Cutting through Shep’s finally exhausted sleep: the insistent buzzer and the porter’s drawl. New York in half an hour. Shep eased himself over the edge of the upper, knew his own weariness as he dropped to the floor and took a quick, anxious reckoning of Manley Halliday’s condition.
Manley had not moved. He still lay on his back in his rumpled suit with his legs sprawled and his mouth open with a need for air. Fish out of water, Shep thought. Give him five more minutes. Shep hurriedly drew on his wrinkled clothing. We’ll tumble into bed at the hotel and pull ourselves together when we wake up. // we wake up, he thought cruelly, fascinated by Manley’s drugged oblivion.
“Manley. Manley.” The crushed figure on the bed did not respond. Well, give him five more minutes. Shep went out into the aisle and watched the suburbs thickening toward the metropolis.
“F’teen more minutes,” said the old voice of the porter.
“Guess you wanna start getting our bags out.”
The porter looked at him. He had carried folks back from Mardi Gras before. “Didn’ see you bring no bags aboard, son.”
No bags. It came back dimly. Milgrim with his top hat. End of a perfect debacle. The chilling laughter of Manley’s chattering teeth. Of course no bags.
“Oh. That’s right. Listen. Tell you what you do. Go in and gettim up. My friend up. Tellim he’s gotta get off.”
The porter looked at him with resigned perseverance. An old man, used to everything that happens on trains. “Yessuh.”
The last of the suburbs had given way to outskirts. Shep bent his head to look out at the Sunday-morning quiet of the Bronx. Peaceful people leading peaceful Sunday-morning family lives. That was an automatic reaction. There he went generalizingagain. If Manley Halliday was a hive of bad habits, he had been a hive of stock responses.
The porter was back, interrupting. “Par’ me, mister. You better come in have a look at your friend. He’s not hearin’ nothin’.”
The porter followed Shep back to the berth. He knew it wasn’t going to be a one-man job.
Shep nudged Manley Halliday’s elbow, shouted in his ear, sponged a wet towel on his face, shook him hard by both shoulders. But Manley Halliday lay buried under layer on layer of sleep.
“Gottah get him off,” the porter said gently.
“How much time now?”
“ ’bout seb’n minutes.”
“Well. Help me. Lift him up. Together. There. Now lift.”
Together they maneuvered him out into the aisle and down to the platform. Shep wasn’t too clear about any of it: they were in the tunnel, holding the limp body between them and then Shep had Manley Halliday in his arms while the porter was opening the door—“Yessuh—hope you be all right now”—and then they were on the station platform, Shep still managing to hold up the sagging body of his friend.
They made their way to the taxi landing. “No bags?” asked the driver. “Hell, no,” Shep said. Why in hell must they all ask silly questions? They worked Manley Halliday onto the rear seat. “Waldorf, and we’re in a hurry.”
“Everybody’s in a hurry,” said the driver whose name—Shep always studied their I.D. cards automatically—was Louis Conselino. “Twenny-one years uv hacking and never had a fare yet that wasn’t in a hurry.”
Shep bowed his head in a silent plea—get us out of this, to the Waldorf, a warm bath, sleep.
“What’s the matter with your chum, too bigga night?” The driver had to laugh.
“Just get us to the Waldorf,” Shep said.
At the entrance to the hotel he took a kinder view of Conselino. There was something to be said for the way he moved in. “Want me to give ya a hand?”
“Guess you better.”
At the desk the clerk looked at them from behind cool eyes and a smooth, unbending manner.
The clerk observed Shep with faint distaste. “You may call on the house phone.”
“No, I mean the key. That’s our room.”
“Your room?” The clerk frowned. Since when would the Waldorf stoop to such clientele? “Name, please.”
Shep gave it. He glanced behind him anxiously. Louis Conselino had a good grip on Manley.
The clerk worked deliberately. “Halliday and Stearns? Why, you were checked out last Friday.”
“Checked out! The hell we checked out. We said we wanted to keep that suite.”
“I’m sorry, but your office left instructions …”
“All right, all right, give us the same rooms, we’ll register again.”
Expressionlessly, the clerk sized up Shep and his disabled companion. “I’m sorry, that suite is occupied.”
“Well, okay, we’ll take something else. Anything. One room.”
The training of the desk clerk had immunized him against this sort of thing.
“I’m sorry we don’t have a thing available at the moment.”
“You mean not a single room in this whole goddam hotel?”
The clerk looked wearily over Shep’s shoulder, perhaps in the direction of the lobby detective.
“Nothing at all. I suggest you try elsewhere.”
“All right damn it, we’ll try the Ambassador. But don’t think the studio won’t hear about this.”
“I’m very sorry,” said the clerk with the same bland meaninglessness of “very truly yours.”
Not until they were back in the cab did Shep appreciate the emptiness of his threat. At the Ambassador the obliging Conselino again helped Shep support Manley to the desk.
“Double room and bath?”
The clerk—hell, was it the same clerk?—looked them over with a noncommittal face.
“Yes, sir—do you have a reservation?”
“No, but this is Mr. Manley Halliday and we just came in from …”
The clerk smiled coldly. “I’m very sorry. All our rooms are held for reservations.”
Maybe the Park Lane. Manley Halliday was more and more of a dead weight as they dragged him into the lobby.
—“Do you have a reservation?”
That same clerk; he was following them. Determined to keep them out in the cold, on their feet.
—“I’m very sorry, but if you have no reservation …”
Outside the New Weston, Louis Conselino said to Shep, “Look, bud, why don’t you first go in alone this time?”
Shep tried that. He recognized the clerk, but this time their enemy seemed to have forgotten him. “Double room and bath? I may be able to accommodate you. Are your bags outside?”
Shep stammered through an explanation of the inexplicable. Their bags were still up at Webster. Hadda leave suddenly. ’Mergency.
And then the mechanical voice of hotel authority: “Sorry, I thought you had a reservation. We’re completely full.”
Good God, did the same inhospitable hack write all their dialogue?
The Warwick. The Ritz Towers. The Chatham.
—“Sorry, unless you have a reservation …”
“Look, I’ve got the money. I c’n pay,” Shep pleaded at the Roosevelt.
And the clerk, that same bloodless automaton: “Sorry, unless you have a reservation …”
“Oh, reservation my ass,” Shep heard himself sob. Wasn’t this the way psychologists drove guinea pigs to nervous breakdown? They had been on this unmerry-go-round for almost an hour. Seven dollars and forty cents of Mr. Conselino’s measured time. Shep’s fingers wanted to choke that clerk with his starched white collar and his stiff, colorless smile.
Manley Halliday, collapsed into the back of the cab, was wondering why it was taking so long. Why all this in and out? What was happening? Didn’t they know he should be lying down? Why was it that no one could ever do anything right any more?
As they drove up to the Lexington, Louis Conselino gave Shep some corner-of-the-mouth advice. “This time leave me go in first. See what I c’n do.”
“An’ tell ’im our bags ’re coming,” Shep called after him.
Manley Halliday opened his eyes. “There yet?”
“We’re between hotels.” It didn’t click. “We’re trying the Lexington.”
“Mmm, wanna lie down.” He settled deeper into the seat.
Shep got out and paced the sidewalk. This was too much on top of too much. He looked at Manley’s face against the glass, staring at him with his eyes open. What was he thinking about, with his eyes open? Think he could stare with his eyes closed? Maybe he could. This must be what it’s like to go crazy. Here he comes our friend Conselino and he’s grinning. Good ole Conselino, good-ole Lexington. Ah, that bed, that hot bath, those clean sheets …
“Well, I think I got ya fixed up. Le’s bring ’im in.”
They were lugging him in again. Another hotel lobby. Another try at that hotel clerk. Same cool eyes. Same cool appraisal. He saw Shep, what that one looked like; he took a good look at the one they were holding up.
—“Do you gentlemen have a reservation?”
—“Why, no, we—”
—“Then I’m sorry. When I told your driver we had a room I was under the impression …”
Okay, okay, Shep knew the impression he was under …
In the cab Shep said maybe we should try one of the big transient places, the Lincoln, the Commodore.
Louis Conselino ($8.65, $8.70) said, “Look, fella, I’ll be glad t’ drive ya around all day, but why doncha go down to Gran’ Central, shave, clean up or a Turkish Bath maybe?” He really wanted to help.
Manley Halliday’s eyes were open again. He had been listening. All of a sudden he understood.
“No use hotels,” he mumbled.
“Manley?” Shep meant: are you functioning? “Know what’s been happening?”
Manley nodded. “Call Burt Seixas. Burt Seixas.” Burt’ll help. Burt might disapprove. Might not be able to hide his disappointment. But he could stay at Burt’s house. Till Ann came for him. Burt never failed him. Not Burt. Good old Burt was always there.
“Hello, is this the Seixas residence?” Shep was saying in the hotel phone booth. “Let me speak to Mr. Burt Seixas, please.”
This was Mrs. Seixas. Who was calling? A friend of Mr. Halliday’s. But surely he knew that Mr. Seixas had passed away almost a year ago.
Shep went back and reported this to Manley. Burt Seixas— dead. Oh Lord, of course. Poor Burt. Heart attack. Always told him he worked too hard. Worried too much. Even back in the early days when he himself could find nothing more serious to worry about than the reliability of the new bootlegger. Now Burt Seixas was dead. Damn, nearly everybody was dead. Harry Crosby and Jeanne Eagels and Marilyn Miller and Hart Crane and, Christ, let’s not call that roll. But Burt Seixas; that was hard to take.
“… says Mr. Seixas is dead, Manley.”
All right, stop saying that, stop using that word. Does he think everybody over forty years old is deaf?
Manley didn’t appear to be listening. He seemed only to be staring blankly at Shep and Shep was about to repeat what he had said about Seixas when Manley finally spoke.
“All right. Then call Dr. Wittenberg. Paul Wittenberg.” Funny, even the number came back to him. Cathedral 8-9970. Dr. Wittenberg, the model for the blunt, intuitive physician in High Noon, who had pulled Jere through when she had all that trouble after Douglas. Should have thought about Wittenberg before.
The Cathedral exchange was no longer in use, but Shep go? the number through Information.
“Dr. Wittenberg’s residence. Well, just a minute I’ll see if he’s in.”
“Take the name and say I’ve gone out,” said Dr. Wittenberg’s son. He was a fashionable middle-aged man who probably would not have become a doctor if there had not been the tradition and a Park Avenue practice to inherit.
“Calling for—just a minute I’ll write it down—Manley Halliday, and it’s an emergency.”
Manley Halliday. That famous old patient of his father’s. Was he still around? The old man had taken quite an interest in him. Part of his weakness for odd characters. All right, maybe he’d better find out what it was.
“Dr. Wittenberg,” said Dr. Wittenberg’s son.
Shep described Manley’s condition. Dr. Wittenberg listened. Yes, he remembered the alcoholic background, and now there was a diabetic condition out of control? Well, nothing much to do but put him under care and follow the book.
“All right, I’ll call Mount Sinai to arrange a room. Yes, I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
Oh, Mount Sinai. Familiar place. Dr. Wittenberg had tapered him off here after some bad ones years before. It was all a circle, a vicious circle, growing smaller, pressing in.
A nurse was just beginning to undress him when Dr. Wittenberg hurried in. There was a quick examination, stethoscope, eyes, a tap here and there. “Semi-coma due to inadequate insulin,” Dr. Wittenberg told Shep on the way out “In addition there’s the alcoholism and physical exhaustion.”
“But you think hell be all right, Doctor?”
“Oh, my, yes. He’ll come around soon as his sugar balance is restored. He won’t be feeling too frisky for a while. And of course he’s got to stay on the wagon.”
“But, Doctor, he hasn’t been drinking, I mean before this. He’s …” Shep didn’t like Wittenberg’s over-simplification.
“I’m acquainted with the history of the case.” Dr. Wittenberg glanced at his watch. “I’ll check on him again in the morning. Meanwhile, not a thing to worry about.”