Ali Fathi sat on the other bed and pared his foot-soles with a table-knife honed to lethal sharpness on the window-sill. He was on the run from Alexandria, which he called Iskindiriyya, and was scornful of the Moors, whose language he considered debased. He himself spoke a sort of radio announcer's Arabic, full of assertive fishbone-in-the-throat noises and glottal checks that sounded like a disease. He was very thin, seemed to grow more and more teeth as time went on, and was always talking about food. "Beed madruub," he said to Enderby now. He had a passion for eggs. "Beeda masluugha." Enderby said, from his own bed:
"Mumtaaz." He was learning, though not very quickly. It was hardly worth while to learn anything new. Soon, he saw, he must give up giving money to Wahab to buy the English newspapers that were sold on the Boulevard Pasteur. They were a terrible price, and money was fast running out. When the hell was Rawcliffe going to come back to be killed? He read once more the latest Yod Crewsy news. It could not be long now, they reckoned. Yod Crewsy was in a coma. Day and night vigils of weeping fans outside the hospital. Stones hurled at windows of No. 10 Downing Street. Probability of National Day of Prayer. Mass of Intercession at Westminster Cathedral. In Trafalgar Square protest songs, some of them concerned with the Vietnam war. Attempted suttee of desperate girls in a Comprehensive School.
"Khanziir." That was not right, Ali Fathi being a Muslim, but Enderby himself would not have minded a nice plate of crisply grilled ham. His diet, and that of Ali Fathi and the other two men, Wahab and Souris, was very monotonous: soup of kitchen scraps and rice, boiled up by fat Napo in the snack-bar below, the odd platter of fried sardines, bread of the day before yesterday. Enderby was now sorry that he had exchanged his passport for a mere jolting trip from Marrakesh to Tangier. He had discovered that British passports fetched a very high price on the international market. Why, this Ali Fathi here had looked at Enderby as if he were mad when he had been told, in French, what small and uncomfortable (as well as to him hazardous) service in lieu of money Enderby had been willing to take in exchange for a valuable document. If he, Ali Fathi, had it he would not be here now. He would be in Marseilles, pretending to be an Arabic-speaking Englishman.
"Beed maghli." He was back on eggs again. Well, that valuable document, with its old identity razor-bladed and bleached out and new substituted, was now at its charitable work in the world of crime and shadiness. It was saving somebody from what was called justice. It could not, nor could its former guardian (Her Majesty's Government being the avowed owner, though it had not paid for it) ask better than that. Enderby nodded several times. Encouraged, Ali Fathi said:
"Bataatis mahammara." That meant, Enderby knew now, potato crisps. An inept term, soggy-sounding. It had been, Enderby admitted to himself, a boring trip on the move under the moon (courtesy of Miss treacherous bloody Boland), with Easy Walker reciting the collected works of Arthur Sugden, called Ricker Sugden because he had used, when composing his verses, to clash out the rhythm with the castanetting bones once a percussive staple of nigger, christy rather, minstral shows. Easy Walker had given Enderby not only a reprise of "The Song of the Dunnygasper" but also "The Ballad of Red Mick the Prancerprigger", "The Shotgun Wedding of Tom Dodge", "Willie Maugham's Visit to Port Butters", "My Pipe and Snout and Teasycan," and other specimens of the demotic literature of an apparently vigorous but certainly obscure British settlement.
"Kurumba." Some vegetable or other, that. Cabbage, probably. And then these American camps, off the main north-south motor route, with torches flashing through the Moorish dark, a rustling in the shadows and whispers as of love (money and goods changing hands), the loading-Enderby cajoled to help-of refrigerators, huge cans of butter, nitrited meatloaf, even military uniforms, all on to Easy Walker's truck. And then more of Ricker Sugden-The Ditty of the Merry Poddyman," "Wallop for Me Tomorrow Boys," "Ma Willis's Knocking Shop (Knock Twice and Wink for Alice)"-till the next call and, finally, what Easy Walker knew as Dear Old Tangey. Well, Easy Walker had at least found him what seemed a safe enough retreat off the Rue El Greco (many of the streets here were named for the great dead, as though Tangier were a figure of heaven)-no passports needed, no questions asked of guests or tolerated of casual visitors to bar below or brothel above, but, on the other hand, too much cash demanded in advance, too little to eat, the bedclothes never changed, not enough beds.
"Shurbit tamaatim," watered Ali Fathi, still slicing thin shives, as of restaurant smoked salmon, from a foot-sole. At once, as though he had spoken of the source of gingili or benne oil, the door-handle began to turn. He poised that knife at the ready. The door opened and Wahab came in. Smiling teeth popped and rattled as the two men embraced, full of loud throaty crooning greeting, yum yum yum and the voiced clearing of phlegm from pharyngeal tracts. Enderby looked with distaste on this, not caring much for sex of any kind these days really, for himself or for anybody else. Ali Fathi hugged his friend, knife still clutched in a hand that knuckled his friend's vertebrae, all his teeth displayed in glee to Enderby. Enderby said coldly:
"Le patron de l'Acantilado Verde, est-il revenu?"
"Pas encore," said Wahab's back. Wahab was a Moor, hence his mind was despised by Ali Fathi, but his body was apparently loved. He had fled from trouble in Tetuan and was lying low till things cooled. He spent much of the day trying to steal things. Now, as evening prepared to thud in, tally-hoed on by the punctual muezzin, he grinningly pushed All Fathi temporarily away, then took off his long striped nightshirt with hood attached. He was dressed underneath in blue jeans and khaki (probably American army) shirt. He had a marsupial bag knotted round his waist, and from this he produced his spoils, neither choice nor lavish, holding them up for Ali Fathi to admire. He was not a very good thief; it was evident that he was not on the run for thievery; perhaps he had merely spat on the King's picture. On the bed he placed, with a smile that was meant to be modest, a couple of gritty cakes of the kind dumped with the coffee on outside caf'e tables, also a single Seville. Then he produced a small round tin labelled in English. Enderby could read that it was tan boot-polish, but Ali Fathi seized it with a kind of gastronome's croon, probably believing it to be a rare (hence the exiguity of the tinned portion) p^at'e.
"Pour les bottines," said Enderby helpfully. "Ou pour les souliers. Pas pour manger, vous comprenez." Soon Ali Fathi and Wahab saw that this was so, and then they started a kind of married wrangle. Enderby sighed. He hated these public homosexual carryings-on. Shortly Ali Fathi would have Wahab down on the bed, and they would perhaps indulge in the erotic refinement they called soixante-neuf, which reminded Enderby of the Pisces sign on newspaper horoscope pages. Or else there would be plain howling sodomy. And to them Enderby was only a piece of insentient furniture-the only piece indeed, save for the two beds, in the whole room. Souris, the other man, would not come in till very much later, often when Ali Fathi and Wahab were already in bed, and then what took place took place, mercifully, in the dark. The bed was not big enough for three of them, so there was a lot of crying and writhing on the floor and, if a synchronised triple crisis was reached, which happened occasionally, the window rattled and the beds, one of them with tired but sleep-deprived Enderby in it, shook from the legs up. Souris was not a murine man. He was very gross and he sweated what looked like crude oil. He had hurt somebody very badly on the outskirts of Casablanca-a totally unwilled act, he swore frequently, an ineluctable side-issue of a process designed mainly for pleasure. When the three of them had completed their Laocoon performance, they would sometimes (Enderby had seen this in the moonlight, Miss Boland also grimly seeming to look down from the moon) shake hands, though not heartily: it was like the end of a round in a wrestling bout, which in a sense it was, though three were involved and there was no purse. Once or twice, Souris had then tried to get into bed with Enderby, but Enderby would have none of that. So Wahab, the youngest, was often made to sleep in his robe on the floor, as though it were the desert. He would sometimes cry out in his uneasy sleep, seeming to roar like a camel. This was no life for anyone.
"Moi," said Enderby, pocketing the tan boot-polish, "J'essay-erai `a le vendre ou, au mains, `a l''echanger pour quelquechose de comestible."
"Tu sors? said Ali Fathi, who already had Wahab round the neck.
Enderby did not like this familiarity. He nodded frowning. Yes, he was going out. The time had come to find out what was going on with respect to himself as regards the impending death of Yod Crewsy. For nobody back there in Scotland Yard seemed to be doing anything. There was the usual odd statement about investigations still proceeding, but most of the newspaper concentration now seemed to be on Yod Crewsy as a dying god, not one of the daily victims of common murderous assault. The butcher had become somehow shadowy and august, a predestined and impersonal agent of the dark forces, proud and silent in a Frazerian grove. But the police back there in England were brought up on Moriarty, not Frazer, and Enderby felt sure they were slyly about something. They might be grilling Jed Foot in under-river cellars. Or they might be here, raincoated, holding on to their hats in the Tangerine sea-wind. It was time to go to this Fat White Doggy Wog Place and see if John the Spaniard had sent a letter to Enderby through his brother Billy Gomez, if Enderby had remembered the name right.
There were two other bedrooms on this floor, and these comprised the brothel part of the establishment, though, on busy nights, cubicles in the bar below were curtained off for the more urgent and perfunctory clients, and fat Napo's kitchen had once or twice been used, since it had a stout table for table-corner specialists. The room that Enderby shared with Ali Fathi, Wahab, and Souris had not, so far as Enderby knew, ever been desecrated by acts of a heterosexual nature, but it was understood that, normally in the late morning, an occasional sharp act of commercial pederasty might be consummated there, Enderby and Ali Fathi (who were not supposed to leave the premises, Napo apparently not trusting them not to be caught) going into the backyard with the scrawny hens, there to smoke a soothing marijuana fag or two, given to them by Napo as a little reward for temporarily and gratuitously leasing lodgings for which they had paid in advance.
Out now on the landing, which had a naked light-bulb and a portrait of the King of Morocco, Enderby saw disgustedly that one of these other bedrooms had its door open. A couple of laughing male friends, both of a Mediterranean complexion, were preparing to engage houris-whose giggles agitated their yashmaks-on adjacent beds. Enderby angrily slammed their door on them, then went down the carpetless stair grumbling to himself. A scratchy record of popular Egyptian music was playing in the bar-the same theme over and over again in unison on a large and wasted orchestra. Peering through a hole in the worn curtain of dirty Muslim pink, Enderby saw Napo behind his counter. A man grosser than Souris, he had modelled himself on the Winston Churchill he had once, he alleged, seen painting in Marrakesh, but the baby-scowl sat obscenely on a face bred by centuries of Maghreb dishonesty. He was now arguing about the magical properties of certain numbers with a customer Enderby could not see: something to do with a lottery ticket.
Enderby went loudly to the lavatory by the kitchen, then tiptoed through the kitchen to the back door. It was a blue evening but rather gusty. In the little yard the hens had gone to roost in the branches of a stunted tree that Enderby could not identify. They laid on a quiet crooning protest chorus, all for Enderby, and their feathers ruffled minimally in the wind. Enderby frowned up at the moon, then climbed to the top of the low wall by means of an empty Coca-Cola crate and a couple of broken-brick toeholds. He dropped easily, though panting, over the other side. It was an alley he was in now, and this led to a street. The street went downhill and led to other streets. If you kept going down all the time you eventually came to the Avenue d'Espagne, which looked at the plage. That dog place was down there, not far from the Hotel Rif.
It was very steep and not very well lighted. Enderby teetered past a crumbling theatre called the Miguel de Cervantes then, finding that the next turning seemed to take him some way uphill again, tried a dark and leafy passage which went unequivocally down. Here a little Moorish girl cried when she saw him, and a number of house-dogs started to bark. But he went gamely on, supporting himself by grasping at broken fences. Precipitous: that was the word. At last he emerged from the barking dark, finding himself on a street where a knot of Moorish boys in smart suits called to him:
"You want boy, Charlie?"
"You very hot want nice beer."
"For cough," said Enderby, in no mood for foreign nonsense, and a boy riposted with:
"You fuck off too, English fuckpig." Enderby didn't like that. He knew that this place had once belonged to the English, part of Charles II's Portuguese queen's dowry. It was not right that he should be addressed like that. But another boy cried:
"You fucking German. Kaput heilhitler." And another:
"Fucking Yankee motherfucker. You stick chewing-gum up fucking ass." That showed a certain ingenuity of invective. They were very rude boys, but their apparently indifferent despication of foreigners was perhaps a healthy sign, stirring in sympathy a limp G-string in his own nature. He nodded at them and, more kindly, said once more:
"For cough." They seemed to recognise his change of tone, for they merely pronged two fingers each in his direction, one or two of them emitting a lip-fart. Then they started to playfight, yelping, among themselves. Enderby continued his descent, coming soon to a hotel-and-bar on his left called Al-Djenina. The forecourt had bird cages in it, the birds all tucked up for the night, and Enderby could distinctly see, through the long bar-window, middle-aged men drunk and embracing each other. Those would, he thought, be expatriate writers. He was, of course, one of those himself now, but he was indifferent to the duties and pleasures of sodality. He was on his own, waiting. He had written, though. He was working on things. The wind from the sea upheld him as he tottered to level ground. Here it was then: the Avenue d'Espagne, as they called it.
He turned left. A fezzed man outside a shop hailed him, showing rugs and saddles and firearms. Enderby gravely shook his head, saying truthfully: "No tengo bastante dinero, hombre." He was becoming quite the linguist. A gormless-looking boy, thin and exhibiting diastemata in the shop-front lights, offered him English newspapers. This was different. Enderby drew out dirhams. He tried to control his heavy breathing as he looked for news. The wind breathed more heavily, seeming to leap on the paper from all four quarters, as though it was all the news Enderby could possibly want. Enderby took his paper into the doorway of the rug-and-saddle shop. The fezzed man said:
"You man like good gun. I see." That was not a discreet thing to say, and Enderby looked sharply at him. "Bang bang bang," added the man, indicating his rusty Rif arsenal of Crimean rifles and stage-highwayman pistols. Enderby read. All Hope Abandoned, a headline said Dantesquely. The end was very near now, a few days off at most. He was in a coma. Where the hell then, Enderby wondered, had that bullet struck him? Police would be treating case as murder, the paper said. Redoubling efforts, acting on valuable information, Interpol on job, arrest expected very soon. The wind pushed, with a sudden whoosh, those words into Enderby's open mouth. Enderby pushed back and then looked at the date of the newspaper. Yesterday's. He might be dead already, his gob, money-coining but not golden, shut for ever. The shopkeeper now showed a real golden mouth, like Spanish John's (and, there again, how far was he to be trusted?), as he softly placed, on the newsprint Enderby held tautly at chin-level like a communion cloth, a specimen pistol for his inspection and admiration. Enderby started and let it drop in the doorway. One of its fittings clattered free and the shopman got ready to revile Enderby. "No quiero," Enderby said. "I said that before, bloody fool as you are." And then he entered the wind, looking troubled at flickering lights on headlands. He didn't need his newspaper any more, so he threw it into the wind's bosom. The wind, like a woman, was clumsy with it. The sea. La belle mer. Why had he never realised that that was the same as la belle-m`ere, which-with some kind of French irony-had been forced into meaning "stepmother"? Well, he had come back to her for a brief time, belching and grousing over there, brewing strong green tea all day long, groaning in her bed at night. She had seen him taken off by a woman, and soon it would be by the police. Which was Rawcliffe's place? Street-lamps showed the Sun Trap, with a kosher inscription, and the Well Come. They were in the dark; people moved inland with the night, to fat belly-dancers and bottles of alum Valpierre. There it was: El Acantilado Verde, a tatty yellowish place. Rawcliffe had had, apparently, several little Tangerine bars and tea-shops. This would be his last.
Enderby mastered his breathing before entering the bar-restaurant that had a shagged dog sign swinging, with its lamp of low wattage, in the paper-ravaging wind. The crossword, pathetically unsolved, rode and span briefly on the air at Enderby's eye-level as he made for the closed door. There were deserted metal tables with chairs on top of them stretching along the pavement. From within came piano music. He pushed the door open.
The piano was an upright, in tone tinny, scarred in appearance, on a platform made of old beer-crates, and the man who played seemed to be a North European. He played slow jazz with sad authority, sadly chewing his lips. He had suffered, his blank face said, but had now passed beyond suffering. An American, Enderby decided. All Americans, he thought, looking shyly round: it was to do with sitting postures of insolent relaxedness. There was a herbal smell on the air, an autumn smell. Herbst was the German for autumn, was it not? A poem, like the transient randiness felt when coming upon a gratuitous near-nude set in the pages of a magazine article one finds absorbing, twitched. These Americans would call it the fall. A fall of herbs, of grace, herb of grace. No, there were other things to think of and do, and he already had a poem on the forge. Still, he sniffed. Drugs, he tingled; something stronger than that harmless marijuana (Mary Jane, that meant: a mere kitchenmaid of narcotics) he had been given to smoke. A very thin young man in dark glasses mouthed and mouthed in a trance. A white-haired cropped man, also young, sat reading a thin, or slim, volume. "Shit," he kept judging. Nobody took any notice; nobody took any notice of Enderby. There was a man in the corner in a skin-tight costume as for ballet practice writing words shakily on a blackboard. Brain-goose, he wrote, and, under it, Rape of Lesion. Enderby nodded with tiny approval. Literary exiles of a different sort. Which reminded him: that bloody book of that dying yob; here might they know? "Shit," said the white-haired man, turning a page, then laughed.
There seemed to be no waiter about. There was a wooden bar in the distant corner, its lower paint ruined by feet, and three bar-stools were empty before it. To get to it Enderby had to get past a dangerous-looking literary man who had arranged three tables about himself like an ambo. He had shears with which he seemed to be busy cutting strips out of newspaper-sheets, and he looked frowning at Enderby while he pasted some of these, apparently at random, on a pawed and sticky piece of foolscap. He looked like an undertaker, mortician rather; his suit was black and his spectacles had near-square black rims, like the frames of obituary notices in old volumes of Punch. Enderby approached diffidently, saying: "Pardon me -" (good American touch there) "- but can anybody?"
"If," said the man, "you mean aleatoric, that only applies to the muzz you embed the datum in." He sounded not unkind, but his voice was tired and lacked nuances totally.
"What I meant really was a drink, really." But Enderby didn't want to seem impolite; besides, this man seemed engaged on a kind of literature, correcting the sheet as he started to now with a felt-tipped inkpencil; he was a sort of fellow-writer. "But I think I see what you mean."
"There," said the man, and he mumbled what he had stuck and written down, something like: "Balance of slow masturbate payments enquiries in opal spunk shapes notice of that question green ass penetration phantoms adjourn." He shook his head. "Rhythm all balled up, I guess."
"I'm really looking," Enderby said, "for the waiter you have here. Gomez his name is, I believe." A man came out, somewhat dandyishly tripping, from behind a curtain of plastic strips in various primary colours. He had a greenish shirt glazed with never having been, for quite a time anyway, taken off, and thin bare legs that were peppered with tiny holes, as with woodworm. His face was worn to the bone and his hair was filthy and elflocked. To the scissored man he said:
He reckons he's through on the hot line now."
"Fly's writing it down. May I enquire whom you are?" he then said to Enderby.
"Something about Gomez, I guess," said the mortician.
"Later." The other dabbled his fingers in air as in water. "He's off till un poco mas tarde." The pianist was now working on some high-placed old-time discords, school of Scriabin. "Crazy," the dabbler said.
"I'll have a drink," said Enderby, "if I may."
"British," nodded the mortician. "Guessed so. Goddamn town's lousy with British. Out here to write about tea with Miss Mitford, rose gardens in rectory closes, all that crap."
"Not me." Enderby made a noise which he at once realised was like what the cheaper novels called a gay laugh. He must be very ill-at-ease then. "I'll have a Bloody Mary, if you have it, that is." He clanked out a few dirhams. The tomato-juice would be nourishing; he needed nourishment.
"Sangre de Maria," shrugged the filthy-shirted man, who seemed to own this place, going to behind the bar. Enderby went to climb a stool.
"Very baroque, that is," he pronounced. "They all call it that, I believe. They lack a knowledge of English history, naturally, the Spaniards, I mean, so they make a kind of Crashaw conceit out of it, though, of course, the Crashavian style derives, so they tell me, from Spanish models. Or that statue of St Teresa, I think it is, with the dart going through her. But this, of course, is the Virgin Mary, bleeding. A virgin, you see: blood. The same sort of thing, though. Professor Empson was very interested in that line of Crashaw-you know: "He'll have his teat ere long, a bloody one. The mother then must suck the son." Two lines, I mean. Baroque, anyway." All who were not in a drug-trance looked at Enderby. He wondered why his nerves babbled like that; he must be careful; he would start blurting everything out if he wasn't. "And your Gomez," he said, "is, I am credibly informed, something of an expert on Spanish poetry."
"Gomez," said the mortician, "is an expert only on the involutions of his own rectum."
The man with the blackboard shakily wrote Comings in the skull. The white-haired reader said, very seriously:
"Now, this, I reckon, is not shit. Listen." And he read out:
"Society of solitary children -
Stilyagi, provo, beat, mafada,
Nadaista, energumeno, mod and rocker -
Attend to the slovos of your psychedelic guides -
Swamis, yogins and yoginis,
Amerindian peyote chiefs, Zen roshis.
Proclaim inner space, jolting the soft machine
Out of its hypnosis conditioned by
The revealed intention of the Senders -"
"But," said Enderby unwisely, dancing the bloody drink in his hand, smiling, "we don't have mods and rockers any more." He had read his Daily Mirror, after all, to some purpose. "That's the danger, you see, of trying to make poetry out of the ephemeral. If you'll forgive me, that sounded to me very old-fashioned. Of course, it isn't really clear whether it is actually poetry. Back to the old days," he smiled, "of vers libre. There were a lot of tricks played by people, you know. Seed catalogues set out in stanzas. Oh, a lot of the soi-disant avant-garde were taken in."
There were low growls of anger, including, it appeared, one from a man who was supposed to be in a trance. The white-haired reader seemed to calm himself through a technique of rhythmic shallow breathing. Then he said:
"All right, buster. Let's hear from you."
"How? Me? You mean -?" They were all waiting.
"You know the whole shitting works," went the mortician. "You've not quit talking since you came in. Who asked you to come in, anyway?"
"It's a bar, isn't it?" said Enderby. "Not private, I mean. Besides, there's this matter of Gomez."
"The hell with Gomez. Crap out with your own." The atmosphere was hostile. The owner air-dabbled from behind the bar, sneering. The pianist was playing something deliberately silly in six-eight time. Enderby said:
"Well, I didn't really come prepared. But I'm working on something in the form of an Horatian ode. I've not got very far, only a couple of stanzas or so. I don't think you'd want to hear it." He felt doubt itching like piles. All that stuff about swamis and inner space. A sonnet, yet. Horatian ode, yet. He was not very modern, perhaps. A critic had once written: "Enderby's addiction to the sonnet-form proclaims that the "thirties are his true home." He did not like the young very much and he did not want to take drugs. He was supposed to have killed a quintessential voice of the new age. But that voice had not been above garbling Enderby's own work and getting a fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature for it. Enderby now recited stoutly:
"The urgent temper of the laws,
That clips proliferation's claws,
Shines from the eye that sees
A growth is a disease.
Only the infant will admire
The vulgar opulence of fire
To tyrannise the dumb
And, while the buds burst, hug and hold
A cancer that must be controlled
And moulded till it fit
These forms not made for it."
Out of a trance somebody farted. "That last couplet," Enderby said trembling, "needs a bit of a going over, I see that, but I think you'll get the general idea." In confusion he swigged his Bloody Mary and presented the flecked glass (splash of some small slaughtered animal on a windscreen) for another. When Enderby had been a boy he had gone to sleep on the upper deck of the last tram of the night and had wakened in the tramshed. Leaving in shame he had noticed uniformed men looking at him in the quiet wonder which was the proper tribute to an act of an imbecile. He seemed to be getting that same look now. He said: "I stand for form and denseness. The seventeenth-century tradition modified. When is this man Gomez coming in?" The mortician resumed snipping and gumming, shaking his head, grinning like a clown. The white-headed cropped man hid his own grin in a new slim volume. The entranced offered the loudest criticism, great lip-farts cometing through inner space. "Well," said Enderby, growing angry, "what about that bloody act of plagiarism of bloody Yod Crewsy?"
A man came limping from behind the blackboard (which now had, very vulgar, My cuntry is the yoniverse scrawled on it) and said: "I'll tell you about that, friend." He was totally bald but luxuriantly bearded and spoke in an accent Enderby had hitherto associated with cowboy films on television. "That was pure camp. Is, I guess. A new frame of awareness. It's not the poems as such so much as how he looks at them. Like you get these good pictures with shitty Victoriana in them, a frame inside a frame. Man, it's called the Process."
"I'd very much like to see -" Enderby's nausea was complicated. And if that sonnet-draft was in there, the Satan one. And, whether it was there or not, could he control himself, handling richly rewarded flagrant sneering theft?
"You can learn any place," said the bald bearded man. "You'll find it in the John library." He pointed beyond the curtain of many-coloured plastic strips with a finger that seemed half-eaten, a kindly man really. "And as for plagiarism, everything belongs to everybody. Man, that's called the Lesson." He returned to behind the blackboard, limping. On the blackboard was now written Vinegar strokes through magnified sebacities. Enderby went, his heart fainting, towards the John. There was a dark passage, sibilant with the wind, and crunchy rubbish underfoot. In a kind of alcove a man lay on a camp-bed under a dull bulb, another man beside him with a notebook. The supine man, on a drugged trip, sent reports up from the unconscious. Down there ghostly scissors were at work on newspapers out of eternity. It was a lot of nonsense.
The lavatory was small and dirty, but there was a red light of the kind used in electric log-fires. There were a lot of books, many of them eaten by mould. Enderby sat heavily on the hollow seat and disturbed the books with a paddling right hand, panting. That sinful volume was not too far from the top. The title was Fixes; there was a bold leering portrait of the pseudo-author. The sixteenth impression, Enderby noted with gloom. He noted too that many of the poems were not his own; it was a case of multiple theft, perhaps, unless bloody Vesta or that Wittgenstein man had written some of them. Enderby found six unpublished poems by himself and, a small mercy in a world of filth, not one of them was that sonnet. There was, as Miss Kelly had said, a poem entitled "Sonnet," but that had twelve bad unrhyming lines and might well be something that Yod Crewsy himself had composed at his secondary modern school. Enderby read it shuddering:
My mum plonks them on the table for Susie and Dad and I
Plonk plonk and dull clanks the sauce bottles
And Susie reads their names to herself
Her mouth is open but that is not for reading aloud
The fact is that her nose is stopped up like those sauce bottles are
Like OK and HP and AI and FU and CK and O
I mean oh red red tomato
And I dream while the frying goes on and Dad has his mouth open too at the TV
How I would like catsup or ketchup splattering
All over the walls and it would be shaken from these open mouths
And hers in the kitchen all her open mouths
And it would be red enough but not taste of tomato
"God," said Enderby to his shrinking bowels. "God God God." So they had come to this, had they? And his own finely wrought little pieces desecrated by contact. He dropped the book on the floor; it remained open, but a sharp draught from under the far from snugly fitting door pushed at the erect fan of its middle pages and disclosed a brief poem that Enderby, squinting in the dim red light, seemed thumped on the back into looking at. Something or somebody thumped him: an admonitory goblin that perhaps lived wetly in the lavatory cistern. He had not noticed this poem before, but, by God, he knew the poem. He felt a terrible excitement mounting. He grabbed the book with both hands.
Then the door opened. Enderby looked, expecting to see the wind, but it was a man. Excited though he was, he began to deliver a standard protest against invasion of privacy. The man waved it away and said: "Gomez."
"The fact that the door isn't locked is neither here nor there. All right then, I've finished anyway." Something in the spread sound of his words seemed to tell him that he was smiling. He felt his mouth, surprised. It was the excitement, it was the first rehearsal of triumph. Because, by God, he had them now. By the short hairs, as they said. But was he sure, could he be sure? Yes, surely he was sure. Or was it just a memory of having foreseen it in print? He could check, he was bound to be able to check, even in this bloody heathen place. There might be some really cultivated man here among the expatriate scribblers.
"Gomez. Billy Gomez." He was a bit rodent-like and, so Enderby twitched at once, might be dangerous. But in what context? Gomez finned out his paws in a kind of cartoon-mouse self-depreciation. He had a dirty white barman's jacket on but no tie. He seemed also to be wearing tennis-shoes.
"Ah." That other structure of urgency was suddenly reilluminated. Heavy as an ivied tower, it crashed the blackness, decollated, to the sound of brass, like something in son et lumi`ere. "S'i," Enderby said. "Su hermano. In London, that is. Mi amigo. Or colleague, shall I say. Has he sent anything for me?" That sonnet by Wordsworth, on the sonnet. Key becomes lute becomes trumpet. This book he now thrust into his side-pocket. Load of filthy treachery becomes, quite as improbably, sharp weapon of revenge.
"You come." He led Enderby out of the lavatory down a passage that took them to stacked crates of empties and then to a garlicky kind of still-room, brightly lighted with one bare bulb. Enderby now saw Gomez very clearly. He had red hair. Could he possibly be the true brother of swarthy John? Gomez was a Goth or perhaps even a Visigoth: they had had them in Spain quite a lot, finishing off the Iberian part of the Roman Empire: they had had a bishop who translated bits of the Bible, but that was much later: coarse people but very vigorous and with a language quite as complicated as Latin: they were perhaps not less trustworthy than, say, the Moors. Still, Enderby was determined to be very careful.
In this still-room a small brown boy in a striped nightshirt was cutting bread. Gomez cuffed him without malice, then he took a piece of this bread, went over to a stove maculate with burnt fat, sloshed the bread in a pan of what looked like sardine-oil, folded it into a sandwich and, drippingly, ate. He took in many aspects of Enderby with darting pale eyes. The boy, still cutting bread, as it were clicked his eyes into twin slots that held them blazing on to Enderby's left ear. Enderby, embarrassed, changed his position. The eyes stayed where they were. Drugs or something. Gomez said to Enderby:
"You say your name." Enderby told him what he had been called in his regenerate, barman's, capacity, but only in the Spanish version. Enderby said:
"He said he'd send a letter through you. Una carta. He promised. Have you got it?" Gomez nodded. "Well," said Enderby, "how about handing it over, then, eh? Very urgent information."
"Not here," dripmunched Gomez. "You say where you stay. I come with letter."
"Ah," Enderby said, with something like satisfaction. "I see your little game." He smiled, it seemed to him, and to his astonishment, brilliantly: it was that triumph pushing up. "Perhaps it would be more convenient if we could go to your place and pick up the letter there. It would be quicker, wouldn't it?"
Gomez, who had eaten all his oiled bread and licked some fingers, now took an onion from a small sack. He looked at the boy, who still cut bread but whose eyes had now clicked back down to the operation, and seemed to relent of cuffing him, however unmaliciously. He stroked the boy's griskin, grinning. Spanish poetry, thought Enderby. This man was supposed to know all about it. Was a knowledge of poetry, even a nominal one, a sort of visa for entry into the small world of Enderby-betrayal? Gomez topped and tailed the onion with his teeth (tunthus, Enderby suddenly remembered for some reason, was the Gothic for a tooth, but this man would know nothing of his ancestral language), then, having spat the tufts on to the floor, he tore off the onion's scarf-skin and some of the subcutaneous flesh and started to crunch what was pearlily revealed. There was a faint spray of zest. It smelt delicious, just as chunks of grilled human flesh might smell delicious. Enderby knew he had to get out. Fast Gomez said:
"Tonight I work. You say where you live."
The boy left off bread-cutting (who the hell would want all that bread, anyway?) and ran the knife-blade across his brown thumb. Enderby said:
"It doesn't matter, after all. Thanks for your help. Or not help, as the case may be. Muchas gracias, anyway." And he got out of the room, clanking loose bottles on the floor of the dark corridor. Gomez called after him something ending with hombre. Enderby passed the man on the couch and in the next world and the amanuensis who sat by him. Then he breasted the plastic strips and blinked into the bar. There was a new man there, a Scot apparently, for he talked of "a wee bit fixie." The man at the blackboard had just finished writing Hot kitchens of his ass. Salami, Enderby thought in his confusion, salami was made of donkeys. The white-cropped man was reciting:
"Archangels blasting from inner space,
Pertofran, Tryptizol, Majeptil,
Parstelin and Librium.
And a serenace for all his tangled strings."
Romantic, thought Enderby distractedly, better than that other stuff. Remembering that he had stolen a book from their John, he clapped his hand to his pocket. A dithery young man in dark glasses recoiled, pushing out his palms against the expected gunshot. Enderby smiled at everybody, thinking that he had ample cause to smile, even when carted off. But not yet, not just yet. He yearned towards solitary confinement as to a lavatory, but duty, like an engaged sign, clicked its message. The mortician did not smile back. The dithering young man had recovered: all a joke, his manic leer seemed to say. Enderby held that book in, as if it might leap out. Out, out. Into the windy Moroccan night.
It was a slow and panting climb, and Enderby had to keep stopping suddenly, holding himself in shadow against whatever wall offered, listening and watching to find out if he was being followed. It was hard to tell. There were plenty of little Moorish boys about, any one of whom could be that bread-cutting lad, but none seemed furtive: indeed, one pissed frankly in the gutter (but that might be his cunning) and another hailed a smartly dressed elderly Moor who was going downhill, running after him then, crying unheeded certain complicated wrongs. Enderby passed dirty coffee-shops and then came to a hotly arguing group of what seemed beggars at a street corner. They had thin though strong bare legs under swaddling bands and ragged European jackets, and all were turbaned. Enderby stood with them a space, peering as best he could between their powerful gestures. Things seemed to be all right; there was nobody following; he had given that treacherous Gomez the slip. Two treacherous Gomezes. That bloody John in London was, after all, the rotten bastard Enderby had always known him to be. Enderby, filling his lungs first like a dog running to the door in order to bark, turned left for a steeper hill. Half way up was a very loud cinema with what he took from posters to be an Egyptian film showing (an insincerely smiling hero like Colonel Nasser). He felt somehow protected by all that row, which was mostly the audience. A tooth-picking dark-suited young man by the pay-desk looked at Enderby. The manager probably. "Alors, ca marche, hein?" Enderby panted. If anybody asked that man if he had seen an Englishman going that way he would say no, only a Frenchman. Now he said nothing, merely looked, tooth-picked. Enderby climbed on.
When, dying and very wet, he came to the Rue El Greco, he realised he was not too sure what would be the right back wall. Fowls, stunted trees: they all probably had them round here. He should have chalked a sign: he was new to this business. He would have to risk going in the front way. After all, there would be a lot of customers at this hour and fat Napo would be too busy hitting the rotten ancient coffee-machine to notice. Enderby caught a sudden image of El Greco himself, transformed into his own Salvador, peering down in astigmatic woe at the deplorable street that bore his name. There were some very nasty-looking places called snack-bars, as well as upper windows from which small boys thrust their bottoms, either in invitation or contempt. You could also hear very raucous female laughter-wrong, wrong; should not Islam's daughters be demure?-from down dark passageways. An old man sat by deserted and boarded-up premises. Inside, Enderby saw with poetic insight, would be rats and the memories of foul practices, the last fleshly evidence of outrage being gnawed, gnawed; the man cried his wares of tiny toy camels with here and there a dromedary.
Enderby gave his sweated spectacles a good wipe with his tie before approaching El Snack-Bar Albricias. By conceiving an image of fat Napo waiting for him on the doorstep, as a tyrannical father his precocious debauched son, he was able to forestall any such reality. Indeed, scratched Cairo music was coming out very loud, but not so loud as the noise of customers. Enderby peered before entering and was satisfied to see Napo fighting the coffee-machine before a thick and applauding bar-audience. "Pardon," said a bulky fezzed would-be entrant to Enderby, Enderby being in the way. "Avec plaisir," Enderby said, and was happy to use this man as a shield for his own ingress. To be on the safe side, he tried to make himself look Moorish, flattening his feet, imagining his nose bigger, widening his eyes behind their glasses. There were girls, giggling, yashmaks up like beavers, drinking the local bottled beer with real Moorish men. Enderby tut-tutted like one in whom the faith burned hot. Then he noticed something he had not seen before-little verse couplets hanging on the wall behind the bar. He had time to read one only before going to the lavatory before going upstairs. It said:
S'i bebes para olvidar,
Paga antes de empezar.
That, thought Enderby, meant that if you drank to forget you'd better pay before you began. Drinking and forgetting, that was. Enderby felt a bit cold. Verse and treachery went together. He hadn't thought of it before, but Napo had, in the nature of things, to be a traitor. Fugitives had sooner or later to be kicked out from upstairs; no criminal could afford to stay for ever; the quickest way of getting rid of a guest who'd outstayed his welcome was to-But no, no. There had to be someone you could trust. Wasn't Napo, especially when a customer gave him a cigar, an admirer of Winston Churchill? But when you thought of political coat-turning and the guns pointing the wrong way at Singapore, and some rumour of ultimate perfidy in the Straits of Gibraltar-No, no, no. Napo was all right. Well in with the police, too. Enderby felt colder.