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John Connolly


  A Novel



  Every Dead Thing

  Dark Hollow

  The Killing Kind

  The White Road

  The Reflecting Eye (Novella in the Nocturnes Collection)

  The Black Angel

  The Unquiet

  The Reapers

  The Lovers

  The Whisperers

  The Burning Soul

  The Wrath of Angels

  The Wolf in Winter

  A Song of Shadows

  A Time of Torment

  A Game of Ghosts


  Bad Men

  The Book of Lost Things



  Night Music: Nocturnes Volume II


  The Gates

  Hell’s Bells

  The Creeps






  Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels (as editor, with Declan Burke)

  Parker: A Miscellany

  New York • London

  © 2017 by John Connolly

  Jacket photograph ©

  First published in the United States by Quercus in 2018

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by reviewers, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of the same without the permission of the publisher is prohibited.

  Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use or anthology should send inquiries to [email protected].

  e-ISBN 978-1-63506-059-1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Connolly, John, 1968– author.

  Title: He : a novel / John Connolly.

  Description: New York : Quercus, [2017]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2017047145 (print) | LCCN 2018008222 (ebook) | ISBN 9781635060591 (ebook) | ISBN 9781635060607 (library edition) | ISBN 9781635060577 (hardcover) | ISBN 9781635060584 (pbk.)

  Subjects: LCSH: Laurel, Stan–Fiction. | Hardy, Oliver, 1892–1957–Fiction. | Motion picture actors and actresses–Fiction. | Comedians–Fiction. | Motion pictures–United States–History–20th century–Fiction. | Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)–Fiction. | GSAFD: Biographical fiction.

  Classification: LCC PR6053.O48645 (ebook) | LCC PR6053.O48645 H4 2017 (print) | DDC 823/.914–dc23

  LC record available at

  Distributed in the United States and Canada by

  Hachette Book Group

  1290 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10104

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  For Jennie, with love

  And the heart has become so tired, and the longing so vast.

  —Rainer Maria Rilke


  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

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Chapter 71

  Chapter 72

  Chapter 73

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Chapter 77

  Chapter 78

  Chapter 79

  Chapter 80

  Chapter 81

  Chapter 82

  Chapter 83

  Chapter 84

  Chapter 85

  Chapter 86

  Chapter 87

  Chapter 88

  Chapter 89

  Chapter 90

  Chapter 91

  Chapter 92

  Chapter 93

  Chapter 94

  Chapter 95

  Chapter 96

  Chapter 97

  Chapter 98

  Chapter 99

  Chapter 100

  Chapter 101

  Chapter 102

  Chapter 103

  Chapter 104

  Chapter 105

  Chapter 106

  Chapter 107

  Chapter 108

  Chapter 109

  Chapter 110

  Chapter 111

  Chapter 112

  Chapter 113

  Chapter 114

  Chapter 115

  Chapter 116

  Chapter 117

  Chapter 118

  Chapter 119

  Chapter 120

  Chapter 121

  Chapter 122

  Chapter 123

  Chapter 124

  Chapter 125

  Chapter 126

  Chapter 127

  Chapter 128

  Chapter 129

  Chapter 130

  Chapter 131

  Chapter 132

  Chapter 133

  Chapter 134

  Chapter 135

  Chapter 136

  Chapter 137

  Chapter 138

  Chapter 139

  Chapter 140

  Chapter 141

  Chapter 142

  Chapter 143

  Chapter 144

  Chapter 145

  Chapter 146

  Chapter 147

  Chapter 148

  Chapter 149

  Chapter 150

  Chapter 151

  Chapter 152

  Chapter 153

  Chapter 154

  Chapter 155

  Chapter 156

  Chapter 157

  Chapter 158

  Chapter 159

  Chapter 160

  Chapter 161

  Chapter 162

  Chapter 163

  Chapter 164

  Chapter 165

  Chapter 166

  Chapter 167

  Chapter 168

  Chapter 169

  Chapter 170

  Chapter 171

  Chapter 172

  Chapter 173

  Chapter 174

  Chapter 175

  Chapter 176

  Chapter 177

  Chapter 178

  Chapter 179

  Chapter 180

  Chapter 181

  Chapter 182

  Chapter 183

  Chapter 184

  Chapter 185

  Chapter 186

  Chapter 187

  Chapter 188

  Chapter 189

  Chapter 190

  Chapter 191

  Chapter 192

  Chapter 193

  Chapter 194

  Chapter 195

  Chapter 196

  Chapter 197

  Chapter 198

  Chapter 199

  Chapter 200

  Chapter 201

  Chapter 202

  Chapter 203

  Author’s Note


  At the Oceana Apartments, at the dawning of the last days, he chases butterfly memories.

  Through the open window comes the sound of breaking waves. He has always loved the sea, long captive to its amniotic pull. So he lives here in this small apartment,

  lives here in Santa Monica,

  lives here with his wife,

  lives here with the dream of who he was and the reality of what he has become.

  He is old. He will not live much longer, here or anywhere else.

  On this, the last set of his life—the walls, and the ocean behind—he is missing his marks. He is faltering in the final steps of the dance. The enchained recollections of his life have begun to slip away, until soon he will no longer have the power to bring to mind even his own name. So he tries to hold on to his memories, because each one that escapes, never to be recovered, represents a further dissolution of the self.

  When all the memories have departed, so too will he.

  The dead have no recall.

  He was famous once.

  No, he and Babe were famous once. But now Babe is gone, and he is alone.


  Every regret in his life holds the echo of this name.

  He can remember meeting Babe, and he can remember losing Babe, but the events between are like paints imperfectly mixed, swirls of color and texture, each representing a single, beautifully ordinary day, a conversation perfect in its inconsequence, a moment of transitory joy, its essence both preserved yet elusive.

  These remembrances are gemstones tumbling to the ground, shattering on impact. He struggles to retrieve the fragments, to maintain his hold upon them and comprehend their disparate meanings.

  These remembrances are snowflakes swirling in his path. They melt in his hand at the instant of connection, so that he is left only with the chill of loss.

  These remembrances are flickering images on a screen.

  Two figures in a dance eternal.

  He and Babe.

  Now only he.


  The mind is a theater. It cannot be allowed to go dark. It must be maintained.

  This is what his father does, Arthur Jefferson, his sire; a rescuer, a restorer, a proprietor of auditoriums in British towns. He bears A.J.’s name for more than half of his own life, and A.J.’s features for much longer. He becomes a simulacrum of A.J., and A.J.’s disappointment in him is compounded as a consequence.

  He is a child, eclipsed by his father’s shadow.

  Now he, this child, is watching A.J. as A.J. stands in the Eden in Bishop Auckland, admiring the new lights, the upholstered rows, the gilded paintwork, just as A.J. will stand in the Royal in Consett

  in the Royal in Blyth

  in the Tynemouth Circus in North Shields

  in the Metropole in Glasgow

  (because, A.J. will tell him, there is a rhythm to names, and a poetry to places)

  each one saved from the dark by A.J. the impresario, A.J. the dramatist, who invents plays to draw the crowds to his venues, words tumbling from him so fast that A.J. can barely write quickly enough to bind them to the page before they drift away. But A.J.’s ideas are light, and only verbiage lends them weight. Slowly A.J. learns. A.J. is no playwright. The dramas cease, to be replaced by sketches and skits.

  All this he witnesses, boy and young man, this moon to A.J.’s sun, and in attic rooms he practices his stage routines before empty seats and the scrutiny of mannequins.


  It is 1906.

  Pickard’s Museum, the Panopticon; formerly the Britannia Music Hall, and the haunt of whores. Old, even by the standards of these places, and hard with it, but Glasgow was always this way.

  A.E. Pickard, with his Van Dyke beard and cutaway suit, will install waxworks in the Panopticon, and a carnival. A.E. Pickard, with his distorting mirrors and images of Chinese torture, will install a freak show in the Panopticon, and a zoo. The shadows of the Panopticon, the Pots & Pans, will smell of hay and shit, and the despair of human and animal alike.

  He is the bonus on this night, the extra turn, no billing. He is sixteen years old, and is wearing clothes liberated from A.J. He shortens and patches, he tucks and cuts, all in the same room in which he perfects his turns. Only the coat he leaves untouched, because it is his father’s best.

  He blinks against the lights in this primitive place. No seats in a room that can billet only a trio for musical accompaniment, and poor scrapings at that: laced ladies who smell of sherry and mothballs, and struggle to make their instruments heard above the clamor of the Audience, assisted by a pianist who once dreamed of performing symphonies.

  He begins. In that moment he loses himself, and will never be found again.

  And the Audience laughs: not against him but with him, like the wind blowing in a well-turned sail; and he feeds upon it, and it washes over him as the many become one, harmonizing in their joy.

  Only as he takes his bow does he see his father.

  It is amateur night. A.J. has come to sup with A.E. Pickard, and perhaps to seek out new meat for his own grinder. What A.J. witnesses is his son in borrowed threads—a familiar coat, a top hat fresh from the box—cavorting unexpectedly on a dusty stage for the drunks and the catcallers.

  He cannot read the expression on A.J.’s face, but he knows that A.J. has no tolerance for secrets, gives no succor to indiscipline. He runs, but not to his mother, not to Madge.

  (And later, as he tries to recall the scent and the beauty of her; and later, as he searches in vain for her grave, its marker lost; and later, on the set of the Oceana Apartments, he will think that he should have run to Madge more often, because as he treads the boards of Pickard’s Museum the final sands are already funneling through the hourglass of his mother’s life, and she will be dead within two years.)

  So he does not seek safety at home, behind Madge’s skirts. He ventures to the Metropole, A.J.’s lair. He will confront the old lion in its den.

  A.J. is waiting for him, waiting for him to explain the ruined trousers, waiting for him to explain the purloined coat. The top hat is gone; he loses it in his flight from the stage, and the pianist crushes it beneath his boot and displays the remains for the amusement of the Audience, believing it to be a prop, a dud, and not A.J.’s beloved handmade silk hat.

  A.J. summons him to the office. A.J. is already drinking a whisky and soda. This does not bode well.

  The gags, says A.J. Where did you get the gags?

  And he shares with A.
J. the attic rooms, the hours spent honing each line, each step, reflected only in a dusty mirror and the dead eyes of dolls. And he shares with A.J. the sallies stolen from Boy Glen and Nipper Lane. And he shares with A.J. the routines that he alone has created, these poor imitations, these counterfeit claims.

  A.J. listens. A.J. does not speak.

  He wants to remind A.J. that they laughed. The Audience, those hard men and women of Glasgow—no turn left unstoned—laughed.

  At him.

  For him.

  I heard them, says A.J., although he has not yet spoken to A.J. of the laughter. I was there. I witnessed all.

  He starts to cry.

  He signs on with A.J.’s company for £1.5/- a week.

  A.J. says that he still owes him a top hat.


  At the Oceana Apartments, he is with Babe.

  Babe is dead.

  But Babe is always with him.

  It is long before the dead days, and he and Babe are walking together in New York. Babe stops to speak with the son of a shoeshine man, Babe’s face a beacon of delight. Now Babe can run his routine.

  Babe tells the boy that Babe also was born in Harlem, and the boy, already in thrall to this man familiar from the screens of the black-only theaters, can do no more than gaze in further wonder as Babe feeds the punch line.

  —Harlem, Georgia!

  How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

  Babe laughs, and the boy laughs with him, and Babe tips the father a dollar and gives the son a dollar too, because the gag was worth it.

  But then, Babe has always been a soft touch.

  He and Babe walk on.

  Would the shoeshine man and his son have laughed as hard or as loud, he wonders, if they knew that Oliver Hardy—Babe’s father, his progenitor—lies buried down in Harlem, Georgia alongside his second wife, the sister of the Magruder plantation heirs, and therefore slave owners also; or that Babe’s father was an overseer, a middleman, employed to keep the darkies subdued and their masters satisfied, and a former soldier who served willingly in the Confederate army under Captain Joshua Boyd as part of Ramsey’s Volunteers, only to be wounded for his trouble in the Battle of Antietam?

  Oliver Hardy died in the year of Babe’s birth, so Babe never knew him, but every man lives his life touched by intimations of his father, and none more so than Babe, because in form and demeanor Babe is his father’s son. He has been shown by Babe the photograph of the patriarch, is aware of the resemblance. He has read the treasured cutting from the Columbia paper describing Babe’s father: “open, jolly, funful . . . covered all over with smiles . . . lives to eat, or eats to live . . . this Falstaffian figure.”