said his body was found.”

I hadn’t been in Vermont very long, but I’d been there long enough to know what any Vermonter worth his salt would think of that. Trespassing on someone’s land was tantamount to breaking into his house. “Oh, God,” I said.

“That’s not the half of it, either,” said Francis. “For Christ’s sake, we were wearing bed sheets. Barefoot. Soaked in blood. Stinking drunk. Can you imagine if we’d trailed down to the sheriff’s office and tried

to explain all that?

“Not that we were in any condition to explain,” Henry said dreamily. “Really. I wonder if you understand what sort of state we were in. Scarcely an hour before, we’d all been really, truly out of our minds. And it may be a superhuman effort to lose oneself so completely, but that’s nothing compared to the effort of getting oneself back again.”

“It certainly wasn’t as if something snapped and there we were, our jolly old selves,” said Francis. “Believe me. We might as well have had shock treatments.”

“I really don’t know how we got home without being seen,” Henry said.

“No way could we have patched together a plausible story from this. Good Lord. It was weeks before I got over it. Camilla couldn’t even talk for three days.”

With a small chill, I remembered: Camilla, her throat wrapped in a red muffler, unable to speak. Laryngitis, they’d said.

“Yes, that was very strange,” said Henry. “She was thinking clearly enough, but the words wouldn’t come out right. As if she’d had a stroke. When she started to speak again, her high-school French came back before her English or her Greek. Nursery words. I remember sitting by her bed, listening to her count to ten, watching her point to la fenêtre, la chaise …

Francis laughed. “She was so funny,” he said. “When I asked her how she felt she said, ‘Je me sens comme Hélène Keller, mon vieux.’ ”

“Did she go to the doctor?” “Are you kidding?”

“What if she hadn’t got any better?”

“Well, the same thing happened to all of us,” said Henry. “Only it more or less wore off in a couple of hours.”

“You couldn’t talk?”

“Bitten and scratched to pieces?” Francis said. “Tongue-tied? Half mad? If we’d gone to the police they would have charged us with every unsolved death in New England for the last five years.” He held up an imaginary newspaper. “ ‘Crazed Hippies Indicted for Rural Thrill-Killing.’ ‘Cult Slaying of Old Abe So-and-So.’ ”

“Teen Satanists Murder Longtime Vermont Resident,” said Henry, lighting a cigarette.

Francis started to laugh.

“It would be one thing if we had even a chance at a decent

hearing,” said Henry. “But we don’t.”

“And I personally can’t imagine much worse than being tried for my life by a Vermont circuit-court judge and a jury box full of telephone operators.”

“Things aren’t marvelous,” said Henry, “but they could certainly be worse. The big problem now is Bunny.”

“What’s wrong with him?” “Nothing’s wrong with him.” “Then what’s the problem?”

“He just can’t keep his mouth shut, that’s all.” “Haven’t you talked to him?”

“About ten million times,” Francis said. “Has he tried to go to the police?”

“If he goes on like this,” said Henry, “he won’t have to. They’ll come right to us. Reasoning with him does no good. He just doesn’t grasp what a serious business this is.”

“Surely he doesn’t want to see you go to jail.”

“If he thought about it, I’m sure he’d realize he didn’t,” said Henry evenly. “And I’m sure he’d realize that he doesn’t particularly want to go to jail himself, either.”

“Bunny? But why—?”

“Because he’s known about this since November and he hasn’t gone to the police,” Francis said.

“But that’s beside the point,” said Henry. “Even he has sense enough not to turn us in. He doesn’t have much of an alibi for the night of the murder, and if it ever came to prison for the rest of us I think he must know that I, at least, would do everything in my power to see he came along with us.” He stubbed out his cigarette. “The problem is he’s just a fool, and sooner or later he’s going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person,” he said. “Perhaps not intentionally, but I can’t pretend to be too concerned with motive at this point. You heard him this morning. He’d be in quite a spot himself if this got back to the police but of course he thinks those ghastly jokes are all terribly subtle and clever and over everyone’s head.”

“He’s only just smart enough to realize what a mistake turning us in would be,” said Francis, pausing to pour himself another drink. “But we can’t seem to pound it into him that it’s even more in his own self-interest not to go around talking like he does. And, really, I’m not at all sure he won’t just come out and tell someone, when he’s in one of these confessional moods.”

“Tell someone? Like who?”

“Marion. His father. The Dean of Studies.” He shuddered. “Gives me the creeps just to think about it. He’s just the sort who always stands up in the back of the courtroom during the last five minutes of Terry Mason.’ ”

“Bunny Corcoran, Boy Detective,” said Henry dryly. “How did he find out? He wasn’t with you, was he?”

“As a matter of fact,” said Francis, “he was with you.” He glanced at Henry, and to my surprise the two of them began to laugh.

“What? What’s so funny?” I said, alarmed.

This sent them into fresh peals of laughter. “Nothing,” said Francis at last.

“Really, it is nothing,” said Henry, with a bemused little sigh. “The oddest things make me laugh these days.” He lit another cigarette. “He was with you that night, early in the evening, anyway. Remember? You went to the movies.”

The Thirty-Nine Steps,” Francis said.

With something of a start, I did remember: a windy autumn night, full moon obscured by dusty rags of cloud. I’d worked late in the library and hadn’t gone to dinner. Walking home, a sandwich from the snack bar in my pocket, and the dry leaves skittering and dancing on the path before me, I’d run into Bunny on his way to the Hitchcock series, which the Film Society was showing in the auditorium.

We were late and there were no seats left so we sat on the carpeted stairs, Bunny leaning back on his elbows with his legs stretched in front of him, cracking pensively with his rear molars at a little Dum-Dum sucker. The high wind rattled the flimsy walls; a door banged open and shut until somebody propped it open with a brick. On the screen, locomotives screaming across a black-and-white nightmare of iron-bridged chasms.

“We had a drink afterwards,” I said. “Then he went to his room.” Henry sighed. “I wish he had,” he said.

“He kept asking if I knew where you were.”

“He knew himself, very well. We’d threatened half a dozen times to leave him at home if he didn’t behave.”

“So he got the bright idea of coming around to Henry’s to scare him,” said Francis, pouring himself another drink.

“I was so angry about that,” said Henry abruptly. “Even if nothing had happened, it was a sneaky thing to do. He knew where the spare key was, and he just got it and let himself in.”

“Even so, nothing might have happened. It was just a horrible string of coincidences. If we’d stopped in the country to get rid of our clothes, if we’d come here or to the twins’, if Bunny only hadn’t fallen asleep …”

“He was asleep?”

“Yes, or otherwise he would have got discouraged and left,” Henry said. “We didn’t get back to Hampden until six in the morning. It was a miracle we found our way to the car, over all those fields and things in the dark.… Well, it was foolish to drive to North Hampden in those bloody clothes. The police could have pulled us over, we could have had a wreck, anything. But I felt ill, and I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I suppose I drove to my own apartment by instinct.”

“He left my room around midnight.”

“Well, then, he was alone in my apartment from about twelve-thirty to six a.m. And the coroner reckoned the time of death between one and four. That’s one of the few decent cards fate dealt us in the whole hand. Though Bunny wasn’t with us, he’d have a hard time proving he wasn’t. Unfortunately, that’s not a card we can play except in the direst circumstances.” He shrugged. “If only he’d left the lamp on, anything to tip us off.”

“But that was going to be the big surprise, you see. Jumping out at us from the dark.”

“We walked in and turned on the light, and then it was too late. He woke up instantly. And there we were—”

“—all white robes and bloody like something from Edgar Allan Poe,” Francis said gloomily.

“Jesus, what did he do?”

“What do you think? We scared him half to death.” “It served him right,” said Henry.

“Tell him about the ice cream.”

“Really, this was the last straw,” Henry said crossly. “He took a quart of ice cream out of my freezer to eat while he waited—he couldn’t bother to get a bowl of it, you understand, he had to have the whole quart—and when he fell asleep it melted all over him and on my chair and on that nice little Oriental rug I used to have. Well. It was quite a good antique, that rug, but the dry cleaners said there was nothing they could do. It came back in shreds. And my chair.” He reached for a cigarette. “He screamed like a banshee when he saw us


“—and he would not shut up,” said Francis. “Remember, it was six

o’clock in the morning, the neighbors sleeping …” He shook his head. “I remember Charles taking a step towards him, trying to talk to him, and Bunny yelling bloody murder. After a minute or two—”

“It was only a few seconds,” Henry said.

“—after a minute, Camilla picked up a glass ashtray and threw it at him and hit him square in the chest.”

“It wasn’t a hard blow,” said Henry thoughtfully, “but it was quite judiciously timed. Instantly he shut up and stared at her and I said to him, ‘Bunny, shut up. You’ll wake the neighbors. We’ve hit a deer in the road on the way home.’ ”

“So then,” said Francis, “he wiped his brow and rolled his eyes and went through the whole Bunny routine—boy you guys scared me and must’ve been half-asleep and just on and on and on—”

“And meanwhile,” Henry said, “the four of us were standing there in the bloody sheets, the lights on, no curtains, in full view of anyone who might happen to drive by. He was talking so loudly, and the lights were so bright, and I felt so faint with exhaustion and shock that I couldn’t do much more than stare at him. My God—we were covered with this man’s blood, we’d tracked it into the house, the sun was coming up, and here, to top it all off, was Bunny. I couldn’t force myself to think what to do. Then Camilla, quite sensibly, flicked off the light and all of a sudden I realized no matter how it looked, no matter who was there, we had to get out of our clothes and wash up without losing another second.”

“I practically had to rip the sheet off,” said Francis. “The blood had dried and it was stuck to me. By the time I’d managed that, Henry and the others were in the bathroom. Spray was flying; the water in the bathtub was backed up red; rusty splashes on the tile. It was a nightmare.”

“I can’t tell you how unfortunate it was that Bunny happened to be there,” said Henry, shaking his head. “But for heaven’s sake, we couldn’t just stand around and wait for him to leave. There was blood everywhere, the neighbors would soon be up, for all I knew the police would be pounding at the door any second.…”

“Well, it was too bad we alarmed him, but then, it wasn’t like we thought we were doing this in front of J. Edgar Hoover, either,” said Francis.

“Exactly,” said Henry. “I don’t want to convey the impression that Bunny’s presence seemed like a tremendous menace at that point. It was just a nuisance, because I knew he wondered what was going on,

but at the moment he was the least of our troubles. If there’d been time, I would have sat him down and explained things to him the instant we got in. But there wasn’t time.”

“Good God,” Francis said, and shuddered. “I still can’t go in Henry’s bathroom. Blood smeared on the porcelain. Henry’s straight razor swinging from a peg. We were bruised and scratched to pieces.”

“Charles was the worst by far.”

“Oh, my God. Thorns stuck all over him.” “And that bite.

“You’ve never seen anything like it,” said Francis. “Four inches around and the teeth marks just gouged in. Remember what Bunny said?”

Henry laughed. “Yes,” he said. “Tell him.”

“Well, there we all were, and Charles was turning to get the soap—I didn’t even know Bunny was there, I suppose he was looking in the door—when all of a sudden I heard him say, in this weird businesslike way, ‘Looks like that deer took a plug out of your arm, Charles.’ ”

“He was standing there for part of the time, making comments of various sorts,” said Henry, “but the next thing I knew he wasn’t. I was disturbed by how suddenly he’d left but glad he was out of the way. We had a great deal to do and not too much time.”

“Weren’t you afraid he’d tell somebody?” Henry looked at me blankly. “Who?” “Me. Marion. Anybody.”

“No. At that point I had no reason to think he’d do anything of the sort. He’d been with us on previous tries, you understand, so our appearance didn’t seem as extraordinary to him as it might have to you. The whole thing was deadly secret. He’d been involved in it with us for months. How could he have told anyone without explaining the whole thing and making himself look foolish? Julian knew what we were trying to do, but I was still pretty certain Bunny wouldn’t talk to him without checking it with us first. And, as it happened, I was right.”

He paused and lit a cigarette. “It was almost daybreak, and things were still a dreadful mess—bloody footprints on the porch, the chitons lying where we’d dropped them. The twins put on some old clothes of mine and went out to take care of the porch and the inside of the car. The chitons, I knew, should be burnt, but I didn’t want to start a big fire in the back yard; nor did I want to burn them inside and risk setting off the fire alarm. My landlady is constantly warning me not to

use the fireplace, but I’d always suspected it worked. I took a chance and as luck would have it, it did.”

“I was no help at all,” said Francis.

“No, you certainly weren’t,” said Henry crossly.

“I couldn’t help it. I thought I was going to throw up. I went back to Henry’s room and went to sleep.”

“I think we all would have liked to go to sleep but somebody had to clean up,” Henry said. “The twins came in around seven. I was still having a terrible time with the bathroom. Charles’s back was stuck full of thorns like a pincushion. For a while Camilla and I worked on him with a pair of tweezers; then I went back in the bathroom to finish up. The worst of it was over, but I was so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The towels weren’t so bad—we’d pretty much avoided using them—but there were stains on some of them so I put them in the washing machine and dumped in some soap. The twins were asleep, on that fold-out bed in the back room, and I shoved Charles over and was out like a light.”

“Fourteen hours,” said Francis. “I’ve never slept that long in my life.”

“Nor have I. Like a dead man. No dreams.”

“I can’t tell you how disorienting this was,” Francis said. “The sun was coming up when I went to sleep, and it seemed like I’d just closed my eyes when I opened them again, and it was dark, and a phone was ringing, and I had no idea where I was. It kept ringing and ringing, and finally I got up and found my way into the hall. Somebody said don’t answer it but—”

“I’ve never seen anybody like you for answering a phone,” said Henry. “Even in somebody else’s house.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? Just let it ring? Anyway, I picked it up, and it was Bunny, cheery as a lark. Boy, the four of us had really been messed up, and were we turning into a bunch of nudists or what, and how about if we all went to the Brasserie and had some dinner?”

I sat up in my chair. “Wait,” I said. “Was that the night—?” Henry nodded. “You came too,” he said. “Remember?”

“Of course,” I said, unaccountably excited that the story was at last beginning to dovetail with my own experience. “Of course. I met Bunny on his way to your place.”

“If you don’t mind my saying so, we were all a little surprised when he showed up with you,” said Francis.

“Well, I suppose eventually he wanted to get us alone and find out what happened, but it was nothing that couldn’t wait,” said Henry. “You’ll recall that our appearance wouldn’t have seemed so odd to him as it might. He’d been with us before, you know, on nights very nearly as—what is the word I’m looking for?”

“—when we’d been sick all over the place,” said Francis, “and fallen in mud, and didn’t get home till dawn. There was the blood—he might have wondered exactly how we’d killed that deer—but still.”

Uncomfortably, I thought of the Bacchae: hooves and bloody ribs, scraps dangling from the fir trees. There was a word for it in Greek: omophagia. Suddenly it came back to me: walking into Henry’s apartment, all those tired faces, Bunny’s snide greeting of “Khairei, deerslayers!”

They’d been quiet that evening, quiet and pale, though not more than seemed remarkable for people suffering particularly bad hangovers. Only Camilla’s laryngitis seemed unusual. They’d been drunk the night before, they told me, drunk as bandicoots; Camilla had left her sweater at home and caught cold on the walk back to North Hampden. Outside, it was dark and raining hard. Henry gave me the car keys and asked me to drive.

It was a Friday night, but the weather was so bad the Brasserie was nearly deserted. We ate Welsh rarebits and listened to the rain beating down in gusts on the roof. Bunny and I drank whiskey and hot water; the others had tea.

“Feeling queasy, bakchoi?” said Bunny slyly after the waiter took our drink orders.

Camilla made a face at him.

When we went out to the car after dinner Bunny walked around it, inspected the headlights, kicked at the tires. “This the one you were in last night?” he said, blinking in the rain.


He brushed the damp hair from his eyes and bent to examine the fender. “German cars,” he said. “Hate to say it but I think the Krauts have got Detroit metal beat. I don’t see a scratch.”

I asked him what he meant.

“Aw, they were driving around drunk. Making a nuisance of themselves on the public road. Hit a deer. Did you kill it?” he asked Henry.

Walking around to the passenger’s side, Henry looked up. “What’s that?”

“The deer. Didja kill it?”

Henry opened the door. “It looked pretty dead to me,” he had said.


There was a long silence. My eyes were smarting from all the smoke. A thick gray haze of it hung near the ceiling.

“So what’s the problem?” I said. “What do you mean?”

“What happened? Did you tell him about it or not?”

Henry took a deep breath. “No,” he said. “We might have, but obviously the fewer people who knew the better. When I first saw him alone, I broached it carefully, but he seemed satisfied with the deer story and I let it go at that. If he hadn’t figured it out on his own there was certainly no reason to tell him. The fellow’s body was found, an article ran in the Hampden Examiner, no problem at all. But then—by some rotten stroke of luck—I suppose in Hampden they don’t get many stories like this—they published a follow-up story two weeks later. ‘Mysterious Death in Battenkill County.’ And that was the one Bunny saw.”

“It was the stupidest thing,” Francis said. “He never reads the newspaper. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for that blasted Marion.”

“She has a subscription, something to do with the Early Childhood Center,” said Henry, rubbing his eyes. “Bunny was with her in Commons before lunch. She was talking to one of her friends— Marion, that is—and Bunny I suppose had got bored and started to read her paper. The twins and I went up to say hello and the first thing he said, practically across the room, was ‘Look here, you guys, some chicken farmer got killed out by Francis’s house.’ Then he read a bit of the article out loud. Fractured skull, no murder weapon, no motive, no leads. I was trying to think of some way to change the subject when he said: ‘Hey. November tenth? That’s the night you guys were out at Francis’s. The night you ran over that deer.’ ”

“ ‘I don’t see,’ I said, ‘how that could be right.’

“ ‘It was the tenth. I remember because it was the day before my mom’s birthday. That’s really something, isn’t it?’

“ ‘Why yes,’ we said, ‘it certainly is.’

“ ‘If I had a suspicious mind,’ he said, ‘I’d guess you’d done it, Henry, coming back from Battenkill County that night with blood from head to toe.’ ”

He lit another cigarette. “You have to remember that it was lunch

time, Commons was packed, Marion and her friend were listening to every word, and besides, you know how his voice carries.… We laughed, naturally, and Charles said something funny, and we’d just managed to get him off the topic when he looked at the paper again. ‘I can’t believe this, guys,’ he said. ‘An honest-to-God murder, out in the woods too, not three miles from where you were. You know, if the cops had pulled you over that night, you’d probably be in jail right now. There’s a phone number to call if anybody’s got any information. If I wanted to, I bet I could get you guys in a heck of a lot of trouble

…’ et cetera, et cetera.

“Of course, I didn’t know what to think. Was he joking, did he really suspect? Eventually I got him to drop it but still I had an awful feeling that he’d felt how uneasy he’d made me. He knows me so well

—he has a sixth sense about that kind of thing. And I was uneasy. Goodness. It was right before lunch, all these security guards were standing around, half of them are connected with the police force in Hampden … I mean, there was no way our story could stand up to even peremptory examination and I knew it. Obviously we hadn’t hit a deer. There wasn’t a scratch on either of the cars. And if anyone made even a casual connection between us and the dead man … So, as I say, I was glad when he dropped it. But even then I had a feeling we hadn’t heard the last of it. He teased us about it—quite innocently, I believe, but in public as well as private—for the rest of the term. You know how he is. Once he gets something like that on the brain he won’t give it up.”

I did know. Bunny had an uncanny ability to ferret out topics of conversation that made his listener uneasy and to dwell upon them with ferocity once he had. In all the months I’d known him he’d never ceased to tease me, for instance, about that jacket I’d worn to lunch with him that first day, and about what he saw as my flimsy and tastelessly Californian style of dress. To an impartial eye, my clothes were in fact not at all dissimilar from his own but his snide remarks upon the subject were so inexhaustible and tireless, I think, because in spite of my good-natured laughter he must have been dimly aware that he was touching a nerve, that I was in fact incredibly self-conscious about these virtually imperceptible differences of dress and of the rather less imperceptible differences of manner and bearing between myself and the rest of them. I am gifted at blending myself into any given milieu—you’ve never seen such a typical California teenager as I was, nor such a dissolute and callous pre-med student—

but somehow, despite my efforts, I am never able to blend myself in entirely and remain in some respects quite distinct from my surroundings, in the same way that a green chameleon remains a distinct entity from the green leaf upon which it sits, no matter how perfectly it has approximated the subtleties of the particular shade. Whenever Bunny, rudely and in public, accused me of wearing a shirt which contained a polyester blend, or remarked critically that my perfectly ordinary trousers, indistinguishable from his own, bore the taint of something he called a “Western cut,” a large portion of the pleasure this sport afforded him was derived from his unerring and bloodhoundish sense that this, of all topics, was the one which made me most truly uncomfortable. He could not have failed to notice what a sore spot his mention of the murder had touched in Henry; nor, once he sensed its existence, could he have restrained himself from continuing to jab at it.

“Of course, he didn’t know a thing,” Francis said. “Really, he didn’t.

It was all a big joke to him. He liked to throw out references to that farmer we’d gone and murdered, just to see me jump. One day he told me he’d seen a policeman out in front of my house, asking my landlady questions.”

“He did that to me, too,” said Henry. “He was always joking about calling the tips number in the newspaper, and the five of us splitting the reward money. Picking up the telephone. Pretending to dial.”

“You can understand how thin that wore after a time. My God. Some of the things he said in front of you—The terrible thing was, you could never tell when it was coming. Right before school let out he stuck a copy of that newspaper article under the windshield wiper of my car. ‘Mysterious Death in Battenkill County.’ It was horrible to know that he’d saved it in the first place, and kept it all that time.”

“Worst of all,” said Henry, “there was absolutely nothing we could do. For a while we even thought of telling him outright, throwing ourselves on his mercy so to speak, but then we realized, at that late date, it was impossible to predict how he’d react. He was grouchy, and sick, and worried about his grades. And the term was nearly over too. It seemed that the best thing to do was to stay on his good side until the Christmas break—take him places, buy him things, pay a lot of attention to him—and hope it would blow over during the winter.” He sighed. “At the end of virtually every school term I’ve been through with Bunny, he’s suggested that the two of us go on a trip, meaning by this that we go to some place of his choosing and that I

pay for it. He hasn’t the money to get to Manchester on his own. And when the subject came up, as I knew it would, about a week or two before school was out, I thought: why not? In this way, at least, one of us could keep an eye on him over the winter; and perhaps a change of scenery might prove beneficial. I should also note that it didn’t seem to be such a bad thing if he were to feel a bit under obligation to me. He wanted to go to either Italy or Jamaica. I knew I couldn’t bear Jamaica, so I bought two tickets for Rome and arranged for some rooms not far from the Piazza di Spagna.”

“And you gave him money for clothes and all those useless Italian books.”

“Yes. All in all it was a considerable outlay of money but it seemed like a good investment. I even thought it might be a bit of fun. But never, in my wildest dreams.… Really, I don’t know where to begin. I remember when he saw our rooms—actually, they were quite charming, with a frescoed ceiling, beautiful old balcony, glorious view, I was rather proud of myself for having found them—he was incensed, and began to complain that it was shabby, that it was too cold and the plumbing was bad; and, in short, that the place was completely unsuitable and he wondered how I had been duped into taking it. He’d thought I knew better than to stumble into a lousy tourist trap, but he guessed that he was wrong. He insinuated that our throats would be cut in the night. At that point, I was more amenable to his whims. I asked him, if he didn’t like the rooms, where would he prefer to stay? and he suggested why didn’t we just go down and get a suite—not a room, you understand, but a suite—in the Grand Hotel?

“He kept on, and finally I told him we would do nothing of the sort.

For one thing, the exchange rate was bad and the rooms—besides being paid in advance, and with my money—were already rather more than I could afford. He sulked for days, feigning asthma attacks, moping around and honking at his inhaler and nagging me constantly

—accusing me of being cheap, and so forth, and when he traveled he liked to do it right—and finally I lost my temper. I told him that if the rooms were satisfactory to me, they were certainly better than what he was used to—I mean, my God, it was a palazzo, it belonged to a countess, I’d paid a fortune for it—and, in short, there was no possibility of my paying 500,000 lire a night for the company of American tourists and a couple of sheets of hotel stationery.

“So we stayed on at the Piazza di Spagna, which he proceeded to transform into a simulacrum of Hell. He needled me ceaselessly—

about the carpet, about the pipes, about what he felt was his insufficient supply of pocket money. We were living just a few steps from the Via Condotti, the most expensive shopping street in Rome. was lucky, he said. No wonder was having such a good time, since I could buy whatever I wanted, while all he could do was lie wheezing in the garret like a poor stepchild. I did what I could to placate him, but the more I bought him, the more he wanted. Besides which, he would hardly let me out of his sight. He complained if I left him alone for even a few minutes; but if I asked him to come along with me, to a museum or a church—my God, we were in Rome—he was dreadfully bored and kept at me constantly to leave. It got so I couldn’t even read a book without his sailing in. Goodness. He’d stand outside the door and jabber at me while I was having my bath. I caught him going through my suitcase. I mean—” he paused delicately—“it’s slightly annoying to have even an unobtrusive person sharing such close quarters with one. Perhaps I’d only forgotten what it was like when we lived together freshman year, or perhaps I’ve simply become more accustomed to living alone, but after a week or two of this I was a nervous wreck. I could hardly bear the sight of him. And I was worried about other things as well. You know, don’t you,” he said abruptly to me, “that sometimes I get headaches, rather bad ones?”

I did know. Bunny—fond of recounting his own illnesses and those

of others—had described them in an awed whisper: Henry, flat on his back in a dark room, ice packs on his head and a handkerchief tied over his eyes.

“I don’t get them so often as I once did. When I was thirteen or fourteen I had them all the time. But now it seems that when they do come—sometimes only once a year—they’re much worse. And after I’d been a few weeks in Italy, I felt one coming on. Unmistakable. Noises get louder; objects shimmer; my peripheral vision darkens and I see all sorts of unpleasant things hovering at its edges. There’s a terrible pressure in the air. I’ll look at a street sign and not be able to read it, not understand the simplest spoken sentence. There’s not much that can be done when it comes to that but I did what I could— stayed in my room with the shades pulled, took medicine, tried to keep quiet. At last I realized I would have to cable my doctor in the States. The drugs they give me are too powerful to dispense in prescription form; generally I go to the emergency room for a shot. I wasn’t sure what an Italian doctor would do if I showed up gasping at his office, an American tourist, asking for an injection of


“But by then it was too late. The headache was on me in a matter of hours and after that, I was quite incapable either of finding my way to a doctor or making myself understood if I had. I don’t know if Bunny tried to get me one or not. His Italian is so bad that when he tried to speak to anyone he would generally just end up insulting them. The American Express office was not far from where we lived, and I’m sure they could have given him the name of an English-speaking doctor, but of course that’s not the sort of thing that would occur to Bunny.

“I hardly know what happened for the next few days. I lay in my room with the shades down and sheets of newspaper taped over the shades. It was impossible even to have any ice sent up-all one could get were lukewarm pitchers of acqua semplice—but then I had a hard time talking in English, much less Italian. God knows where Bunny was. I have no memory of seeing him, nor much of anything else.

“Anyway. For a few days I lay flat on my back, hardly able to blink without feeling like my forehead was splitting open, and everything sick and black. I swung in and out of consciousness until finally I became aware of a thin seam of light burning at the edge of the shade. How long I’d been looking at it I don’t know, but gradually I became aware that it was morning, that the pain had receded somewhat, and that I could move around without awful difficulty. I also realized that I was extraordinarily thirsty. There was no water in my pitcher, so I got up and put on my dressing gown and went to get a drink.

“My room and Bunny’s opened from opposite ends to a rather grand central room—fifteen-foot ceilings, with a fresco in the manner of Carracci; glorious sculptured-stuccoed framework; French doors leading to the balcony. I was almost blinded by the morning light, but I made out a shape which I took to be Bunny, bent over some books and papers at my desk. I waited until my eyes cleared, one hand on the doorknob to steady myself, and then I said, ‘Good morning, Bun.’

“Well, he leapt up as if he’d been scalded, and scrabbled in the papers as if to hide something, and all of a sudden I realized what he had. I went over and snatched it from him. It was my diary. He was always nosing around trying to get a look at it; I’d hidden it behind a radiator but I suppose he’d come digging in my room while I was ill. He’d found it once before, but since I write in Latin I don’t suppose he was able to make much sense of it. I didn’t even use his real name. Cuniculus molestus, I thought, denoted him quite well. And he’d never

figure that out without a lexicon.

“Unfortunately, while I was ill, he’d had ample chance to avail himself of one. A lexicon, that is. And I know we make fun of Bunny for being such a dreadful Latinist, but he’d managed to eke out a pretty competent little English translation of the more recent entries. I must say, I never dreamed he was capable of such a thing. It must have taken him days.

“I wasn’t even angry. I was too stunned. I stared at the translation— it was sitting right there—and then at him, and then, all of a sudden, he pushed back his chair and began to bellow at me. We had killed that fellow, he said, killed him in cold blood and didn’t even bother to tell him about it, but he knew there was something fishy all along, and where did I get off calling him Rabbit, and he had half a mind to go right down to the American consulate and have them send over some police.… Then—this was foolish of me—I slapped him in the face, hard as I could.” He sighed. “I shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t even do it from anger, but frustration. I was sick and exhausted; I was afraid someone would hear him; I just didn’t think I could stand it another second.

“And I’d hit him harder than I meant to. His mouth fell open. My hand had left a big white mark across his cheek. All of a sudden the blood rushed back into it, bright red. He began to shout at me, cursing, quite hysterical, throwing wild punches at me. There were rapid footsteps on the stairs, followed by a loud banging at the door and a delirious burst of Italian. I grabbed the diary and the translation and threw them in the stove—Bunny went for them, but I held him back until they started to go up—and then I yelled for whoever it was to come in. It was the chambermaid. She flew into the room, screaming in Italian so fast I couldn’t understand a word she said. At first I thought she was angry about the noise. Then I understood it wasn’t it at all. She’d known I was ill; there’d been hardly a sound from the room for days and then, she said excitedly, she’d heard all the screaming; she had thought I’d died in the night, perhaps, and the other young signor had found me, but as I was standing now in front of her, that was obviously not the case; did I need a doctor? An ambulance? Bicarbonato di soda?

“I thanked her and said no, I was perfectly all right, and then I sort

of dunque-dunqued around, trying to think of some explanation for the disturbance, but she seemed perfectly satisfied and went away to fetch our breakfast. Bunny looked rather stunned. He had no idea what it

had been about, of course. I suppose it seemed rather sinister and inexplicable. He asked me where she was going, and what she’d said, but I was too sick and angry to answer. I went back to my bedroom and shut the door, and stayed there until she came back with our breakfast. She laid it out on the terrace, and we went outside to eat.

“Curiously, Bunny had little to say. After a bit of a tense silence, he inquired about my health, told me what he’d done while I was ill, and said nothing about what had just happened. I ate my breakfast, and realized all I could do was try to keep my head. I had hurt his feelings, I knew—really, there were several very unkind things in the diary—so I resolved to be as pleasant to him from then on out as I could, and to hope no more problems would arise.”

He paused to take a drink of his whiskey. I looked at him. “You mean, you thought problems might not arise?” I said. “I know Bunny better than you do,” Henry said crossly. “But what about what he said—about the police?”

“I knew he wasn’t prepared to go to the police, Richard.”

“If it were simply a question of the dead man, things would be different, don’t you see?” said Francis, leaning forward in his chair. “It’s not that his conscience bothers him. Or that he feels any compelling kind of moral outrage. He thinks he’s been somehow wronged by the whole business.”

“Well, frankly, I thought I was doing him a favor by not telling him,” Henry said. “But he was angry—is angry, I should say—because things were kept from him. He feels injured. Excluded. And my best chance was to try to make amends for that. We’re old friends, he and I.”

“Tell him about those things Bunny bought with your credit cards while you were sick.”

“I didn’t find out about that until later,” said Henry gloomily. “It doesn’t make much difference now.” He lit another cigarette. “I suppose, right after he found out, he was in a kind of shock,” he said. “And, too, he was in a strange country, unable to speak the language, without a cent of his own. He was all right for a little while. Nonetheless, once he caught on to the fact—and it didn’t take him long—that, circumstances to the contrary, I was actually pretty much at his mercy, you can’t imagine what torture he put me through. He talked about it all the time. In restaurants, in shops, in taxicabs. Of course, it was the off season, and not many English around, but for all I know there are entire families of Americans back home in Ohio

wondering if … Oh, God. Exhaustive monologues in the Hosteria dell’Orso. An argument in the Via dei Cestari. An abortive re-enactment of it in the lobby of the Grand Hotel.

“One afternoon at a cafe, he was going on and on and I noticed that a man at the next table was hanging on every word. We got up to leave. He got up too. I wasn’t sure what to think. I knew he was German, because I’d heard him talking to the waiter, but I had no idea if he had any English or if he’d been able to hear Bunny distinctly enough to understand. Perhaps he was only a homosexual, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I led the way home through the alleys, turning this way and that, and I felt quite certain we’d lost him but apparently not, because when I woke up the next morning and looked out the window he was standing by the fountain. Bunny was elated. He thought it was just like a spy picture. He wanted to go out and see if this fellow would try to follow us, and I had practically to restrain him by force. All morning I watched from the window. The German stood around, had a few cigarettes, and drifted away after a couple of hours; but it wasn’t until about four o’clock when Bunny, who’d been complaining steadily since noon, began to raise such a ruckus that we finally went to get something to eat. But we were only a few blocks from the piazza when I thought I saw the German again, walking behind us at quite a distance. I turned and started back, in hopes of confronting him; he disappeared, but in a few minutes I turned around and he was there again.

“I’d been worried before, but then I began to feel really afraid.

Immediately we went off into a side street, and made our way home by a roundabout route—Bunny never did get his lunch that day, he almost drove me crazy—and I sat by the window until it got dark, telling Bunny to shut up and trying to think what to do. I didn’t think he knew exactly where we lived—otherwise, why roam around the piazza, why not come directly to our apartment if he had something to say? At any rate. We left our rooms pretty much in the middle of the night and checked into the Excelsior, which was fine with Bunny. Room service, you know. I watched quite anxiously for him the rest of my time in Rome—goodness, I dream about him still—but I never saw him again.”

“What do you suppose he wanted? Money?”

Henry shrugged. “Who knows. Unfortunately at that point I had very little money to give him. Bunny’s jaunts to the tailors and so forth had just about cleaned me out, and then having to move to this

hotel—I didn’t care about the money, really I didn’t, but he was nearly driving me crazy. Never once was I alone. It was impossible to write a letter or even to make a telephone call without Bunny lurking somewhere in the background, arrectis auribus, trying to listen in. While I was having a bath, he’d go in my room and root through my things; I’d come out to find my clothes all wadded up in the bureau and crumbs in the pages of my notebooks. Everything I did made him suspicious.

“I stood it as long as I could but I was beginning to feel desperate and, frankly, rather unwell too. I knew that leaving him in Rome might be dangerous but it seemed every day that things got worse and eventually it became obvious that staying on was no solution. Already I knew that the four of us could under no circumstances go back to school as usual in the spring-though look at us now—and that we’d have to devise a plan, probably a rather Pyrrhic and unsatisfactory one. But I needed time, and quiet, and a few weeks’ grace period in the States if I was to do anything of the sort. So one night at the Excelsior when Bunny was drunk and sleeping soundly I packed my clothes—leaving him his ticket home and two thousand American dollars and no note—and took a taxi to the airport and got on the first plane home.”

“You left him two thousand dollars?” I said, aghast.

Henry shrugged. Francis shook his head and snorted. “That’s nothing,” he said.

I stared at them.

“Really, it is nothing,” said Henry mildly. “I can’t tell you how much that trip to Italy cost me. And my parents are generous, but they’re not that generous. I’ve never had to ask for money in my life until the last few months. As it is, my savings are virtually gone and I don’t know how much longer I can keep feeding them these stories about elaborate car repairs and so forth. I mean, I was prepared to be reasonable with Bunny, but he doesn’t seem to understand that after all I’m just a student on an allowance and not some bottomless well of money.… And the horrible thing is, I don’t see an end to it. I don’t know what would happen if my parents got disgusted and cut me off, which is extremely likely to happen at some point in the near future if things go on as they are.”

“He’s blackmailing you?”

Henry and Francis looked at each other. “Well, not exactly,” said Francis.

Henry shook his head. “Bunny doesn’t think of it in those terms,” he said wearily. “You’d have to know his parents to understand. What the Corcorans did with their sons was to send them all to the most expensive schools they could possibly get into, and let them fend for themselves once they were there. His parents don’t give him a cent. Apparently they never have. He told me when they sent him off to Saint Jerome’s they didn’t even give him money for his schoolbooks. Rather an odd child-rearing method, in my opinion—like certain reptiles who hatch their young and abandon them to the elements. Not surprisingly, this has inculcated in Bunny the notion that it is more honorable to live by sponging off other people than it is to work.”

“But I thought his folks were supposed to be such blue-bloods,” I said.

“The Corcorans have delusions of grandeur. The problem is, they lack the money to back them up. No doubt they think it very aristocratic and grand, farming their sons off on other people.”

“He’s shameless about it,” said Francis. “Even with the twins, and they’re nearly as poor as he is.”

“The bigger the sums, the better, and never a thought of paying it back. Of course, he’d rather die than get a job.”

“The Corcorans would rather see him dead,” said Francis sourly, lighting his cigarette and coughing as he exhaled. “But this squeamishness about work wears a bit thin when one is forced to assume his upkeep oneself.”

“It’s unthinkable,” said Henry. “I’d rather have any job, six jobs, than beg from people. Look at you,” he said to me. “Your parents aren’t particularly generous with you, are they? But you’re so scrupulous about not borrowing money that it’s rather silly.”

I said nothing, embarrassed.

“Heavens. I think you might have died in that warehouse rather than wire one of us for a couple of hundred dollars.” He lit a cigarette and blew out an emphatic plume of smoke. “That’s an infinitesimal sum. I’m sure we shall have spent two or three times that on Bunny by the end of next week.”

I stared. “You’re kidding,” I said. “I wish I were.”

“I don’t mind lending money either,” Francis said, “if I’ve got it. But Bunny borrows beyond all reason. Even in the old days he thought nothing of asking for a hundred dollars at the drop of a hat, for no

reason at all.”

“And never a word of thanks,” said Henry irritably. “What can he spend it on? If he had even a shred of self-respect he’d go down to the employment office and get himself a job.”

“You and I may be down there in a couple of weeks if he doesn’t let up,” said Francis glumly, pouring himself another glass of Scotch and sloshing a good deal of it on the table. “I’ve spent thousands on him. Thousands,” he said to me, taking a careful sip from the trembling brim of his glass. “And most of it on restaurant bills, the pig. It’s all very friendly, why don’t we go out to dinner and that sort of thing, but the way things are, how can I say no? My mother thinks I’m on drugs. I don’t suppose there’s much else she can think. She’s told my grandparents not to give me any money and since January I haven’t gotten a damn thing except my dividend check. Which is fine as far as it goes, but I can’t be taking people out for hundred-dollar dinners every night.”

Henry shrugged. “He’s always been like this,” he said. “Always. He’s amusing; I liked him; I felt a little sorry for him. What was it to me, to lend him money for his schoolbooks and know he wouldn’t pay it back?”

“Except now,” Francis said, “it’s not just money for schoolbooks.

And now we can’t say no.”

“How long can you keep this up?” “Not forever.”

“And when the money’s gone?”

“I don’t know,” said Henry, reaching up behind his spectacles to rub his eyes again.

“Maybe I could talk to him.”

No,” said Henry and Francis, one on top of the other, with an alacrity that surprised me.


There was an awkward pause, finally broken by Francis.

“Well, you may or may not know this,” he said, “but Bunny is a little jealous of you. Already he thinks we’ve all ganged up on him. If he gets the impression you’re siding with the rest of us …”

“You mustn’t let on you know,” said Henry. “Ever. Unless you want to make things worse.”

For a moment no one spoke. The apartment was blue with smoke, through which the broad expanse of white linoleum was arctic, surreal. Music from a neighbor’s stereo was filtering through the

walls. The Grateful Dead. Good Lord.

“It’s a terrible thing, what we did,” said Francis abruptly. “I mean, this man was not Voltaire we killed. But still. It’s a shame. I feel bad about it.”

“Well, of course, I do too,” said Henry matter-of-factly. “But not bad enough to want to go to jail for it.”

Francis snorted and poured himself another shot of whiskey and drank it straight off. “No,” he said. “Not that bad.”

No one said anything for a moment. I felt sleepy, ill, as if this were some lingering and dyspeptic dream. I had said it before, but I said it again, mildly surprised at the sound of my own voice in the quiet room. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Henry, as calmly as if I’d asked him his plans for the afternoon.

“Well, I know what I’m going to do,” said Francis. He stood up unsteadily and pulled with his forefinger at his collar. Startled, I looked at him, and he laughed at my surprise.

“I want to sleep,” he said, with a melodramatic roll of his eye, “ ‘dormir plutôt que vivre’!

“ ‘Dans un sommeil aussi doux que la mort …’ ” said Henry with a smile.

“Jesus, Henry, you know everything,” said Francis, “you make me sick.” He turned unsteadily, loosening his tie as he did it, and swayed out of the room.

“I believe he is rather drunk,” said Henry, as a door slammed somewhere and we heard taps running furiously in the bathroom. “It’s early still. Do you want to play a hand or two of cards?”

I blinked at him.

He reached over and got a deck of cards from a box on the end table—Tiffany cards, with sky-blue backs and Francis’s monogram on them in gold—and began to shuffle through them expertly. “We could play bezique, or euchre if you’d rather,” he said, the blue and gold dissolving from his hands in a blur. “I like poker myself—of course, it’s rather a vulgar game, and no fun at all with two—but still, there’s a certain random element in it which appeals to me.”

I looked at him, at his steady hands, the whirring cards, and suddenly an odd memory leapt to mind: Tojo, at the height of the war, forcing his top aides to sit up and play cards with him all night long.

He pushed the deck over to me. “Do you want to cut?” he said, and

lit a cigarette.

I looked at the cards, and then at the flame of the match burning with an unwavering clarity between his fingers.

“You’re not too worried about this, are you?” I said.

Henry drew deeply on the cigarette, exhaled, shook out the match. “No,” he said, looking thoughtfully at the thread of smoke that curled from the burnt end. “I can get us out of it, I think. But that depends on the exact opportunity presenting itself and for that we’ll have to wait. I suppose it also depends to a certain extent on how much, in the end, we are willing to do. Shall I deal?” he said, and he reached for the cards again.


I awoke from a heavy, dreamless sleep to find myself lying on Francis’s couch in an uncomfortable position, and the morning sun streaming through the bank of windows at the rear. For a while I lay motionless, trying to remember where I was and how I had come to be there; it was a pleasant sensation which was abruptly soured when I recalled what had happened the previous night. I sat up and rubbed the waffled pattern the sofa cushion had left on my cheek. The movement made my head ache. I stared at the overflowing ashtray, the three-quarters-empty bottle of Famous Grouse, the game of poker solitaire laid out upon the table. So it had all been real; it wasn’t a dream.

I was thirsty. I went to the kitchen, my footsteps echoing in the silence, and drank a glass of water standing at the sink. It was seven

a.m. by the kitchen clock.

I filled my glass again and took it to the living room with me and sat on the couch. As I drank, more slowly this time—bolting the first glass had made me slightly nauseous—I looked at Henry’s solitaire poker game. He must have laid it out while I was asleep. Instead of going all out for flushes in the columns, and full houses and fours on the rows, which was the prudent thing to do in this game, he’d tried for a couple of straight flushes on the rows and missed. Why had he done that? To see if he could beat the odds? Or had he only been tired?

I picked up the cards and shuffled them and laid them out again one by one, in accordance with the strategic rules that he himself had taught me, and beat his score by fifty points. The cold, jaunty faces stared back at me: jacks in black and red, the Queen of Spades with her fishy eye. Suddenly a wave of fatigue and nausea shuddered over

me, and I went to the closet, got my coat, and left, closing the door quietly behind me.

The hall, in the morning light, had the feel of a hospital corridor. Pausing unsteadily on the stairs, I looked back at Francis’s door, indistinguishable from the others in the long faceless row.

I suppose if I had a moment of doubt at all it was then, as I stood in that cold, eerie stairwell looking back at the apartment from which I had come. Who were these people? How well did I know them? Could I trust any of them, really, when it came right down to it? Why, of all people, had they chosen to tell me?

It’s funny, but thinking back on it now, I realize that this particular point in time, as I stood there blinking in the deserted hall, was the one point at which I might have chosen to do something very different from what I actually did. But of course I didn’t see this crucial moment then for what it was; I suppose we never do. Instead, I only yawned, and shook myself from the momentary daze that had come upon me, and went on my way down the stairs.


Back in my room, dizzy and exhausted, I wanted more than anything to pull the shades and lie down on my bed—which seemed suddenly the most enticing bed in the world, musty pillow, dirty sheets, and all. But that was impossible. Greek Prose Composition was in two hours, and I hadn’t done my homework.

The assignment was a two-page essay, in Greek, on any epigram of Callimachus that we chose. I’d done only a page and I started to hurry through the rest in impatient and slightly dishonest fashion, writing out the English and translating word by word. It was something Julian asked us not to do. The value of Greek prose composition, he said, was not that it gave one any particular facility in the language that could not be gained as easily by other methods but that if done properly, off the top of one’s head, it taught one to think in Greek. One’s thought patterns become different, he said, when forced into the confines of a rigid and unfamiliar tongue. Certain common ideas become inexpressible; other, previously undreamt-of ones spring to life, finding miraculous new articulation. By necessity, I suppose, it is difficult for me to explain in English exactly what I mean. I can only say that an incendium is in its nature entirely different from the feu with which a Frenchman lights his cigarette, and both are very different from the stark, inhuman pur that the Greeks knew, the pur that roared from the towers of Ilion or leapt and screamed on that

desolate, windy beach, from the funeral pyre of Patroklos.

Pur: that one word contains for me the secret, the bright, terrible clarity of ancient Greek. How can I make you see it, this strange harsh light which pervades Homer’s landscapes and illumines the dialogues of Plato, an alien light, inarticulable in our common tongue? Our shared language is a language of the intricate, the peculiar, the home of pumpkins and ragamuffins and bodkins and beer, the tongue of Ahab and Falstaff and Mrs. Gamp; and while I find it entirely suitable for reflections such as these, it fails me utterly when I attempt to describe in it what I love about Greek, that language innocent of all quirks and cranks; a language obsessed with action, and with the joy of seeing action multiply from action, action marching relentlessly ahead and with yet more actions filing in from either side to fall into neat step at the rear, in a long straight rank of cause and effect toward what will be inevitable, the only possible end.

In a certain sense, this was why I felt so close to the others in the

Greek class. They, too, knew this beautiful and harrowing landscape, centuries dead; they’d had the same experience of looking up from their books with fifth-century eyes and finding the world disconcertingly sluggish and alien, as if it were not their home. It was why I admired Julian, and Henry in particular. Their reason, their very eyes and ears were fixed irrevocably in the confines of those stern and ancient rhythms—the world, in fact, was not their home, at least not the world as I knew it—and far from being occasional visitors to this land which I myself knew only as an admiring tourist, they were pretty much its permanent residents, as permanent as I suppose it was possible for them to be. Ancient Greek is a difficult language, a very difficult language indeed, and it is eminently possible to study it all one’s life and never be able to speak a word; but it makes me smile, even today, to think of Henry’s calculated, formal English, the English of a well-educated foreigner, as compared with the marvelous fluency and self-assurance of his Greek—quick, eloquent, remarkably witty. It was always a wonder to me when I happened to hear him and Julian conversing in Greek, arguing and joking, as I never once heard either of them do in English; many times, I’ve seen Henry pick up the telephone with an irritable, cautious ‘Hello,’ and may I never forget the harsh and irresistible delight of his “Khairei!” when Julian happened to be at the other end.

I was a bit uncomfortable—after the story I’d just heard—with the

Callimachean epigrams having to do with flushed cheeks, and wine,

and the kisses of fair-limbed youths by torchlight. I’d chosen instead a rather sad one, which in English runs as follows: “At morn we buried Melanippus; as the sun set the maiden Basilo died by her own hand, as she could not endure to lay her brother on the pyre and live; and the house beheld a twofold woe, and all Cyrene bowed her head, to see the home of happy children made desolate.”


I finished my composition in less than an hour. After I’d gone through it and checked the endings, I washed my face and changed my shirt and went, with my books, over to Bunny’s room.

Of the six of us, Bunny and I were the only two who lived on campus, and his house was across the lawn on the opposite end of Commons. He had a room on the ground floor, which I am sure was inconvenient for him since he spent most of his time upstairs in the house kitchen: ironing his pants, rummaging through the refrigerator, leaning out the window in his shirtsleeves to yell at passers-by. When he didn’t answer his door I went to look for him there, and I found him sitting in the windowsill in his undershirt, drinking a cup of coffee and leafing through a magazine. I was a little surprised to see the twins there, too: Charles, standing with his left ankle crossed over his right, stirring moodily at his coffee and looking out the window; Camilla—and this surprised me, because Camilla wasn’t much of one for domestic tasks—ironing one of Bunny’s shirts.

“Oh, hello, old man,” said Bunny. “Come on in. Having a little

kaffeeklatsch. Yes, women are good for one or two things,” he added, when he saw me looking at Camilla and the ironing board, “though, being a gentleman—” he winked broadly—“I don’t like to say what the other thing is, mixed company and all. Charles, get him a cup of coffee, would you? No need to wash it, it’s clean enough,” he said stridently, as Charles got a dirty cup from the drain board and turned on the tap. “Do your prose composition?”


“Which epigram?” “Twenty-two.”

“Hmn. Sounds like everybody went for the tearjerkers. Charles did that one about the girl who died, and all her friends missed her, and you, Camilla, you picked—”

“Fourteen,” said Camilla, without looking up, pressing rather savagely on the collar band with the tip of the iron.

“Hah. I picked one of the racy ones myself. Ever been to France,

Richard?” “No,” I said.

“Then you better come with us this summer.” “Us? Who?”

“Henry and me.”

I was so taken aback that all I could do was blink at him. “France?” I said.

“May wee. Two-month tour. A real doozy. Have a look.” He tossed me the magazine, which I now saw was a glossy brochure.

I glanced through it. It was a lollapalooza of a tour, all right—a “luxury hotel barge cruise” which began in the Champagne country and then went, via hot air balloon, to Burgundy for more barging, through Beaujolais, to the Riviera and Cannes and Monte Carlo—it was lavishly illustrated, full of brightly colored pictures of gourmet meals, flower-decked barges, happy tourists popping champagne corks and waving from the basket of their balloon at the disgruntled old peasants in the fields below.

“Looks great, doesn’t it?” said Bunny. “Fabulous.”

“Rome was all right but actually it was kind of a sinkhole when you get right down to it. Besides, I like to gad about a little more myself. Stay on the move, see a few of the native customs. Just between you and me, I bet Henry’s going to have a ball with this.”

I bet he will, too, I thought, staring at a picture of a woman holding up a stick of French bread at the camera and grinning like a maniac.

The twins were studiously avoiding my eye, Camilla bent over Bunny’s shirt, Charles with his back to me and his elbows on the sideboard, looking out the kitchen window.

“Of course, this balloon thing’s great,” Bunny said conversationally, “but you know, I’ve been wondering, where do you go to the bathroom? Off the side or something?”

“Look here, I think this is going to take several minutes,” said Camilla abruptly. “It’s almost nine. Why don’t you go ahead with Richard, Charles. Tell Julian not to wait.”

“Well, it’s not going to take you that much longer, is it?” said Bunny crossly, craning over to see. “What’s the big problem? Where’d you learn how to iron, anyway?”

“I never did. We send our shirts to the laundry.”

Charles followed me out the door, a few paces behind. We walked through the hall and down the stairs without a word, but once

downstairs he stepped close behind me and, catching my arm, pulled me into an empty card room. In the twenties and thirties, there had been a bridge fad at Hampden; when the enthusiasm faded, the rooms were never subsequently put to any function and no one used them now except for drug deals, or typing, or illicit romantic trysts.

He shut the door. I found myself looking at the ancient card table— inlaid at its four corners with a diamond, a heart, a club and a spade.

“Henry called us,” said Charles. He was scratching at the raised edge of the diamond with his thumb, his head studiously down.


“Early this morning.”

Neither of us said anything for a moment. “I’m sorry,” said Charles, glancing up. “Sorry for what?”

“Sorry he told you. Sorry for everything. Camilla’s all upset.”

He seemed calm enough, tired but calm, and his intelligent eyes met mine with a sad, quiet candor. All of a sudden I felt terribly upset. I was fond of Francis and Henry but it was unthinkable that anything should happen to the twins. I thought, with a pang, of how kind they had always been; of how sweet Camilla was in those first awkward weeks and how Charles had always had a way of showing up in my room, or turning to me in a crowd with a tranquil assumption— heartwarming to me—that he and I were particular friends; of walks and car trips and dinners at their house; of their letters—frequently unacknowledged on my part—which had come so faithfully over the long winter months.

From somewhere overhead I heard the shriek and groan of water pipes. We looked at each other.

“What are you going to do?” I said. It seemed the only question I had asked of anyone for the last twenty-four hours, and yet no one had given me a satisfactory answer.

He shrugged, a funny little one-shouldered shrug, a mannerism he and his sister had in common. “Search me,” he said wearily. “I guess we should go.”


When we got to Julian’s office, Henry and Francis were already there. Francis hadn’t finished his essay. He was scratching rapidly at the second page, his fingers blue with ink, while Henry proofread the first one, dashing in subscripts and aspirants with his fountain pen.

He didn’t look up. “Hello,” he said. “Close the door, would you?”

Charles kicked at the door with his foot. “Bad news,” he said. “Very bad?”

“Financially, yes.”

Francis swore, in a quick hissing underbreath, without pausing in his work. Henry dashed in a few final marks, then fanned the paper in the air to dry it.

“Well for goodness’ sakes,” he said mildly. “I hope it can wait. I don’t want to have to think about it during class. How’s that last page coming, Francis?”

“Just a minute,” said Francis, laboriously, his words lagging behind the hurried scrawl of his pen.

Henry stood behind Francis’s chair and leaned over his shoulder and began to proofread the top of the last page, one elbow resting on the table. “Camilla’s with him?” he said.

“Yes. Ironing his nasty old shirt.”

“Hmnn.” He pointed at something with the end of his pen. “Francis, you need the optative here instead of the subjunctive.”

Francis reached up quickly from his work—he was nearly at the end of the page—to change it.

“And this labial becomes pi, not kappa.”


Bunny arrived late, and in a foul temper. “Charles,” he snapped, “if you want this sister of yours to ever get a husband, you better teach her how to use an iron.” I was exhausted and ill prepared and it was all I could do to keep my mind on the class. I had French at two, but after Greek I went straight back to my room and took a sleeping pill and went to bed. The sleeping pill was an extraneous gesture; I didn’t need it, but the mere possibility of restlessness, of an afternoon full of bad dreams and distant plumbing noises, was too unpleasant to even contemplate.

So I slept soundly, more soundly than I should have, and the day slipped easily away. It was almost dark when somewhere, through great depths, I became aware that someone was knocking at my door.

It was Camilla. I must have looked terrible, because she raised an eyebrow and laughed at me. “All you ever do is sleep,” she said. “Why is it you’re always sleeping when I come to see you?”

I blinked at her. My shades were down and the hall was dark and to me, half-drugged and reeling, she seemed not at all her bright unattainable self but rather a hazy and ineffably tender apparition, all slender wrists and shadows and disordered hair, the Camilla who

resided, dim and lovely, in the gloomy boudoir of my dreams. “Come in,” I said.

She did, and closed the door behind her. I sat on the side of the unmade bed, feet bare and collar loose, and thought how wonderful it would be if this really were a dream, if I could walk over to where she sat and put my hands on either side of her face and kiss her, on the eyelids, on the mouth, on the place at her temple where the honey-colored hair graded into silky gold.

We looked at each other for a long time. “Are you sick?” she said.

The gleam of her gold bracelet in the dark. I swallowed. It was hard to think what to say.

She stood up again. “I’d better go,” she said. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I came to ask if you wanted to go on a drive.”


“A drive. It’s all right, though. Some other time.” “Where?”

“Somewhere. Nowhere. I’m meeting Francis at Commons in ten minutes.”

“No, wait,” I said. I felt sort of marvelous. A narcotic heaviness still clung deliciously to my limbs and I imagined what fun it would be to wander with her—drowsy, hypnotized—up to Commons in the fading light, the snow.

I stood up—it took forever to do it, the floor receding gradually before my eyes as if I were simply growing taller and taller by some organic process—and walked to my closet. The floor swayed as gently beneath me as the deck of an airship. I found my overcoat, then a scarf. Gloves were too complicated to bother with.

“Okay,” I said. “Ready.”

She raised an eyebrow. “It’s sort of cold out,” she said. “Don’t you think you should wear some shoes?”


We walked to Commons through slush and cold rain, and when we got there Charles, Francis, and Henry were waiting for us. The configuration struck me as significant, in some way that was not entirely clear, everyone except for Bunny—“What’s going on?” I said, blinking at them.

“Nothing,” said Henry, tracing a pattern on the floor with the sharp, glinting ferrule of his umbrella. “We’re just going for a drive. I thought it might be fun—” he paused delicately—“if we got away

from school for a while, maybe had some dinner …”

Without Bunny, that is the subtext here, I thought. Where was he? The tip of Henry’s umbrella glittered. I glanced up and noticed that Francis was looking at me with lifted eyebrows.

“What is it?” I said irritably, swaying slightly in the doorway.

He exhaled with a sharp, amused sound. “Are you drunk?” he said.

They were all looking at me in kind of a funny way. “Yes,” I said. It wasn’t the truth, but I didn’t feel much like explaining.


The chill sky, misty with fine rain near the treetops, made even the familiar landscape around Hampden seem indifferent and remote. The valleys were white with fog and the top of Mount Cataract was entirely obscured, invisible in the cold haze. Not being able to see it, that omniscient mountain which grounded Hampden and its environs in my senses, I found it difficult to get my bearings, and it seemed as if we were heading into strange and unmarked territory, though I had been down this road a hundred times in all weathers. Henry drove, rather fast as he always did, the tires whining on the wet black road and water spraying high on either side.

“I looked at this place about a month ago,” he said, slowing as we approached a white farmhouse on a hill, forlorn bales of hay dotting the snowy pasture. “It’s still for sale, but I think they want too much.”

“How many acres?” said Camilla. “A hundred and fifty.”

“What on earth would you do with that much land?” She raised her hand to clear the hair from her eyes and again I caught the gleam of her bracelet: blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown.… “You wouldn’t want to farm it, would you?”

“To my way of thinking,” Henry said, “the more land the better. I’d love to have so much land that from where I lived I couldn’t see a highway or a telephone pole or anything I didn’t want to see. I suppose that’s impossible, this day and age, and that place is practically on the road. There was another farm I saw, over the line in New York State …”

A truck shot past in a whine of spray.

Everyone seemed unusually calm and at ease and I thought I knew why. It was because Bunny wasn’t with us. They were avoiding that topic with a deliberate unconcern; he must be somewhere now, I thought, doing something, what I didn’t want to ask. I leaned back and looked at the silvery, staggering paths the raindrops made as they

blew across my window.

“If I bought a house anywhere I’d buy one here,” said Camilla. “I’ve always liked the mountains better than the seashore.”

“So have I,” said Henry. “I suppose in that regard my tastes are rather Hellenistic. Landlocked places interest me, remote prospects, wild country. I’ve never had the slightest bit of interest in the sea. Rather like what Homer says about the Arcadians, you remember? With ships they had nothing to do.…

“It’s because you grew up in the Midwest,” Charles said.

“But if one follows that line of reasoning, then it follows that I would love flat lands, and plains. Which I don’t. The descriptions of Troy in the Iliad are horrible—all flat land and burning sun. No. I’ve always been drawn to broken, wild terrain. The oddest tongues come from such places, and the strangest mythologies, and the oldest cities, and the most barbarous religions—Pan himself was born in the mountains, you know. And Zeus. In Parrhasia it was that Rheia bore thee,” he said dreamily, lapsing into Greek, “where was a hill sheltered with the thickest brush.…

It was dark now. Around us, the countryside lay veiled and mysterious, silent in the night and fog. This was remote, untraveled land, rocky and thickly wooded, with none of the quaint appeal of Hampden and its rolling hills, its ski chalets and antique shops, but high and perilous and primitive, everything black and desolate even of billboards.

Francis, who knew this territory better than we did, had said there was an inn nearby but it was hard to believe there was anything habitable for fifty miles around. Then we rounded a bend and our headlights swept across a rusted metal sign pockmarked with shotgun pellets, that informed us that the Hoosatonic Inn, straight ahead, was the original birthplace of Pie à la Mode.

The building was ringed by a rickety porch—sagging rockers, peeling paint. Inside, the lobby was an intriguing jumble of mahogany and moth-eaten velvet, interspersed with deer heads, calendars from filling stations, and a large collection of Bicentennial commemorative trivets, mounted and hung upon the wall.

The dining room was empty except for a few country people eating their dinners, all of whom looked up at us with innocent, frank curiosity as we came in, at our dark suits and spectacles, at Francis’s monogrammed cufflinks and his Charvet tie, at Camilla with her boyish haircut and sleek little Astrakhan coat. I was a bit surprised at

this collective openness of demeanor—neither stares nor disapproving looks—until it occurred to me that these people probably didn’t realize we were from the college. Closer in, we would have been pegged instantly as rich kids from up on the hill, kids likely to make a lot of noise and leave a bad tip. But here we were only strangers, in a place where strangers were rare.

No one even came by to take an order. Dinner appeared with instantaneous magic: pork roast, biscuits, turnips and corn and butternut squash, in thick china bowls that had pictures of the presidents (up to Nixon) around their rims.

The waiter, a red-faced boy with bitten nails, lingered for a moment. Finally he said, shyly: “You folks from New York City?”

“No,” said Charles, taking the plate of biscuits from Henry, “From here.”

“From Hoosatonic?” “No. Vermont, I mean.” “Not New York?”

“No,” said Francis cheerily, carving at the roast. “I’m from Boston.” “I went there,” said the boy, impressed.

Francis smiled absently and reached for a dish. “You folks must like the Red Sox.”

“Actually I do,” said Francis. “Quite a bit. But they never seem to win, do they?”

“Some of the time they do. I guess we’ll never see ’em win the Series, though.”

He was still loitering, trying to think of something else to say, when Henry glanced up at him.

“Sit down,” he said unexpectedly. “Have some dinner, won’t you?”

After a bit of awkward demurral, he pulled up a chair, though he refused to eat anything; the dining room closed at eight, he told us, and it wasn’t likely that anyone else would come in. “We’re off the highway,” he said. “Most folks go to bed pretty early around here.” His name, we discovered, was John Deacon; he was my age—twenty

—and had graduated from Equinox High School, over in Hoosatonic proper, only two years before. Since graduation, he said, he’d been working on his uncle’s farm; the waiter’s job was a new thing, something to fill the winter hours. “This is only my third week,” he said. “I like it here, I reckon. Food’s good. And I get my meals free.”

Henry, who generally disliked and was disliked by hoi polloi—a category which in his view expanded to include persons ranging from

teenagers with boom boxes to the Dean of Studies of Hampden, who was independently wealthy and had a degree in American Studies from Yale—nonetheless had a genuine knack with poor people, simple people, country folk; he was despised by the functionaries of Hampden but admired by its janitors, its gardeners and cooks. Though he did not treat them as equals—he didn’t treat anyone as an equal, exactly—neither did he resort to the condescending friendliness of the wealthy. “I think we’re much more hypocritical about illness, and poverty, than were people in former ages,” I remember Julian saying once. “In America, the rich man tries to pretend that the poor man is his equal in every respect but money, which is simply not true. Does anyone remember Plato’s definition of Justice in the Republic? Justice, in a society, is when each level of a hierarchy works within its place and is content with it. A poor man who wishes to rise above his station is only making himself needlessly miserable. And the wise poor have always known this, the same as do the wise rich.”

I’m not entirely sure now that this is true—because if it is, where

does that leave me? still wiping down windshields in Plano—? but there is no doubt that Henry was so confident of his own abilities and position in the world, and so comfortable with them, that he had the strange effect of making others (including myself) feel comfortable in their respective, lesser positions, whatever they might happen to be. Poor people for the most part were unimpressed by his manner, except in the most hazy and admiring fashion; and as a consequence they were able to see past it to the real Henry, the Henry I knew, taciturn, polite, in many respects as simple and straightforward as they themselves were. It was a knack he shared with Julian, who was greatly admired by the country people who lived around him, much as one likes to imagine that kindly Pliny was held in affection by the poor folk of Comum and Tifernum.

Through most of the meal, Henry and the boy talked in the most

intimate and, to me, baffling terms, about the land around Hampden and Hoosatonic—zoning, developments, price per acre, uncleared land and titles and who owned what—as the rest of us ate our dinners and listened. It was a conversation one might overhear at any rural filling station or feed store; but hearing it made me feel curiously happy, and at ease with the world.


In retrospect, it is odd how little power the dead farmer exercised over an imagination as morbid and hysterical as my own. I can well

imagine the extravagance of nightmares such a thing might provoke (opening the door to a dream-classroom, the flannel-shirted figure without a face propped ghoulishly at a desk, or turning from its work at the blackboard to grin at me), but I suppose it is rather telling that I seldom thought of it at all and then only when I was reminded in some way. I believe the others were troubled by it as little as or less than I was, as evidenced by the fact that they all had carried on so normally and in such good humor for so long. Monstrous as it was, the corpse itself seemed little more than a prop, something brought out in the dark by stagehands and laid at Henry’s feet, to be discovered when the lights came up; the picture of it, staring and dumb in all its gore, never failed to provoke an anxious little frisson but still it seemed relatively harmless compared to the very real and persistent menace which I now saw that Bunny presented.

Bunny, for all his appearance of amiable, callous stability, was

actually a wildly erratic character. There were any number of reasons for this, but primary among them was his complete inability to think about anything before he did it. He sailed through the world guided only by the dim lights of impulse and habit, confident that his course would throw up no obstacles so large that they could not be plowed over with sheer force of momentum. But his instincts had failed him in the new set of circumstances presented by the murder. Now that the old trusted channel-markers had, so to speak, been rearranged in the dark, the automatic-pilot mechanism by which his psyche navigated was useless; decks awash, he floundered aimlessly, running on sandbars, veering off in all sorts of bizarre directions.

To the casual observer, I suppose, he seemed pretty much his jolly old self—slapping people on the back, eating Twinkies and HoHos in the reading room of the library and dropping crumbs all down in the bindings of his Greek books. But behind that bluff facade some distinct and rather ominous changes were taking place, changes of which I was already dimly aware but which made themselves more evident as time went on.

In some respects, it was as if nothing had happened at all. We went to our classes, did our Greek, and generally managed to pretend among one another and everybody else that things were all right. At the time it heartened me that Bunny, in spite of his obviously disturbed state of mind, nonetheless continued to follow the old routine so easily. Now, of course, I see that the routine was all that held him together. It was his one remaining point of reference and he

clung to it with a fierce Pavlovian tenacity, partly through habit and partly because he had nothing with which to replace it. I suppose the others sensed that the continuation of the old rituals was in some respects a charade for Bunny’s benefit, kept up in order to soothe him, but I did not, nor did I have any idea how disturbed he really was until the following event took place.

We were spending the weekend at Francis’s house. Aside from the barely perceptible strain which manifested itself in all dealings with Bunny at that time, things seemed to be going smoothly and he’d been in a good mood at dinner that night. When I went to bed he was still downstairs, drinking wine left from dinner and playing backgammon with Charles, to all appearances his usual self; but some time in the middle of the night I was awakened by a loud, incoherent bellowing, from down the corridor in Henry’s room.

I sat up in bed and switched on the light.

“You don’t care about a goddamn thing, do you?” I heard Bunny scream; this was followed by a crash, as if of books being swept from desk to floor. “Not a thing but your own fucking self, you and all the rest of them—I’d like to know just what Julian would think, you bastard, if I told him a couple of—Don’t touch me,” he shrieked, “get away—!”

More crashing, as of furniture overturned, and Henry’s voice, quick and angry. Bunny’s rose above it. “Go ahead!” he shouted, so loudly I’m sure he woke the house. “Try and stop me. I’m not scared of you. You make me sick, you fag, you Nazi, you dirty lousy cheapskate Jew

Yet another crash, this time of splintering wood. A door slammed. There were rapid footsteps down the hall. Then the muffled noise of sobs—gasping, terrible sobs which went on for a long while.

About three o’clock, when everything was quiet and I was just about to go back to sleep, I heard soft footsteps in the hall and, after a pause, a knock at my door. It was Henry.

“Goodness,” he said distractedly, looking around my room, at the unmade four-poster bed and my clothes scattered on the rug beside it. “I’m glad you’re awake. I saw your light.”

“Jesus, what was all that about?”

He ran a hand through his rumpled hair. “What do you suppose?” he said, looking up at me blankly. “I don’t know, really. I must have done something to set him off, though for the life of me I don’t know what. I was reading in my room, and he came in and wanted a

dictionary. In fact, he asked me to look something up, and—You wouldn’t happen to have an aspirin, would you?”

I sat on the side of my bed and rustled through the drawer of the night table, through the tissues and reading glasses and Christian Science leaflets belonging to one of Francis’s aged female relatives. “I don’t see any,” I said. “What happened?”

He sighed and sat down heavily in an armchair. “There’s aspirin in my room,” he said. “In a tin in my overcoat pocket. Also a blue enamel pillbox. And my cigarettes. Will you go get them for me?”

He was so pale and shaken I wondered if he was ill. “What’s the matter?” I said.

“I don’t want to go in there.” “Why not?”

“Because Bunny’s asleep on my bed.”

I looked at him. “Well, Jesus,” I said. “I’m not going to—”

He waved away my words with a tired hand. “It’s all right. Really.

I’m just too upset to go myself. He’s fast asleep.”

I went quietly out of my room and down the hall. Henry’s door was at the end. Pausing outside with one hand on the knob, I heard distinctly from within the peculiar huffing noise of Bunny’s snores.

In spite of what I’d heard earlier, I was unprepared for what I saw: books were scattered in a frenzy across the floor; the night table was knocked over; against the wall lay the splay-legged remains of a black Malacca chair. The shade of the pole lamp was askew and cast a crazy irregular light over the room. In the middle of it was Bunny, his face resting on the tweed elbow of his jacket and one foot, still in its wing-tipped shoe, dangling off the edge of the bed. Mouth open, his eyes swollen and unfamiliar without their spectacles, he snuffed and grumbled in his sleep. I grabbed up Henry’s things and left as fast as I could.

Bunny came down late the next morning, puff-eyed and sullen, while Francis and the twins and I were eating our breakfasts. He ignored our awkward greetings and went straight to the cabinet and made himself a bowl of Sugar Frosted Flakes and sat down wordlessly at the table. In the abrupt silence which had fallen, I heard Mr. Hatch come in the front door. Francis excused himself and hurried away, and I heard the two of them murmuring in the hall as Bunny crunched morosely at his cereal. A few minutes passed. I was looking, obliquely, at Bunny slumped over his bowl when all of a sudden, in the window behind his head, I saw the distant figure of Mr. Hatch, walking across

the open field beyond the garden, carrying the dark, curlicued ruins of the Malacca chair to the rubbish heap.


As troubling as they were, these eruptions of hysteria were infrequent. But they made it plain how upset Bunny was, and how disagreeable he might make himself if provoked. It was Henry he was angriest at, Henry who had betrayed him, and Henry who was always the subject of these outbursts. Yet in a funny way, it was Henry he was best able to tolerate on a daily basis. He was more or less constantly irritated with everyone else. He might explode at Francis, say, for making some remark he found pretentious, or become inexplicably enraged if Charles offered to buy him an ice-cream; but he did not pick these petty fights with Henry in quite the same trivial, arbitrary way. This was in spite of the fact that Henry did not take nearly the pains to placate him that everyone else did. When the subject of the barge tour came up—and it came up fairly often—Henry played along in only the most perfunctory way, and his replies were mechanical and forced. To me, Bunny’s confident anticipation was more chilling than any outburst; how could he possibly delude himself into thinking that the trip would come about, that it would be anything but a nightmare if it did? But Bunny, happy as a mental patient, would rattle for hours about his delusions of the Riviera, oblivious to a certain tightness about Henry’s jaw, or to the empty, ominous silences which fell when he was talked out and sat, chin in hand, staring dreamily into space.

It seemed, for the most part, that he sublimated his anger toward

Henry into his dealings with the rest of the world. He was insulting, rude, quick to start a quarrel with virtually everyone he came in contact with. Reports of his behavior drifted back to us through various channels. He threw a shoe at some hippies playing Hackysack outside his window; he threatened to beat up his neighbor for playing the radio too loudly; he called one of the ladies in the Bursar’s office a troglodyte. It was fortunate for us, I suppose, that his wide circle of acquaintance included few people whom he saw on a regular basis. Julian saw as much of Bunny as anyone, but their relation did not extend much beyond the classroom. More troublesome was his friendship with his old schoolmate Cloke Rayburn; and most troublesome of all, Marion.

Marion, we knew, recognized the difference in Bunny’s behavior as clearly as we did, and was puzzled and angered by it. If she’d seen the way he was around us, she doubtless would have realized that she

was not the cause; but as it was she saw only the broken dates, the mood swings, the sullenness and the quick irrational angers which apparently were directed solely at her—Was he seeing another girl? Did he want to break up? An acquaintance at the Early Childhood Center told Camilla that one day at work Marion had called Bunny six times, and the last time he had hung up on her.

“God, please God, let her give him the old heave-ho,” said Francis, turning his eyes to heaven, when he heard this bit of intelligence. Nothing more was said of it, but we watched them carefully and prayed that it would be so. If he had his wits about him Bunny surely would keep his mouth shut; but now, with his subconscious mind knocked loose from its perch and flapping in the hollow corridors of his skull as erratically as a bat, there was no way to be sure of anything he might do.

Cloke he saw rather less frequently. He and Bunny had little in common besides their prep school, and Cloke—who ran with a fast crowd, and took a lot of drugs besides—was fairly self-preoccupied, not likely to concern himself with Bunny’s behavior or even to take much notice of it. Cloke lived in the house next door to mine, Durbinstall (nicknamed, by campus wags, “Dalmane Hall,” it was the bustling center of what the administration chose to refer to as “narcotics-related activity” and one’s visits there were occasionally punctuated with explosions and small fires, incurred by lone free-basers or the student chemists who worked in the basement) and, fortunately for us, he lived in the front, on the ground floor. Since his shades were always up and there were no trees in the immediate area, it was possible to sit safely on the porch of the library, some fifty feet away, and enjoy a luxurious and unobscured view of Bunny, framed in a bright window as he gazed open-mouthed at comic books or talked, arms waving, with an invisible Cloke.

“I just like to have an idea,” Henry explained, “where he goes.” But

actually it was quite simple to keep tabs on Bunny: I think because he, too, was unwilling to let the others, and Henry in particular, out of his sight for long.

If he treated Henry with deference, it was the rest of us who were forced to bear the wearing, day-to-day brunt of his anger. Most of the time he was simply irritating: for example, in his ill-informed and frequent tirades against the Catholic Church. Bunny’s family was Episcopalian, and my parents, as far as I knew, had no religious affiliation at all; but Henry and Francis and the twins had been reared

as Catholics; and though none of them went to church much, Bunny’s ignorant, tireless stream of blasphemies enraged them. With leers and winks he told stories about lapsed nuns, sluttish Catholic girls, pederastic priests (“So then, this Father What’s-His-Name, he said to the altar boy—this kid is nine years old, mind you, he’s in my Cub Scout troop—he says to Tim Mulrooney, ‘Son, would you like to see where me and all the other fathers sleep at night?’ ”). He invented outrageous stories of the perversions of various Popes; informed them of little-known points of Catholic doctrine; raved about Vatican conspiracies, ignoring Henry’s bald refutations and Francis’s muttered asides about social-climbing Protestants.

What was worse was when he chose to zero in on one person in particular. With some preternatural craftiness he always knew the right nerve to touch, at exactly the right moment, to wound and outrage most. Charles was good-natured, and slow to anger, but he was sometimes so disturbed by these anti-Catholic diatribes that his very teacup would clatter upon its saucer. He was also sensitive to remarks about his drinking. As a matter of fact, Charles did drink a lot. We all did: but still, though he didn’t indulge in any very conspicuous excess, I’d frequently had the experience of smelling liquor on his breath at odd hours or dropping by unexpectedly in the early afternoon to find him with a glass in his hand—which was perhaps understandable, things being what they were. Bunny made a show of fraudulent, infuriating concern, peppered with snide comments about drunkards and sots. He kept exaggerated tallies of Charles’s cocktail consumption. He left questionnaires (“Do you sometimes feel you need a drink to get through the day?”) and pamphlets (freckle-faced child gazing plaintively at parent, asking, “Mommy, what’s ‘drunk’?”) anonymously in Charles’s box, and once went so far as to give his name to the campus chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, whereupon Charles was deluged with tracts and phone calls and even a personal visit from a well-meaning Twelfth-Stepper.

With Francis, on the other hand, things were more pointed and

unpleasant. Nobody said anything about it, ever, but we all knew he was gay. Though he was not promiscuous, every so often he would disappear quite mysteriously at a party and once, very early in our acquaintance, he’d made a subtle but unmistakable pass at me one afternoon when we were drunk and by ourselves in the rowboat. I’d dropped an oar, and in the confusion of retrieving it I felt his fingertips brush in a casual yet deliberate fashion along my cheek

near the jawbone. I glanced up, startled, and our eyes met in that way that eyes will, and we looked at each other for a moment, the boat wobbling around us and the lost oar forgotten. I was dreadfully flustered; embarrassed, I looked away; when suddenly, and to my great surprise, he burst out laughing at my distress.

“No?” he said.

“No,” I said, relieved.

It might seem that this episode would have imposed a certain coolness upon our friendship. While I don’t suppose that anyone who has devoted much energy to the study of Classics can be very much disturbed by homosexuality, neither am I particularly comfortable with it as it concerns me directly. Though I liked Francis well enough, I had always been nervous around him; oddly, it was this pass of his that cleared the air between us. I suppose I knew it was inevitable, and dreaded it. Once it was out of the way I was perfectly comfortable being alone with him even in the most questionable situations— drunk, or in his apartment, or even wedged in the back seat of a car.

With Francis and Bunny it was a different story. They were happy enough to be together in company, but if one was around either of them for too long it became obvious that they seldom did things with each other and almost never spent time alone. I knew why this was; we all did. Still, it never occurred to me that they weren’t genuinely fond of each other on some level, nor that Bunny’s gruff jokes concealed, however beguilingly, a keen and very pointed streak of malice toward Francis in particular.

I suppose the shock of recognition is one of the nastiest shocks of all. I’d never considered, though I should have, that these crackpot prejudices of Bunny’s which I found so amusing were not remotely ironic but deadly serious.

Not that Francis, in normal circumstances, wasn’t perfectly able to take care of himself. He had a quick temper, and a sharp tongue, and though he could’ve put Bunny in his place pretty much any time he chose, he was understandably apprehensive about doing so. We were all of us painfully aware of that metaphoric vial of nitroglycerine which Bunny carried around with him day and night, and which, from time to time, he allowed us a glimpse of, unless anyone forget it was always with him, and he had the power to dash it to the floor whenever he pleased.

I don’t really have the heart to recount all the vile things he said and did to Francis, the practical jokes, the remarks about faggots and

queers, the public, humiliating stream of questions about his preference and practices: clinical and incredibly detailed ones, having to do with such things as enemas, and gerbils, and incandescent light bulbs.

Just once,” I remember Francis hissing, through clenched teeth. “Just once I’d like to …”

But there was absolutely nothing that anyone could say or do.

One might expect that I, being at that time perfectly innocent of any crime against either Bunny or humanity, would not myself be a target of this ongoing sniper fire. Unfortunately I was, perhaps more unfortunately for him than for me. How could he have been so blind as not to see how dangerous it might be for him to alienate the one impartial party, his one potential ally? Because, as fond as I was of the others, I was fond of Bunny, too, and I would not have been nearly so quick to cast in my lot with the rest of them had he not turned on me so ferociously. Perhaps, in his mind, there was the justification of jealousy; his position in the group had started to slip at roughly the same time I’d arrived; his resentment was of the most petty and childish sort, and doubtless would never have surfaced had he not been in such a paranoid state, unable to distinguish his enemies from his friends.

By stages I grew to abhor him. Ruthless as a gun dog, he picked up

with rapid and unflagging instinct the traces of everything in the world I was most insecure about, all the things I was in most agony to hide. There were certain repetitive, sadistic games he would play with me. He liked to entice me into lies: “Gorgeous necktie,” he’d say, “that’s a Hermès, isn’t it?”—and then, when I assented, reach quickly across the lunch table and expose my poor tie’s humble lineage. Or in the middle of a conversation he would suddenly bring himself up short and say: “Richard, old man, why don’t you keep any pictures of your folks around?”

It was just the sort of detail he would seize upon. His own room was filled with an array of flawless family memorabilia, all of them perfect as a series of advertisements: Bunny and his brothers, waving lacrosse sticks on a luminous black-and-white playing field; family Christmases, a pair of cool, tasteful parents in expensive bathrobes, five little yellow-haired boys in identical pajamas rolling on the floor with a laughing spaniel, and a ridiculously lavish train set, and the tree rising sumptuous in the background; Bunny’s mother at her debutante ball, young and disdainful in white mink.

“What?” he’d ask with mock innocence. “No cameras in California? Or can’t you have your friends seeing Mom in polyester pantsuits? Where’d your parents go to school anyway?” he’d say, interrupting before I could interject. “Are they Ivy League material? Or did they go to some kind of a State U?”

It was the most gratuitous sort of cruelty. My lies about my family were adequate, I suppose, but they could not stand up under these glaring attacks. Neither of my parents had finished high school; my mother did wear pants suits, which she purchased at a factory outlet. In the only photograph I had of her, a snapshot, she squinted blurrily at the camera, one hand on the Cyclone fence and the other on my father’s new riding lawn mower. This, ostensibly, was the reason that the photo had been sent me, my mother having some notion that I would be interested in the new acquisition; I’d kept it because it was the only picture I had of her, kept it tucked inside a Webster’s dictionary (under M for Mother) on my desk. But one night I rose from my bed, suddenly consumed with fear that Bunny would find it while snooping around my room. No hiding place seemed safe enough. Finally I burned it in an ashtray.

They were unpleasant enough, these private inquisitions, but I

cannot find words to adequately express the torments I suffered when he chose to ply this art of his in public. Bunny’s dead now, requiescat in pace, but so long as I live I will never forget a particular interlude of sadism to which he subjected me at the twins’ apartment.

A few days earlier, Bunny had been grilling me about where I’d gone to prep school. I don’t know why I couldn’t just have admitted the truth, that I’d gone to the public school in Plano. Francis had gone to any number of wildly exclusive schools in England and Switzerland, and Henry had been at correspondingly exclusive American ones before he dropped out entirely in the eleventh grade; but the twins had only gone to a little country day school in Roanoke, and even Bunny’s own hallowed Saint Jerome’s was really only an expensive remedial school, the sort of place you see advertised in the back of Town and Country as offering specialized attention for the academic underachiever. My own school was not particularly shameful in this context, yet I evaded the question long as I could till finally, cornered and desperate, I had told him I’d gone to Renfrew Hall, which is a tennis-y, indifferent sort of boys’ school near San Francisco. That had seemed to satisfy him, but then, to my immense discomfort, and in front of everybody, he brought it up again.

“So you were at Renfrew,” he said chummily, turning to me and popping a handful of pistachios in his mouth.


“When’d ya graduate?”

I offered the date of my real high school graduation.

“Ah,” he said, chomping busily on his nuts. “So you were there with Von Raumer.”


“Alec. Alec Von Raumer. From San Fran. Friend of Cloke’s. He was in the room the other day and we got talking. Lots of old Renfrew boys at Hampden, he says.”

I said nothing, hoping he’d leave it at that. “So you know Alec and all.”

“Uh, slightly,” I said.

“Funny, he said he didn’t remember you,” said Bunny, reaching over for another handful of pistachios without taking his eyes off me. “Not at all.”

“It’s a big school.”

He cleared his throat. “Think so?” “Yes.”

“Von Raumer said it was tiny. Only about two hundred people.” He paused and threw another handful of pistachios into his mouth, and chewed as he talked. “What dormitory did you say you were in?”

“You wouldn’t know it.”

“Von Raumer told me to make a point of asking you.” “What difference does it make?”

“Oh, it’s nothing, nothing at all, old horse,” said Bunny pleasantly. “Just that it’s pretty damn peculiar, n’est-ce pas? You and Alec being there together for four years, in a tiny place like Renfrew, and he never laid eyes on you even once?”

“I was only there for two years.”

“How come you’re not in the yearbook?” “I am in the yearbook.”

“No you’re not.”

The twins looked stricken. Henry had his back turned, pretending not to listen. Now he said, quite suddenly and without turning around: “How do you know if he was in the yearbook or not?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a yearbook in my life,” said Francis nervously. “I can’t stand to have my picture taken. Whenever I try to


Bunny paid no attention. He leaned back in his chair.

“Come on,” he said to me. “I’ll give you five dollars if you can tell me the name of the dorm you lived in.”

His eyes were riveted on mine; they were bright with a horrible relish. I said something incoherent and then in consternation got up and went into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Leaning on the sink, I held the glass to my temple; from the living room, Francis whispered something indistinct but angry, and then Bunny laughed harshly. I poured the water down the sink and turned on the tap so I wouldn’t have to listen.


How was it that a complex, a nervous and delicately calibrated mind like my own, was able to adjust itself perfectly after a shock like the murder, while Bunny’s eminently more sturdy and ordinary one was knocked out of kilter? I still think about this sometimes. If what Bunny really wanted was revenge, he could have had it easily enough and without putting himself at risk. What did he imagine was to be gained from this slow and potentially explosive kind of torture, had it, in his mind, some purpose, some goal? Or were his own actions as inexplicable to him as they were to us?

Or perhaps they weren’t so inexplicable as that. Because the worst thing about all of this, as Camilla once remarked, was not that Bunny had suffered some total change of personality, some schizophrenic break, but rather that various unpleasant elements of his personality which heretofore we had only glimpsed had orchestrated and magnified themselves to a startling level of potency. Distasteful as his behavior was, we had seen it all before, only in less concentrated and vitriolic form. Even in the happiest times he’d made fun of my California accent, my secondhand overcoat and my room barren of tasteful bibelots, but in such an ingenuous way I couldn’t possibly do anything but laugh. (“Good Lord, Richard,” he would say, picking up one of my old wingtips and poking his finger through the hole in the bottom. “What is it with you California kids? Richer you are, the more shoddy you look. Won’t even go to the barber. Before I know it, you’ll have hair down to your shoulders and be skulking around in rags like Howard Hughes.”) It never occurred to me to be offended; this was Bunny, my friend, who had even less pocket money than I did and a big rip in the seat of his trousers besides. A good deal of my horror at his new behavior sprang from the fact that it was so similar to the old and frankly endearing way he used to tease me, and I was as baffled

and enraged at his sudden departure from the rules as though—if we had been in the habit of doing a little friendly sparring—he had boxed me into the corner and beaten me half to death.

To compound this—all these unpleasant recollections to the contrary—so much remained of the old Bunny, the one I knew and loved. Sometimes when I saw him at a distance—fists in pockets, whistling, bobbing along with his springy old walk—I would have a strong pang of affection mixed with regret. I forgave him, a hundred times over, and never on the basis of anything more than this: a look, a gesture, a certain tilt of his head. It seemed impossible then that one could ever be angry at him, no matter what he did. Unfortunately, these were often the moments when he chose to attack. He would be amiable, charming, chatting in his old distracted manner when, in the same manner and without missing a beat, he would lean back in his chair and come out with something so horrendous, so backhanded, so unanswerable, that I would vow not to forget it, and never to forgive him again. I broke that promise many times. I was about to say that it was a promise I finally had to keep, but that’s not really true. Even today I cannot muster anything resembling anger for Bunny. In fact, I can’t think of much I’d like better than for him to step into the room right now, glasses fogged and smelling of damp wool, shaking the rain from his hair like an old dog and saying: “Dickie, my boy, what you got for a thirsty old man to drink tonight?”

One likes to think there’s something in it, that old platitude amor

vincit omnia. But if I’ve learned one thing in my short sad life, it is that that particular platitude is a lie. Love doesn’t conquer everything. And whoever thinks it does is a fool.


Camilla he tormented simply because she was a girl. In some ways she was his most vulnerable target—through no fault of her own, but simply because in Greekdom, generally speaking, women are lesser creatures, better seen than heard. This prevailing sentiment among the Argives is so pervasive that it lingers in the bones of the language itself; I can think of no better illustration of this than the fact that in Greek grammar, one of the very first axioms I learned is that men have friends, women have relatives, and animals have their own kind. Bunny, through no impulse towards Hellenic purity but simply out of mean-spiritedness, championed this view. He didn’t like women, didn’t enjoy their company, and even Marion, his self-proclaimed raison d’être, was tolerated as grudgingly as a concubine. With Camilla

he was forced to assume a slightly more paternalistic stance, beaming down at her with the condescension of an old papa towards a dimwit child. To the rest of us he complained that Camilla was out of her league, and a hindrance to serious scholarship. We all found this pretty funny. To be honest, none of us, not even the brightest of us, were destined for academic achievement in subsequent years, Francis being too lazy, Charles too diffuse, and Henry too erratic and generally strange, a sort of Mycroft Holmes of classical philology. Camilla was no different, secretly preferring, as I did, the easy delights of English literature to the coolie labor of Greek. What was laughable was that poor Bunny should display concern about anyone else’s intellectual capacities.

Being the only female in what was basically a boys’ club must have been difficult for her. Miraculously, she didn’t compensate by becoming hard or quarrelsome. She was still a girl, a slight lovely girl who lay in bed and ate chocolates, a girl whose hair smelled like hyacinth and whose white scarves fluttered jauntily in the breeze; a girl as bewitching, and clever, as any girl who ever lived. But strange and marvelous as she was, a wisp of silk in a forest of black wool, she was not at all the fragile creature one would have her seem. In many ways she was as cool and competent as Henry; tough-minded and solitary in her habits, and in many ways as aloof. Out in the country it was not uncommon to discover that she had slipped away, alone, out to the lake, maybe, or down to the cellar, where once I found her sitting in the big marooned sleigh, reading, her fur coat thrown over her knees. Things would have been terribly strange and unbalanced without her. She was the Queen who finished out the suit of dark Jacks, dark King, and Joker.

If I found the twins so fascinating, I think it was because there was

something a tiny bit inexplicable about them, something I was often on the verge of grasping but never quite did. Charles, kind and slightly ethereal soul that he was, was something of an enigma but Camilla was the real mystery, the safe I could never crack. I was never sure what she thought about anything, and I knew that Bunny found her even harder to read than I did. In good times he’d often offended her clumsily, without meaning to; as soon as they turned bad, he tried to insult and belittle her in a variety of ways, most of which struck wide of the mark. She was impervious to slights about her appearance; met his eye, unblinking, as he told the most vulgar and humiliating jokes; laughed if he attempted to insult her taste or

intelligence; ignored his frequent discourses, peppered with erudite misquotations he must have gone to great trouble to dig up, all to the effect that all women were categorically inferior to himself: not designed—as he was—for Philosophy, and Art, and Higher Reasoning, but to attract a husband and to Tend the Home.

Only once did I ever see him get to her. It was over at the twins’ apartment, very late. Charles, fortunately, was out with Henry getting ice; he’d had a lot to drink and if he’d been around things would almost certainly have gotten out of hand. Bunny was so drunk he could hardly sit up. For most of the evening, he’d been in a passable mood, but then, without warning, he turned to Camilla and said: “How come you kids live together?”

She shrugged, in that odd, one-shouldered way the twins had. “Huh?”

“It’s convenient,” said Camilla. “Cheap.” “Well, I think it’s pretty damned peculiar.” “I’ve lived with Charles all my life.”

“Not much privacy, is there? Little place like this? On top of each other all the time?”

“It’s a two-bedroom apartment.”

“And when you get lonesome in the middle of the night?” There was a brief silence.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” she said icily.

“Sure you do,” said Bunny. “Convenient as hell. Kinda classical, too. Those Greeks carried on with their brothers and sisters like nobody’s

—whoops,” he said, retrieving the whiskey glass which was about to fall off the arm of his chair. “Sure, it’s against the law and stuff,” he said. “But what’s that to you. Break one, you might as well break ’em all, eh?”

I was stunned. Francis and I gaped at him as he unconcernedly drained his glass and reached for the bottle again.

To my utter, utter surprise, Camilla said tartly: “You mustn’t think I’m sleeping with my brother just because I won’t sleep with you.

Bunny laughed a low, nasty laugh. “You couldn’t pay me to sleep with you, girlie,” he said. “Not for all the tea in China.”

She looked at him with absolutely no expression in her pale eyes. Then she got up and went into the kitchen, leaving Francis and me to one of the more tortuous silences I have ever experienced.


Religious slurs, temper tantrums, insults, coercion, debt: all petty

things, really, irritants—too minor, it would seem, to move five reasonable people to murder. But, if I dare say it, it wasn’t until I had helped to kill a man that I realized how elusive and complex an act a murder can actually be, and not necessarily attributable to one dramatic motive. To ascribe it to such a motive would be easy enough. There was one, certainly. But the instinct for self-preservation is not so compelling an instinct as one might think. The danger which he presented was, after all, not immediate but slow and simmering, a sort which can, at least in the abstract, be postponed or diverted in any number of ways. I can easily imagine us there, at the appointed time and place, anxious suddenly to reconsider, perhaps even to grant a disastrous last-minute reprieve. Fear for our own lives might have induced us to lead him to the gallows and slip the noose around his neck, but a more urgent impetus was necessary to make us actually go ahead and kick out the chair.

Bunny, unawares, had himself supplied us with such an impetus. I

would like to say I was driven to what I did by some overwhelming, tragic motive. But I think I would be lying if I told you that; if I led you to believe that on that Sunday afternoon in April, I was actually being driven by anything of the sort.

An interesting question: what was I thinking, as I watched his eyes widen with startled incredulity (“come on, fellas, you’re joking, right?”) for what would be the very last time? Not of the fact that I was helping to save my friends, certainly not; nor of fear; nor guilt. But little things. Insults, innuendos, petty cruelties. The hundreds of small, unavenged humiliations which had been rising in me for months. It was of them I thought, and nothing more. It was because of them that I was able to watch him at all, without the slightest tinge of pity or regret, as he teetered on the cliff’s edge for one long moment—arms flailing, eyes rolling, a silent-movie comedian slipping on a banana peel—before he toppled backwards, and fell to his death.


Henry, I believed, had a plan. What it was I didn’t know. He was always disappearing on mysterious errands, and perhaps these were only more of the same; but now, anxious to believe that someone, at least, had the situation in hand, I imbued them with a certain hopeful significance. Not infrequently he refused to answer his door, even late at night when a light was burning and I knew he was at home; more than once he appeared late for dinner with wet shoes, and windblown hair, and mud on the cuffs of his neat dark trousers. A stack of

mysterious books, in a Near Eastern language which looked like Arabic and bearing the stamp of the Williams College Library, materialized in the back seat of his car. This was doubly puzzling, as I did not think he read Arabic; nor, to my knowledge, did he have borrowing privileges at the Williams College Library. Glancing surreptitiously at the back pocket of one of them, I found the card was still in it, and that the last person to check it out was an F. Lockett, back in 1929.

Perhaps the oddest thing of all, though, I saw one afternoon when I’d hitched a ride into Hampden with Judy Poovey. I wanted to take some clothes to the cleaners and Judy, who was going into town, offered to drive me; we’d done our errands, not to mention an awful lot of cocaine in the parking lot of Burger King, and we were stopped in the Corvette at a red light, listening to terrible music (“Free Bird”) on the Manchester radio station, and Judy rattling on, like the senseless cokehead she was, about these two guys she knew who’d had sex in the Food King (“Right in the store! In the frozen food aisle!”), when she glanced out her window and laughed. “Look,” she said. “Isn’t that your friend Four Eyes over there?”

Startled, I leaned forward. There was a tiny head shop directly across the street—bongs, tapestries, canisters of Rush, and all sorts of herbs and incense behind the counter. I’d never seen anyone in it before except the sad old hippie in granny glasses, a Hampden graduate, who owned it. But now to my astonishment I saw Henry— black suit, umbrella and all—among the celestial maps and unicorns. He was standing at the counter looking at a sheet of paper. The hippie started to say something but Henry, cutting him short, pointed to something behind the counter. The hippie shrugged and took a little bottle off the shelf. I watched them, half-breathless.

“What do you think he’s doing in there, trying to harass that poor old Deadhead? That’s a shitty store, by the way. I went in there once for a pair of scales and they didn’t even have any, just a bunch of crystal balls and shit. You know that set of green plastic scales I—Hey, you’re not listening,” she whined when she saw I was still staring out the window. The hippie had leaned down and was rummaging under the counter. “You want me to honk or something?”

“No,” I shouted, edgy from the cocaine, and pushed her hand away from the horn.

“Oh, God. Don’t scare me like that.” She pressed her hand to her chest. “Shit. I’m speeding my brains out. That coke was cut with meth

or something. Okay, okay,” she said irritably, as the light turned green and the gas truck behind us began to honk.


Stolen Arabic books? A head shop in Hampden town? I couldn’t imagine what Henry was doing, but as disconnected as his actions seemed, I had a childlike faith in him and, as confidently as Dr. Watson observing the actions of his more illustrious friend, I waited for the design to manifest itself.

Which it did, in a certain fashion, in a couple of days.

On a Thursday night, around twelve-thirty, I was in my pajamas and attempting to cut my own hair with the aid of a mirror and some nail scissors (I never did a very good job; the finished product was always very thistly and childish, à la Arthur Rimbaud) when there was a knock at the door. I answered it with scissors and mirror in hand. It was Henry. “Oh, hello,” I said. “Come in.”

Stepping carefully over the tufts of dusty brown hair, he sat down at my desk. Inspecting my profile in the mirror, I went back to work with the scissors. “What’s up?” I said, reaching over to snip off a long clump by my ear.

“You studied medicine for a while, didn’t you?” he said.

I knew this to be a prelude to some health-related inquiry. My one year of pre-med had provided scanty knowledge at best, but the others, who knew nothing at all of medicine and regarded the discipline per se as less a science than a kind of sympathetic magic, constantly solicited my opinion on their aches and pains as respectfully as savages consulting a witch doctor. Their ignorance ranged from the touching to the downright shocking; Henry, I suppose because he’d been ill so often, knew more than the rest of them but occasionally even he would startle one with a perfectly serious question about humors or spleen.

“Are you sick?” I said, one eye on his reflection in the mirror. “I need a formula for dosage.”

“What do you mean, a formula for dosage? Dosage of what?” “There is one, isn’t there? Some mathematical formula which tells

the proper dose to administer according to height and weight, that sort of thing?”

“It depends on the concentration of the drug,” I said. “I can’t tell you something like that. You’d have to look it up in a Physicians’ Desk Reference.

“I can’t do that.”

“They’re very simple to use.”

“That’s not what I mean. It’s not in the Physicians’ Desk Reference.” “You’d be surprised.”

For a moment there was no sound except the grinding of my scissors. At last he said: “You don’t understand. This isn’t something doctors generally use.”

I brought down my scissors and looked at his reflection in the mirror.

“Jesus, Henry,” I said. “What have you got? Some LSD or something?”

“Let’s say I do,” he said calmly.

I put down the mirror and turned to stare at him. “Henry, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said. “I don’t know if I ever told you this but I took LSD a couple of times. When I was a sophomore in high school. It was the worst mistake I ever made in my—”

“I realize that it’s hard to gauge the concentration of such a drug,” he said evenly. “But say we have a certain amount of empirical evidence. Let’s say we know, for instance, that amount of the drug in question is enough to affect a seventy-pound animal and another, slightly larger amount is sufficient to kill it. I’ve figured out a rough formula, but still we are talking about a very fine distinction. So, knowing this much, how do I go about calculating the rest?”

I leaned against my dresser and stared at him, my haircut forgotten. “Let’s see what you have,” I said.

He looked at me intently for a moment or two, then reached into his pocket. When his hand opened, I couldn’t believe my eyes, but then I stepped closer. A pale, slender-stemmed mushroom lay across his open palm.

Amanita caesaria,” he said. “Not what you think,” he added when he saw the look on my face.

“I know what an amanita is.”

“Not all amanitae are poisonous. This one is harmless.”

“What is it?” I said, taking it from his hand and holding it to the light. “A hallucinogen?”

“No. Actually they are good to eat—the Romans liked them a great deal—but people avoid them as a rule because they are so easily confused with their evil twin.”

“Evil twin?”

Amanita phalloides,” said Henry mildly. “Death cap.” I didn’t say anything for a moment.

“What are you going to do?” I finally asked. “What do you think?”

I got up, agitated, and walked to my desk. Henry put the mushroom back in his pocket and lit a cigarette. “Do you have an ashtray?” he said courteously.

I gave him an empty soda can. His cigarette was nearly finished before I spoke. “Henry, I don’t think this is a good idea.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”

Why not, he asks me. “Because,” I said, a little wildly, “they can trace poison. Any kind of poison. Do you think if Bunny keels over dead, people won’t find it peculiar? Any idiot of a coroner can—”

“I know that,” said Henry patiently. “Which is why I’m asking you about the dosage.”

“That has nothing to do with it. Even a tiny amount can be—” “—enough to make one extremely ill,” Henry said, lighting another

cigarette. “But not necessarily lethal.” “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” he said, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, “that strictly in terms of virulence there are any number of excellent poisons, most of them far superior to this. The woods will be soon full of foxglove and monkshood. I could get all the arsenic I needed from flypaper. And even herbs that aren’t common here—good God, the Borgias would have wept to see the health-food store I found in Brattleboro last week. Hellebore, mandrake, pure oil of wormwood.… I suppose people will buy anything if they think it’s natural. The wormwood they were selling as organic insect repellent, as if that made it safer than the stuff at the supermarket. One bottle could have killed an army.” He toyed with his glasses again. “The problem with these things—excellent though they are—is one, as you said, of administration. Amatoxins are messy, as poisons go. Vomiting, jaundice, convulsions. Not like some of the little Italian comfortives, which are relatively quick and kind. But, on the other hand, what could be easier to give? I’m not a botanist, you know. Even mycologists have a hard time telling amanitae apart. Some handpicked mushrooms … a few bad ones get mixed in the lot … one friend gets dreadfully ill and the other …?” He shrugged.

We looked at each other.

“How can you be sure you won’t get too much yourself?” I asked him.

“I suppose I can’t be, really,” he said. “My own life must be

plausibly in danger, so you can see I have a delicate margin to work with. But still, chances are excellent that I can bring it off. All I have to worry about is myself, you know. The rest will take care of itself.”

I knew what he meant. The plan had several grave flaws, but it was brilliant at its heart: if anything could be relied upon with almost mathematical certainty, it was that Bunny, at any given meal, would somehow manage to eat almost twice as much as anyone else.

Henry’s face was pale and serene through the haze of his cigarette.

He put his hand in his pocket and produced the mushroom again. “Now,” he said. “A single cap, roughly this size, of A. phalloides is

enough to make a healthy seventy-pound dog quite ill. Vomiting, diarrhea, no convulsions that I saw. I don’t think there was anything as severe as liver dysfunction but I suppose we will have to leave that to the veterinarians. Evidently—”

“Henry, how do you know this?”

He was silent for a moment. Then he said: “Do you know those two horrible boxer dogs who belong to the couple who live upstairs?”

It was dreadful but I had to laugh, I couldn’t help it. “No,” I said. “You didn’t.”

“I’m afraid I did,” he said dryly, mashing out his cigarette. “One of them is fine, unfortunately. The other one won’t be dragging garbage up on my front porch anymore. It was dead in twenty hours, and only of a slightly larger dose—the difference perhaps of a gram. Knowing this, it seems to me that I should be able to prescribe how much poison each of us should get. What worries me is the variation in concentration of poison from one mushroom to the next. It’s not as if it’s measured out by a pharmacist. Perhaps I’m wrong—I’m sure you know more about it than I do—but a mushroom that weighs two grams might well have just as much as one that weighs three, no? Hence my dilemma.”

He reached into his breast pocket and took out a sheet of paper covered with numbers. “I hate to involve you in this, but no one else knows a thing about math and I’m far from reliable myself. Will you have a look?”

Vomiting, jaundice, convulsions. Mechanically, I took the sheet of paper from him. It was covered with algebraic equations, but at the moment algebra was frankly the last thing on my mind. I shook my head and was on the point of handing it back when I looked up at him and something stopped me. I was in the position, I realized, to put an end to this, now, right here. He really did need my help, or else he

wouldn’t have come to me; emotional appeals, I knew, were useless but if I pretended that I knew what I was doing I might be able to talk him out of it.

I took the paper to my desk and sat down with a pencil and forced myself through the tangle of numbers step by step. Equations about chemical concentration were never my strong point in chemistry, and they are difficult enough when you are trying to figure a fixed concentration in a suspension of distilled water; but this, dealing as it did with varying concentrations in irregularly shaped objects, was virtually impossible. He had probably used all the elementary algebra he knew in figuring this, and as far as I could follow him he hadn’t done a bad job; but this wasn’t a problem that could be worked with algebra, if it could be worked at all. Someone with three or four years of college calculus might have been able to come up with something that at least looked more convincing; by tinkering, I was able to narrow his ratio slightly but I had forgotten most of the little calculus I knew and the answer I wound up with, though probably closer than his own, was far from correct.

I put down my pencil and looked up. The business had taken me

about half an hour. Henry had got a copy of Dante’s Purgatorio from my bookshelf and was reading it, absorbed.


He glanced up absently.

“Henry, I don’t think this is going to work.”

He closed the book on his finger. “I made a mistake in the second part,” he said. “Where the factoring begins.”

“It’s a good try, but just by looking at it I can tell that it’s insolvable without chemical tables and a good working knowledge of calculus and chemistry proper. There’s no way to figure it otherwise. I mean, chemical concentrations aren’t even measured in terms of grams and milligrams but in something called moles.”

“Can you work it for me?”

“I’m afraid not, though I’ve done as much as I can. Practically speaking, I can’t give you an answer. Even a math professor would have a tough time with this one.”

“Hmn,” said Henry, looking over my shoulder at the paper on the desk. “I’m heavier than Bun, you know. By twenty-five pounds. That should count for something, shouldn’t it?”

“Yes, but the difference of size isn’t large enough to bank on, not with a margin of error potentially this wide. Now, if you were fifty

pounds heavier, maybe …”

“The poison doesn’t take effect for at least twelve hours,” he said. “So even if I overdose I’ll have a certain advantage, a grace period. With an antidote on hand for myself, just in case …”

“An antidote?” I said, jarred, leaning back in my chair. “Is there such a thing?”

“Atropine. It’s in deadly nightshade.”

“Well, Jesus, Henry. If you don’t finish yourself off with one you will with the other.”

“Atropine’s quite safe in small amounts.”

“They say the same about arsenic but I wouldn’t like to try it.” “They are exactly opposite in effect. Atropine speeds the nervous

system, rapid heartbeat and so forth. Amatoxins slow it down.” “That still sounds fishy, a poison counteracting a poison.”

“Not at all. The Persians were master poisoners, and they say—” I remembered the books in Henry’s car. “The Persians?” I said. “Yes. According to the great—”

“I didn’t know you read Arabic.”

“I don’t, at least not well, but they’re the great authorities on the subject and most of the books I need haven’t been translated. I’ve been going through them as best I can with a dictionary.”

I thought about the books I had seen, dusty, bindings crumbled with age. “When were these things written?”

“Around the middle of the fifteenth century, I should say.” I put down my pencil. “Henry.”


“You should know better than that. You can’t rely on something that old.”

“The Persians were master poisoners. These are practical handbooks, how-tos if you will. I don’t know of anything quite like them.”

“Poisoning people is quite a different matter from curing them.” “People have used these books for centuries. Their accuracy is

beyond dispute.”

“Well, I have as much respect for ancient learning as you do, but I don’t know that I’d want to stake my life on some home remedy from the Middle Ages.”

“Well, I suppose I can check it somewhere else,” he said, without much conviction.

“Really. This is too serious a matter to—”

“Thank you,” he said smoothly. “You’ve been a great help.” He picked up my copy of Purgatorio again. “This isn’t a very good translation, you know,” he said, leafing through it idly. “Singleton is the best if you don’t read Italian, quite literal, but you lose all the terza rima, of course. For that you should read the original. In very great poetry the music often comes through even when one doesn’t know the language. I loved Dante passionately before I knew a word of Italian.”

“Henry,” I said, in a low, urgent voice.

He glanced over at me, annoyed. “Anything I do will be dangerous, you know,” he said.

“But nothing is any good if you die.”

“The more I hear about luxury barges, the less terrible death begins to seem,” he said. “You’ve been quite a help. Good night.”


Early the next afternoon, Charles dropped by for a visit. “Gosh, it’s hot in here,” he said, shouldering off his wet coat and throwing it over the back of a chair. His hair was damp, his face flushed and radiant. A drop of water trembled at the end of his long, fine nose. He sniffed and wiped it away. “Don’t go outside, whatever you do,” he said. “It’s terrible out. By the way, you haven’t seen Francis, have you?”

I ran a hand through my hair. It was a Friday afternoon, no class, and I hadn’t been out of my room all day, nor had I slept much the night before. “Henry stopped by last night,” I said.

“Really? What did he have to say? Oh, I almost forgot.” He reached in the pocket of his overcoat and pulled out a bundle wrapped in napkins. “I brought you a sandwich since you weren’t at lunch. Camilla said the lady in the dining hall saw me stealing it and she made a black mark by my name on a list.”

It was cream cheese and marmalade, I knew without looking. The twins were fanatical about them but I didn’t like them much. I unwrapped a corner of it and took a bite, then set it down on my desk. “Have you talked to Henry recently?” I said.

“Just this morning. He drove me to the bank.”

I picked up the sandwich and took another bite. I hadn’t swept, and my hair still lay in clumps on the floor. “Did he,” I said, “say anything about—”

“About what?”

“About asking Bunny to dinner in a couple of weeks?”

“Oh, that,” said Charles, lying back on my bed and propping his

head up with pillows. “I thought you knew about that already. He’s been thinking about that for a while.”

“What do you think?”

“I think he’s going to have a hell of a hard time finding enough mushrooms to even make him sick. It’s just too early. Last week he made Francis and me go out and help him, but we hardly found a thing. Francis came back really excited, saying, ‘Oh, my God, look, I found all these mushrooms,’ but then we looked in his bag and it was just a bunch of puffballs.”

“So you think he’ll be able to find enough?”

“Sure, if he waits a while. I know you don’t have a cigarette, do you?”


“I wish you smoked. I don’t know why you don’t. You weren’t an athlete in high school or anything, were you?”


“That’s why Bun doesn’t smoke. Some clean-living type of football coach got to him at an impressionable age.”

“Have you seen Bun lately?”

“Not too much. He was at the apartment last night, though, and stayed forever.”

“This isn’t just hot air?” I said, looking at him closely. “You’re really going to go through with it?”

“I’d rather go to jail than know that Bunny was going to be hanging around my neck for the rest of my life. And I’m not too keen on going to jail, either, now that I think about it. You know,” he said, sitting up on my bed and bending over double, as if from a pain in his stomach, “I really wish you had some cigarettes. Who’s that awful girl who lives down the hall from you—Judy?”

“Poovey,” I said.

“Go knock on her door, why don’t you, and ask her if she’ll give you a pack. She looks like the sort who keeps cartons in her room.”


It was getting warmer. The dirty snow was pockmarked from the warm rain, and melting in patches to expose the slimy, yellowed grass beneath it; icicles cracked and plunged like daggers from the sharp peaks of the roofs.

“We might be in South America now,” Camilla said one night while we were drinking bourbon from teacups in my room and listening to rain dripping from the eaves. “That’s funny, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, though I hadn’t been invited.

“I didn’t like the idea then. Now I think we might’ve got by all right down there.”

“I don’t see how.”

She leaned her cheek on her closed fist. “Oh, it wouldn’t have been so bad. We could have slept in hammocks. Learned Spanish. Lived in a little house with chickens in the yard.”

“Got sick,” I said. “Been shot.”

“I can think of worse things,” she said, with a brief sideways glance that pierced me to the heart.

The windowpanes rattled in a sudden gust. “Well,” I said, “I’m glad you didn’t go.”

She ignored this remark and, looking out the dark window, took another sip from the teacup.


It was by now the first week of April, not a pleasant time for me or anyone. Bunny, who had been relatively calm, was now on a rampage because Henry refused to drive him down to Washington, D.C., to see an exhibit of World War I biplanes at the Smithsonian. The twins were getting calls twice daily from an ominous B. Perry at their bank, and Henry from a D. Wade at his; Francis’s mother had discovered his attempt to withdraw money from the trust fund, and each day brought a fresh volley of communication from her. “Good God,” he muttered, having torn open the latest arrival and scanned it with disgust.

“What does she say?”

“ ‘Baby. Chris and I are so concerned about you,’ ” Francis read in a deadpan voice. “ ‘Now I do not pretend to be an authority on Young People and maybe you are going through something I am too old to understand but I have always hoped you would be able to go to Chris with your problems.’ ”

“Chris has a lot more problems than you do, it seems to me,” I said. The character that Chris played on “The Young Doctors” was sleeping with his brother’s wife and involved in a baby-smuggling ring.

“I’ll say Chris has problems. He’s twenty-six years old and married to my mother, isn’t he? ‘Now I even hate to bring this up,’ ” he read, “ ‘and I wouldn’t have suggested it had not Chris insisted but you know, dear, how he loves you and he says he has seen this type of thing so often before in show business you know. So I phoned the Betty Ford Center and precious, what do you think? They have a nice

little room waiting just for you, dear’—no, let me finish,” he said, when I started to laugh, “ ‘Now I know you’ll hate the idea but really you needn’t be ashamed, it’s a Disease, baby, that’s what they told me when I went and it made me feel so much better you cannot imagine. Of course I don’t know what it is you’re taking but really, darling, let’s be practical, whatever it is it must be frightfully expensive mustn’t it and I have to be quite honest with you and tell you that we simply cannot afford it, not with your grandpa the way he is and the taxes on the house and everything …’ ”

“You ought to go,” I said.

“Are you kidding? It’s in Palm Springs or someplace like that and besides I think they lock you up and make you do aerobics. She watches too much television, my mother,” he said, glancing at the letter again.

The telephone began to ring. “Goddammit,” he said in a tired voice. “Don’t answer it.”

“If I don’t she’ll call the police,” he said, and picked up the receiver. I let myself out (Francis pacing back and forth: “Funny? What do you mean, I sound funny?”) and walked to the post office, where in my box I found, to my surprise, an elegant little note from Julian asking

me to lunch the next day.

Julian, on special occasions, sometimes had lunches for the class; he was an excellent cook and, when he was a young man living off his trust fund in Europe, had the reputation of being an excellent host as well. This was, in fact, the basis of his acquaintance with most of the famous people in his life. Osbert Sitwell, in his diary, mentions Julian Morrow’s “sublime little fêtes,” and there are similar references in the letters of people ranging from Charles Laughton to the Duchess of Windsor to Gertrude Stein; Cyril Connolly, who was notorious for being a hard guest to please, told Harold Acton that Julian was the most gracious American that he had ever met—a double-edged compliment, admittedly—and Sara Murphy, no mean hostess herself, once wrote him pleading for his recipe for sole véronique. But though I knew that Julian frequently invited Henry for lunches à deux, I had never before received an invitation to dine alone with him, and I was both flattered and vaguely worried. At that time, anything even slightly out of the ordinary seemed ominous to me, and, pleased as I was, I could not but feel that he might have an objective other than the pleasure of my company. I took the invitation home and studied

it. The airy, oblique style in which it was written did little to dispel my feeling that there was more in it than met the eye. I phoned the switchboard and left a message for him to expect me at one the next day.


“Julian doesn’t know anything about what happened, does he?” I asked Henry when next I saw him alone.

“What? Oh, yes,” said Henry, glancing up from his book. “Of course.”

He knows you killed that guy?

“Really, you needn’t be so loud,” said Henry sharply, turning in his chair. Then, in a quieter voice: “He knew what we were trying to do. And approved. The day after it happened, we drove out to his house in the country. Told him what happened. He was delighted.”

“You told him everything?”

“Well, I saw no point in worrying him, if that’s what you mean,” said Henry, adjusting his glasses and going back to his book.


Julian, of course, had made the lunch himself, and we ate at the big round table in his office. After weeks of bad nerves, bad conversation, and bad food in the dining hall, the prospect of a meal with him was immensely cheering; he was a charming companion and his dinners, though deceptively simple, had a sort of Augustan wholesomeness and luxuriance which never failed to soothe.

There was roasted lamb, new potatoes, peas with leeks and fennel; a rich and almost maddeningly delicious bottle of Château Latour. I was eating with better appetite than I had had in ages when I noticed that a fourth course had appeared, with unobtrusive magic, at my elbow: mushrooms. They were pale and slender-stemmed, of a type I had seen before, steaming in a red wine sauce that smelled of coriander and rue.

“Where did you get these?” I said.

“Ah. You’re quite observant,” he said, pleased. “Aren’t they marvelous? Quite rare. Henry brought them to me.”

I took a quick swallow of my wine to hide my consternation. “He tells me—may I?” he said nodding at the bowl.

I passed it to him, and he spooned some of them onto his plate. “Thank you,” he said. “What was I saying? Oh, yes. Henry tells me that this particular sort of mushroom was a great favorite of the emperor Claudius. Interesting, because you remember how Claudius


I did remember. Agrippina had slipped a poisoned one into his dish one night.

“They’re quite good,” said Julian, taking a bite. “Have you gone with Henry on any of his collecting expeditions?”

“Not yet. He hasn’t asked me to.”

“I must say, I never thought I cared very much for mushrooms, but everything he’s brought me has been heavenly.”

Suddenly I understood. This was a clever piece of groundwork on Henry’s part. “He’s brought them to you before?” I said.

“Yes. Of course I wouldn’t trust just anyone with this sort of thing, but Henry seems to know an amazing lot about it.”

“I believe he probably does,” I said, thinking of the boxer dogs.

“It’s remarkable how good he is at anything he tries. He can grow flowers, repair clocks like a jeweler, add tremendous sums in his head. Even if it’s something as simple as bandaging a cut finger he manages to do a better job of it.” He poured himself another glass of wine. “I gather that his parents are disappointed that he’s decided to concentrate so exclusively on the classics. I disagree, of course, but in a certain sense it is rather a pity. He would have made a great doctor, or soldier, or scientist.”

I laughed. “Or a great spy,” I said.

Julian laughed too. “All you boys would be excellent spies,” he said. “Slipping about in casinos, eavesdropping on heads of state. Really, won’t you try some of these mushrooms? They’re glorious.”

I drank the rest of my wine. “Why not,” I said, and reached for the bowl.


After lunch, when the dishes had been cleared away and we were talking about nothing in particular, Julian asked, out of the blue, if I’d noticed anything peculiar about Bunny recently.

“Well, no, not really,” I said, and took a careful sip of tea.

He raised an eyebrow. “No? I think he’s behaving very strangely. Henry and I were talking only yesterday about how brusque and contrary he’s become.”

“I think he’s been in kind of a bad mood.”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. Edmund is such a simple soul. I never thought I’d be surprised at anything he did or said, but he and I had a very odd conversation the other day.”

“Odd?” I said cautiously.

“Perhaps he’d only read something that disturbed him. I don’t know. I am worried about him.”


“Frankly, I’m afraid he might be on the verge of some disastrous religious conversion.”

I was jarred. “Really?” I said.

“I’ve seen it happen before. And I can think of no other reason for this sudden interest in ethics. Not that Edmund is profligate, but really, he’s one of the least morally concerned boys I’ve ever known. I was very startled when he began to question me—in all earnestness— about such hazy concerns as Sin and Forgiveness. He’s thinking of going into the Church, I just know it. Perhaps that girl has something to do with it, do you suppose?”

He meant Marion. He had a habit of attributing all of Bunny’s faults indirectly to her—his laziness, his bad humors, his lapses of taste. “Maybe,” I said.

“Is she a Catholic?”

“I think she’s Presbyterian,” I said. Julian had a polite but implacable contempt for Judeo-Christian tradition in virtually all its forms. He would deny this if confronted, citing evasively his affection for Dante and Giotto, but anything overtly religious filled him with a pagan alarm; and I believe that like Pliny, whom he resembled in so many respects, he secretly thought it to be a degenerate cult carried to extravagant lengths.

“A Presbyterian? Really?” he said, dismayed. “I believe so.”

“Well, whatever one thinks of the Roman Church, it is a worthy and powerful foe. I could accept that sort of conversion with grace. But I shall be very disappointed indeed if we lose him to the Presbyterians.”


In the first week of April the weather turned suddenly, unseasonably, insistently lovely. The sky was blue, the air warm and windless, and the sun beamed on the muddy ground with all the sweet impatience of June. Toward the fringe of the wood, the young trees were yellow with the first tinge of new leaves; woodpeckers laughed and drummed in the copses and, lying in bed with my window open, I could hear the rush and gurgle of the melted snow running in the gutters all night long.

In the second week of April everyone waited anxiously to see if the weather would hold. It did, with serene assurance. Hyacinth and

daffodil bloomed in the flower beds, violet and periwinkle in the meadows; damp, bedraggled white butterflies fluttered drunkenly in the hedgerows. I put away my winter coat and overshoes and walked around, nearly light-headed with joy, in my shirtsleeves.

“This won’t last,” said Henry.


In the third week of April, when the lawns were green as Heaven and the apple blossoms had recklessly blown, I was reading in my room on a Friday night, with the windows open and a cool, damp wind stirring the papers on my desk. There was a party across the lawn, and laughter and music floated through the night air. It was long after midnight. I was nodding, half-asleep over my book, when someone bellowed my name outside my window.

I shook myself and sat up, just in time to see one of Bunny’s shoes flying through my open window. It hit the floor with a thud. I jumped up and leaned over the sill. Far below, I saw his staggering, shaggy-headed figure, attempting to steady itself by clutching at the trunk of a small tree.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?”

He didn’t reply, only raised his free hand in a gesture half wave, half salute, and reeled out of the light. The back door slammed, and a few moments later he was banging on the door of my room.

When I opened it he came limping in, one shoe off and one shoe on, leaving a muddy trail of macabre, unmatched footprints behind him. His spectacles were askew and he stank of whiskey. “Dickie boy,” he mumbled.

The outburst beneath my window seemed to have exhausted him and left him strangely uncommunicative. He tugged off his muddy sock and tossed it clumsily away from him. It landed on my bed.

By degrees, I managed to extricate from him the evening’s events. The twins had taken him to dinner, afterwards to a bar in town for more drinks; he’d then gone alone to the party across the lawn, where a Dutchman had tried to make him smoke pot and a freshman girl had given him tequila from a thermos. (“Pretty little gal. Sort of a Deadhead, though. She was wearing clogs, you know those things? And a tie-dyed T-shirt. I can’t stand them. ‘Honey,’ I said, ‘you’re such a cutie, how come you want to get yourself up in that nasty stuff?’ ”) Then, abruptly, he broke off this narrative and lurched away—leaving the door of my room open behind him—and I heard the sound of noisy, athletic vomiting.

He was gone a long time. When he returned he smelled sour, and his face was damp and very pale; but he seemed composed. “Whew,” he said, collapsing in my chair and mopping his forehead with a red bandanna. “Musta been something I ate.”

“Did you make it to the bathroom?” I asked uncertainly. The vomiting had sounded ominously near my own door.

“Naw,” he said, breathing heavily. “Ran in the broom closet. Get me a glass of water, wouldja.”

In the hall, the door to the service closet hung partly open, providing a coy glimpse of the reeking horror within. I hurried past it to the kitchen.

Bunny looked at me glassily when I came back in. His expression had changed entirely, and something about it made me uneasy. I gave him the water and he took a large, greedy gulp.

“Not too quick,” I said, alarmed.

He paid no attention and drank the rest in a swallow, then set the glass on the desk with a trembling hand. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead.

“Oh, my God,” he said. “Sweet Jesus.”

Uneasily, I crossed to my bed and sat down, trying to think of some neutral subject, but before I could say anything he spoke again.

“Can’t stomach it any longer,” he mumbled. “Just can’t. Sweet Italian Jesus.”

I didn’t say anything.

Shakily, he passed a hand over his forehead. “You don’t even know what the devil I’m talking about, do you?” he said, with an oddly nasty tone in his voice.

Agitated, I recrossed my legs. I’d seen this coming, seen it coming for months and dreaded it. I had an impulse to rush from the room, just leave him sitting there, but then he buried his face in his hands.

“All true,” he mumbled. “All true. Swear to God. Nobody knows but me.”

Absurdly, I found myself hoping it was a false alarm. Maybe he and Marion had broken up. Maybe his father had died of a heart attack. I sat there, paralyzed.

He dragged his palms down over his face, as if he were wiping water from it, and looked up at me. “You don’t have a clue,” he said. His eyes were bloodshot, uncomfortably bright. “Boy. You don’t have a fucking clue.”

I stood up, unable to bear it any longer, and looked around my

room distractedly. “Uh,” I said, “do you want an aspirin? I meant to ask you earlier. If you take a couple now you won’t feel so bad in the


“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” Bunny said abruptly.

Somehow I’d always known it was going to happen this way, the two of us alone, Bunny drunk, late at night.… “Why no,” I said. “All you need is a little—”

“You think I’m a lunatic. Bats in the belfry. Nobody listens to me,” he said, his voice rising.

I was alarmed. “Calm down,” I said. “I’m listening to you.” “Well, listen to this,” he said.


It was three in the morning when he stopped talking. The story he told was drunken and garbled, out of sequence and full of vituperative, self-righteous digressions; but I had no problem understanding it. It was a story I’d already heard. For a while we sat there, mute. My desk light was shining in my eyes. The party across the way was still going strong and a faint but boisterous rap song throbbed obtrusively in the distance.

Bunny’s breathing had become loud and asthmatic. His head fell on his chest, and he woke with a start. “What?” he said, confused, as if someone had come up behind him and shouted in his ear. “Oh. Yes.”

I didn’t say anything.

“What do you think about that, eh?”

I was unable to answer. I’d hoped, faintly, that he might have blacked it all out.

“Damndest thing. Fact truer than fiction, boy. Wait, that’s not right.

How’s it go?”

“Fact stranger than fiction,” I said mechanically. It was fortunate, I suppose, that I didn’t have to make an effort to look shaken up or stunned. I was so upset I was nearly sick.

“Just goes to show,” said Bunny drunkenly. “Could be the guy next door. Could be anybody. Never can tell.”

I put my face in my hands.

“Tell anybody you want,” Bunny said. “Tell the goddamn mayor. I don’t care. Lock ’em right up in that combination post office and jail they got down by the courthouse. Thinks he’s so smart,” he muttered. “Well, if this wasn’t Vermont he wouldn’t be sleeping so well at night, let me tell you. Why, my dad’s best friends with the police commissioner in Hartford. He ever finds out about this—geez. He and

Dad were at school together. Used to date his daughter in the tenth grade.…” His head was drooping and he shook himself again. “Jesus,” he said, nearly falling out of his chair.

I stared at him.

“Give me that shoe, would you?”

I handed it to him, and his sock too. He looked at them for a moment, then stuffed them in the outside pocket of his blazer. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” he said, and then he was gone, leaving the door of my room open behind him. I could hear his peculiar limping progress all the way down the stairs.

The objects in the room seemed to swell and recede with each thump of my heart. In a horrible daze, I sat on my bed, one elbow on the windowsill, and tried to pull myself together. Diabolical rap music floated from the opposite building, where a couple of shadowy figures were crouched on the roof, throwing empty beer cans at a disconsolate band of hippies huddled around a bonfire in a trash can, trying to smoke a joint. A beer can sailed from the roof, then another, which hit one of them on the head with a tinny sound. Laughter, aggrieved cries.

I was gazing at the sparks flying from the garbage can when suddenly I was struck by a harrowing thought. Why had Bunny decided to come to my room instead of Cloke’s, or Marion’s? As I looked out the windows the answer was so obvious it gave me a chill. It was because my room was by far the closest. Marion lived in Roxburgh, on the other end of campus, and Cloke’s was on the far side of Durbinstall. Neither place was readily apparent to a drunk stumbling out into the night. But Monmouth was scarcely thirty feet away, and my own room, with its conspicuously lighted window, must have loomed in his path like a beacon.

I suppose it would be interesting to say that at this point I felt torn in some way, grappled with the moral implications of each of the courses available to me. But I don’t recall experiencing anything of the sort. I put on a pair of loafers and went downstairs to call Henry.

The pay phone in Monmouth was on a wall by the back door, too exposed for my taste, so I walked over to the Science Building, my shoes squelching on the dewy grass, and found a particularly isolated booth on the third floor near the chemistry labs.

The phone must’ve rung a hundred times. No answer. Finally, in exasperation, I pressed down the receiver and dialed the twins. Eight rings, nine; then, to my relief, Charles’s sleepy hello.

“Hi, it’s me,” I said quickly. “Something happened.”

“What?” he said, suddenly alert. I could hear him sitting up in bed. “He told me. Just now.”

There was a long silence. “Hello?” I said.

“Call Henry,” said Charles abruptly. “Hang up the phone and call him right now.”

“I already did. He’s not answering the phone.”

Charles swore under his breath. “Let me think,” he said. “Oh, hell.

Can you come over?” “Sure. Now?”

“I’ll run down to Henry’s and see if I can get him to the door. We should be back by the time you get here. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said, but he’d already hung up.


When I got there, about twenty minutes later, I met Charles coming from the direction of Henry’s, alone.

“No luck?”

“No,” he said, breathing hard. His hair was rumpled and he had a raincoat on over his pajamas.

“What’ll we do?”

“I don’t know. Come upstairs. We’ll think of something.”

We had just got our coats off when the light in Camilla’s room came on and she appeared in the doorway, blinking, cheeks aflame. “Charles? What are you doing here?” she said when she saw me.

Rather incoherently, Charles explained what had happened. With a drowsy forearm she shielded her eyes from the light and listened. She was wearing a man’s nightshirt, much too big for her, and I found myself staring at her bare legs—tawny calves, slender ankles, lovely, dusty-soled boy-feet.

“Is he there?” she said. “I know he is.”

“You sure?”

“Where else would he be at three in the morning?”

“Wait a second,” she said, and went to the telephone. “I just want to try something.” She dialed, listened for a moment, hung up, dialed again.

“What are you doing?”

“It’s a code,” she said, the receiver cradled between shoulder and ear. “Ring twice, hang up, ring again.”


“Yes. He told me once—Oh, hello, Henry,” she said suddenly, and sat down.

Charles looked at me.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said quietly. “He must have been awake the whole time.”

“Yes,” Camilla was saying; she stared at the floor, bobbing the foot of her crossed leg idly up and down. “That’s fine. I’ll tell him.”

She hung up. “He says to come over, Richard,” she said. “You should leave now. He’s waiting for you. Why are you looking at me like that?” she said crossly to Charles.

“Code, eh?” “What about it?”

“You never told me about it.” “It’s stupid. I never thought to.”

“What do you and Henry need a secret code for?” “It’s not a secret.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me?” “Charles, don’t be such a baby.”


Henry—wide awake, no explanations—met me at the door in his bathrobe. I followed him into the kitchen, and he poured me a cup of coffee and sat me down. “Now,” he said, “tell me what happened.”

I did. He sat across the table, smoking cigarette after cigarette with his dark blue eyes fastened on mine. He interrupted with questions only once or twice. Certain parts he asked me to repeat. I was so tired that I rambled a bit, but he was patient with my digressions.

By the time I finished, the sun was up and the birds were singing. Spots were swimming in front of my eyes. A damp, cool breeze shifted in the curtains. Henry switched off the lamp and went to the stove and began, rather mechanically, to make some bacon and eggs. I watched him move around the dim, dawn-lit kitchen in his bare feet.

While we ate, I looked at him curiously. He was pale, and his eyes were tired and preoccupied, but there was nothing in his expression that gave me any indication what he might be thinking.

“Henry,” I said.

He started. It was the first time either of us had said a word for half an hour or more.

“What are you thinking about?” “Nothing.”

“If you’ve still got the idea of poisoning him—”

He glanced up with a quick flash of anger that surprised me. “Don’t be absurd,” he snapped. “I wish you’d shut up a minute and let me think.”

I stared at him. Abruptly he stood up and went to pour himself some more coffee. For a moment he stood with his back to me, hands braced on the counter. Then he turned around.

“I’m sorry,” he said wearily. “It’s just not very pleasant to look back on something that one has put so much effort and thought into, only to realize it’s completely ridiculous. Poisoned mushrooms. The whole idea is like something from Sir Walter Scott.”

I was taken aback. “But I thought it was kind of a good idea,” I said. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “Too good,” he said. “I suppose that when anyone accustomed to working with the mind is faced with a straightforward action, there’s a tendency to embellish, to make it overly clever. On paper there’s a certain symmetry. Now that I’m faced with the prospect of executing it I

realize how hideously complicated it is.” “What’s wrong?”

He adjusted his glasses. “The poison is too slow.” “I thought that’s what you wanted.”

“There are half a dozen problems with it. Some of them you pointed out. Control of the dose is risky, but time, I think, is the real concern. From my standpoint the longer the better, but still … A person can do an awful lot of talking in twelve hours.” He was quiet for a moment. “It’s not as if I haven’t seen this all along. The idea of killing him is so repellent that I haven’t been able to think of it as anything but a chess-problem. A game. You have no idea how much thought I’ve put into this. Even to the strain of poison. It’s said to make the throat swell, do you know that? Victims are said to be struck dumb, unable to name their poisoner.” He sighed. “Too easy to beguile myself with the Medicis, the Borgias, all those poisoned rings and roses … It’s possible to do that, did you know? To poison a rose, then present it as a gift? The lady pricks her finger, then falls dead. I know how to make a candle that will kill if burned in a closed room. Or how to poison a pillow, or a prayer book …”

I said: “What about sleeping pills?”

He glanced at me, annoyed.

“I’m serious. People die from them all the time.” “Where are we going to get sleeping pills?”

“This is Hampden College. If we want sleeping pills, we can get them.”

We looked at each other.

“How would we give them?” he said. “Tell him they’re Tylenol.”

“And how do we get him to swallow nine or ten Tylenol?” “We could break them open in a glass of whiskey.”

“You think Bunny is likely to drink a glass of whiskey with a lot of white powder at the bottom?”

“I think he’s just as apt to do that as eat a dish of toadstools.”

There was a long silence, during which a bird trilled noisily outside the window. Henry closed his eyes for a long moment and rubbed his temple with his fingertips.

“What are you going to do?” I said.

“I think I’m going to go out and run a few errands,” he said. “I want you to go home and go to sleep.”

“Do you have any ideas?”

“No. But there’s something I want to look into. I’d drive you back to school, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be seen together just now.” He began to fish in the pocket of his bathrobe, pulling out matches, pen nibs, his blue enamel pillbox. Finally he found a couple of quarters and lay them on the table. “Here,” he said. “Stop at the newsstand and buy a paper on your way home.”


“In case anyone should wonder why you’re wandering around at this hour. I may have to talk to you tonight. If I don’t find you in, I’ll leave a message that a Doctor Springfield called. Don’t try to get in touch with me before then, unless of course you have to.”


“I’ll see you later, then,” he said, starting out of the kitchen. Then he turned in the door and looked at me. “I’ll never forget this, you know,” he said matter-of-factly.

“It’s nothing.”

“It’s everything and you know it.”

“You’ve done me a favor or two yourself,” I said, but he had already started out and didn’t hear me. At any rate, he didn’t answer.


I bought a newspaper at the little store down the street and walked back to school through the dank, verdant woods, off the main path, stepping over the boulders and rotting logs that occasionally blocked

my way.

It was still early when I got to campus. I went in the back door of Monmouth and, pausing at the top of the stairs, I was startled to see the house chairperson and a flock of girls in housecoats, huddled around the broom closet and conversing in varying tones of shrill outrage. When I tried to brush past them. Judy Poovey, clad in a black kimono, grabbed my arm. “Hey,” she said. “Somebody puked in this broom closet.”

“It was one of those goddamned freshmen,” said a girl at my elbow. “They get stinking drunk and come to the upperclass suites to barf.”

“Well, I don’t know who did it,” the house chairperson said, “but whoever it was, they had spaghetti for dinner.”


“That means they’re not on the meal ticket, then.”

I pushed through them to my room, locking the door behind me, and went, almost immediately, to sleep.


I slept all day, face down in the pillow, a comfortable dead-man’s float only remotely disturbed by a chill undertow of reality—talk, footsteps, slamming doors—which threaded fitfully through the dark, blood-warm waters of dream. Day ran into night, and still I slept, until finally the rush and rumble of a flushing toilet rolled me on my back and up from sleep.

The Saturday night party had already started, in Putnam house next door. That meant dinner was over, the snack bar was closed, and I’d slept at least fourteen hours. My house was deserted. I got up and shaved and took a hot bath. Then I put on my robe and, eating an apple I’d found in the house kitchen, walked downstairs in my bare feet to see if any messages had been left for me by the phone.

There were three. Bunny Corcoran, at a quarter to six. My mother, from California, at eight-forty-five. And a Dr. H. Springfield, D.D.S., who suggested I visit at my earliest convenience.


I was famished. When I got to Henry’s, I was glad to see that Charles and Francis were still picking at a cold chicken and some salad.

Henry looked as if he hadn’t slept since I’d seen him last. He was wearing an old tweed jacket with sprung elbows, and there were grass stains on the knees of his trousers; khaki gaiters were laced over his mud-caked shoes. “The plates are in the sideboard, if you’re hungry,” he said, pulling out his chair and sitting down heavily, like some old

farmer just home from the field. “Where have you been?”

“We’ll talk about it after dinner.” “Where’s Camilla?”

Charles began to laugh.

Francis put down his chicken leg. “She’s got a date,” he said. “You’re kidding. With who?”

“Cloke Rayburn.”

“They’re at the party,” Charles said. “He took her out for drinks before and everything.”

“Marion and Bunny are with them,” Francis said. “It was Henry’s idea. Tonight she’s keeping an eye on you-know-who.”

“You-know-who left a message for me on the telephone this afternoon,” I said.

“You-know-who has been on the warpath all day long,” said Charles, cutting himself a slice of bread.

“Not now, please,” said Henry in a tired voice.

After the dishes were cleared Henry put his elbows on the table and lit a cigarette. He needed a shave and there were dark circles under his eyes.

“So what’s the plan?” said Francis.

Henry tossed the match into the ashtray. “This weekend,” he said. “Tomorrow.”

I paused with my coffee cup halfway to my lips and stared at him. “Oh my God,” said Charles, disconcerted. “So soon?”

“It can’t wait any longer.”

“How? What can we do on such short notice?”

“I don’t like it either, but if we wait we won’t have another chance until next weekend. If it comes to that, we may not have another chance at all.”

There was a brief silence.

“This is for real?” said Charles uncertainly. “This is, like, a definite thing?”

“Nothing is definite,” said Henry. “The circumstances won’t be entirely under our control. But I want us to be ready should the opportunity present itself.”

“This sounds sort of indeterminate,” said Francis.

“It is. It can’t be any other way, unfortunately, as Bunny will be doing most of the work.”

“How’s that?” said Charles, leaning back in his chair.

“An accident. A hiking accident, to be precise.” Henry paused. “Tomorrow’s Sunday.”


“So tomorrow, if the weather’s nice, Bunny will more likely than not go for a walk.”

“He doesn’t always go,” said Charles.

“Say he does. And we have a fairly good idea of his route.”

“It varies,” I said. I had accompanied Bunny on a good many of those walks the term before. He was apt to cross streams, climb fences, make any number of unexpected detours.

“Yes, of course, but by and large we know it,” said Henry. He took a piece of paper from his pocket and spread it on the table. Leaning over, I saw it was a map. “He goes out the back door of his house, circles behind the tennis courts, and when he reaches the woods, heads not towards North Hampden but east, towards Mount Cataract. Heavily wooded, not much hiking out that way. He keeps on till he hits that deer path—you know the one I mean, Richard, the trail marked with the white boulder—and bears hard southeast. That runs for three-quarters of a mile and then forks—”

“But you’ll miss him if you wait there,” I said. “I’ve been with him on that road. He’s as apt to turn west here as to keep heading south.”

“Well, we may lose him before then if it comes to that,” said Henry. “I’ve known him to ignore the path altogether and keep heading east till he hits the highway. But I’m counting on the likelihood he won’t do that. The weather’s nice—he won’t want such an easy walk.”

“But the second fork? You can’t say where he’ll go from there.”

“We don’t have to. You remember where it comes out, don’t you?

The ravine.”

“Oh,” said Francis. There was a long silence.

“Now, listen,” said Henry, taking a pencil from his pocket. “He’ll be coming in from school, from the south. We can avoid his route entirely and come in on Highway 6, from the west.”

“We’ll take the car?”

“Partway, yes. Just past that junkyard, before the turnoff to Battenkill, there’s a gravel road. I’d thought it might be a private way, in which case we’d have to avoid it, but I went down to the courthouse this afternoon and found that it’s just an old logging road. Comes to a dead end in the middle of the woods. But it should take us directly to the ravine, within a quarter mile. We can walk the rest of the way.”

“And when we get there?”

“Well, we wait. I made Bunny’s walk to the ravine from school twice this afternoon, there and back, and timed it both ways. It’ll take him at least half an hour from the time he leaves his room. Which gives us plenty of time to go around the back way and surprise him.”

“What if he doesn’t come?”

“Well, if he doesn’t, we’ve lost nothing but time.” “What if one of us goes with him?”

He shook his head. “I’ve thought of that,” he said. “It’s not a good idea. If he walks into the trap himself—alone, of his own volition— there’s not much way it can be traced to us.”

“If this, if that,” said Francis sourly. “This sounds pretty haphazard to me.”

“We want something haphazard.”

“I don’t see what’s wrong with the first plan.”

“The first plan is too stylized. Design is inherent in it through and through.”

“But design is preferable to chance.”

Henry smoothed the crumpled map against the table with the flat of his palm. “There, you’re wrong,” he said. “If we attempt to order events too meticulously, to arrive at point X via a logical trail, it follows that the logical trail can be picked up at point X and followed back to us. Reason is always apparent to a discerning eye. But luck? It’s invisible, erratic, angelic. What could possibly be better, from our point of view, than allowing Bunny to choose the circumstances of his own death?”

Everything was still. Outside, the crickets shrieked with rhythmic, piercing monotony.

Francis—his face moist and very pale—bit his lower lip. “Let me get this straight. We wait at the ravine and just hope he happens to stroll by. And if he does, we push him off—right there in broad daylight— and go back home. Am I correct?”

“More or less,” said Henry.

“What if he doesn’t come by himself? What if somebody else wanders by?”

“It’s no crime to be in the woods on a spring afternoon,” Henry said. “We can abort at any time, up to the moment he goes over the edge. And that will only take an instant. If we happen across anybody on the way to the car—I think it improbable, but if we should—we can always say there’s been an accident, and we’re going for help.”

“But what if someone sees us?”

“I think that extremely unlikely,” said Henry, dropping a lump of sugar into his coffee with a splash.

“But possible.”

“Anything is possible, but probability will work for us here if only we let it,” said Henry. “What are the odds that some previously undetected someone will stumble into that very isolated spot, during the precise fraction of a second it will take to push him over?”

“It might happen.”

“Anything might happen, Francis. He might be hit by a car tonight, and save us all a lot of trouble.”

A soft, damp breeze, smelling of rain and apple blossoms, blew through the window. I had broken out in a sweat without realizing it and the wind on my cheek made me feel clammy and light-headed.

Charles cleared his throat and we turned to look at him.

“Do you know …” he said. “I mean, are you sure it’s high enough?

What if he—”

“I went out there today with a tape measure,” Henry said. “The highest point is forty-eight feet, which should be ample. The trickiest part will be to get him there. If he falls from one of the lower points, he’ll end up with nothing worse than a broken leg. Of course, a lot will rest on the fall itself. Backwards seems better than forward for our purposes.”

“But I’ve heard of people falling from airplanes and not dying,” said Francis. “What if the fall doesn’t kill him?”

Henry reached behind his spectacles and rubbed an eye. “Well, you know, there’s a little stream at the bottom,” he said. “There’s not much water, but enough. He’ll be stunned, no matter what. We’d have to drag him there, hold him face-down for a bit—shouldn’t think that’d take more than a couple of minutes. If he was conscious, maybe a couple of us could even go down and walk him over.…”

Charles passed a hand over his damp, flushed forehead. “Oh, Jesus,” he said. “Oh my God. Just listen to us.”

“What’s the matter?” “Are we insane?”

“What are you talking about?”

“We’re insane. We’ve lost our minds. How can we possibly do this?” “I don’t like the idea any more than you do.”

“This is crazy. I don’t even know how we can talk about this. We’ve got to think of something else.”

Henry took a sip of his coffee. “If you can think of anything,” he said, “I’d be delighted to hear it.”

“Well—I mean, why can’t we just leave? Get in the car tonight and drive away?”

“And go where?” Henry said flatly. “With what money?” Charles was silent.

“Now,” said Henry, drawing a line on the map with a pencil. “I think it will be fairly easy to get away without being seen, though we should be especially careful about turning into the logging road and coming out of it onto the highway.”

“Will we use my car or yours?” said Francis.

“Mine, I think. People tend to look twice at a car like yours.” “Maybe we should rent one.”

“No. Something like that might ruin everything. If we keep it as casual as possible, no one will give us a second glance. People don’t pay attention to ninety percent of what they see.”

There was a pause.

Charles coughed slightly. “And after?” he said. “We just go home?” “We just go home,” said Henry. He lit a cigarette. “Really, there’s

nothing to worry about,” he said, shaking out the match. “It seems risky, but if you look at it logically it couldn’t be safer. It won’t look like a murder at all. And who knows we have reason to kill him? I know, I know,” he said impatiently when I tried to interrupt. “But I should be extremely surprised if he’s told anyone else.”

“How can you say what he’s done? He could have told half the people at the party.”

“But I’m willing to bank on the odds he hasn’t. Bunny’s unpredictable, of course, but at this point his actions still make a kind of rudimentary horse sense. I had very good reason to think he’d tell you first.”

“And why’s that?”

“Surely you don’t think it an accident that, of all the people he might have told, he chose to come to you?”

“I don’t know, except that I was handier than anyone else.”

“Who else could he tell?” said Henry impatiently. “He’d never go to the police outright. He stands to lose as much as we do if he did. And for the same reason he doesn’t dare tell a stranger. Which leaves an extremely limited range of potential confidants. Marion, for one. His parents for another. Cloke for a third. Julian as an outside possibility. And you.”

“And what makes you think he hasn’t told Marion, for instance?” “Bunny might be stupid, but not that stupid. It would be all over

school by lunch the next day. Cloke’s a poor choice for different reasons. He isn’t quite so apt to lose his head but he’s untrustworthy all the same. Skittish and irresponsible. And very much out for his own interests. Bunny likes him—admires him too, I think—but he’d never go to him with something like this. And he wouldn’t tell his parents, not in a million years. They’d stand behind him, certainly, but without a doubt they’d go right to the police.”

“And Julian?”

Henry shrugged. “Well, he might tell Julian. I’m perfectly willing to concede that. But he hasn’t told him yet, and I think the chances are he won’t, at least not for a while.”

“Why not?”

Henry raised an eyebrow at me. “Because who do you think Julian would be more apt to believe?”

No one said a thing. Henry drew deeply on his cigarette. “So,” he said, and exhaled. “Process of elimination. He hasn’t told Marion or Cloke, for fear of their telling other people. He hasn’t told his parents, for the same reason, and probably won’t except as a last resort. So what possibilities does that leave him? Only two. He could tell Julian

—who wouldn’t believe him—or you, who might believe him and wouldn’t repeat it.”

I stared at him. “Surmise,” I said at last.

“Not at all. Do you think, if he’d told anyone else, we’d be sitting here now? Do you think now, once he’s told you, that he’d be foolhardy enough to tell a third party before he even knows what your response will be? Why do you suppose he called you this afternoon? Why do you suppose he’s pestered the rest of us all day?”

I didn’t answer him.

“Because,” said Henry, “he was testing the waters. Last night he was drunk, full of himself. Today he’s not quite sure what you think. He wants another opinion. And he’ll look to your response for the cue.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

Henry took a sip of his coffee. “What don’t you understand?”

“Why you’re in such a goddamned rush to kill him if you think he won’t tell anyone but me.”

He shrugged. “He hasn’t told anyone yet. Which is not to say he won’t, very soon.”

“Maybe I could dissuade him.”

“That’s frankly not a chance I’m willing to take.”

“In my opinion, you’re talking about taking a much greater one.” “Look,” said Henry evenly, raising his head and fixing me with a

bleary gaze. “Forgive me for being blunt, but if you think you have any influence over Bunny you’re sadly mistaken. He’s not particularly fond of you, and, if I may speak plainly, as far as I know he never has been. It would be disastrous if you of all people tried to intercede.”

“I was the one he came to.”

“For obvious reasons, none of them very sentimental.” He shrugged. “As long as I was sure he hadn’t told anyone, we might have waited indefinitely. But you were the alarm bell, Richard. Having told you— nothing happened, he’ll think, it wasn’t so bad—he’ll find it twice as easy to tell a second person. And a third. He’s taken the first step on a downward slope. Now that he has, I feel that we’re in for an extremely rapid progression of events.”

My palms were sweating. In spite of the open window, the room seemed close and stuffy. I could hear everybody breathing; quiet, measured breaths that came and went with awful regularity, four sets of lungs, eating at the thin oxygen

Henry folded his fingers and flexed them, at arm’s length, until they cracked. “You can go now, if you like,” he said to me.

“Do you want me to?” I said rather sharply.

“You can stay or not,” he said. “But there’s no reason why you must. I wanted to give you a rough idea, but in a certain sense the fewer details you know, the better.” He yawned. “There were some things you had to know, I suppose, but I feel I’ve done you a disservice by involving you this far.”

I stood up and looked around the table. “Well,” I said. “Well well well.”

Francis raised an eyebrow at me. “Wish us luck,” said Henry.

I clapped him awkwardly on the shoulder. “Good luck,” I said.

Charles—out of Henry’s line of vision—caught my eye. He smiled and mouthed the words: I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?

Suddenly, and without warning, I was overcome by a rush of emotion. Afraid I would say or do something childish, something I’d regret, I got into my coat and drank the rest of my coffee in a long gulp and left, without even the most perfunctory of goodbyes.


On my way home through the dark woods, my head down and my

hands in my pockets, I ran virtually headlong into Camilla. She was very drunk and in an exhilarated mood.

“Hello,” she said, linking her arm though mine and leading me back in the direction from which I’d just come. “Guess what. I had a date.”

“So I heard.”

She laughed, a low, sweet chortle that warmed me to my heart. “Isn’t that funny?” she said. “I feel like such a spy. Bunny just went home. Now the problem is, I think Cloke kind of likes me.”

It was so dark I could hardly see her. The weight of her arm was wonderfully comfortable, and her gin-sweet breath was warm on my cheek.

“Did Cloke behave himself?” I said.

“Yes, he was very nice. He bought me dinner and some red drinks that tasted like Popsicles.”

We emerged from the woods into the deserted, blue-lit streets of North Hampden. Everything was silent and strange in the moonlight. A faint breeze tinkled in the wind chimes on someone’s porch.

When I stopped walking, she tugged at my arm. “Aren’t you coming?” she said.


“Why not?”

Her hair was tousled, and her lovely mouth was stained dark by the Popsicle drink, and just by looking at her I could tell she didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on at Henry’s.

She would go with them tomorrow. Somebody would probably tell her that she didn’t have to go, but she would end up going with them anyway.

I coughed. “Look,” I said. “What?”

“Come home with me.”

She lowered her eyebrows. “Now?” “Yes.”


The wind chimes tinkled again; silvery, insidious. “Because I want you to.”

She gazed at me with vacant, drunken composure, standing colt-like on the outer edge of her black-stockinged foot so the ankle was twisted inward in a startling, effortless L.

Her hand was in mine. I squeezed it hard. Clouds were racing across the moon.

“Come on,” I said.

She raised up on tiptoe and gave me a cool, soft kiss that tasted of Popsicles. Oh, you, I thought, my heart beating fast and shallow.

Suddenly, she broke away. “I’ve got to go,” she said. “No. Please don’t.”

“I’ve got to. They’ll wonder where I am.”

She gave me a quick kiss, then turned and started down the street. I watched her until she reached the corner, then dug my hands in my pockets and started back home.


I woke the next day with a start, to chill sunlight and the thump of a stereo down the hall. It was late, noon, or maybe even afternoon; I reached for my watch on the night table and started again, more violently this time. It was a quarter of three. I jumped out of bed and began to dress, in great haste, without bothering to shave or even comb my hair.

Pulling on my jacket in the hall, I saw Judy Poovey walking briskly toward me. She was all dressed up, for Judy, and she had her head to the side attempting to fasten an earring.

“You coming?” she said when she saw me.

“Coming where?” I said, puzzled, my hand still on the doorknob. “What is it with you? Do you live on Mars or what?”

I stared at her.

“The party,” she said impatiently. “Swing into Spring. Up behind Jennings. It started an hour ago.”

The edges of her nostrils were inflamed and rabbity, and she reached up to wipe her nose with a red-taloned hand.

“Let me guess what you’ve been doing,” I said.

She laughed. “I have lots more. Jack Teitelbaum drove to New York last weekend and came back with a ton. And Laura Stora has Ecstasy, and that creepy guy in Durbinstall basement—you know, the chemistry major—just cooked up a big batch of meth. You’re trying to tell me you didn’t know about this?”


“Swing into Spring is a big deal. Everybody’s been getting ready for months. Too bad they didn’t have it yesterday, though, the weather was so great. Did you go to lunch?”

She meant had I been outside yet that day. “No,” I said.

“Well, I mean, the weather’s okay, but it’s a little cold. I walked outside and went, like, oh shit. Anyway. You coming?”

I looked at her blankly. I’d run out of my room without the slightest idea where I was going. “I need to get something to eat,” I said at last. “That’s a good idea. Last year I went and I didn’t eat anything before and I smoked pot and drank, like, thirty martinis. I was all right and everything but then I went to Fun O’Rama. Remember? That carnival they had—well, I guess you weren’t here then. Anyway. Big mistake. I’d been drinking all day and I had a sunburn and I was with Jack Teitelbaum and all those guys. I wasn’t going to go, you know, on a ride and then I thought, okay. The Ferris wheel. I can go on the

Ferris wheel no problem.…”

I listened politely to the rest of her story which ended, as I knew it would, with Judy being pyrotechnically ill behind a hotdog stand.

“So this year, I was like, no way. Stick with coke. Pause that refreshes. By the way, you ought to get that friend of yours—you know, what’s his name—Bunny, and make him come with you. He’s in the library.”

“What?” I said, suddenly all ears.

“Yeah. Drag him out. Make him do some bong hits or something.” “He’s in the library?”

“Yeah. I saw him through the window of the reading room a little while ago. Doesn’t he have a car?”


“Well, I was thinking, maybe he could drive us. Long walk to Jennings. Or I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. I swear, I’m so out of shape, I have to start doing Jane Fonda again.”


By now it was three. I locked the door and walked to the library, nervously jangling my key in my pocket.

It was a strange, still, oppressive day. The campus seemed deserted

—everyone was at the party, I supposed—and the green lawn, the gaudy tulips, were hushed and expectant beneath the overcast sky. Somewhere a shutter creaked. Above my head, in the wicked black claws of an elm, a marooned kite rattled convulsively, then was still. This is Kansas, I thought. This is Kansas before the cyclone hits.

The library was like a tomb, illumined from within by a chill fluorescent light that, by contrast, made the afternoon seem colder and grayer than it was. The windows of the reading room were bright and blank; bookshelves, empty carrels, not a soul.

The librarian—a despicable woman named Peggy—was behind the desk reading a copy of Women’s Day, and didn’t look up. The Xerox machine hummed quietly in the corner. I climbed the stairs to the second floor and went around behind the foreign language section to the reading room. It was empty, just as I’d thought, but at one of the tables near the front there was an eloquent little nest of books, wadded paper, and greasy potato-chip bags.

I went over for a closer look. It had the air of fairly recent abandonment; there was a can of grape soda, three-quarters drunk, still sweating and cool to the touch. For a moment I wondered what to do—perhaps he’d only gone to the bathroom, perhaps he’d be back any second—and was about to leave when I saw the note.

Lying on top of a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia, a grubby piece of lined paper was folded in half, with “Marion” written on the outer edge in Bunny’s tiny, crabbed hand. I opened it and read it quickly:

old Gal

Bored stiff. Walked down to the party to get a brewski. See ya later.


I refolded the note and sat down hard on the arm of Bunny’s chair. Bunny went on his walks, when he went, around one in the afternoon. It was now three. He was at the Jennings party. They’d missed him.

I went down the back steps and out the basement door, then over to Commons—its red brick facade flat as a stage backdrop against the empty sky—and called Henry from the pay phone. No answer. No answer at the twins’, either.

Commons was deserted except for a couple of haggard old janitors and the red-wigged lady who sat at the switchboard and knitted all weekend, paying no attention to the incoming calls. As usual, the lights were blinking frantically and she had her back to them, as oblivious as that ill-omened wireless operator on the Californian the night the Titanic went down. I walked past her down the hall to the vending machines, where I got a cup of watery instant coffee before going down to try the phone again. Still no answer.

I hung up and wandered back to the deserted common room, with a copy of an alumni magazine I’d found in the post office tucked under my arm, and sat in a chair by the window to drink my coffee.

Fifteen minutes passed, then twenty. The alumni magazine was depressing. Hampden graduates never seemed to do anything after they got out of school but start little ceramics shops in Nantucket or join ashrams in Nepal. I tossed it aside and stared blankly out the window. The light outside was very strange. Something about it intensified the green of the lawn so all that vast expanse seemed unnatural, luminous somehow, and not quite of this world. An American flag, stark and lonely against the violet sky, whipped back and forth on the brass flagpole.

I sat and stared at it for a minute and then, suddenly, unable to bear it a moment longer, I put on my coat and started out towards the ravine.


The woods were deathly still, more forbidding than I had ever seen them—green and black and stagnant, dark with the smells of mud and rot. There was no wind; not a bird sang, not a leaf stirred. The dogwood blossoms were poised, white and surreal and still against the darkening sky, the heavy air.

I began to hurry, twigs cracking beneath my feet and my own hoarse breath loud in my ears, and before long the path emerged into

the clearing. I stood there, half-panting, and it was a moment or so before I realized that nobody was there.

The ravine lay to the left—raw, treacherous, a deep plunge to the rocks below. Careful not to get too near the edge, I walked to the side for a closer look. Everything was absolutely still. I turned again, towards the woods from which I had just come.

Then, to my immense surprise, there was a soft rustle and Charles’s head rose up out of nowhere. “Hi!” he called, in a glad whisper. “What in the world—?”

“Shut up,” said an abrupt voice, and a moment later Henry materialized as if by magic, stepping towards me from the underbrush.

I was speechless, agog. He blinked at me, irritated, and was about to speak when there was a sudden crackle of branches and I turned in amazement just in time to see Camilla, clad in khaki trousers, clambering down the trunk of a tree.

“What’s going on?” I heard Francis say, somewhere very close. “Can I have a cigarette now?”

Henry didn’t answer. “What are you doing here?” he said in a very annoyed tone of voice.

“There’s a party today.” “What?”

“A party. He’s there now.” I paused. “He’s not going to come.”

“See, I told you,” said Francis, aggrieved, stepping gingerly from the brush and wiping his hands. Characteristically, he was not dressed for the occasion and had on sort of a nice suit. “Nobody listens to me. said we should have left an hour ago.”

“How do you know he’s at the party?” said Henry. “He left a note. In the library.”

“Let’s go home,” said Charles, wiping a muddy smudge off his cheek with the heel of his hand.

Henry wasn’t paying any attention to him. “Damn,” he said, and shook his head quickly, like a dog shaking off water. “I’d so hoped we’d be able to get it over with.”

There was a long pause. “I’m hungry,” said Charles.

“Starving,” Camilla said absently, and then her eyes widened. “Oh, no.”

“What is it?” said everyone at once.

“Dinner. Tonight’s Sunday. He’s coming to our house for dinner


There was a gloomy silence.

“I never thought about it,” Charles said. “Not once.”

“I didn’t either,” said Camilla. “And we don’t have a thing to eat at home.”

“We’ll have to stop at the grocery store on the way back.” “What can we get?”

“I don’t know. Something quick.”

“I can’t believe you two,” Henry said crossly. “I reminded you of this last night.”

“But we forgot,” said the twins, in simultaneous despair. “How could you?”

“Well, if you wake up intending to murder someone at two o’clock, you hardly think what you’re going to feed the corpse for dinner.”

“Asparagus is in season,” said Francis helpfully. “Yes, but do they have it at the Food King?” Henry sighed and started off towards the woods. “Where are you going?” Charles said in alarm.

“I’m going to dig up a couple of ferns. Then we can leave.”

“Oh, let’s just forget about it,” said Francis, lighting a cigarette and tossing away the match. “Nobody’s going to see us.”

Henry turned around. “Somebody might. If they do, I certainly want to have an excuse for having been here. And pick up that match,” he said sourly to Francis, who blew out a cloud of smoke and glared at him.

It was getting darker by the minute and cold, too. I buttoned my jacket and sat on a damp rock that overlooked the ravine, staring at the muddy, leaf-clogged rill that trickled below and half-listening to the twins argue about what they were going to make for dinner. Francis leaned against a tree, smoking. After a while he put out the cigarette on the sole of his shoe and came over to sit beside me.

Minutes passed. The sky was so overcast it was almost purple. A wind swayed through a luminous clump of birches on the opposite bank, and I shivered. The twins were arguing monotonously. Whenever they were in moods like this—disturbed, upset—they tended to sound like Heckle and Jeckle.

All of a sudden Henry emerged from the woods in a flurry of underbrush, wiping his dirt-caked hands on his trousers. “Somebody’s coming,” he said quietly.

The twins stopped talking and blinked at him.

“What?” said Charles.

“Around the back way. Listen.”

We were quiet, looking at each other. A chilly breeze rustled through the woods and a gust of white dogwood petals blew into the clearing.

“I don’t hear anything,” Francis said.

Henry put a finger to his lips. The five of us stood poised, waiting, for a moment longer. I took a breath, and was about to speak when all of a sudden I did hear something.

Footsteps, the crackle of branches. We looked at one another. Henry bit his lip and glanced quickly around. The ravine was bare, no place to hide, no way for the rest of us to run across the clearing and into the woods without making a lot of noise. He was about to say something when all of a sudden there was a crash of bushes, very near, and he stepped out of the clearing between two trees, like someone ducking into a doorway on a city street.

The rest of us, stranded in the open, looked at each other and then at Henry—thirty feet away, safe at the shady margin of the wood. He waved at us impatiently. I heard the sudden crunch of footsteps on gravel and, hardly aware of what I was doing, turned away spasmodically and pretended to inspect the trunk of a nearby tree.

The footsteps approached. Prickles rising on the nape of my neck, I bent to scrutinize the tree trunk more closely: silvery bark, cool to the touch, ants marching out of a fissure in a glittering black thread.

Then—almost before I noticed it—they stopped, very near my back. I glanced up and saw Charles. He was staring straight ahead with a ghastly expression on his face and I was on the verge of asking him what was the matter when, with a sick, incredulous rush of disbelief, I

heard Bunny’s voice directly behind me.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said briskly. “What’s this? Meeting of the Nature Club?”

I turned. It was Bunny, all right, all six-foot-three of him, looming up behind me in a tremendous yellow rain slicker that came almost to his ankles.

There was an awful silence. “Hi, Bun,” said Camilla faintly.

“Hi yourself.” He had a bottle of beer—a Rolling Rock, funny I remember that—and he turned it up and took a long, gurgling pull. “Phew,” he said. “You people sure do a lot of sneaking around in the woods these days. You know,” he said, poking me in the ribs, “I’ve

been trying to get a hold of you.”

The abrupt, booming immediacy of his presence was too much for me to take. I stared at him, dazed, as he drank again, as he lowered the bottle, as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand; he was standing so close I could feel the heaviness of his rich, beery breaths.

“Aaah,” he said, raking the hair back from his eyes, and belched. “So what’s the story, deerslayers? You all just felt like coming out here to study the vegetation?”

There was a rustle and a slight, deprecating cough from the direction of the woods.

“Well, not exactly,” said a cool voice.

Bunny turned, startled—I did, too—just in time to see Henry step out of the shadows.

He came forward and regarded Bunny pleasantly. He was holding a garden trowel and his hands were black with mud. “Hello,” he said. “This is quite a surprise.”

Bunny gave him a long, hard look. “Jesus,” he said. “What you doing, burying the dead?”

Henry smiled. “Actually, it’s very lucky you happened by.” “This some kind of convention?”

“Why, yes,” said Henry agreeably, after a pause. “I suppose one might call it that.”

“One might,” said Bunny mockingly.

Henry bit his lower lip. “Yes,” he said, in all seriousness. “One might. Though it’s not the term I would use myself.”

Everything was very still. From somewhere far away, in the woods, I heard the faint, inane laughter of a woodpecker.

“Tell me,” Bunny said, and I thought I detected for the first time a note of suspicion. “Just what the Sam Hill are you guys doing out here anyway?”

The woods were silent, not a sound.

Henry smiled. “Why, looking for new ferns,” he said, and took a step towards him.

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