They got on a good deal better after that, though John exaggerated the limp from Hogg's shin-kick. When the day for the luncheon arrived, they were working in accord, and Mr Holden was pleased, "Ja," he said. "All we want here is harmony. Like a real good opening pair. Hobbs and P. G. Grace, or two guys like that." But Mr Holden fussed in nervousness at midday on the day. Everything had to be just right. Out of stereophonic speakers there excreted (Hogg could think of no other word) pseudo-music composed and performed by the guests of honour, and Mr Holden tried to adjust the volume so as to secure the correct balance between the subliminally insinuating and the overtly assertive. Furniture-music, like Erik Satie, but set cunningly for the barking of ears: that was the aim. Hogg considered that he had never in his whole life heard anything so, at the same time, obscene, noisy, and insipid. He was mixing cocktails in big crocks, selecting the ingredients aleatorically. After all, poetry was compounded of chance elements, and cocktail-making was by far the inferior art. He set out now to blend his special, intended for people he already disliked, like this blasphemous gang that was a collective guest of honour, and those he would dislike when he saw them. He threw together Scotch whisky and British port-type wine, adding flat draught bitter beer, grenadine, angostura, and some very sour canned orange juice which the management had bought up cheap some months before. As the resultant colour seemed rather subfusc for a festive drink, he broke in three eggs and electrically whisked all up to a yellowy pinkish froth. He tasted a little gingerly from a dram-measure and found it tasted of nothing. It left, however, a sickish residual gust that would do very well. Nodding, he put it in the refrigerator to keep cold with the other crocks.
"You better get your wig on, fella," said Mr Holden. Hogg looked around, seeing John the Spaniard and the three Albanian waiters from the Sweet Thames Run Softly bar downstairs all looking terrible in coarse golliwog toupees that were meant to be a kind of homage, so Hogg understood, to an enviable aspect of youth typified by these blasphemous obscenities-namely, a riotous and sickening excess of head-hair. Hogg picked up his own wig and crammed it on. He did not like what he saw in the mirrored reredos. He seemed to resemble very much his stepmother surfacing from blurred after-stout sleep, taken with her glasses on and teeth in, her head a very unsavoury Medusa-tangle.
The first man to arrive seemed to be the man who had been deputed to organise this luncheon by the various interests concerned. Hogg frowned: the face seemed familiar. It was a stormy Irish face that appeared to fight against its London sleeking. The lapelless jacket and tapering trousers were of a kind of healthy stirabout colour.
"You'll find everything in order," said Mr Parkin, a very much more important man than Mr Holden. He was British, not American, and he wore striped trousers and a short black jacket, like a member of parliament meeting his constituents in the lobby. He had obviously, considered Hogg, been cast rather than appointed. He was distinguished greying butler-talking British, which meant, thought Hogg, that he was probably a con-man reformed out of fear of another stretch. He was in charge of banquets and luncheons for the distinguished and the like. He was above knowing Hogg's name. "Barman," he said, "a drink for Mr Macnamara.
So that was who it was. Shem Macnamara, once a poet himself but now, analogously to Mr Parkin, reformed. "Scatch on the racks," said Shem Macnamara, like an American. He did not recognise Hogg. He breathed a kind of mouthwash as he opened meaty lips for his drink. Hogg remembered that luncheon long ago that had been given for him, himself, Enderby as he had been, when he had won the Goodby Gold Medal for poetry. Then Shem Macnamara had been very poor, only too ready for a free meal and a quiet sneer at the success of a fellow-poet. Then, instead of expensive mouthwash, he had breathed on Hogg-Enderby bafflingly (for no banquet would serve, because of the known redolence of onions, onions) onions.
"Onions," said Hogg. He was frowned on in puzzlement. "Cocktail onions," he offered. Well, just imagine, Shem Macnamara. Shem Macnamara deepened his frown. Something in that voice saying "Onions"? He did not take any onions.
The guests began to arrive. There were ugly tall girls, very thin, showing bony knees, whom Hogg took to be photographer's models, or some such thing. He filled out tray-loads of his special cocktail for them, and told the waiters to say it was called a Crucifier. It seemed to do none of these girls any harm, blasphemous bitches as they were. There were young men who seemed to be literary men, and some of these ordered drinks that had to be freshly made up and were very complicated. Hogg cursed under his wig when one young man stood over him at the bar while some exotic nonsense called a Papa Doc was painfully put together-rum, lemon juice, vermouth, tabasco (two drops), stir with a cock's feather. "This," groused Hogg, "is a hen's feather. Does it make much difference?" Mr Holden hovered, looking black. Some very important New York Jews came in, all stroking some of the model-girls as if thereby to conjure humps of voluptuousness. A most insolent Negro in native robes was made much of; Hogg had a large helping of the Crucifier ready for him, but he asked for plain milk, and this had to be sent downstairs for, and then, when it had been handed to him, he merely carried it round unsipped, as if to demonstrate that he was not totally anti-white. Photographers struck with flashes from opposed corners, like a little war, and there were, though not practising their art today, some, so Hogg heard from John, very great photographers among the guests.
The Crucifier was, to Hogg's annoyance, rather popular. Atrophy of the gustatory sense or anaesthesia of the stomach lining, or something. He prepared a sicklier version-whiskey and port-style British wine diluted with warm water from the washing-up tap-and this too was well appreciated. It was the name, that was what it was: it was a small and unbargained-for poetic victory. Suddenly, while Hogg was sucking on the sour lozenge of an image of himself, sweating under a dyed-wool wig into the American-type martinis he was pouring from the gin bottle, there was a reverent hush. The Prime Minister had arrived. He was a little bumptious man in a baggy suit to show he had just come from work, and he was at his ease with everyone and full of little pleasantries. Hogg begged John the Spaniard to make sure he got a Crucifier, but the Prime Minister asked for orange juice. Hogg was happy to serve some of the cheap acid variety. Then he got down to a batch of champagne cocktails for a bunch of exquisite young men who grinned at his wig, himself longing for a mug of very strong, or stepmother's, tea. There was a lot of loud chatter and some giggles (as though the session were proceeding at once, without the interim of a meal, towards seduction); under it the ghastly pseudo-music swelled up, reached its sonic level, then rose above to drown it. It was a fanfare. There were cheers. The guests of honour had come at last, embraced and worshipped from their very entrance. Hogg stopped mixing to have a good look at them.
They were, he thought, about as horrible in appearance as it was possible to imagine any four young men to be. The one Hogg knew to be their leader, Yod Crewsy, received, because of his multiple success, the most homage, and he accepted this as his due, simpering out of a lopsided mouth that was too large to be properly controlled and, indeed, seemed to possess a kind of surrealist autonomy. The other three were vulgarly at home, punching each other in glee and then doing a kind of ring-a-roses round the Prime Minister. The working photographers flashed and flashed like an epidemic of sharp sneezes. With the four, Hogg now noticed, there was a clergyman. He was small, old, and vigorous, and he champed and champed, nodding at everyone and even, before he came up to Hogg at the bar, sketching a general blessing. He said, nodding:
"If there's such a thing as a Power's among that heathen army you have up there on your shelves, then I'll have a double Power's. And I'll trouble you for a glass of fresh water."
Hogg surveyed his small stock of Irish. "Will a Mick Sullivan do?"
"Ah, well then, I'll try it. Such a big place as you are and divil a drop of Power's to bless yourself with."
"If you'd like something for a change," said Hogg, "there's this special cocktail here I've mixed in honour. A Crucifier, it's called." He at once realised that that must sound like deliberate insult to this man's cloth. "Blasphemous, I know," he said. "I apologise. But I consider that the name itself. Of these four, I mean. The guests of honour, that is. Father," he added.
"Well now, shouldn't we all be sticking to our own vocations and not stepping outside the lines to deliver judgments on what isn't our proper province at all? Perhaps you'd be willing to allow that it's myself as would be the proper and qualified judge of what's blasphemous and what isn't, me being the chaplain to those boys?" While he spoke his eyes roamed everywhere in Irish neurosis. In the corner there was the sound of someone being sick, a woman from the pitch of the retchings. Hogg showed minimal satisfaction, then swiftly shut it off. The chaplain saw. "Taking pleasure itself, is it, in the misfortune of some poor body's weak and delicate stomach and it fasting from dawn maybe?" The Prime Minister was heard to say:
"Well, as long as nobody blames it on the Government." There was dutiful laughter, though one young man, standing alone by the bar, nodded seriously. He had, like the Crewsy Fixers, very long hair, but it seemed as seedy as Hogg's own wig. His suit was not new; the side-pockets bulged. The chaplain poured himself another measure from the whisky bottle. Yod Crewsy and one of his group, a guffawing youth with very white dentures, came over to the bar, bearing glasses, Hogg was glad to see, of the later version of the Crucifier. Yod Crewsy said to Hogg:
"What you on then, dad?" Before Hogg could make an evasive reply, Yod Crewsy feigned to be surprised and overjoyed by the sudden sight of the seedy-maned young man with the bulging pockets. He put on a large record-sleeve smile and then embraced him with arms whose thinness the cut of his serge jerkin did nothing to disguise, saying: "Jed Foot. Me old Jed, as ever was. Glad like you could make it, boy." Jed Foot, mouth closed, smiled with his cheek-muscles. Hogg could not remember whether Jed belonged to the same alphabet as Yod. Yod Crewsy said to his chaplain: "Look who's here, Father. We're back to the old days. Happy times them was," he said to Jed Foot. "Pity you got out when you did. What they call a miscalculation. Right?" he said to Hogg cheekily.
"A memento mori," said Hogg, with poet's acuity. The chaplain chewed darkly over that before taking more whisky, as though Hogg had revealed himself as an anti-vernacularist.
"You got your mementos," said Jed Foot to Yod Crewsy. "Them songs. Pity I never learned how to write down music."
"Every man to his own like opinion," said Yod Crewsy. "You said the groups was finished. What you been on-the Western Australia run? Dead horrible, I know. Collie and Merredin and Bullfinch. They've been working you hard, boy. I can see that."
"I've been doing the clubs. The clubs is all right."
"Have another of these," said Hogg to Yod Crewsy. "A big one. A Crucifier, it's called."
"What I want," said Yod Crewsy, "is me dinner. Her ladyship here yet?"
"Herself will be the last to come," said the chaplain. " 'Tis a lady's privilege. You," he said to Hogg, "have the face of a man who's been a long time away from the altar. A Catholic face I said to meself as soon as I clapped eyes on it, and very guilty and shifty too with your self-knowledge of being in the presence of a priest of your Church and you with the boldness to be speaking of blasphemy and many a long year between yourself and the blessed sacrament."
"Look here," said Hogg. Swirls of toothed worshippers were about Yod Crewsy and his accomplices, but this Jed Foot drank bitter gin alone. "You," said Hogg, "and your bloody ecumenical nonsense."
"Is it yourself as would be daring to flaunt the shame of your apostasy in the face of a priest of your Church and spitting venom on the blessed enactments of the Holy Father himself?" He took more whisky. "I'll be troubling you," he said, "for another glass of fresh water."
It had been part of Hogg's cure to attend the services of the Church of England, a means of liquidating for ever his obsession with his dead stepmother who, Dr Wapenshaw had said, was really the Catholic Church. He was about to tell this chaplain that the liturgy of traditional Anglicanism was superior to that of reformed Papistry when the chaplain turned his face towards the entrance with mouth open in joy. Everybody else turned too. A lady was entering and, with her, a handsome and knowing Jewish man in his thirties. Hogg's heart turned over several times, as on a spit. Of course, of course, blast it: he should have known. Had not bloody Wapenshaw said something about her running the best pop-groups in the business? This was too much. He said to Mr Holden, who was standing by the bar, though not drinking:
"I've got to get out of here, I've got to."
"You stay where you are, fella, on the crease."
"But I've got to get to a lavatory."
"Now listen," said Mr Holden, his tea-coloured eyes very hard. "I've had about enough from you, fella, that I have. Obstruction for its own sake and going against the rules. You stay in till you're given out, right? And another thing, there's too many been made sick, and hard drinkers too from the look of them. See, they're taking that poor girl off now. I reckon those drinks you've been mixing will have to be looked into. Now what in hell's name -" for Hogg had pulled his wig down over his eyes like a busby. Even so he could see her clearly enough through the coarse fringe.
"Vesta, me dear," the chaplain was saying. "Five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys for being late." She smiled from her clever green eyes. She, never behind in the fashions, was in a new long-length skirt of palest pink and a brown biki-jacket. On the shining penny-coloured hair was a halo hat of thrushes' feathers. Her purse and shoes were quilled. All the other women at once began to look dated in their bright reds and greens. Hogg moaned to himself, desperately washing a champagne-glass below the level of the counter-top.
"You know my husband, I think," Vesta said.
"And isn't it meself he's been coming to for his preliminary instruction? Well, praise be to God, as one goes out another comes in." He swivelled his long Irish neck to frown at Hogg.
"What a strange little man," Vesta said. "Is he serving only from the top of his head, or something?" And then she turned to greet the Prime Minister with every sign of ease and affection. Her chief pop-group came over whooping to kiss her cheeks extravagantly, calling her, though in evident facetiousness, "mum." The photographers opposed fresh lightnings at each other.
"Oh God God God." groaned Hogg.
"Repentance, is it?" the sharp-eared chaplain said. "Well, you have a long penance in front of you for scoffing at the True Church itself."
A man with glasses, dressed in hunting pink, came to the door to bawl that luncheon was served. There was a ragged shouting exodus towards the Wessex Saddleback. Some, though, as Hogg saw, with very little satisfaction now, on the clearing of the bar, would not be wanting any lunch. Himself included. Shem Macnamara was one of the last to leave. He turned frowning to look at Hogg, mouthing the word "onions." He had, he was sure, heard that voice somewhere before.