There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker (1973)

Chapter 1 

The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse.


***


I finished reading Parker's Spenser roman-fleuve about a decade ago, when the author died. I always enjoyed the novels, which are sometimes funny, sometimes moving, and usually readable in one or two sittings. The private eye business always seems secondary to the characters, which I like, though some of the detective interludes have real resonance.


The Godwulf Manuscript is the first in the series, and filled with some clumsy to-ing and fro-ing to start with. But eventually Spenser makes enough people angry enough that he can figure out the who and the why.


I always enjoy the asides Parker uses to allow Spenser not to be introspective as a narrator. They are correlatives for the inner the hero's soul:


....Driving back to Boston, I thought about my two retainers in the same week. Maybe I'd buy a yacht. On the other hand maybe it would be better to get the tear in my convertible roof fixed. The tape leaked. I got off the Mass Pike at Storrow Drive and headed for the university. On my left the Charles River was thick and gray between Boston and Cambridge. A single oarsman was sculling upstream. He had on a hooded orange sweat shirt and dark blue sweat pants and his breath steamed as he rocked back and forth at the oars. Rowing downstream would have been easier....


***


Godwulf seems a little heavy on the bourbon, but then again it's 1973 and bourbon had been part of private dick schtick for six decades by that point. 


In 1992 I started reading the series about five volumes in, not from Godwulf, and by then Spenser was more interested in describing his ability to drink coffee from an uncovered mug without spilling a drop while driving stick.


Still:


....My head was light and my eyes focused badly and my mouth felt thick. I got my coat on, locked the office, and went down to my car. I parked in a taxi zone and got a submarine sandwich and a large black coffee to go. I ate the sandwich and drank the coffee as I headed out to Newton again. Eating a sub sandwich with one hand is sloppy work, and I got some tomato juice and oil on my shirtfront and some coffee stains on my pant leg. I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts shop in West Newton Square, bought another black coffee, and sat in my car and drank it.


I felt terrible. The bourbon was wearing off, and I felt dull and sleepy and round-shouldered. I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to ten. The snow continued as I sat and forced the coffee down. I had read somewhere that black coffee won't sober you up, but I never believed it. After bourbon it tasted so awful it had to be doing some good.


***


The chief risk of a Spenser novel, of course, is weight gain.  Parker describes Spenser's kitchen inspirations to a diabolical fault.


First:


....I ate the omelet with thick slices of fresh pumpernickel and drank three more cups of coffee while I looked at the morning Globe. I felt even better.


Later:


....I waited till I heard her splash into the tub. Then I went to the kitchen. I put on a pot of rice to cook and got four boneless chicken breasts out of the meat keeper. I cooked them with wine and butter and cream and mushrooms. While they cooked I tossed a salad and made a dressing with time juice and mint, olive oil, honey, and wine vinegar. There were two bottles of Rhine wine in the refrigerator for which I'd originally had other plans, but I could buy some more tomorrow.


***


Godwulf gives us a sexually carefree Spenser, bedding a stock broker's wife and her adult daughter within 24 hours of each other. (We won't see anything like this after Susan Silverman shows up in volume two.)


The seduction scene with Mrs. Orchard almost an intoxicating as the omelet with pumpernickel:


....Marion Orchard came in. She was wearing an ankle-length blue housecoat that zipped up the front, a matching headband, and bare feet. I noticed her toenails were painted silver. She seemed as well groomed and together as before, but her face was flushed and I realized she had been drinking. Me, too. Who hadn't? The ride and the coffee had sobered me up and depressed me. My head ached, and my stomach felt like I'd been swallowing sand. Without a word Marion Orchard went to the sideboard, put ice in a glass from a silver bucket, added Scotch, and squirted soda in from a silver-laced dispenser. She drank half of it and turned toward me.


"You want some?"


"Yes, ma'am."


"Scotch or bourbon?"


"Bourbon, with bitters, if you've got it."


She turned and mixed me bourbon and soda with bitters in a big square-angled glass. I drank some and felt it begin to combat the coffee and the fatigue. I'd need more, though. From the looks of Marion Orchard, she would, too, and planned on getting it.


"Where's Mr. Orchard?" I asked.


"At the office. Sitting behind his big masculine desk, trying to feel like a man."


"Does he know Terry's gone?"


"Yes. That's why he went to the office. It makes him feel better about himself. All he can cope with is stocks and bonds. People, and daughters and wives, scare hell out of him."


She finished the drink, took mine, which was still half-full, and made two fresh ones.


"Something scares hell out of everybody," I said. "Have you any thoughts on where I should look for Terry?"


"What scares hell out of you?" she asked.


The bourbon was making a lot of headway against the coffee. I felt a lot better than I had when I came in. The line of Marion Orchard's thigh was tight against the blue robe as she sat with her legs tucked up under her on the couch.


"The things people do to one another," I answered. "That scares hell out of me."


She drank some more. "Wrong," she said. "That engages your sympathy. It doesn't scare you. I'm an expert on what scares men. I've lived with a scared man for twenty-two years. I left college in my sophomore year to marry him, and I never finished. I was an English major. I wrote poetry. I don't anymore."


I waited. She didn't really seem to be talking to me anymore.


"About Terry?" I prodded softly.


"Screw Terry," she said, and finished her drink. "When I was her age I was marrying her father and nobody with wide shoulders came around and got me out of that mess."


She was busy making us two more drinks as she talked. Her voice was showing the liquor. She was talking with extra-careful enunciation-the way I was. She handed me the drink and then put her hand on my upper arm and squeezed it.


"How much do you weigh'?" she asked.


"One ninety-five."


"You work out, don't you? How much can you lift?"


"I can bench press two-fifty ten times," I said.


"How'd you get the broken nose?" She bent over very carefully and examined my face from about two inches away. Her hair smelled like herbs.


"I fought a ranked heavyweight once."


She stayed bent over, her face two inches away, her fragrant hair tumbling forward, one hand still squeezing my arm, the other holding the drink. I put my left hand behind her head and kissed her. She folded up into my lap and kissed back. It wasn't eager. It was ferocious. She let the glass drop from her hand onto the floor, where I assume it tipped and spilled. Under the blue robe she was wearing nothing at all, and she was nowhere near as sinewy as she had looked to me the first time I saw her. Making love in a chair is heavy work. The only other time I'd attempted, I'd gotten a charley horse that damn near ruined the event. With one arm around her back I managed to slip the other one under her knees and pick her up, which is not easy from a sitting position in a soft chair. Her mouth never left mine, nor did the fierceness abate as I carried her to the couch. She bit me and scratched me, and at climax she pounded me on the back with her clenched fist as hard as she could. At the time I barely noticed. But when it was over, I felt as if I'd been in a fight, and maybe in some sense I had.


She had shed the robe during our encounter and now she walked naked over to the bar to make another drink for each of us. She had a fine body, tanned all over except for the stark whiteness of her buttocks and the thin line her bra strap had made. She returned with a drink in each hand. Gave one to me and then stroked my cheek once, quite gently. She drank half her drink, still standing naked in front of me, and lit a cigarette, took in a long lungful of smoke, let it out, picked up her robe, and slipped into it. There we were, all together again, neat, orderly, employee and employer. Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson.


"I think Terry is with a group in Cambridge that calls itself the Ceremony of Moloch. In the past, when she would get in trouble or be freaked out on drugs or have a fight with her father, she'd run off there, and they let her stay. One of her friends told me about it."


She'd known that when she'd called me. But she'd gotten me out here to tell me. She really didn't like her husband.


"Where in Cambridge is the Ceremony of Moloch?"


"I don't know. I don't even know if she's there, but it's all I could think of."


"Why did Terry take off?"


I didn't use her name. After copulation on the couch, Mrs. Orchard sounded a little silly. On the other hand, we were not on a "Marion" basis.


"A fight with her father." She didn't use my name either.


"About what?"


"What's it ever about? He sees her as an extension of his career. She's supposed to adorn his success by being what he fantasizes a daughter is. She does everything the opposite to punish him for not being what she fantasizes a father is… and probably for sleeping with me. Ever read Mourning Becomes Electra, Spenser?"


That's how she solved her problem with names; she dropped the Mister. I wondered if I should call her Orchard. l decided not to.


"Yeah, a long time ago. But is there anything you could tell me about Terry, or the Ceremony of Moloch, that might turn out useful? It is past midnight, and I've gotten a lot of exercise today."


I think she colored very slightly. "You are like a terrier after a rat. Nothing distracts your attention."


"Well," I said, "there are things, occasionally, Marion."


Her color got a little deeper and she smiled, but shook her head.


"I wonder," she said. "I wonder whether you might not have been thinking of a way to run down my dear daughter Terry, even then."


"Then," I said, "I wasn't thinking of anything."


She said, "Maybe."


I was silent. I was so tired it was an effort to move my mouth.


She shook her head again. "No, there's nothing. I can't think of anything else to tell you that will help. But can you look? Can you find her?"


"I'll look," I said....


***


This being a semi-topical 1973 novel, the spider at the center of the web is an egomaniacal New Leftist:


Hayden went on with no animation, like a recording. "I don't use drugs, but many people need them to liberate their consciousness, to elevate their perceptions and free them from the bondage of American hypocrisy. A drug culture is the first step to an open society. I was the man who got them from Joseph Broz. Dennis supplied them to the community. He didn't know where I got them, and I didn't know where he sold them. It was just right."


He had a dreamy little half smile on his face now as he talked, and his eyes were concentrating on a point somewhere left of my shoulder.


"Then he spoiled it. He complained about the quality. Said the heroin was cut too much. I said I'd speak to my supplier. Joseph Broz said that the quality was fine and was going to remain the way it was. Dennis threatened to tell the police on me. He threatened to bring down everything we'd worked for, everything that SCACE stood for. Simply because he wanted the heroin stronger. He sacrificed his every ideal. He betrayed the movement. He had to be executed. Miss Connelly and I discussed it and she suggested the gun. I discussed it with a representative of Joseph Broz and he said if we would give him the gun, he would manage the rest. Miss Connelly went there to visit and took the gun. It is too bad Miss Orchard has to suffer; she is a member of the movement and we bear her no ill will."


He paused. Still looking past my shoulder. The smile was a full smile now and his eyes were shiny. In a minute he'd start addressing me as "my fellow Americans."


The smile faded. "So now you know," he said.


"Will you tell it all to the police?" I said.


He shook his head. "I'll die without speaking," he said.


Ronald Colman, Major Andre, Nathan Hale, the Christian martyrs.


"You're not going to die," I said. "The death penalty is not legal at the moment. You will merely go to jail, unless you don't tell the cops. Then you will die without speaking like you almost did last night. Remember last night. You didn't seem so eager for silent martyrdom last night."


Judy Hayden put her hand on his shoulder. "Tell them, Lowell," she said.


He shrugged his shoulder away from her touch. "I've told him, and that's all I'm telling anyone. You brought him here. I wouldn't have had to tell him anything if you'd not brought him here. I trusted you and you betrayed me too. Can I trust no one? You've never cared about the movement. Dennis never cared about the movement. Cathy never cared about the movement."


"I care about you," she said. She was standing very stiff and very still. The palms of her hands appeared to press hard against her thighs.


"I am the movement," he said, and the dreamy smile was back and the eyes positively glistened. He was listening to the sound of a different drummer all right, and it was playing "God Save the King."


***


The Godwulf Manuscript is a brief, undemanding novel, of interest to Spenser completists but, of the 39 Parker-written novels, the least essential. Spenser does not inaugurate his great career as sardonic moralizer and everyday Bonapartist until God Save the Child in 1974. 


The best is yet to come. 


But just remember to eat something first.




Jay

21 May 2020





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