'You call a two-minute quickie twice a month a SEX LIFE?' She laughed.

'That isn't fair.'

'What do you mean, it isn't fair?'

'It isn't fair to me to say our sex life consisted of a two-minute quick —'

'See! It's a debate now. Okay, you win. Three minutes four times a month, eight minutes nine times a month. You win. It was great.'


'You never cared if I was satisfied.'

'What?' he asked, incredulously.

'You just wanted a fast wham-bam, and good night. When's the last time you did anything romantic or acted like you cared about me. Never. That's the last time. You don't care about anything or anybody except yourself.'

'That's not true. Pat. How can you —'

'Why Buddy? It could have been anybody. A man. Not a wimp. You're not the kind of man who needs a woman. You should have been a . . . You should be gay or something. You don't even like it.'

'You're crazy,' he said. But the preposterousness of the situation, the ridiculousness of being inserted into the center of such a domestic cliche, had begun to numb him out. 'You're nuts,' he told her without an ounce of conviction.

'I want out.'

'At least give us another chance together. I can change. I want to —'

'See what I mean? A WIMP! Why don't you slap me around. Scream. Break things. You want me to stay. You catch me unfaithful and you want another chance. Chance to what? To be more of a wimp? You want to watch me and Buddy from the closet, is that it?' She moved right in front of him, looking up at his reddened face, daring him to lash out at her. 'You want me to tell you what it was like with Buddy? HUH? Will that get you off?'

'Pat. Come on.' He could barely speak.

'You want to know if his is bigger than yours? It is, you know. A lot bigger. And he's a lot better. Better in the sack, Mr. Hotshot. How's that grab you? Is that what you want to hear? You want another chance at it — uh? Jesus! You make me sick.' She stomped into the bedroom and slammed the door, indignant, as always the offended party, he thought.

Nice welcome back. He tried to swallow. There was a certain perverse gratification in discovering her infidelity, since it confirmed his secret fears of wimp-hood rather incontrovertibly. But the comfort was cold and fleeting.

He was dashed. That's the word. Dashed by it. And confused by the way his body chemistry had suddenly become independent of his brain in the face of the confrontation. Instantly benumbed, a growing hard-on had stiffened in counterpoint to the anesthesia of the dialogue. Undeniably, finding her desirable to another man had produced the curious effect of making him want his wife the way he hadn't in years. God, he was some kind of wimp.

The rest of the process of disintegration was rapid and heartless. She wanted out, goddammit, and the dissolution of the marriage was as much to blame on his coming home a day earlier than expected, as it was on his wimpification. It was his unforgivable indiscretion and his weakness and his lack of manhood that had destroyed what they had. She wanted out now. What could a wimp do but tearfully acquiesce?

And so she left him. And if you think there is an inconsistency in Spain's passive willingness to eat, as it were, such a dish of humble pie, considering his vocation and track record, you have understood the facts without knowing the truth.

The truth is that workers are just like you and I. They suffer from toothaches and the common cold. They sometimes become overdrawn at the bank and their cars won't start. If, like Spain, their life is compartmentalized to any degree, they can be quite ordinary-appearing family men who live the most prosaic and common home lives. The guy in the brake shop gets snotty with them, they don't whack him out; they go home and complain and suffer just like anybody else. They get fucked over just like we do.

And so he let her leave. And the idea of whacking Buddy Blackburn, or Pat, or the both of them, simply never occurred to him. What the hell would be the point? Besides, he knew that it hadn't been his ineptitude in bed nor his diminutive dick nor his wimpy ways that had turned them sour. It had been there in the cards all along.

The places where her clothes had been taken from closets, in the master bedroom and in the big walk-in closet, left gaping, black holes that sucked the juice out of his heart and mind. And each time he let himself be pulled by those forces, it took more out of him. For days everything in the house around him sapped his energies, and the most mundane act — opening a refrigerator and seeing a certain food — was enough to make him bleed inside.

It was all Eichord could do not to cry. He was not a man who spilled his tears easily. And the funny thing about it was there was absolutely nothing wrong. Career-wise he was firmly at the reins of an upwardly mobile skyrocket. And when they brought him out to Los Angeles on the case media had tagged the 'Eyeball Murders,' it was all carte blanche and first class all the way.

'You're a star in this business,' the liaison guy had told him. They actually spoke that way out here. It was wild. Everybody in Southern California seemed to be plugged into the entertainment industry in some way. One of the detectives in the central bureau office had a book on the best-seller list and Jack had overheard him talking to someone on the phone about pass-through payouts and a second-lead store display, and for a second he thought he might have been taken to the wrong office.

They had VIP treatment ready for him at the airport and a car waiting; standard. Two street cops had been with the liaison guy and they took him to Studio City first, so the cops could walk him through the most recent crime scene on busy Ventura Boulevard. It was one in a series of what happened to be three gangland whacks, not enough to qualify as serial kills, but to prompt reaching for Jack because of the attendant notoriety. He found the LAPD people crisp, flawlessly groomed, hip, very smart, and insincere. Again, it was the movie business. All of California seemed to have it, a contagious virus of the ethics or something. It depressed him.

It depressed him that he was a star. He was welcomed as if he was somebody out here to plug a movie instead of to work on a murder investigation. He'd been on talk shows. 'Very hip,' somebody told him. He could sense there was nothing he could do here. It was all too sprawling, too mobile, too California. It was nobody's fault, it was San Andreas' fault. It was just Lala Land.

They took him through the Studio City thing, jerked him around for a couple of hours, and coming back, took him to lunch; not so standard. The meal had to have set somebody back two bills for the four of them, had there been a check presented at the end of it. Waiters hovering around threatening to burst into flame at the very suggestion of a cigarette — one of those kinds of meals. The food adequate and unspectacular. Eichord conscious of his out-of-style threads and aloneness in this crushingly strange place.

'Have you ever seen the Pink Pussycat?' Questions about what was on his agenda for the night. Never mind the investigation. That told him everything he wanted to know right there. They were as thrilled to have him as he was to be here. It would be one of those things where 'a special agent of the Major Crimes Task Force aided in the investigation —' They would feed him to media if he didn't watch them tomorrow.

'Want to see the town tonight?' The liaison man said, resplendent in a blazer sweater and gray slacks, the two blue-suited cops and old Jack looking absurdly out of place in the fancy eatery. Eichord sipping chilled chablis like an idiot, feeling sorry for himself. He'd seen the town, thanks.

He'd begged off the Strip and the rest of it, and hoped for a quiet motel room, but someone he knew slightly had insisted in no uncertain terms that he be fed a home-cooked meal, and he let himself be more or less led by the hand to this darkening, alien California suburb, where he was overwhelmed by the deja vu of feeling himself in the grip of forces over which he had no control.

Eichord, who seldom had either the time or the temperament to sit motionless in front of a television in prime time (he was an addict of ancient Late Show whodunits), was in someone's home half- watching a set and waiting to be called to dinner, watching a show that was supposed to be a 'roast' of some elderly comedian, and the comic called upon to make the keynote speech began by spitting pea soup out in a mock-vomit. When the shocked laughter of the grossed-out audience subsided, the comic smiled innocently and

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