[In addition to a career-spanning Clive Sinclair interview, issue #2 of Contrappasso features STR82ANL, a never-before-published novella by the British author. Here is the third of several excerpts.]
MEANWHILE, alone in their 7th floor hotel room, Zachary Siskin is beginning to pine for Ida. When the phone rings sometime after midnight he assumes—not unreasonably—that she is calling to explain her absence.
“Where are you?” he says.
“Perhaps I should tell you who I am,” a man answers, “before I tell you where I am. Hickory Waxwing at your service. Ruddy Turnstone’s right-hand man. That’s the who. The where is downstairs in the lobby. Now for the why. When he got home from the Sapsuckers’ soiree—which he said had developed into the dinner party from hell—my lord and master immediately dispatched me to guide you through Atlanta’s demimonde. ‘Leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of pleasure,’ were his instructions. I am here to carry them out to the letter. Am I to understand that your wife has not yet returned? Meet me in the bar, and we’ll wait out her coming in the company of good ol’ Jim Beam.” Hickory Waxwing adds that he is easy to spot, his hair being the colour of a Georgia peach (though not naturally so).
Sure enough Zachary Siskin spots him easily. Both men order their bourbon neat.
“Have you noticed,” says the blond-haired one, “that our names are practically homonyms? Though we don’t look much alike. And probably don’t act much alike either. What is it you do, Mr Siskin?”
“I’m a rabbi,” replies Zachary.
“Jesus,” exclaims Waxwing, “a Jewish one?”
“Most of us are,” replies Zachary.
Hickory Waxwing whistles.
“I would never have guessed,” he says. “Does it bother you to be seen with someone like me?”
“Someone like you I do not know about,” replies Zachary, “but with you I have no problem.”
“I was under the impression that your God took a dim view of Sodom and its eponymous perversion,” says Hickory.
“Fuck my God,” says Zachary Siskin, “I am a rabbi not because I believe in Him, but because I believe in man.”
“I believe in men, too,” counters Hickory, “but not to the extent that I worship them.”
“I don’t worship man, either,” says Zachary, “I simply maintain that he has the capacity to do harm, and the capacity to do good, and that it is my duty to encourage the latter proclivity.”
“Encouragement is perfect,” says Hickory, “the problem with religion over here is that it’s all about control.”
Is that what I am doing, wonders Zachary, trying to control Ida? Nevertheless he calls up to their room three times during the course of the next hour, to check if she has returned unobserved, or at least left a message to ease his worried mind.
From Hickory he learns that his wife had left the party with the Kingfishers. Although it is close to 2.00 am he phones their home. Mrs Kingfisher picks up. He makes his apologies, and is assured that Ida is fine.
“She’s with Art in his studio,” the woman adds. “Been there for a couple of hours at least. I can only assume that he persuaded your wife to sit for him after all. He can be a very persuasive man.”
Zachary downs another measure of Jim Beam (his sixth) and says to his new bosom buddy: “Okay, Hickory, let’s go turn over a stone or two.”
Waxwing does a double-take. He knows how to burn the candle at both ends, but doesn’t know how much of this knowledge he should share with a rabbi.
“What is it you’re hoping to find under them?’ he asks.
“Naked women,” replies Zachary.
“What sort?” asks Waxwing, beginning to wonder if his companion really is what he said he was.
“Not whores,” replies Zachary, “dancers.”
“You want to see a titty show?” exclaims Waxwing.