Friday, August 30, 2013

Lillian & Dash by Sam Toperoff (Other Press 2013)

Hazel Scott had been deemed uncooperative; she named no one. She was now performing in Paris. Others testified freely and the Committee publicly applauded their cooperation. These were the more widely acknowledged Weasels. Hammett kept the distinction between victim and Weasel very clear; he always had sympathy for human weakness. To Lillian anyone who gave a name for any reason whatsoever was pure Weasel.

All of this is old hat now, relegated to a brief, unfortunate period of American history by most historians, but certainly not by the Committee’s victims. The damage done was far more widespread than history records; it devastated many thousands of un-American American lives. Hammett addressed the situation in a speech he gave at Cooper Union on “The Cop and the Criminal,” ostensibly a talk about his approach to the detective story, but in fact a public defiance of what the Committee was doing to America. Hammett was no longer an effective public speaker.
Lillian made herself inconspicuous at the fringe of the audience. A cold sober Hammett began:

Let’s get this straight from the start. The cop is paid by the state. The state gives him his badge, his gun, his billy club, and permission to use them, his uniform, and, if he’s lucky, a police car to drive around in. His job is to protect the law-abiding public from criminals. So far, so good. There are times, however, when the crooks and the cops and the state are indistinguishable from one another, when they are all mixed together and aligned against the interests and guaranteed rights of those same law-abiding citizens.
We are in one of those times now. Those of you who may have had the ill fortune to have stumbled upon my Red Harvest or even The Glass Key probably know that I have dealt with just this sort of corrupt situation before in fiction. In both cases—I must tell you Red Harvest was based on a real miners’ strike in Montana in which the company, the cops, and the government ganged up on the miners—in both cases my lone detective character is successful in combating the corrupt cops and turning the tide. Remember, though, that’s just what happens in novels. In Montana, the bums mopped up the miners.

Lillian noticed Hammett’s hand begin to tremble. He needed a drink. No way for her to get him one. He sipped some water.

In America today the cops and the crooks and, of course, the judges and the pols are all in cahoots again. It happens periodically, usually around union busting time, which for them is all the time. They like to send very dramatic, unmistakable messages. What else is this preposterous Committee deciding who is American and who is not, but a shot across the bow? Sometimes the legal criminality even reaches the level of political murder.

For a moment Lillian thought he might talk about Jerry Waxman. She held her breath.

What else was Vanzetti and Sacco if not precisely that? These new thugs dressed up as Congressional cops are surely nothing new. They crawl out of the woodwork whenever they have the chance. But every time they appear, we must each become detectives and reveal that they are really the crooks and not the cops.

Lillian scanned the crowd and picked out four men at least she was sure were government agents. Two were taking notes. She also recognized a legit guy from the Times, a gal from the Trib.

If I was trying to turn this current mess into a detective story, I’d see it as an old-fashioned protection racket. I’d set it in Mom and Pop’s grocery store. Gunsels come in and want fifty bucks a week to keep trouble away. Pop tells them he’s never had any trouble. They smash his front window. That’ll be fifty bucks. Pop goes to the police. They’ll watch his store when the thugs return, but they can’t promise anything more. Next week the gunsels return for their fifty; a cop watches from across the street while the thugs break the other front window. The cop across the street smiles.
So what’s to be done? And who is there to do it? Certainly not the likes of Nick Charles. He’s too tipsy for the task. He and Nora hobnob in the wrong social circles. A society murder is one thing. The protection racket is a very dirty, roll-up-your-sleeves business. Sam Spade? I don’t think so. There are no beautiful dames involved and no big money to be made in a Mom and Pop grocery. No, the guy I need—the guy we need—is the Op. He’s far tougher than either one of the others and breaking up this protection racket’s going to take a bear of a man, a courageous brute. That’s the Op. He’s also a working stiff, and for me that counts for an awful lot when it comes to a matter of integrity.

As Hammett continued, his quiver became more pronounced. Lillian wanted to hold him, steady his hand. Hammett was never at his best in front of an audience, but he accepted this engagement as a necessary first skirmish in what he knew was now to be a long, difficult battle with the U.S. government. During the question period after his talk he really began to come apart, but he knew to keep his answers brief and somewhat cryptic. He needed a drink badly now, something the cops in the crowd could not miss. Hellman loved her Hammett very much at that moment.

In the cab uptown she took his hand and offered him a flask. He accepted it gratefully with a growl and a slow smile. Traffic was heavy. They didn’t talk. He continued to shake, so she held his arm hard with both hands and tried to absorb his tremor.

They were almost at Columbus Circle when he said, “I could have done it better. But I had to take the first shot. I want them to know I’m ready.”

“We’re ready.”

“My guess is they’ll do me first. You’re the bigger fish to fry.”

“I beg your pardon.” She made a pronounced huffy face and then smiled. “I hope that’s not how they see it. But I’m ready for them too.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Bar on the Seine by Georges Simenon (Penguin Crime 1932)

“… of my wife.”

Of the wife with whom he had nothing in common. Of the little studio-like flat in the Rue Championnet to which he’d return shortly after eight each day, to while away the evening dipping idly into any book that came to hand, with her sewing in the opposite corner.

“This way,” he went on, “this way I shall be left in peace.”

In prison. Or in a convict settlement. Another place to call his own!

A place where things would be settled once and for all. No longer anything to hide, nor anything to expect. A place where he would keep regular hours, getting up, going to bed, having meals, breaking stones by the roadside or making knick-knacks in the prison workshops.

“I suppose it’ll be twenty years, won’t it?”

Basso looked at him. But he could hardly see him for the tears that were welling up in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks.

“Stop it, James! Stop it!” he pleaded, wringing his hands.

“Why should I?”

Maigret blew his nose, then absent-mindedly lit a match to light his pipe, forgetting that he had not filled it.

He had the feeling he had never been so far along the dreary road of desolation and black despair.

No, not even black! An endless stretch of greyness, devoid of all struggle, all resentment, unbroken by either protest or complaint.

A drunkard’s despair, but without intoxication.

And suddenly Maigret understood the nature of the bond between him and James, the bond which had kept them hour after hour side by side on the terrace of the Taverne Royale.

They had drunk their Pernods, saying little, staring out at the passing traffic. And all the time, in his heart of hearts, James had been hoping that his companion would one day bring his heavy hand down on his shoulder, the heavy hand of the law which settled everything!

He had loved Maigret as a friend and a deliverer. Once again Maigret had been called to the rescue.

Maigret and Basso exchanged glances, unfathomable glances. Meanwhile James squashed the end of his cigarette on the top of the deal table, saying:

“The trouble is, it takes so long to get there. Endless questioning and writing out statements… Then the trial… People who break down or try to console you…”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Maigret at the "Gai-Moulin" by Georges Simenon (Thorndike Press 1931)

“Good!… Now for you, young man. And if you’d like some good advice, don’t beat around the bush… Last night you were at the Gai-Moulin in the company of a certain Delfosse. We’ll be dealing with him later… Between you, you didn’t have enough money to pay for your drinks. In fact, you hadn’t paid for two or three days… Is that right?”

Jean opened his mouth, but he shut it again without uttering a sound.

“Your parents aren’t rich, and what you earn won’t take you very far. Yet you’re out having a rare good time, running up debts all over the place… Well? Is that correct?”

The wretched boy hung his head. He could feel the eyes of the five men on him. Inspector Delvigne spoke condescendingly, even a little contemptuously.

“At the tobacconist’s, for instance. Yesterday you owed him money… The old, old story! Boys just out of school, acting like right young men-about-town, without a penny to do it on… How many times have you stolen money from your father’s wallet?”

Jean turned crimson. That last remark was worse than a slap in the face. What made it so dreadful was that he’d earned it; everything the inspector said was true.

Yes, true. More or less. But the truth, put so baldly, was no longer quite the truth.

It had begun by Jean going to the Pelican now and then after work, to have a glass of beer with his friends. That was where they used to meet, and the warm feeling of comradeship was irresistible. Very soon it became a regular thing.

In a moment there, life was transformed; the day’s drudgery and the chief clerk’s sermons were forgotten. Sitting back in their chairs in the fanciest café the town possessed, they would watch people pass by along Rue du Pont d’Avroy, nod to acquaintances, shake hands with friends, eye the pretty girls, some of whom would occasionally join them at their table. Was not all Liège theirs?

René Delfosse stood more rounds than the others, since he was the only one who had an abundant supply of pocket money.

“What are you doing tonight?”


“Let’s go to the Gai-Moulin. There’s a simply terrific dancer there.”

That was more wonderful still. Intoxicating. Bright lights, crimson plush, the air filled with music, perfume, and familiarity. Victor had a friendly way of speaking that flattered the boys. But what counted far more were those bare-shouldered women, who would casually lift their skirts to hitch up a stocking.

So the Gai-Moulin had become a habit too. More than a habit — a necessity. One thing, however, marred its perfection. Rarely could Jean take his turn at paying. And once — though only once — to indulge in that luxury, he had helped himself to money that wasn’t his. He had taken it, not from his parents, but from the petty cash. Barely twenty francs. It was easily done; he simply charged a little extra on a number of registered letters or other mail he’d taken to the post office.

“I never stole from my father.”

“I don’t suppose he has very much to steal… But let’s get back to last night. You were both at the Gai-Moulin. Neither of you had any money, though that didn’t stop you from buying a drink for one of the dancers… Give me your cigarettes.”

Unsuspectingly, Jean held out his pack.

“Cork-tipped Luxors? Is that right, Dubois?”

“That’s right.”

“So!… Now, while you were sitting there, rich-looking man comes in and orders champagne. It wasn’t hard to guess that his wallet was well lined, was it?… Contrary to your usual habit, you left by the back door, which is near the steps to the cellar. And what should we find this morning on the cellar steps but two cigarette butts and some ash.

“Instead of leaving, you and Delfosse hid. The rich foreigner was killed. Perhaps at the Gai-Moulin, perhaps elsewhere. No wallet was found on him, and no gold cigarette case, though he’d been seen with one that night…

“Today you start paying off your debts. But this evening, knowing you’re being followed, you think you’d better throw the rest of the money away…”

This story was told in such a bored voice that it was hard to believe Delvigne took it seriously.

Monday Toonage #3

This week's choice was inspired by 'The Forgotten Eighties' thread over at Urban 75. The Mersey Mouth's finest three and a half minutes:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb (Razorbill 2009)

Moorhead's latest cigarette reads CARRY A COPY OF GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. He stares at it with alarm.

I don't really blame him. Lest you forget, receiving mysterious messages on cigarettes is a pretty alarming proposition, any way you look at it.

Plus, this message tells him to carry a copy of Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon's legendarily unreadable novel. Eight hundred pages long. Dense, wordy, kooky. Exactly the sort of thing to impress a smarty-pants like Lucy Sokolov, but a daunting prospect for a tiny brain like Moorhead.*

But I guess the most alarming thing about this particular cigarette is where he found it inside an orange he just peeled. That was childish of me.

There he stands, in the middle of the hallway, slack-jawed. Ripped-open orange in one hand, pulp-covered cigarette in the other, getting jostled by the class-bound hordes. He turns warily in a circle, scanning the vicinity for someone - a magician, perhaps? A playful god? - who could have done this. But there's only me. And I'm scratching my butt with my pencil case.

Vice Principal Hruska storms past, mentally calculating the number of seconds until he can retire. He plucks the cigarette from Moorhead's fingers. "Not on school property, Neil."

Moorhead points urgently as Hruska walks away, "Wait! Read it . . . "

But Hruska has already crushed the cigarette in his hand and dropped the soggy shreds in a garbage can. "Read what?"

Moorhead stares at the old man, then at the garbage, then back at the old man.

"Read what, Neil?"

Moorhead turns and walks silently back to his classroom, letting the orange slip from his limp fingers. It's like he's forgotten he was holding it.

See, not everyone like's surprises. Some people love 'em; some people have heart attacks. It's a matter of taste.

Does Randy Sparks, the Most Pathetic Boy in School like surprises? Let's find out.**

*Note that I didn't tell him to actually read the book.
**This is what's known as a segue.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Anti-Fascist by Martin Lux (Phoenix Press 2006)

I guess my anti-racism was partly a reaction to my background: a background from which I'd sought escape for almost as long as I can remember. In the recesses of my fertile imagination I'd always harboured dreams of a bohemian lifestyle. For sure, I wanted nothing to do with moronic, boring football, the number one obsession of my doomed contemporaries. And anyhow, as something of a raspberry ripple, I was hardly destined for success in the beautiful game.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Sailors' Rendezvous by Georges Simenon (Penguin Crime 1931)

‘Is the secret so burdensome, Le Clinche?’

Le Clinche was silent.

‘And you can’t possibly tell me anything, can you?… Yes! One thing! Do you still want Adèle?’

‘I detest her!’

‘I didn’t say that! I said want, want her as you wanted her the whole of the trip… We’re men, Le Clinche… Did you have many adventures before you knew Marie Léonnec?’

‘No… Nothing of importance… ’

‘And never that passion, that desire for a woman, that makes you fairly weep?’

‘Never… ’ He turned away his head.

‘Then it was on board that it happened. There was only one woman in that bleak monotonous setting. Perfumed flesh in that trawler that stank of fish… What did you say?’

‘Nothing… ’

‘You forgot about your fiancée?’

‘It’s not the same thing… ’

Maigret looked him in the face and was amazed at the change that had just taken place. His companion’s brow had suddenly become purposeful, his look fixed, his lips bitter. And yet, in spite of it all, the nostalgia, the dreamy expression remained.

‘Marie Léonnec is pretty… ’ Maigret went on, following up his idea.

‘Yes… ’

‘And much more distinguished than Adèle. What’s more, she loves you. She’s ready to make any sacrifice to… ’

‘Oh, do stop it!’ groaned the operator. ‘You know perfectly well that — that… ’

‘That it’s different! Marie Léonnec is a nice girl, will make a model wife and a good mother, but… There’ll always be something lacking, won’t there? Something more violent. Something that you knew on board, hidden in the captain’s cabin, fear constricting your throat a little, in Adèle’s arms. Something vulgar and brutal… Adventure… and the desire to bite, to do something desperate, to kill or to die… ’

Le Clinche listened in amazement.

‘How do you… ?’

‘How do I know? Because everyone experiences that sense of adventure at least once in his life… You weep! You cry out! You die! Then, a fortnight after, when you see Marie Léonnec, you wonder how you can have been excited by an Adèle… ’

While he was walking along, the young man gazed at the mirroring waters of the harbour, the distorted reflections of the boat-hulls, red, white, or green.

‘The trip’s over… Adèle’s gone… Marie Léonnec is here… ’

There was a moment of calm.

‘The crisis was dramatic,’ Maigret went on. ‘A man died because there was passion on board and… ’

But Le Clinche’s fever flared up again:

‘Stop it! Stop it!’ he repeated in a dry voice. ‘No! You see perfectly well that it’s not possible… ’

His eyes were haggard. He turned back to look at the trawler which, nearly empty now, stood monstrous and high in the water.

He was again seized with terror.

‘I swear… You must let me go… ’

‘The captain was in distress too during the whole trip, wasn’t he?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘And the chief engineer?’

‘No… ’

‘There were only you two, then. It was fear, wasn’t it, Le Clinche?’

‘I don’t know… Leave me alone, for heaven’s sake!’

‘Adèle was in the cabin. There were three men hanging round. And yet the captain wouldn’t yield to his desire, spent days and days without speaking to his mistress. And you watched her through the porthole, but after a single meeting you never touched her again… ’

‘Stop it!’

Monday, August 19, 2013

Maigret in Holland by Georges Simenon (Harcourt Brace & Company 1931)

Instead of going through the town from the police station to the Hotel Van Hasselt, Maigret went along the quay, accompanied by Jean Duclos, whose face and whole demeanor radiated bad temper.

“I suppose you know,” he said at last, “that you’re making yourself most objectionable?”

As he spoke his eyes were fixed on a crane, whose hoist swung only a foot or two above their heads.
“In what way?”

Duclos shrugged his shoulders and took several steps before answering.

“Is it possible you don’t understand?… Perhaps you don’t want to… You’re like all French people…”

“I thought we were both French.”

“With this difference, however: I have traveled widely. In fact, I think I could justifiably call myself a European, rather than a Frenchman. Wherever I go, I can fall into the ways of the country. While you… you simply crash straight through everything regardless of the consequences, blind to everything that requires a little discrimination…”

“Without stopping to wonder, for instance, whether or not it’s desirable that the murderer be caught!”

“Why shouldn’t you stop to wonder?” burst out the professor. “Why shouldn’t you discriminate?… This isn’t a dirty crime. It isn’t the work of a professional killer, or any other sort of ordinary criminal. The question of robbery hasn’t arisen… In other words, the person who did it is not necessarily a danger to society.”

“In which case… ?”

Maigret was smoking his pipe with obvious relish, striding along easily, his hands behind his back.
“You’ve only got to look around…” said Duclos, with a wave of his hand that embraced the whole scene: the tidy little town where everything was arranged as neatly as in a good housewife’s cupboard; the harbor too small to have any of the sordidness that so often belongs to ports; happy, serene people clattering along in their varnished sabots.

Then he went on:

“Everyone earns his living. Everyone’s more or less content. Everyone holds his instincts in check because his neighbor does the same, and that’s the basis of all social life… Pijpekamp will tell you that theft is a rare occurrence here—partly because when it does occur it’s severely punished. For stealing a loaf of bread, you don’t get off with less than a few weeks in prison… Do you see any signs of disorder?… None. No tramps. No beggars. It’s the very embodiment of cleanliness and order.”

“And I’ve crashed in like a bull in a china shop! Is that it?”

“Look at those houses over there on the left, near the Amsterdiep. That’s where the best people live. People of wealth, or at any rate of substance. People who have power or influence in the locality. Everybody knows them. They include the mayor, the clergy, teachers, and officials, all of whom make it their business to see that the town is kept quiet and peaceful, to see that everybody stays in his proper place without damaging his neighbor’s interests. These people—as I’ve told you before—don’t even allow themselves to enter a café for fear of setting a bad example… And now a crime has been committed—and the moment you poke your nose in, you sniff some family scandal…”

Maigret listened while looking at the boats, whose decks, because it was high tide, were well above the quay.

“I don’t know what Pijpekamp thinks about it. He is a very respected man, by the way. All I know is that it would have been far better for everybody if it had been given out that Popinga had been killed by a foreign sailor, and that the police were pursuing their investigations… Yes. Far better for everybody. Better for Madame Popinga. Better for her family, particularly for her father, who is a man of considerable repute in the intellectual world. Better for Beetje and for her father. Above all, better for the public welfare, for the people in all these other houses, who watch with respect all that goes on in the big houses by the Amsterdiep. Whatever is done over there, they want to do the same… And you… you want truth for truth’s sake—or for the personal satisfaction of unraveling your little mystery.”

“You’re putting it in your own words, Professor, but in substance what you say is what Pijpekamp said to you this morning. Isn’t that so?… And he asked your advice as to the best method of dampening my unseemly zeal… And you told him that in France people like me are disposed of with a hearty meal, even with a tip.”

“We didn’t go into details.”

“Do you know what I think, Monsieur Duclos?”

Maigret had stopped and was looking at the harbor. A little bumboat, its motor making a noise like a fusillade, was going from ship to ship, selling bread, spices, tobacco, pipes, and schnapps.


“I think you were lucky to have come out of the bathroom holding the revolver in your hand.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing… But I’d like you to assure me once more that you saw nobody in the bathroom.”

“I saw nobody.”

“And you heard nothing?”

Duclos looked away. Maigret repeated the question.

“I didn’t hear anything definite… It’s only a vague impression, but there might have been a sound coming from under the lid over the tub.”

“Excuse me, I must be off… I think that’s someone waiting for me.”

Monday Toonage #2

This song kicked in on my iPod whilst I was doing the laundry last tonight. I just had to put it on repeat for four extra listens:

According to its wiki page, 'Livin' Thing' "was named by the UK's Q as the number 1 'Guilty Pleasure' single of all time – a list designed to celebrate 'uncool' but excellent records . . ." 

'Uncool' my arse. It's a stone cold classic. If you consider 'Livin' Thing' a guilty pleasure only to be listened to when no one else is around, then you need to remove your hipster head from your arse pronto.

Actually, when you look at Q's top ten of uncool records, there's at least 6 and a half classics listed. Q's got a bare arse cheek throwing out the uncool label at anyone. When I do occasionally read Q magazine on the subway, I furtively hide it in an old issue of Workers' Hammer, so no one will point and laugh at me for paying ten dollars for a magazine that has Eric Clapton on the front cover . . . again.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Up at five with the cleaners by Ian Walker (New Society 4 September 1980)

Up at five with the cleaners

It is five in the morning and dark as hell when the N47 bus, standing room only, pulls up opposite the National Westminster Building, London's highest, and disgorges its load on to the empty streets. These women are cleaners. They come into the City from the east End every morning to clean up the banks and insurance companies and government buildings. A kind of invisible workforce, they ghost in at night or in the half-light and then get swallowed up in the busy streets on their way home.

A tiny woman of 72 who has just been cleaning in Old Jury, just past the Bank of England, stands talking to me in the rain. She looks embarrassed when I ask her how much she makes. "Oh, it's not a lot," she says. "Fifteen pound eight pence for ten hours." It's no strain getting up at four? "No, I'm used to it. Don't take no notice. Do you mind if I go now? I like to get in early." A lot of the women are too rushed or too scared to talk. Some aren't paying tax, some aren't declaring all their jobs. Some are just scared, with reason, of anyone who stops them on the street. It start getting light at 5.20.

Of three West Indian women on their way to clean Chartered House, only one doesn't mind being questioned. Her name is Patsy Trotman. A single mother, she lives in Hackney Down with her two children, 13 and 16, and travels here on a night train. She gets £14 for a ten hour week and has been doing it for five years. Why did she start? "Hardships," is all she says. Her friends look anxious. She rejoins them.

Three white women, here to clean the thrity-eighth floor of the Nat West Building, step out of a yellow Escort. The oldest woman, Pearl, has been cleaning at Nat West for 21 years. When she started, she was on £3 7s 6d a week. Now she gets £2.19½p an hour, the top rate for cleaning and double what some cleaners make. Pearl's patch is the director's suite, she says. "Oh, it's lovely. All the wallpaper's suede. It's got a spiral staircase and that."

For young mothers, like the other two, Liz and Diane, this kind of work means they can get home in time to look after the children during the day. Then, at five, they leave home again for the evening cleaning shift. They only go to bed early, they all say, if there's nothing good on television. "We keep going," says Pearl.

I'm joined outside the Nat West skyscraper by Helen Eadie of the General and Municipal Workers Union. Along with the Transport and General, the GMWU is trying to recruit workers in this desperately disorganised and low-paid sector. An ACAS report on contract cleaning is due out later this month. Meanwhile, the only way she can glean any information about wages and conditions is to hang about on the street, and talk to the women on their way to work. She hands out a few leaflets, then later resorts to telling people that she's a journalist, "No one wants to know if you say you're from the union."

Two black women stop long enough to say they work for Office Cleaning Services, the biggest contract cleaners in the country. This started life in 1900 as New Century Window-Cleaning, until the firm realised that windows only need doing once a month whereas offices have to be done daily. It became the OCS in 1930 and now has a turnover of some £70 million a year, having branched out into security, factory cleaning, chemicals, laundries. Of its 25,000 employees, 20,000 are cleaners.

By six o'clock the buses are arriving half-empty. All the cleaners are at work now. It's raining hard. A black woman pops out of the Nat West reception. "Have you got any cleaning work starting today?" she asks. Some employers, it seems, solicit their cleaning staff on the street. In a few hours the office workers will sit down at their clean desks and moan about the rain.

Lola has no time to moan. She is a cleaner at the House of Commons during the day and at the Department of Environment at night. She's Jamaican; her husband died young, in his thirties; and she's brought up her five children on her own. I meet her for lunch in the House of Commons canteen. She is wearing a smart yellow dress with black polka dots, a black bow round her neck. Her hair is straightened, her lipstick and nail varnish are cherry red.

'Tell it to the union'
Until two years ago, Lola was doing nightcleaning at the Post Office in Old Street, starting at ten and finishing at six in the morning. She, as a supervisor, got £45. Ordinary cleaners got £40. Since then she's worked at ITN House, numerous banks, Andmarc Cleaning and the Top Rank disco.

"Work's become a second nature to me," she says. "And I need money to keep my family. You couldn't get any other job to fit in with the kids. They never miss me. Always able to get home at meal times. If I can't fit the job in, I pack it in and get something else."

A member of the GMWU, Lola tries to get women interested in the union wherever she works. She says there's always a lot of petty fighting and niggling, because everyone suspects everyone else is on better money. "Oh, girls, girls, I say, don't make a fight. The union would like to know it all. Tell it to the union."

She is full of stories about cleaners' lockers being rummaged through by managers; about wages not turning up, because the man who was supposed to deliver them had gone and got drunk instead; about a friend of hers who was followed by car all over London to her different cleaning jobs: and about how she would get a few women interested in the union and then find they had been sent off to different offices throughout London. She picks half-heartedly at her ham salad, she tells me she's slimming. "My son likes me fat. He likes to play with me, pinch me." Her youngest son is 13, the eldest daughter is 22.

Lola has a deep calm. She has lived through hard times, doing right by her family and never giving in. She works 53 hours a week at the House of Commons doing the peers' cloakroom and 12½ hours at the Department of the Environment, before she's even started looking after her children.

But it's been like that ever since she came to London from Kingston in September 1961. Married when she was 16, Lola remains undefeated. She laughs when I ask her how old she is? "That's a secret. That's not polite. I'm very old. But for my kids I'm not and for myself I'm not, only when I'm tired." She escorts me from the canteen as far as the gates.

I've often watched the women who clean Thomson House, over the road from where I live, starting at around five in the morning. You see them there, bent down under long strips of fluorescent light in the empty offices, the homes of magazines like Family Circle and Living. Unexpectedly, the doorman said, sure, I could speak to the cleaners, why not? - at 5.30 one morning.

Mopping up in a ground-floor storeroom at Thomson House is Michael. He used to  be a street trader in Lambeth till the market closed down about ten years ago. "It's a shame for a business that died a natural death," he says. "It was the supermarkets that finished it." Still, he reckons this work isn't too bad, "Jovial, you know. Bit of a laugh with various things. Very, very seldom there's a bad word." Michael is 64 but he says he has no plans to retire.

His family came over from Cork in the 1800s and worked as street traders from that time. "One family life," he muses, sitting on a red plastic chair on the floor he was cleaning. "From street traders to cleaners." We move next door to the tea-room.

"I was wounded at Alamein, you know, a fragment of shell on the second night," he licks his finger, sticks it in the sugar. "Terrific bombardment. We was all amongst it in the open ground, wasn't we?"

Another man in the tea-room, Benjamin, objects to being called a cleaner. "We're not cleaners. We're general assistants. We do everything. We're handymen." Benjamin is the deputy shop steward (this being press, all the cleaning staff, men and women, are in NATSOPA). He says that they've just got a 60 per cent pay rise, taking them from £74.96 basic to £123. "It's the biggest increase in the print," brags Steve, the shop steward, who's just come in for a cup of tea. The women's basic pay went up from around £30 to £38.

Michael brings in the Sporting Life for Benjamin. "Got more chance of picking his nose," says Steve. Men drink tea while women work: Thomson House is like some vast household.

On the seventh floor, a harrassed-looking West Indian woman is flying around with a pink duster, complaining that the lead on her Hoover doesn't stretch far enough to do all the floor space here. "I've told Steve about it. I don't know," she says. "Hard work and no pay. I do foster-mothering, work in stores. Before I do this, my real job was clothing machinist. I like that. It's more creative. You finish, pick it up, and look at what you do. But this . . . "

She has four children of her own and used to foster three others. "All ages. Fussing and fighting. It's too much since I started this. It knocks me out." I am talking to her in a magazine art department. "I work and I work, and I don't get no pay, and I don't feel happy about it."

She gets here every morning at 5.15. She won't tell me her name or where she lives. She talks fast and angrily, whipping herself up into a frenzy as she careers round the room. "Cleaning's a very hard job, something you do all your life. Emptying, flicking, polishing telephones, cleaning, dusting, flicking, hoovering. Hoovers are heavy things. Some men leave their office that bad. Some ladies are worse. A lot of heavy lifting and flicking."

Not looking up from her work once while she vents her spleen in speech as staccato as her movements, bending and shaking, she says she would love to leave this job, but can't. "Used to be two people on one floor. Now there's only one. Only eight pound a week for extra work. Do two people's work, get eight pound," she spits, then pauses for breath. "You're always disappointed, that's it. The more you do, the less you get." Pinned to the door of this office is the poster for the television version of Arnold Bennett's Clayhanger, "An epic of life, love and family conflict."

The three white women sipping tea on a lower floor (white and black cleaners choose to have separate tea-rooms) do not have to swim against the tide as hard as their black workmate. All working to supplement their husband's wage, and not forced to do another paid job, they can afford to be more relaxed and stoical about life.

Rose and Julia, both in their fifties now, say they started cleaning 30 years ago when they had young children. "We wanted a few bob and, with this, you're back in for the kids, that's it. Then your children grow up, and you've got the day to yourself. It's something to do at the back end of the night," says Rose.

So do they all put their feet up when they get home? "You must be joking. Don't think a woman ever really rests, do you? If I come back again, I'm coming back as a man."

After their rise, these women will take home about £5 a day. They say it's all right, although the cleaners round the corner at The Times get about £10 a day. "We're low-paid to them," Julia says. But at least they all have a job. One of her friends, who cleans a local police station, is about to be laid off: "A cleaning company is going to take over." This happens because contract cleaning is, for employers, preferable to keeping on their own cleaning staff. It means that they avoid the administrative hassle of direct employment, and it removes the need to buy and store cleaning gear. It also tends to work out cheaper.

A nice cup of tea
Julia and Rose both live locally, Marie lives "over the water" in Waterloo. She is younger, 42, and more upwardly aspiring. She went to Miami for her holidays. Julia went to Canvey Island and Rose is due, tomorrow, to go to Margate. "Got a nice break for two weeks now," Rose says, polishing a table top. "Remember to take me galoshes and an umbrella." Rose and Julia say they could never go abroad: they're scared of flying.

Sometime after 9 am, they all start making to go. "This won't get us done will it," says Julia. "Do like a cup of tea, though."

"That's it, innit, like a nice cup of tea," adds Rose.

Office machinery gets shinier and more technical, but the places still get cleaned up with brooms and hoovers. These women make in a week what a shorthand typist can make in a day.

Later that day, early evening, I walked down to the river to Waterloo Bridge. A jazz band was playing to some kids sitting on the steps before the South Bank concert hall. Smart-looking couples were out on the terrace cafe. The late summer light made the Thames look bluer than it really is. To the east of Waterloo Bridge, on the skyline, were all the office blocks that will, this evening or tonight or sometime in the early morning, get cleaned up by the women who'll come in on the night buses and trains.
4 September 1980

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Red Road by Denise Mina (Orion Books 2013)

Morrow shrugged and looked up at the flats. The body was gone and that was good. A body was always a distraction at a murder scene. It tended to draw the eye and evoke sparks of empathy, or, for Morrow at least, distracting ponderings on why she wasn't feeling empathy. The site was so spectacular, it would be hard enough to focus on details.

The Red Road flats were twenty-seven storeys tall, five hundred yards wide and being stripped for demolition. All the walls, the casing and especially the windows were being removed before the explosives were set, to avoid a glass storm. They couldn't get into the scene of the murder before this  morning: without health and safety paperwork she couldn't even pass through the protective fencing. Morrow didn't like heights terribly much.

Early in her career Morrow had policed the crowd when the high flats in the Gorbals were demolished. The officers had to stand with their backs to the show, watching the crowd for three or so hours. People brought food, drinks, things to sit on. The fevered atmosphere was unsettling. Morrow watched the crowd swell and grow boisterous, scanning for drunks and trouble and pickpockets. Over the afternoon she listened as people tried to explain away their excitement. It's a bit of history, they said, history of the city. But that didn't satisfy, it didn't explain the buzz of anticipation running through the crowd so they began to falsify complaints against the high flats: we had damp, my auntie died there, I saw a man go out a window. Excuses, because they knew there was something venal about their lip-licking excitement. It was a modern public hanging. They were there to see something bigger than them die, to participate in an irreversible act of destruction.

The Underground Life by Ian Walker (New Society 5 February 1981)

It's been a while since I posted any of Ian Walker's New Society articles on the blog, but I recently realised that I still have a couple on my hard drive that I've not previously posted on the blog. I'll post them on the blog when I have the time.

The Underground Life

If you kill someone, you get three days on stand-by. This motorman has had three suicides and one attempted in his 24 years driving tube stations on the Northern line. Today he starts at two and finishes at 7.40pm. "One of the best turns on the roster," he says, licking the gum on his cigarette paper.

Dave Hurman started working for London Transport when he was 27, after he came out of the army. He started off as a porter, then served time as a ticket collector before qualifying to be a guard. In those days it took around seven years to get made up to motorman. His guard, Fred Leeson, has been in the job for three years. He is reading for an Open University degree. He rolls his own cigarettes, too.

Formica tables and chairs in the mess room at East Finchley are all empty. A relief guard, Vasco d'Gama, is playing darts. There is a tea urn in the corner. Through the steel-framed windows the trainmen can look out north and south along this overground section of track, and wait for their train to arrive before leaving the mess. The station was opened on 3 July 1939, and originally it was called East End.

"Hello, Charlie." The bearded man in an LT cap, who's just walked into the mess, smiles back. "Awright?" he says. Charlie Lewis started working on the underground in the summer of 1967. He transferred from the Metropolitan line to the Northern in 1975. "The blokes there couldn't believe it when I said I was leaving the Met. Fancy going back there, the said. The Northern. Toy trains."

The Metropolitan and District lines are the most prestigious to work for. These are years-long waiting lists. The trains are bigger, and the track is all overground or "cut-and-cover" (deep trenches covered over), rather than tube. But Charlie grew up on the Northern.

"The underground's a sort of hobby of mine," he says. "I still belong to the London Underground Railway Society, write in the occasional letter. I've been interested since I was a youngster. Used to live at Tufnell Park and the relations were at Malden. So since the day I was born, I've been travelling the Northern line."

"And that's how it starts. You've nothing much else to do on the tube, but look at the tunnel segments and everything and you start wondering about how it was built and that, you start getting interested . . . It's sometimes a bit of a drag getting up in the morning."

Charlie hasn't had a suicide yet. But he's only a boy, he says. You have to do 25 years here before you stop being a boy and the way things are going, "if they have their way we'll all be out on the cobbles. Mr Maxwell [managing director of LT railways] is talking about driverless trains from 1990 . . .  Get rid of all the bastards."

Dave Harman and Fred Leeson are looking out for their train. Vasco d'Gama is still in and around the 20s on the dartboard. Charlie won't be working again till this evening. He is in the middle of a split shift. Work the morning and evening rush hours, when one million come in and out of central London on the tube, with a four-hour break in the middle.

"I think that's ours. Coming down on the south," says Fred. I walk down to the platform with him and Dave, who points out the tv tower on Alexandra Palace, sticking up into a hard blue sky.

I stand next to Dave, who kills the light in the cab so that we can see better as we leave East Finchley and go underground. Your eyes get used to the dark, and it starts to make sense: the dim outlines of cables and track and tunnel winding ahead. And when Dave picks up speed to 40, it's more exhilarating than the ghost train.

On old 1959 trains, like this one, there are two controls, one for the brake and one for the power. Newer trains have both functions on one control. The motormen prefer the old ones.

All the time he's driving, Dave presses down the "dead man's handle." If the hand is removed, the train will automatically do an emergency stop. It is possible to centre the key on the handle, neutralising it, so that you can give your hand a rest while the train is stopped at a station. If you're found centring the key while the train is moving, you get fired. After all the inquiries into the Moorgate disaster (in which 35 people were killed in 1975) the most plausible theory is still, that the motorman just flipped and deliberately drove that train into the wall.

The sullen passengers
We slow down to 14 mph as we run across a section of track being rebuilt. Work on this, and on all the track being repaired and rebuilt along the 260 miles of the underground, is done between one and five in the morning. It's tough work, Dave says. "Even in the winter, when you see them, they're stripped off." We pull into Warren Street. Sullen heads on the platform turn up to face the train, stare dumbly like cows watching the feed arrive.

Past giant packs of cigarettes, giant stockinged legs, giant sausages on the billboards, we move out the station. It's a soulless place, the tube. The only time probably that people were friendly down here was in the wars. The tube was first used as a shelter during the Zeppelin raids in 1917, and again in the second world war. It won't be any good in a nuclear war. Dave says he'll show me how the dead man's handle works.

Great gasps of air as he removes his hand and the train jerks to a halt. We stop at Leicester Square.

It's been a long time since Dave had a suicide and he doesn't mind talking about it now. "Last one was six or seven years ago, that was the attempted. Two days after Christmas it was. Bloke walking to the edge of the platform and he just carried on walking. I was able to stop in time.

"Last suicide was a young woman. Colliers Wood. She just jumped on to the line, put her head on the negative and looked up at me. Colliers Wood." He sighs. "A strange thing how suicides always come in spates of three. Have you noticed that? You get one, then always two more in a short space of time." Between 40 and 50 people a year, on average, die under London tube trains.

The train clatters into Charing Cross. You can see how people steal a quick backward glance as they move over the platform towards the approaching train, just to make sure there's no psychopath standing behind who's going to give them a shove. Hard cases, young men mostly, stand as close to the edge as they can without getting knocked over by the train. The guard dings, and we move off.

One way and another, the underground eats up Dave's life. He is chairman of the local ASLEF branch (London's 3,902 motormen and guards are all in either ASLEF or the NUR), and sits on the committee of the London Transport Benevolent Fund. His son and one son-in-law are motormen. "Family concern," he says. "Surprising how many family concerns you find in this job."

He works every other Sunday. So the only regular time he has to spend in his three allotments is the Saturday rest-day, which he never works. If it's assigned to him on the roster, he swaps duties with one of the younger men with families and mortgages, someone who needs to put in a lot of overtime to get by.

A motorman's basic pay is £93.85, and a guard's £73.09. On top of that, they get a London weighting of £11.08 a week, Dave says that, with overtime, he made £6,225 gross last year, and this year he expects to make £7,000. We're right under the Oval cricket ground, driving round the Kennington loop to go back up north.

At Waterloo, I get out of the motorman's cab and go to the back to join the guard. Another guard, a young Glaswegian, is sitting with Fred Leeson, travelling back to the canteen and reading an explorer's biography. He's only been in the job 18 months.  When I ask him what he thinks of it, he looks at me as if I'm the company spy. No comment.

Officially, guards aren't allowed to read. They are meant to stare all the time at the pink light on the control panel, which tells them that all the doors are shut.

Passengers all round us are sitting down, reading papers, pretending they aren't listening to our conversation. Guards are supposed to travel half to two thirds of the platform with their heads hanging out the door, looking out for trouble, as the train leaves the station. Mostly, of course, they just poke their head out for ten yards or so, before, getting back to whatever it is they're reading.

What happens if someone pulls the emergency cord? "You see who did it and why," says Fred, "and use your judgement. If it was a bunch of kids, you just give 'em a good telling off and get on with the job. Because calling the police means a lot of extra hassle, hanging around, delay. So you tend not to bother." Guards don't get a lot of trouble, according to Fred. It's the ticket collectors more than anyone who have to deal with the violence.

Only once has he had to call the police. "Someone had punched someone else in the face, and one of the other passengers happened to be a policeman. No big deal." He gets up, and stands hair-blown in the doorway as we leave Mornington Crescent.

The trainmen's canteen at Camden Town has been newly renovated to look like a 1960s milk bar, ble leatherette and formica. One man has fallen asleep in his chair, his yellow torch on the table next to a cup of cold tea and a copy of Sir, You Bastard by G. F. Newman. Three black women serve behind the counter.

A Scouse accent on the table next to the one occupied by Dave, Fred and me is complaining about a meal he's just paid a quid for. "Free uniforms, canteen, that's what they say in the publicity, isn't it?" he says. "The food's crap. Terrible."

Everyone ignores him. Another motorman walks up and Dave asks him what number won the draw this week? "Thirty seven," says Bob Camm, who runs the draw to raise money for the Richard Cloudesley School for Handicapped Children. It makes £100 every ten weeks.

"Look at the rubbish they serve you. I paid a pound for that steak," continues the Liverpudlian, jerking his head at a pile of uneaten food.

I haven't yet seen any women working as guards or motormen. But Dave says they've got three or four women guards on this line, and there is one woman driver on the District line. Everyone sups their tea. Bob Camm makes his own in a tea can he carries round with him. He says that he has been in the job ten years. "Before that, I was a computer checker, a nine to five job. Couldn't stand it. Spent all the time looking at me watch. I like it here."

Bob is just about to start the second half of his duty. It's 4.25 now. He gets his next break at seven.

Upstairs is "the institute," which has table tennis, billiards and three full-size snooker tables. A shout tells us to shut the door as we walk in. In the bar is a one-armed bandit and a broken Space Invader. Dave says that, of course, the bar is only for off-duty trainmen.

Dave looks at his watch, standing in front of a "dare to be free" graffitti on the white-tiled platform wall. It already seems a long time I saw natural light. Dave enjoys taking a train overground when he's been entombed for a while. "Especially in summer," he says. "The tunnels get very hot. So when you get overground you open up the cab window and get a blast of that fresh air. Lovely."

He's standing there, upright, surveying the platform and the tunnel as if it's one of his allotments. Tube workers, I suppose, are the one part of the tube population that doesn't have a secret dread of the tension and fear breaking out into something bad down here, where city laws get silently enforced, and subverted too. Strangers' bodies pressed against each other and whispered "sorries" rippling through the cars in the rush hour.

I get a train to Tottenham Court Road, walk out through the tunnels past two buskers. One is singing "I'm a smoker, I'm a joker, I'm a midnight toker, playing my music is the sun." The other is sucking a drunken version of Argentina (don't cry for me) from a cheap mouth organ.
5 February 1981

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bullfighting by Roddy Doyle (Viking 2011)

His parents went to the chipper after funerals. Bill found this out when he drove them home from one – the dead husband of his mother’s long-dead sister. He’d driven them there because the church and the graveyard were down the country, in a small kip of a village that seemed untouched by the now dead boom, except for the fact that the priest was Polish. His father wasn’t happy driving off the main roads any more, and his mother had shrunk. She couldn’t reach the pedals.

So she said.

Bill had said he’d bring them, and they’d climbed into the back of the car like they were his kids and they were all going off on a picnic. Already, he was making it up. He couldn’t wait to tell his wife and kids – his real kids.

He even bought them ice creams on the way.

He didn’t actually do that, but it was what he told Hazel and the girls when he got home. He saw the big cone outside a shop ahead of them.

—D’yis fancy a 99?

—Ah, no, said his mother.—It wouldn’t be right.

—Go on. Where’s the harm?

He had them licking away in the back of the car while he turned off the main road, onto a glorified lane that was all corners and gear changes.

They found the village. He drove through it before he knew they were there.

There was the mass. The priest sounded like a culchie who’d spent his childhood in Eastern Europe.

—Paddy was populler wit’ al’ the neighbours.

—He was not, he heard his father whisper.

—Shush, Liam.

There was the walk to the graveyard.

—There’s the clouds now, look.

—We’ll be drenched before he’s buried.

—We might make it.

—Wait and see. The bastard’s up there, orchestrating the whole thing.

The coffin was lowered and they went back to the village’s one pub for coffee and a few sandwiches. Bill met cousins he didn’t know he had and an uncle he thought had died in 1994. He kissed a woman’s cheek because he thought they were related, then watched her filling a tray with empty cups and bringing it through a door behind the counter.
(from 'Funerals')

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Goodis is more than good

I just realised that with me recently reading Dark Passage, I'm up to the heady heights of 12 books read in the Bloomsbury 100 Must-Read Crime Novels.

I'm getting there slowly but surely.

The Deportees and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle (Jonathan Cape 2007)

I'm not telling you her name. And that means I can't use my own name either. Because, how many Nigerian girls is the average Irish teenager going to be hanging around with, even here in multicultural, we-love-the-fuckin'-foreigners Dublin? If I give my name, I might as well give hers. So, no.

So, there we are, myself and my Nigerian friend, and we're walking through the shop, being tailed by the Feds. And meanwhile, our friend, who's in a—

And now, there's another problem. There's a fella in a wheelchair in the story. How many male teenagers in the greater Dublin area share their leisure time with young men in wheelchairs and Nigerian women?

Our friend is in a wheelchair, but he doesn't need it. It's his brother's. His brother is in McDonald's, waiting for us. He doesn't have much of a choice, because we have his wheelchair. And he needs it, badly. There's a ginormous milkshake cup in front of him. It's empty. The shake's in him, and he's bursting. He's full of vanilla and the jacks is down the back, miles – sorry, kilometres away.

And his brother has his wheelchair. He's in the same shop as us – that's me and the Nigerian bird. And while the Feds follow me because (a) I'm with a black person, and (b) I'm wearing a hoodie, he's robbing everything he can stretch to, because (a) he's in the wheelchair, and (b) he's wearing glasses. And no one follows him. In fact, everyone wants to help him.

It's an experiment. Market research. I'll explain in a minute.

His brother is sliding towards the jacks when we get back to McDonald's. He's halfway there and, so far, €8.56 has been thrown at him.

Let me explain.

We aren't robbing the stuff because we want it, or just for the buzz. No. We are a mini-company. Three of us are in Transition Year, in school. The brother who actually owns the wheelchair isn't. He's in Sixth Year. We used to call him Superman, but he asked us to stop after Christopher Reeve died; it was upsetting his ma whenever she answered the landline. 'Is Superman there?' So, fair enough; we stopped.

Anyway, as part of our Transition Year programme, me and Ms Nigeria and not-Superman's brother had to form a mini-company, to help us learn about the real world and commerce and that. And we didn't want to do the usual stuff, like making sock hangers and Rice Krispie cakes. So, we sat at a desk and, watched closely by our delightful teacher, Ms They-Don't-Know-I-Was-Locked-Last-Night, we came up with the idea, and the name.

Black Hoodie Solutions.
(from 'Black Hoodie')

Monday, August 05, 2013

Bash the Rich: True Life Confessions of an Anarchist in the UK by Ian Bone (Tangent Books 2006)

In fact, most anarchists kept their private lives completely divorced from their anarchist activities and would have been horrified if their neighbours had known about their hobby!

More to the point, I thought not talking to the media was missing out on major opportunities to spread our ideas. Yes of course we'd been misrepresented . . . blah blah . . . but still, however deformed, our ideas and existence would be read about by far more people in the News of the World (circulation 5,000,000) than a piece in Class War (circulation 15,000). After all, I'd first found out about anarchism in Punch. So when Andrew Tyler contacted us about doing a piece in Time Out about Class War in May 1985, me and Martin Wright decided to brave the cries of 'sell-out!' and go for it. If we were going to be exposed anyway, we might at least get a few good quotes in.

The Time Out piece was better than we could have dreamed of. Tyler had grasped the difference between us and the stultifying torpor that was British anarchism and written a coruscating piece that gave Class War an electrifying jolt. The oxygen of publicity resulted in a packed Class War conference two weeks later. The predicted criticism of our sell-out in Time Out came early in the day. 'Yes, I am sorry we appeared in Time Out,' I grovelled, 'I'm sorry it wasn't on the front page of the News of the World'. Tumultuous applause (well so it seems 20 years later). The case for talking to the press was won and has always been vindicated in my view. I was subsequently exposed in the Sunday Mirror, Today and the News of the World ('Dangerous lunatics who want to kill the entire cast of Eastenders' - don't ask!) and despite the vilification we got, our post bag was always rammed full the following week with people who'd never heard of us before but wanted o get involved now.

In particular, the quotation from the Living Legends lyric God Bless You Queen Mum appearing in the Sunday Mirror and wishing her an early death was especially popular. The key, of course, is not to believe your own publicity and the oxygen certainly went to my head in those intoxicating months in 1985. At the conference I had argued for '500 people with sledgehammers attacking the bridge at Henley.' By the time of that year's anarchist bookfair in Conway Hall, I was well away. Having sold shit loads of Class Wars with Martin I took the stage at the end of the day. Well, actually, there was already someone on the stage so I had to push him off it first. Unfortunately, that person was Donald Rooum - a veteran comrade I have a lot of respect for going back to his framing by the police for intending to throw a brick at the queen of Greece in the 1960s. However, it wasn't really Donald I was shoving off the stage but the old anarchist movement. Drunk as fuck I declared:
'You liberals and pacifists have had our movement for too long, now it's our turn. If we haven't reduced the place to ruins in five years you can have it back!'
Quite why I wanted to reduce the venerable Conway Hall to ruins was unclear. But what the fuck. I might have paraphrased Durrutti, but the point was clear. We were on a fucking roll.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Burglar by David Goodis (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard 1953)

She gave him a look he couldn’t classify. Then other passengers were crowding him in, and there was no more time. He turned, walked down along the platform. Descending the steps leading to the waiting room, he heard the train going away. It occurred to him that this was the first time he had seen Gladden going away, and for some odd reason it was disturbing. He told himself Atlantic City was only sixty miles away. It was the place where Philadelphians went to get the sun and the salt air. It wasn’t China. It was practically right next door, and he would be in constant touch with Gladden. There was no cause for him to be disturbed.

He stood outside the terminal and wondered where he should go. It was always a problem, where to go and what to do. Sometimes he came close to envying the people whose lives were based on compulsory directives, who lived by definite need and command, so that every morning they had to get up at six or seven, and be at a specific place by eight-thirty or nine, and stay there and do specific things until five or six. They never wondered what to do next. They knew what they had to do. He had nothing to do and no place to go. He had plenty of money to spend, around seven thousand dollars remaining from his share of the two previous hauls, but he couldn’t think of a way to start spending it. There was nothing special that he wanted. He tried to think of something that he wanted, but a wall came up in his mind and blocked off everything tangible.

So he went back to the Spot because there was no other place to go. The Spot was reassurance. The Spot was security. In its own strange way, the Spot was home.

Entering, he heard Baylock’s voice from the kitchen. He walked into the kitchen. Baylock and Dohmer were at the table, playing their original variation of two-handed poker. Dohmer showed a hole card, an ace that matched another and gave him the hand. Dohmer collected a dollar and seventy cents, and then they put aside the cards and looked at Harbin.

Baylock said, “She go?”

“Took the three-forty.” Harbin looked out the window.