"No one is to know. No one will know."
"But this is quite insane."
"It's not like that."
"Oh, really? You mean you didn't toss the gun in some
convenient body of water on your way over?"
"It's right here," he said, pulling a revolver from
his jacket pocket.
"Put that away," I hissed.
He shrugged. "No one knows he's gone," he said, replacing
the gun in his pocket. He spoke with a disconcerting
"Who was he?" I said, vitality draining. "Who was
the man you killed?"
"He was one of those activist types, a real idealist.
Somehow he sneaked into my office and attacked me."
"He attacked you?"
Floyd shook his head. "I was speaking figuratively."
We both conspicuously shut up while the waitress set
down Floyd's Scotch. As soon as she left I blurted,
"Are you sure you're all right?"
"Well, what was he after?"
He took a large gulp of his Scotch. "He was an activist,
see. A consumer activist. And he had some serious problems
with one of our new products."
"Christ, they must have been serious for him to attack
you - even if it was figuratively."
"Jesus Christ. Activist is just a term Floyd, a figure
"I know, I know."
"Well what the hell?" I was baffled. It didn't make
sense. This was happening to Floyd. The whole situation
was stupid, the way the headlines in any of the periodicals
for which I wrote are stupid. And - at that I found
myself transported home, pinned again between Sinclair
and the hack stories about Jackie O that I'd pinched
from the library and stacked on my drawing room table.
I was so tired. "You know this one is really going to
bugger you," I said, almost as a verdict. And as though
to ask him in futility how he pleaded I said: "So now
He was tracing the bottom of his glass on the tablecloth.
"Let me tell you."
"Floyd wait." I had to stop him. I could feel the
room clouding again with knowledge. Not knowledge that
brings wisdom but that stamps upon a man the responsibility
to act. The very knowledge that I had spent most of
my life avoiding. "I have to say, I don't know what
you want, or why now you make as though you need or
wish - " It seemed preposterous. "To confess?"
"In a way." He sipped his drink and slowly looked
up. He hardly seemed nervous. "You know I'm with Carcomen
Chemicals, from Atlanta?"
I should have left, run screaming, never looked back.
But I gave in. "I've heard rumors," I said.
"Well I joined them 8 months ago. Ever since it's
been a nightmare. This kid has been all over me from
Stop now, I thought to myself. Stop. Instead I said,
"What do you mean, all over you?"
"On my case, really digging into our business. Some
fucking apparition inspired him to investigate one of
our new cleaners, and he was really taking us to task
on it. I mean this kid knew his business."
"What inspired him?"
"What inspires any of them? He saw himself as some
kind of hero I suppose. You know, the star of his own
"Floyd, you've lost me. I don't understand what the
"The cleaner was fake, and the kid knew it. He was
ready to take us down."
"Yes, a complete fake. It was a household cleaner.
That's what Carcomen makes. You know, that lime green
bullshit that makes your toilet bowl smell like a fucking
pine tree. So big deal, it's time to make a new product.
Poindexter number XYZ in the basement throws some dye
in a bottle and we slap a sticker on the front. New
anti-bacterial cleaner. Then the boners in marketing
animate some tirds for the television. They're microscopic
tirds, someone says, and they're everywhere. Real earth
shattering stuff here Carston. So then we tell them
"We tell them only our new Spritz Cleaner can kill
the tirds." He said it in a way that suggested the answer
should have been obvious. "Or so the story goes."
"Floyd it does not sound to me that he saw himself
as some kind of hero. If he was a consumer activist,
as you say, he was simply doing his job."
"With a one hundred million dollar kick in the balls
"In fact," I persisted, "he was doing what we'd hope
all citizens and consumers would do when armed with
"Carston, for Christ's sake, what is that supposed
"You're right," I said, suddenly back to my senses.
"I'm sorry. It's just that I find this quite astounding."
"I'm surprised. You write about this sort of crap
all the time don't you?"
"I suppose, I - "
"Like Child Labor in East LA?"
"You've read it?"
"No, of course not, but I'm aware it exists." I nodded
diffidently. "So you know what it's like out there."
"Floyd, I've written about incest and vote buying
and insurance scams and art forgery and everything else
magazines pay for. I have not written about fake products
being foisted upon the public. I've never heard of it,
especially on a scale approaching anything Carcomen
is capable of."
"Well, I can assure you it happens every day. It's
how the world works. This myth about market self-sufficiency
is a pain in the ass, let me tell you. We make our money,
but the market is no natural phenomenon, you know that.
It continues because it's upheld and bolstered by the
constant manufacture of crap no one needs."
"You're right, it is not such a shock as I let on.
It's this whole killing business, I suppose. You know
I have no taste for it."
"Hey, I can't blame you for that."
He sounded very paternal, but I wasn't sure he aimed
his sympathy at the right target. "It seems like such
a barbarous way to solve a problem in a day and age
as refined as ours," I said, sounding sad. He nodded,
as though I were the one confessing. "I can't be sure
now if that's even why I'm overreacting. It might be
more the fact that you're mixed up in all this. I never
expected it to be near me. And never you, not you. I'm
weakened by it, this dirty business of murder. Murder
- it's trouble, in the general sense. Just trouble.
I'm weakened by it because I can see you've been weakened
by it. It feels like it's brought us so much closer
to the ground, the grit. It's ugly. I mean, what will
happen on the ground, so close to this trouble?"
"It'll all be covered up," he said in such a way that
it was clear to me this was the very least of his concerns.
"Carcomen looks after their people. They've got a few
ex-government eggheads on the job, one new guy who helped
clean up that mess for what's his name, that chump in
the Cabinet caught in the girly ring. You know, sent
the broads and all those pimps down in a flaming Learjet."
"I never heard of that."
"So he's good. And he has a resume as long as my arm,
so I've got nothing to worry about."
"Floyd I'm not sure I'm comforted or mortified by
how widespread you're leading me to believe this is."
"What do you want me to say, this is the 90s?"
"Well what's next then? That's the way it's always
"Maybe I just won't say anything else about it."
I wasn't sure if he was referring to his problem or
the solution, as generally applied, but I didn't want
him to stop yet. "Then this situation seems so nicely
parceled," I said. "Ready to file under forgotten."
"So what's to talk about? Why the visit? Here? Now?"
"I'll tell you why. It's bothering me," he said somewhat
regretfully. "How'm I going to get over this? I mean
I killed this kid with my bare hands."
"I'm trying not to think about it Floyd. And in spite
of what you've told me I have to say that was a mistake."
"Fucking Cano," he muttered and took a drink. I could
see him looking into the past.
"What's that now?"
"Cano. Cano. That's his name, Faustino Cano."
"Jesus," I said, feeling both disgusted and saddened.
"What kind of name is that?"
"I know, right? Idiot. What was he thinking? He couldn't
have been more than 25. Not a year older than Randy."
"Randy, my son."
"I didn't know you had children."
"One from the second marriage, two from the third."
I lifted my eyebrows. "Now that's a pleasant surprise."
After a perceptible delay he nodded but said nothing.
"At any rate, I don't know what to say. Another young
man is dead, and I imagine you're feeling some guilt.
That could take a while to dissipate."
He stared into his glass a moment, then quickly finished
it in one gulp. "I'm not sure it's guilt. I'm… upset."
He was clearly embarrassed to say so, and I looked hard
at him to let him know I understood.
"That's not at all like you Floyd."
"Well, it's also my birthday tomorrow."
"Yes. Well, that is a tough one."
"I've been using a new therapy to block it out --
"Oh? What type?"
"It's a meditation, a subliminal type. It's a new
one. Some doctor just discovered it among the Pygmies
"Yes, I've heard of it -"
"And dammit Carston I know it was worth it. I won't
ever hear his name again, never mind hear from a cop
or see a courtroom. Our product is safe. It's a good
product. What was going on in his head? Fuckin' Cano.
It's been on the shelves for over three weeks now. And
it's selling real well, I got to say. It's just puts
one helluva twist on things to see that kid's blood
running over the granite in my office. I just couldn't
- I couldn't bear to watch them clean up."
"Please - " The word came out bearing no recognizable
intention. It could have been a request to stop or to
"I couldn't even stick to that pledge. Just before
they left I glanced at him. The boys were zipping the
bag and I just happened to look in that direction, I
couldn't help myself. And there it was. His face. He
looked - unsettled."
At that moment I'm not sure what I saw in Floyd's
eyes, fear perhaps, or sorrow. Whatever it was it gave
him away, it gave him over to me and it made everything
about the night feel right. This evening did not involve
a question of judgment; I knew that from the start.
But this being Floyd, a man I think I might say I admired,
I was frightened at first and thrown off from identifying
what was happening around me. Fright is good, it's a
weapon of survival. That was proved again tonight and
I was relieved to learn I still had it. But I was happier
realizing finally what this night was: a chance to suckle
and churn and feed to others what they wanted most.
Depravity, I have found, is lost in this formula.
"I can't even talk about the sound," Floyd said with
what resembled disbelief. "I get this feeling that that
sound is going to haunt me, no matter how much I meditate.
That sound, that goddam sound of his moan as he hunched
over in front me. Then that thump. Only flesh, a person,
can make that sound. Goddamit. It's going to be there
forever, I know it. To remind me that I've done something…
well, you know."
I reached across the table and put my hand on his
arm. "How old are you Floyd?"
I nodded approvingly. "I know I don't look it, but
I'm actually two years older than you." He hardly seemed
surprised, but I continued unperturbed. "Let me tell
you something that a young rabbi I met at an opera house
in Vienna once told me. I don't know if he was practicing
or not, he may have been on to one of those new wave
religions. That's not important. What's important is
what he said." Floyd held my gaze indifferently, as
if what I were about to say could not possibly be of
any value to him. Before he could change his mind or
look away I continued sounding somewhat solemn. "He
said - the rabbi told me - unless you are willing to
do whatever it takes to live forever, you must cast
yourself in the most forgiving light until the day you
Floyd looked riveted, but I could never be sure with
him. The silence was either productive or making things
worse. I couldn't take a chance with it. "I don't know
what else to tell you except I suppose the young man
got his heroic ending."
Floyd pulled his arm away and sat up very straight.
I imagined this is what he would look like had he ever
actually taken the role of closing a business deal.
Stern yet proud. He began moving his head as if to say
"I can't pinpoint any longer what it was I came hoping
to get from you tonight," he finally said. "But let
me say right now that this living is a great thing.
A great thing." He smiled and he thrust his hand across
the table toward me. "Carston, I want to thank you for
meeting with me."
I took his hand. "Not at all."
"No I mean it. That was a real gift you gave me."
"That's what friends are for."
He peered at me as if I were some fascinating creature
that he was seeing for the first time, safe and distant
behind a display window at a zoo. "I never thought it
of that way. But yes, friends." He picked up his drink
and shook the last of his ice into his mouth. With a
slight smile on his face and his eyes looking right
into mine he began chewing it. He stopped and grinned.
Then he pulled his hand away and abruptly stood before
me. "That's it Carston. That's it. What can I say?"
He looked unsure, for just a moment. "I feel I should
be offering you something more than words," he said.
"Don't even think of it."
"Okay," he replied, and his composure immediately
returned. "Then thanks." He moved to turn but halted
himself and looked at me with a fantastic optimism on
his face. "I can tell you this," he said pointing a
finger at me. "Buy some Carcomen stock for yourself.
We're going to do real well with this cleaner. Real
well." Floyd wagged his finger once more and walked
From my seat I watched the host bring Floyd his coat
and bid him good night. As Floyd stepped out the door,
Edward began to play Liszt's Mephisto Waltz and the
Gilded Lady began to regain its rightful grace. I sipped
on my Napoleon with a feeling of magnificence settling
upon me like a sheet of the purest silk. I noticed the
other patrons again and thought they looked especially
beautiful. This living is a great thing, I thought to
myself. The knowledge of it made me swell and glow with
a lightheadedness and security I had not known for too
long. Giddy and bolstered on living, this great great
thing, I summoned Emma to bring me a telephone and another
"Mr. Sinclair, please," I said into the handset a
moment later. "Yes, tell him it's Carston Grey calling.
- I know. - Yes, I know. - Tell him it's very important.
- Yes. Tell him I have my stock. - That's right. I have
is waiting on a new arrival.