Sunday, July 8, 2012

M. Frost

Genuine simplicity arises from integration; but there is another form of simplicity – the pseudo simplicity of the role player, the poseur. The first bears fruit which is its own reward; the second, self invented as it is, bears no fruit and has for its bloom rancor, bitterness and death.

In the end he was rejected,
Found wanting,
His love, kisses,
Without issue,
Drained of fervor.

It was then Death drew back the curtain to reveal
The lunar landscape;
Dry, empty and barren.

M. Frost

Horace, they say, was the favorite poet of the Emperor Augustus, for he was a moralist and moralists are much beloved of Emperors who favor the simple minded doctrines of hard work, domestic virtue and mindless patriotism. They distrust intelligence and intellectual inquiry and rightly so for discontent, political and otherwise, follow quickly in the wake of freethinking. Love your gods; love the Emperor; love your family; produce profit; join in when the barbarians have to be put down. Keep the empire revenue flowing and the legions marching.

But there were no Roman Emperors in the woods of New England, just dirt poor farmers scratching a living from the meager soil and back woods universities, students and faculty arguing arcane philosophies now deep in the ash cans of cultural history. So what’s a young and ambitious lad to do? Off to England of course where the pope of literature is an American, by God, and edits the poems of another American and even bullies the Irishman into dropping the Georgian cobwebs. Faint praise he gives but even faint praise from the elusive spider puts one on the map, is this not true? Depends on what you mean by the map.  

Then, of course, there was doggerel for the New Emperor almost fifty years later. An old man addicted to applause, mumbling inanities. Drag the statue around from one spot to another, the white haired beloved courting topical fame for in his heart he feared he would have no other. The crowds at the end like Sinatra’s, coming for the historical occasion, not caring whether he missed the notes or forgot whole stanzas.

Now is the year 2010 in the mountains of Switzerland. It’s the week before Christmas and corridors of the private clinic are festooned with holly and spruce branches giving off a delightful forest scent in a place which usually smells of formaldehyde and nasal spray. Doctor Uri Kalenkin, a specialist in Geriatics, a large headed man with a long thin body, finishes his walk to the end of a wide corridor and enters a private room. In the corner of the room is a very old man sitting up in a stuffed chair. The doctor crosses the room and sits on a straight-backed chair beside him.

And how is M. Frost today?” asks the doctor.

“Miserable, as always,” replies the old man with no particular passion. M. Frost is a very ancient man. The bulk of his emaciated body is hidden beneath the folds of a thick terrycloth bathrobe under which he wears a set of double knit wool pajamas. Around his neck are wrapped two wool scarves, one black, one blue. On his head is an enormous fur hat with ample side flaps down and the string tied tightly under the chin. And yet the temperature in the room is ten degrees above average temperatures in the clinic which are, in turn, higher than normal.

There are two bright blue eyes staring out from a wrinkled chamois almost unrecognizable as a human face. One is reminded of reptiles – crocodiles, tortoises, snakes. The bright blue eyes gaze steadily upon Doctor Kalenkin who is looking through the window off over into the mountains in the far distance.

“Have you received an answer?’ the old man asks.

“I’m afraid I have,” replied the doctor.

“If you are afraid then the answer must be no.”
“He says it would be counter productive. No one has ever done more than two heart transplants on the same person and this would be your third. Counterproductive is the term he used.”

“If it produces a few more years for me then why call it counterproductive?”

“Perhaps he thinks you wouldn’t make it through the operation. Perhaps he thinks the strain on your other organs would be too much and you would die within weeks anyway.”

“If his fees are paid then why does he worry about such things? Let me worry about them. Or you even.”

“Well, ….”

“Well, what?”

“There seems to be a problem with the fees.”


“I made informal inquiries through the usual channels. It seems the program officer has changed. The new one is a much younger man than the man we dealt with for many years. By the sound of his voice I would say he isn’t thirty. He didn’t recognize your name. I had to repeat it twice. He had never heard of you. Of course when he brought up the file he had everything – your history, your ongoing participation in the program, etcetera. I filled him in on some of the personal details you never find in files. He said he would get back to me.”

“He phoned three weeks later. He didn’t have much time. His whole organization was in turmoil. There were drastic cuts. As he put it, there were heads rolling all over the place. No more transplants he said. And, on top of that, a procedure had been initiated which would eventually move you to a clinic where the fees were cheaper. But he is not even sure of that. There is a faction in his department who think the older clients should be simply shucked off and left to fend for themselves.”

“So that’s the gratitude I get from those bastards. All those years of supporting them on the public stage and this is what I get.”

“Times change, M. Frost. The man I was speaking to was not even born when you left your native country.”

“What does that have to do with it? They owe me and the debt has nothing to do with individual persons. It’s a state commitment you might say.”

“That well may be but even state commitments must be overseen by somebody. And over him or her there is a boss and maybe a committee. They get orders from on high about resources and they have to make decisions.”

“Work for them, do you? Weasel apologist.”

 “You know very well I don’t work for them. I am merely pointing out there is a real world out there.”

“One which wants to dump me in the garbage can.”

The doctor did not reply to this. M. Frost didn’t care if he replied or not.

“Perhaps you would be so good as to have Doctor Frankle come see me,” he said.
Doctor Frankle was the Clinic Director.

“Certainly,” said Doctor Kalenkin.

M. Frost closed his eyes. This was how he dismissed people these days. Once he used to shout at them to go away but closing his eyes saved energy. The doctor smiled, rose to his feet and left the room.

Doctor Frankle was a relatively young man to head such a prestigious clinic – thirty-seven. He always dressed in a conservative business suit, the uniform of the Swiss professional classes. He was plump and the suit tailored to hide his belly, which it did very skillfully. M. Frost did not like Doctor Frankle. He disliked his professional cheerfulness and his insincere smiles. The doctor liked to look at the good side of every situation even if the patient he was talking to was minutes away from dying. M. Frost thought Doctor Frankle to be a rolly polly clown like the ones from his childhood, weighted at the bottom so that no matter how hard you hit them or tried to knock them over they bounced up immediately, smiling their silly clown smile. However, Herr Doctor Frankle was the Clinic Director and had to be dealt with.

“Surely there are special funds,” M. Frost said to the Doctor as soon as he sat down.

“Not in cases such as yours,” replied the Doctor.

“And what are ‘cases such as mine’?”

“Citizens of a foreign country are not eligible for special funds.”

“So you bastards are going to let me die.”

“M. Frost, you are a very, very old man and if you die one can hardly say the Clinic is responsible. There is such a thing as nature, M. Frost and it plays itself out, it runs its course. Most people your age would have died a long time ago.”

“You are disappointed I have not followed a more average path, Herr Doctor?”

“Of course not. You are a marvel, M. Frost. The Clinic treasures you and has treasured you for many years.”

“And perhaps it could find a way to treasure me for a few more.”

“There are no funds, M. Frost. Your benefactors refuse any extra funding whatsoever. They pay your monthly bill but only after a lot of detailed haggling. There is no money for transplants or expensive intervention surgery.”

“Do they tell you why, Doctor?”

“No. And I do not ask. What they fund or do not fund is none of my business. It would be presumptuous for me to try and make their decisions for them.”

“Well, then, let me ask this – do you agree with them, do you think their decision the right one?”

“To be frank, yes I do.”


“Your benefactors’ organization has been hit with deep funding cuts, M. Frost. They have to cut to balance the books and funding a transplant for you, a very suspect procedure, one our surgeon refuses to condone or perform, is out of the question. I must say I think this a sensible decision, one I would make myself if I were in their place.”

“There are many heart surgeons in the world, Herr Doctor, and they do not all live in Switzerland. Contacts of mine tell me there is a Delhi surgeon who will do the whole thing for ten thou plus expenses, perhaps another ten.”

“That’s just the surgeon, M. Frost. The charge for the room and aftercare would be ten times that.”

“Not in Delhi.”

“You are in Switzerland, M. Frost, not Delhi.”

“A mere plane ride over the mountains, dear Doctor.”

“I am afraid you are living in the world of make believe, M. Frost. I cannot join you there for I have a Clinic to run. You will have to excuse me. I have to get back to my work.”

Most men, especially very, very old men like M. Frost, would give up after such a succession of rebuffs. But not M. Frost.

There was a cleaner who mopped M. Frost’s room every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, usually in the afternoon around four o’clock. He and M. Frost were both gregarious men and while the cleaner mopped they talked about many things and over the years had become friendly. The cleaner was Gypsy and M. Frost asked him one day if he knew someone who would drive him to Delhi. The cleaner replied he knew somebody who would drive anyone anywhere if the price was right. M. Frost had money in gold coins in a safety deposit box in a bank in a nearby city. After much discussion he and the cleaner made an arrangement.

Of course the Clinic would not allow M. Frost to leave the premises but security at the Clinic was minimal for the patients were either very old or dying or both and hardly needed a vigorous security presence to keep them in line. As well, it was assumed that M. Frost was more limited in his movements than he really was. For many years he refused to walk to the dining room, taking all his meals in his room. The reason for this was not immobility but because M. Frost found the sight of sixty-five old people eating their meals depressing. And although he seldom walked outside his room, within he walked regularly for some hours a day, back and forth, back and forth, like a prisoner in a cell.

So it was not difficult for M. Frost to slip out of his room in the middle of the night and be let out a side door by one of the cleaner’s cohorts. He crossed a section of darkened lawn (it was at the back of the building where the Clinic was economizing on outside lights), slipped through a hole in a hedge, which was exactly where he was told it would be, and climbed into the front seat of the car awaiting him there. The next day he emptied the safety deposit box, paying his driver one half of the agreed upon sum and storing the rest in a money belt around his middle.

His driver was a small man the size of a twelve year old but his gray hair and wrinkled face showed his true age of sixty-two. He drove very fast and very skillfully along the tertiary highways he and the cleaner had agreed were the best for a very old man who wished his traveling to be anonymous. The driver did not speak any language known to M. Frost which was just as well for the excitement and intense activity preceding their trip had exhausted M. Frost. He let down the back of the passenger seat and slept most of the way. They ate from two coolers full of ice, drinks and sandwiches in the back seat. Occasionally the driver stopped on the shoulder of a deserted road and they went into the woods to urinate and defecate.

Every night the driver pulled off the road in a place he thought likely and they slept in the car, that is the driver slept, for M. Frost, free of the responsibility of driving, spent most of the day sleeping. While the driver was sleeping M. Frost felt the need to ‘stand watch’. They always parked under trees. He spent the night looking out the windshield and through the leaves at the stars burning in the night sky. The driver slept the sleep of the dead. He didn’t move a muscle during the whole performance which usually lasted six hours. He breathed so silently through his nose that several times during the night M. Frost, his fears getting the better of him, held a hand mirror up to his face to see if he was still alive. Fortunately, each time, he was.

There were borders to cross but none of them presented a problem. The driver took care of everything, speaking a tongue to the officials which M. Frost assumed was Arabic. Papers were looked at but only in the most cursory fashion, partially due to the one hundred dollar bill folded into M. Frost’s passport which the officials extracted with practiced fingers and slipped into their pocket.

The farther south they went the warmer it got. M. Frost abandoned his winter hat after the first day and took off his inside overcoat on the second. By the time they arrived in Delhi he was down to the clothes a man would wear in a New England autumn.

The driver dropped him off at the entrance of the hospital. He wanted nothing to do with Indian medical officials and was gone before M. Frost went through the front doors. What a crush of humanity in that busy lobby! By the time he reached the desk M. Frost was feeling overheated for the first time in thirty years. He opened the top two buttons of his wool shirt to let in a little of the turgid Indian air.

Doctor A (M. Frost was not allowed to know his full name) was an excellent surgeon. Three months after the surgery M. Frost stood outside the hospital doors once again. Precisely at the appointed time his driver pulled up and he climbed into the passenger seat. The return journey was much faster for there was no reason for secrecy and they drove the main highways.

Unfortunately M. Frost died of heart failure during his second night back at the clinic. When Doctor Frankle was informed he refused to allow resuscitative procedures to be employed. “He’s as old as the Himalayas for Christ sake. Leave him alone,” he told the night doctor in charge. This had nothing to do with the fact that M. Frost’s benefactors had not paid the last month’s bill or that he had received an email the day before informing him there would be no more payments on the account of M. Frost. The email’s sender, a junior bureaucrat recently hired, expressed his opinion that it was technically impossible for M. Frost to be still alive and the old man who had in some way assumed his identity was a scurrilous old rascal, no doubt a Gypsy con man. His sources told him (and oh what sources these people had, thought Doctor Frankle, all of them misinterpreted) the clinic was ‘infested’ with Gypsies and the Director should exert himself to get rid of them.

M. Frost, who in death looked more like an ancient mummy than a man who had recently died, was laid to rest in the pauper’s patch, as the staff called it, a piece of land off from the main cemetery. M. Frost’s grave was deep for he was first in what the workers called a ‘column’, that is a very deep hole, which when fully filled with one as flat as possible coffin after another, (as the occasion demanded) held fifteen corpses encased in plywood boxes covered with inexpensive cloth. At the foot of this collective grave was a limestone slab where the carver’s apprentice chiseled in the latest addition. M. Frost would, no doubt, have been proud to know that his name was first on the list. That none of his accomplishments followed his name is understandable for the staff at the Clinic had assumed his grandiose claims of fame to be an old man’s ravings, the product of an aged, diseased mind.  


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

M. Hopkins

M. Hopkins

The neighbours considered M. Hopkins a moody, morbid man who stood silent for long periods studying the roots of trees on the river bank and sat in his garden all afternoon reading and smoking a long stemmed pipe. Granted, if met on the street he was unfailingly polite and cordial but that, most likely the neighbours thought, was a bit of play acting learned by morbid men to ingratiate themselves with their fellows. He lived in a cottage at the end of Gardon street.

In truth it was not play acting for M. Hopkins was a deeply cordial man but he was also old and sick and had little energy for gossip and street corner conversations. He had, as he told the woman who did his cleaning once a week, six good hours a day and he needed them for his ‘project’ as he called it, the bringing to the press of a book of poems. Mrs. Williams, the cleaning lady, was sympathetic. Although she liked a good jaw herself she was imaginative enough to comprehend why this very nice old man kept to himself. She even defended him to the face of one of the more vicious hags who held court in the mornings outside the corner store.  “What do you know about poetry, Meg Spicer,” she said to her, “when you can’t even read and write?” This shut down Meg’s jawing at least until Mrs. Williams left. Then she started in again on how some persons thought themselves above others, lording it over them with their princely ways, when everyone knew it was the good and simple folk who were the chosen of the Lord and if they had good hearts he didn’t care if they could read and write.

The cottage had a small study overlooking the garden. The garden was a simple affair – a hedge along the back for privacy, a willow tree for shade, a patch of bright green grass bordered by flowerbeds. Mrs. Williams’ nephew, a twelve year old, cut the grass and tended the beds. Or at least he pretended to tend the beds for no matter how often M. Hopkins showed him which were desirable plants and which were weeds, Anthony grew confused in the midst of his weed plucking and, taking the tack of not pulling what he wasn’t sure of insisted upon by M. Hopkins, he in truth weeded perhaps ten percent. Mr. Hopkins did the rest in the cool of the evenings, fifteen minutes at a time. He didn’t mind. If he had not been not sick he would have done it all and the grass as well.

On the fourth Sunday of every month, at three in the afternoon, Bill Evans came walking up the street and knocked at M. Hopkins’ door. Bill was a rumpled man wearing a suit which had seen better days, shiny at the knee and elbows and too big. In the wind the excess fabric drifted this way and that giving the impression that Bill was a sailing ship rather than a walker, an impression which with a strong steady wind at his rear was partially true. In contrast to the voluminous nature of his clothes he sported a shaved head with no hat. This was unfortunate for Bill was not one of those men who have slightly dark skin which browns evenly in the sun but was a Celt with blotchy skin which the sun made even blotchier. His head had seven or eight shades of colour like a piebald horse.

“Come in,” shouted M. Hopkins for he and Bill were on intimate terms and there was no need for formalities at the door. When he came into the study Bill sat on the chair opposite M. Hopkins, between them a small tea table filled with everything necessary for an afternoon snack. Bill walked ten miles to arrive at the cottage and M. Hopkins thought the least he could do was to have refreshments ready so the man could restore himself before they went to work.

Bill was a big eater. He had three sandwiches, six cookies and two cups of tea before he opened the briefcase sitting beside him on the floor. From it he took out laptop computer and, after clearing a spot, placed it on the table.

“So what’s the plan, Bill?” M. Hopkins asked.

“The plan, dear man,” said Bill, “has finally settled into a coherent pattern. We are about to sign a deal with XY corporation for digital publishing, and with AB corporation for paper and ink. Digital release first and then when pressure builds, paper and ink. I have made arrangements with certain key persons for reviews. Eminent persons with large followings in the poetic community.”

“And what about timing, Bill?”

“Ah now,” said Bill, “that’s quite another thing isn’t it? The timing, as you can imagine, has to be just right. A mistake in timing and the whole thing could blow up in our faces, so to speak. I’m sure you can appreciate that.”

"Not really,” said M. Hopkins. “I know little about the publishing world but then again I have every confidence in you, Bill, and I am sure you are right.”

M. Hopkins brought his chair around the table to sit beside Bill and together, Bill doing the typing, they began editing the twenty-ninth poem in his collection.

When Mrs. Williams came to clean on Wednesdays M. Hopkins went into the garden to get out of her way. M. Hopkins thought it would be unpleasant for Mrs. Williams to do her work with someone looking over her shoulder. He went out to the garden even when it was raining for there was a gazebo with a steel roof to keep off the rain. There he sat reading and smoking his long stemmed pipe for three hours, usually from one until four. When she was finished Mrs. Williams came out with tea for both of them and they had it in the gazebo using an old bench for a table.

When she was seated and had poured the tea, Mrs, Williams said, “So, is the time approaching?”

“Definitely, Mrs. Williams. Bill assures me the necessary elements are gathering. It’s a delicate business apparently. Things have to be just right.”

“What things?”

“The markets. They must be allowed to reach a point where they are just so. It takes an experienced man like Bill to know. He has studied the markets for many years. His track record, he tells me, is splendid and impeccable. Soon he says but we mustn’t be impatient and jump the gun. Bill has seen many disasters arising from people jumping the gun. He seems a hardy man, healthy and robust but when he mentions these poor unfortunates his face screws up in anguish. Although he likes to pretend otherwise, Bill is a man of empathy and feeling.”

“I’m sure he is,” said Mrs. Williams but there was something in her tone to voice saying the exact opposite. “You are sure he is the man for you?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” said M. Hopkins. “Bill is the salt of the earth. He’ll get the job done, no doubt about that.”

No doubt he would, thought Mrs. Williams, but exactly what job was another matter. She knew Bill for he grew up three streets down in her old neighbourhood. She, like M. Hopkins, knew nothing about the publishing business but she did know something about human nature. She had a sneaking suspicion that Bill knew as little about the publishing business as she did and wondered why M. Hopkins had such faith in the man. One day she got out of M. Hopkins that Bill had been about to publish the book for more than ten years now. Ten years! “And have you given him money all the way along?” she asked.

“Yes, of course,” said M. Hopkins. “There are expenses and they must be paid.”

On that day Mrs. Williams did not press further. M. Hopkins seemed tired and she didn’t want to distress him.

Later that week, however, she phoned a few old friends and asked a few questions. The information she received wasn’t good. Bill was a shyster who ran a dozen confidence games, publishing being only one of them. It was the usual grim tale. He chose the weak and unworldly and stuck to them like a leech until he bled them dry. He was careful to stay just inside the line which would land him in trouble with the law but there had been a few times he had stepped over and had been charged. But Bill got off because he could hire expensive legal talent.

Mrs. Williams was at a loss for what to do. She had no confidence she could explain all this to M. Hopkins who was an otherworldly man if ever there was one. Yet she could think of no way she could bring pressure on Bill to make him back off and even if she did she wondered if this would be good for M. Hopkins. That Bill would ever find a publisher for the book was an illusion, yes, but if that illusion were taken away, what would he be left with? Despair probably. Despair and hopelessness.

One day at the supermarket, Mrs. Williams ran into an old acquaintance, a woman she once sat on committees with when their sons attended the same school. The woman was a bureaucrat of some kind, perhaps a social work administrator.

Mrs. Williams explained M. Hopkins’ situation, leaving out all names, of course.

“But nobody does that any more,” the woman said. “This is the computer age. He should have someone set up a web site or a Blog and publish the poetry there. If he wants he could hire a consultant to promote it for a set fee. Other than if you are some kind of poetry bigwig, an eminent professor connected to the committees and grant people, you will never get a printed book of poetry published. And even if he did, who would buy it? Nobody knows his name; he’s not plugged in.  No, he should self publish on the web.”

Mrs. Williams wrote down three names of computer consultants dictated by her acquaintance. She phoned them all that very afternoon. From what she was told two thousand dollars would set up and maintain a site and plug it into the places where the poetry readers were. M. Hopkins had told her, in an unguarded moment in the kitchen at the cottage, that he had paid Bill more than twenty thousand dollars, so far.

But when she brought it up the next week with M. Hopkins he would have none of it. Bill had a computer so why would he hire anyone else? No, Bill was his man. After the long trail they had walked over the past ten years things were looking up and this was not the time to be giving up on the important leads Bill had told him he was following just that week. He thanked Mrs. Williams for her concern and interest but he thought it best to stay the course with good ole Bill.

That Saturday night Mrs. Williams was at the pub with one of her girlfriends when a woman walked in the door and sat at the next table. She looked familiar and Mrs. Williams asked her girlfriend to turn surreptitiously and see if she recognized her. She did. She was in their grade seven and eight class years ago. She was a cop now, a detective. Cassie knew this because she was married to her first cousin and saw her now and then at family gatherings. When Cassie went off to sit a while at another friend’s table, Mrs. Williams got up and walked to the table where the woman was sitting alone. The woman recognized her and asked her to sit down.

The detective knew Bill, oh yes everybody downtown knew Bill. He was a slippery one the detective said, very slippery. One of her pals worked the fraud squad and every year they took a poke or two at Bill but they could never nail him. The detective didn’t like Bill. A crook who steals cars or cigarettes and insurance pays for it - well it’s not nice but she couldn’t work up a moral fervor over it. But Bill pretended to be people’s friends and then took their money. He befriended the weak minded and then betrayed them. The detective didn’t like that. She wouldn’t mind giving Bill a swift kick in the balls. He was scum as far as she was concerned.

Mrs. Williams described the situation with M. Hopkins, again leaving out the names. The detective sighed and shook her head. “If he has given over that much this guy must be on the simple side, is he?”

“No,” said Mrs. Williams. “On the contrary, he is a very intelligent but gullible. I think he has been protected from the world somehow over the years and doesn’t see the obvious things right in front of his face. I’ve seen some of his poetry. Now I’m no expert but it seemed good to me. Very serious and skillful.”

“And he won’t take the advice of your friend to publish on the web?”

 “No. He says he will stick with Bill.”

The detective sipped her beer and thought about this for a while. Then she said, “We could try leaning on him. Bill, that is. We could squeeze him a bit and see if we can get him to bugger off.”

Bill, of course, did not walk ten miles to get to M. Hopkins’ cottage on Sunday afternoons. This was a ploy to appear impoverished and self-sacrificing in the service of M. Hopkins. He had a cab drop him off a block away. As well his suit was a costume. He usually wore expensive designer suits but M. Hopkins was a spiritual man who would not have been impressed with expensive and flashy. A suit bought from a thrift store was just the thing for M. Hopkins. The bald head was his own but on other occasions he wore a natural human hair wig. He had several with different hairdos and varied them to suit the occasion. He thought the concentration camp look of his bald head would appeal to M. Hopkins and he was right. M. Hopkins felt for him. This was a man who has suffered he said to himself. That a person had suffered was important to M. Hopkins for he saw himself as a great sufferer and a fellow sufferer like Bill was his brother. He felt a communion with him right away.

But the detective wasn’t fooled by the suit and the bald head. She recognized him as soon as he stepped out of the cab. She climbed out of her own car and came across the street. When she came up to him she said, “Hi, Bill.”

Bill looked at her suspiciously and asked, “Who are you?”

“You don’t recognize me, Bill?”

“Never saw you before in my life,” Bill said.

“That’s wonderful,” said the detective. With that she kicked him in the back of the knees. When he went down she kicked him twice in the stomach, then bent down and picked up his briefcase and walked to her car. When she was driving away Bill turned to see the rear plate but there was a blank spot where the plate should be. He had the wind knocked out of him and with struggling to get his breath he found it impossible to identify the car’s make. It was little and blue or pink or something like that. Later when he contacted his lawyer he told him not to bother contacting the police. He would just make a fool of himself with a description like that.

The briefcase was a worn old thing also bought at a thrift store but the Mac laptop was new and top of the line. The detective stopped at a bridge across the river three miles away and tossed them over the rail. Of course Bill had lots of money to replace it but still it was a two thousand dollar hit. An expensive afternoon.

That day Bill phoned and told M. Hopkins his mother had been taken to the hospital unexpectedly and he would be unable to come.

“Is there anything I can do?” M. Hopkins asked.

“No,” said Bill and punched the end call button.

That’s the last M. Hopkins heard from Bill. Bill didn’t want to risk running into the ‘Nazi woman’ as he called her to his friends (if you could call barflies you buy drinks for your friends). “A real bitch,” he said, “a ball buster.” His friends nodded sympathetically but their real sympathies lay with the ‘ball buster’.

M. Hopkins was very disappointed when Bill disappeared but after a time of mourning, so to speak, he went with Mrs. Williams one Monday morning to see a computer consultant, a bright, chipper young man who knew his business. Within a month he was set up and taking computer lessons so he could service the site himself.