City of Glass - 02
Even before he became William Wilson, Quinn had been a devoted reader of mystery novels. He knew that most of them were poorly written, that most could not stand up to even the vaguest sort of examination, but still, it was the form that appealed to him, and it was the rare, unspeakably bad mystery that he would refuse to read. Whereas his taste in other books was rigorous, demanding to the point of narrow-mindedness, with these works he showed almost no discrimination whatsoever. When he was in the right mood, he had little trouble reading ten or twelve of them in a row. It was a kind of hunger that took hold of him, a craving for a special food, and he would not stop until he had eaten his fill.
What he liked about these books was their sense of plenitude and economy. In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be sowhich amounts to the same thing. The world of the book comes to life, seething with possibilities, with secrets and contradictions. Since everything seen or said, even the slightest, most trivial thing, can bear a connection to the outcome of the story, nothing must be overlooked. Everything becomes essence; the center of the book shifts with each event that propels it forward. The center, then, is everywhere, and no circumference can be drawn until the book has come to its end.
The detective is one who looks, who listens, who moves through this morass of objects and events in search of the thought, the idea that will pull all these things together and make sense of them. In effect, the writer, and the detective are interchangeable. The reader sees the world through the detective's eyes, experiencing the proliferation of its details as if for the first time. He has become awake to the things around him, as if they might speak to him, as if, because of the attentiveness he now brings to them, they might begin to carry a meaning other than the simple fact of their existence. Private eye. The term held a triple meaning for Quinn. Not only was it the letter “i,” standing for “investigator, it was “I” in the upper case, the tiny life-bud buried in the body of the breathing self. At the same time, it was also the physical eye of the writer, the eye of the man who looks out from himself into the world and demands that the world reveal itself to him. For five years now, Quinn had been living in the grip of this pun.
He had, of course, long ago stopped thinking of himself as real. If he lived now in the world at all, it was only at one remove, through the imaginary person of Max Work. His detective necessarily had to be real. The nature of the books demanded it. If Quinn had allowed himself to vanish, to withdraw into the confines of a strange and hermetic life, Work continued to live in .the world of others, and the more Quinn seemed to vanish, the more persistent Work's presence in that world became. Whereas Quinn tended to feel out of place in his own skin, Work was aggressive, quick-tongued, at home in whatever spot he happened to find himself. The very things that caused problems for Quinn, Work took for granted, and he walked through the mayhem of his adventures with an ease and indifference that never failed to impress his creator. It was not precisely that Quinn wanted to be Work, or even to be like him, but it reassured him to pretend to be Work as he was writing his books, to know that he had it in him to be Work if he ever chose to be, even if only in his mind.
That night, as he at last drifted off to sleep, Quinn tried to imagine what Work would have said to the stranger on the phone. In his dream, which he later forgot, he found himself alone in a room, firing a pistol into a bare white wall.
The following night, Quinn was caught off guard. He had thought the incident, was over and was not expecting the stranger to call again. As it happened, he was sitting on the toilet, in the act of expelling a turd, when the telephone rang. It was somewhat later than the previous night, perhaps ten or twelve minutes before one. Quinn had just reached the chapter that tells of Marco Polo's journey from Peking to Amoy, and the book was open on his lap as he went about his business in the tiny bathroom. The ringing of the telephone came as a distinct irritation. To answer it promptly would mean getting up without wiping himself, and he was loath to walk across the apartment in that state. On the other hand, if he finished what he was doing at his normal speed, he would not make it to the phone in time. In spite of this, Quinn found himself reluctant to move. The telephone was not his favorite object, and more than once he had considered getting rid of his. What he disliked most of all was its tyranny. Not only did it have the power to interrupt him against his will, but inevitably he would give in to its command. This time, he decided to resist. By the third ring, his bowels were empty. By the fourth ring, he had succeeded in wiping himself By the fifth ring, he had pulled up his pants, left the bathroom, and was walking calmly across the apartment. He answered the phone on the sixth ring, but there was no one at the other end. The caller had hung up.
The next night, he was ready. Sprawled out on his bed, perusing the pages of The Sporting News,_ he waited for the stranger to call a third time. Every now and then, when his nerves got the better of him, he would stand up and pace about the apartment. He put on a recordHaydn's opera Il Mondo della_ Luna_and listened to it from start to finish. He waited and waited. At two-thirty, he finally gave up and went to sleep.
He waited the next night, and the night after that as well. Just as he was about to abandon his scheme, realizing that he had been wrong in all his assumptions, the telephone rang again. It was May nineteenth. He would remember the date because it was his parents' anniversaryor would have been, had his parents been aliveand his mother had once told him that he had been conceived on her wedding night. This fact had always appealed to himbeing able to pinpoint the first moment of his existence and over the years he had privately celebrated his birthday on that day. This time it was somewhat earlier than on the other two nightsnot yet eleven o'clockand as he reached for the phone he assumed it was someone else.
“Hello?” he said.
Again, there was a silence on the other end. Quinn knew at once that it was the stranger.
“Hello?” he said again. “What can I do for you?”
“Yes,” said the voice at last. The same mechanical whisper, the same desperate tone. “Yes. It is needed now. Without delay.”
“What is needed?”
“To speak. Right now. To speak right now. Yes.”
“And who do you want to speak to?”
“Always the same man. Auster. The one who, calls himself Paul Auster.”
This time Quinn did not hesitate. He knew what he was going to do, and now that the time had come, he did it.
“Speaking,” he said. “This is Auster speaking.”
“At last. At last I've found you.” He could hear the relief in the voice, the tangible calm that suddenly seemed to overtake it.
“That's right,” said Quinn. “At last.” He paused for a moment to let the words sink in, as much for himself as for the other. “What can I do for you?”
“I need help,” said the voice. “There is great danger. They say you are the best one to do these things.”
“It depends on what things you mean.”
“I mean death. I mean death and murder.”
“That's not exactly my line,” said Quinn. “I don't go around killing people.”
“No,” said the voice petulantly. “I mean the reverse.”
“Someone is going to kill you?”
“Yes, kill me. That's right. I am going to be murdered.”
“And you want me to protect you?”
“To protect me, yes. And to find the man who is, going to do it.”
“You don't know who it is?”
“I know, yes. Of course I know. But I don't know where he is.”
“Can you tell me about it?”
“Not now. Not on the phone. There is great danger. You must come here.”
“How about tomorrow?”
“Good. Tomorrow. Early tomorrow. In the morning.”
“Good. Ten o'clock.” The voice gave an address on East 69th Street. “Don't forget, Mr. Auster. You must come.”
“Don't ‘worry,” said Quinn. “I'll be there.”
2 The next morning, Quinn woke up earlier than he had in several weeks. As he drank his coffee, buttered his toast, and read through the baseball scores in the paper (the Mets had lost again, two to one, on a ninth inning error), it did not occur to him that he was going to show up for his appointment. Even that locution, his appointment, seemed odd to him. It wasn't his appointment, it was Paul Auster's. And who that person was he had no idea. Nevertheless, as time wore on he found himself doing a good imitation of a man preparing to go out. He cleared the table of the breakfast dishes, tossed the newspaper on the couch, went into the bathroom, showered, shaved, went on to the bedroom wrapped in two towels, opened the closet, and picked out his clothes for the day. He found himself tending toward a jacket and tie. Quinn had not worn a tie since the funerals of his wife and son, and he could not even remember if he still owned one. But there it was, hanging amidst the debris of his wardrobe. He dismissed a white shirt as too formal, however, and instead chose a gray and red check affair to go with the gray tie. He put them on in a kind of trance. It was not until he had his hand on the doorknob that he began to suspect what he was doing. “I seem to be going out,” he said to himself. “But if I am going out, where exactly am I going?” An hour later, as he climbed from the number 4 bus at 70th Street and Fifth Avenue, he still had not answered the question. To one side of him was the park, green in the morning sun, with sharp, fleeting shadows;