Kevin Bergeron.

In a Cats Eye






IN A CATS EYE
KEVIN BERGERON


Authonomy by

HarperCollinsPublishers

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Acknowledgements

About Authonomy

Copyright

About the Publisher

1

The day before I found her dead started like any other day. Id been at The Morpheum for about a year. It was a nice hotel and I had a lot of friends there. Sometimes you think some guys your friend but he might not be, so you have to be careful, because that guy might get you in trouble.

You always had to go by Elsie to get in or out. She kept her door open in the daytime so that she could see out into the hallway, and she always sat in this stuffed chair with her feet up on a card table that Id cut the legs down for her because her ankles got puffy.

I liked to help her and she said I was handy and I could fix things. I had a key to the supply closet and nobody else did, and I had tools.

She had her feet up on the table I fixed for her, and she had furry slippers, and nylon stockings rolled down just below her knees. She was the landlady. She sat in that chair every day, all day long, and she didnt miss much. Nothing got by her, not in the daytime anyway. Sometimes things happened at night, and she didnt see any of that.

Anyway, I had just made it down the hallway past her parlor, thinking she hadnt seen me, and I was turning the door knob when she called my name.

Willy!

I figured either she had a job for me or she wanted my back rent. It was a sunny day and was going to get hot later, and I wanted to go out.

Willy!

I smelled soup cooking on her hot plate. I had a lot of things to do outside, but I hadnt eaten yet, either.

Willy, get in here. I want to talk to you.

Sometimes Elsie had me eat lunch with her. I went into her parlor. She was watching TV with the sound off. I thought they might be showing the spacemen, but they werent. I fixed the rabbit ears on the TV to give her a better picture; it didnt hurt to be nice to her. Her pillow had slid out from behind her neck.

Let me fix your pillow for you, Elsie, I said.

She grabbed the pillow away from me when I tried to fix it for her. I guess she just didnt want to be comfortable. I sat in the chair I always sat in and we looked at the TV.

They dont show the spacemen anymore, I said.

You mean the astronauts. They came back from the moon over a month ago. What makes you think it would be on TV now? Whatever put that idea into your head?

I dont know.

It was just doctors and nurses on TV, and Elsie always watched that.

Something has gotten into Nancy, she said.

Its that Roy, I said.

Willy, has Roy been bothering Nancy?

Hes been following her around. She doesnt want anything to do with him because hes a drug dealer. Francine said the police caught him and cut his arm off.

You know better than to believe anything Francine says. The police dont cut peoples arms off.

I know, I said. Im just telling you what Francine said.

Roy lost his arm in an accident.

He sells dope to little kids.

Stop talking about people. You dont know anything about Roy. He always pays his rent on time.

Id like to know where all his money comes from, I said.

He gets disability. Youre not disabled. You could work.

I never liked Roy, and I didnt think Elsie liked Nancy going around with him any more than I did, but she wasnt going to say anything bad about him. I figured that Nancy probably felt sorry for Roy on account of he had only one arm, like shed felt sorry for Mr. Winkley because he had only one eye. When Mr. Winkley was living out on the street and he had pneumonia, Nancy took him in. He went in and out her window. Elsie didnt know about Mr. Winkley, and I wasnt going to tell her. I was sorry that Mr. Winkley only had one eye, but I wasnt sorry for Roy, because he caused enough trouble with one arm that he didnt need another one.

Ill tell that Roy he better stay away from her if he knows whats good for him, I said. I never did like that Roy.

Youll tell him no such thing, Willy. You just stay away from him. Did you hear what I just said?

Yeah.

We watched TV with the sound off, and I thought, Roy has been bothering Nancy.

Shes lost weight, Elsie said.

I know, I said. Shes not happy like she used to be.

She said her door was sticking. You told me you fixed it.

I did. I put on a new deadbolt just last week.

And she said the hinges were loose. When she gets back from work, would you take a look at it?

Yup.

Talk to her, Willy. See if you can find out whats troubling her.

Okay, I said. Ill find out and let you know right away, Elsie. I liked to find out things for her.

We were looking at the TV. I was thinking that maybe Elsie had forgotten the soup, but I didnt want her to think I was hinting for her to give me some, so I didnt say anything.

She has a steady day job, Elsie said. She pays her rent on time every week.

I wanted to get her off the subject of rent.

Shes got a bank account, I said. She told Gladys, and Gladys told me, that she had a thousand dollars in it.

Well I shouldnt be at all surprised; and shes only twenty-one. Nancys a nice young woman.

Yup.

Youre a young man. What are you, nineteen or twenty?

I guess. You dont want to burn your soup, I said. Are you going to have lunch?

You can still make something of your life.

Yeah, sure.

Why wont you apply for a job at the restaurant?

Elsie was always nagging me about getting a job. Her brother ran a diner a few blocks from The Morpheum. Stanley worked there part time for Elsies brother, washing dishes. I figured that if I went to work for Elsies brother, any money he paid me Id have to pay right back to Elsie for rent and then for all I knew shed give it right back to her brother, and that didnt seem fair to me.

Its honest work, she said. I think that a nice young woman, like Nancy, would be wanting for some young man, I mean a nice young man who worked and had some money in his pocket, to take her to see a movie. If I was a young woman, thats what Id want.

She was trying to fix me up with Nancy. I didnt think I could ever ask Nancy out; not that I hadnt thought about it. I liked Nancy a lot, but she was way up there and I was way down here. She never made you feel that way, though. Its just that I saw her as like an angel or something, and I waswell

Im not the guy for her, I said.

You paid your debt to society, Willy.

Yeah. Id paid and then some. Up societys, I thought.

She wont wait forever, what with all the nice young working men there are today. A young woman expects a young man to express his feelings and not keep them inside; and as pretty and sensible, as nice a young woman as Nancy istime waits for no man.

Elsie didnt understand. A girl like Nancy, Id only drag her down, and I didnt want that.

Now dont forget, when Nancy gets home, to fix her door. Talk to her, Willy. She needs someone to talk to.

I had a lot of things to do outside and she wasnt going to give me any soup, so I left.

2

The sun was bright that day and I couldnt see anything at first. I waited on the sidewalk until my eyes got used to the light, facing the building with my back to the sun, looking through a big window that had tape on it. The room was empty except there was a table with a red squeeze bottle that was a chef with a pointy hat where catsup came out. He was always there grinning at you. It must have been a lunch place once.

After I got done looking at the chef I walked around town for a long time, but all I found was a blue jay feather. Then right away I found some jelly doughnuts in back of the bakery, and a dime and a nickel underneath the machines at the Laundromat.

I was walking along minding my own business and eating a jelly doughnut when some guy tried to jump me down by the river. It was some guy Id seen around town and I thought hed been following me. He said something when I walked by, asked me if I had a cigarette, and I didnt like the way he said it. I figured he was planning to jump me. I went over to ask him what he was looking at and he gave me a dirty look so I went to smack him and he pushed me into the river and shook his fist and walked off. Now that I think about it, maybe hed only wanted a cigarette. Still, a guy could grab your wrist when youre handing him a cigarette, and there might be another guy in the bushes. I thought the guy might be going to jump me.

When I was done walking I went in the alley out back of The Morpheum to see if Mr. Winkley was out there, and he was sitting on top of the dumpster looking up the fire escape at Nancys window.

Im waiting for her too, I said. I dont usually talk to cats, though. Im going to fix her door.

He stood up and began turning around in circles on top of the dumpster and meowing.

I just got jumped, I said.

He went into the dumpster and started hopping around on top of the trash. Then he stopped and stared at the trash that was in there.

I smacked the guy, I said.

We all figured that Mr Winkley had probably lost his eye in a fight. Before Nancy had him fixed he got into fights all the time, but he lost most of them. You kind of hate to do that to them, but you cant live with them any other way, and they fight and get in trouble all the time. After his operation he didnt fight as much.

It must have been a mouse in the dumpster. Mr Winkley stood still and waited. He probably figured that the mouse would forget he was there, and come back out.

He waited for a while but the mouse didnt come back, and he hopped back out, sat down again on top of the dumpster, and started butting the side of his head against my hand and purring.

If I had just kept on walking, then maybe he wouldnt have jumped me, I said.

Mr Winkley was washing his face and then he stopped and looked up at the window. He jumped from the dumpster onto the fire escape, ran up and went through the hole in the screen. Nancy was home.

I headed back. Stanley was standing on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette. Every time youd see him hed either be leaning against a wall or walking on the sidewalk with his head down like he was looking for pennies. He always had a mean look on his face and he never talked to anybody. He was in his forties and still washed dishes. I thought, That guy is a loser, and always trying to start something. As soon as he saw me he snapped his head away because hed never look at you. I didnt like any guy looking at me, but a guy that never looks at you and never says anything, you never know what that guys thinking or when he might sneak up on you.

3

Nancy had three locks on her door: a keyhole lock below the door knob, a deadbolt that you could only work from inside the room, and a sliding chain lock. She had them all locked when I knocked on her door. She unlocked the three locks and opened the door and I went in.

The hinges are loose, Willy, she said. She shook the door to show me. I think the wood might be bad, and it sticks when I try to close it. Can you fix it so that nobody can break in?

The truth is that if you know how, you can break into just about anything, but I wasnt going to tell her that.

Sure, I said. When Im done, itll be like Fort Knox.

It would have taken about ten minutes to tighten the hinges and plane the edge of the door, but I made a big deal out of it to make Nancy feel better, and I was thinking that Elsie might let me slide another week on the rent; and I didnt mind having an excuse to spend some time around Nancy. I had a set of unused hinges and some extra-long drywall screws in the supply closet, and some old receipts and paper bags from Peaveys Hardware.

Nancy watched and we talked some while I worked. I was taking my time. I had the door off and was taking the hinges off when Howie and Francine came in from the street. They were talking as they came up the stairs.

Francine, had I only realized what you meant when you said you were going to start keeping a diary, I would never have encouraged you to buy that notebook. You will succeed only in upsetting yourself further.

Howie was about fifty-five, I guess. He went to college once. Francine was older than Howie.

Ive been nothing but good, she said, and everybody treats me like dirt.

They stopped when they came to us, and Francine held up a notebook.

Im keeping book on everything that happens around here, she said. Im going to make sure that it all comes out even.

Willy is fixing my door, Nancy said.

Francine didnt like that Nancy had changed the subject.

Always make them work for it, just the way I taught you, Francine said. Any girl thats got what you got dont ever have to give nothing for free.

Francine, Howie said.

Butt out, Howie, she said. Who asked you? Anyhow, this is girl talk.

She put her hand on Nancys shoulder and whispered in Nancys ear, Has Gladys turned you out yet, honey?

Leave her alone, I said.

Never mind the jailbird, Francine said.

Willy paid his debt to society, Nancy said. She was holding Mr. Winkley. Hes fixing my door because hes a nice guy and he likes to help people.

I can see you dont need me anymore, Francine said to Nancy, now that you have Gladys to teach you; but dont you ever forget that Im the one that taught Gladys.

Francine always claimed that she had been a prostitute, and she was teaching everybody else how to be a prostitute. She had to believe that she had something that people wanted bad enough that theyd pay her for it. It wasnt true; nobody had ever wanted her.

Lock your front door and make them come in the back, she said to Nancy. Thats the way Howie does it.

Francine, I think we should go now, Howie said.

This is all going in the book, Francine said. She was writing in her book like a cop writing a ticket. Then she slapped the notebook and put it in her handbag and started patting Mr. Winkley, and Nancy handed him over to her. Mr. Winkley was biting Francines finger.

I never had a baby of my own, Francine said.

She walked down the hall holding Mr. Winkley. Then she turned around.

Come on, Howie; were going now. Howie?

Ill be along in a minute, Francine.

Francine was mad at Howie for not going with her, and she went into her room with Mr. Winkley.

Nancy swept her floor and Howie stood there watching me work on the door. I knew what he was up to.

That looks like a job for two men, he said. I liked Howie, but I didnt want him butting in on my job.

I dont think so, Howie, I said.

Many hands make light work.

Nope.

If we work on this together, then I can talk to Elsie and shell give us both a little something, in exchange for our effort. I know how to talk to her. Well split everything fifty-fifty, right down the middle.

No, Howie. Im sorry.

You might need me to go to Peaveys to buy new hardware. Those old hinges look worn out to me. That Howie would get the money from Elsie, and then instead of buying the hinges, hed spend it all on beer. I didnt like him butting in on my job.

Okay, I said. Well split fifty-fifty, on the hinges and anything you can get out of Elsie. Well have to plane the edge of the door. Theres a plane up on the third floor, in one of the empty rooms, somewhere. See if you can find it. While youre doing that, Ill check and see what we have in the supply closet.

Willy, youre a true friend, he said, and hurried upstairs to the third floor.

I went to the supply closet where I had the set of hinges and receipts I told you about. I cleaned the hinges with Brasso so theyd look like new, keeping an eye on the stairway where Howie had gone up. I put them in the Peaveys bag along with a receipt for two dollars and ninety-nine cents, and dropped the bag out a window. Then I went down and told Elsie that I needed three dollars to go out and buy new hinges.

She gave me three dollars and I was gone for maybe an hour or so, and then I came in with the bag that I threw out the window.

Have you been drinking? she said.

No, I said. I showed her the hinges and gave her the receipt and a penny; but I felt guilty, cheating Howie like that.

When I went up to Nancys room Howie was sitting on the floor in the hall, pretending to be working on the door. Hed probably come out when he heard me coming up the stairs. He had a bottle of beer, and that made me feel better, because Id meant to save him some of the Thunderbird Id bought, but Id ended up drinking the whole bottle sitting on the railroad tracks in the sun. I figured the Colonel must have given him the beer, because it was the Colonels brand. I asked Howie where Nancy was and he said that hed been talking to the Colonel in the Colonels room, and when he came out, she was gone. Then he saw the paper bag from Peaveys in my hand.

You have hurt me deeply, Willy, he said. I trusted you, and you have betrayed that trust.

If you had gotten the money from Elsie you would have gone out and spent it all just like I did. Anyway, youre the one who showed me how to save the old receipts for pretending to buy things we already have.

Just because I do it, that doesnt make it right, does it? I regret that I have sometimes set a poor example. You have not only betrayed my trust; you have betrayed Elsies trust as well.

I hadnt thought about it that way.

Come on, lets get to work, he said. Howie was a pretty good guy. When he was young hed had his own insurance business in a town about fifty miles down the road. Hed been seeing some queer guy, and when he ran for mayor the guy told Howie to give him money or hed tell everybody. It all came out. Howies wife took him to the cleaners and thats when he started drinking. He had a son that was grown up but the son would never see him.

We worked on the door for a while and the Colonel came out and watched. He was tall and thin, and his white hair was cut flat on top. He was retired from the Air Force. I planed the edge of the door and Howie used a hammer and chisel to make a fit for the new hinges. He was making a lot of noise so that Elsie would hear us downstairs and know we were working. Gladys came barging out.

Pipe down! she said. Cant anybody have any peace and quiet around here? She came down the hall to see what was going on, and by the time she got to us she wasnt mad anymore.

What are you bums doing, ripping up the joint? she said. Pardon me, Colonel; I dont include you in that category. Its those two bums I was referring to, I mean, to who I was referring, to whom I refer. Did I say that right, correctly?

Gladys read a lot, and she was on a self-improvement kick, learning how to talk with the right grammar. She was always on some kick. I liked Gladys. She was a kick.

These two workmen are repairing young Nancys door, the Colonel said.

You keep an eye on those two, Colonel, she said.

Gladys was no spring chicken and she had gone to fat some. She wore a babydoll nightgown around the hotel and didnt comb her hair, but she wasnt too bad to look at, and she didnt mind you looking. I asked her if she had seen Nancy.

She yawned and stretched with her hands held above her head, and if thered been a light on in the hallway you could have seen through her nightgown. The Colonel and I were looking, but Howie didnt pay attention; his hinges swung the other way.

She went out, Gladys said. Cats in my room, ripping up the wallpaper. He just attacked one of my wigs. I need male companionship. Mr. Winkley is my male companion. No, I dont know where she went. Im not her mother.

I was squatted down working on the lower hinge. Gladys started pounding on the top of my head with her fist. When are you going to fix my door? she said. You bum.

I swung my arm to push her arm away. Cut it out, Gladys, I said.

Something thumped in Gladyss room.

Im going to kill that cat, she said, and went back into her room, and after a while the Colonel left for his room.

Roys been bothering Nancy, I said to Howie. She doesnt want to hurt his feelings.

I assure you, Willy, it wont last long. Shes not right for Roy.

Hes not right for Nancy, I said.

We finished working on the door and I was lying on my bed smoking a cigarette and thinking about a story the Colonel had told me, all about these soldiers that hid inside a wooden horse theyd made, and the enemy dragged the horse inside the walls of their own city. Maybe you already know the story, but I thought it was just the Colonel that knew about it and told me. I was thinking about that story when I heard Nancys footsteps coming up the stairs. I knew everybodys footsteps.

I listened as she walked down the hall and knocked on Gladyss door. I heard Gladys say, He was a little angel, no trouble at all, and then Nancy and Mr. Winkley went to her room. A few minutes later she came out and walked toward my room. She stood outside my door for a minute, walked halfway back to her room, then again to my room, and knocked on my door. I went to answer it.





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