Marathon man, p.1
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       Marathon Man, p.1
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           William Goldman
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Marathon Man


  FOR

  EDWARD NEISSER

  BEFORE

  THE

  BEGINNING

  Every time he drove through Yorkville, Rosenbaum got angry, just on general principles. The East 86th Street area was the last holdout of the krauts in Manhattan, and the sooner they got the beer halls replaced by new apartment buildings, the better off he'd be. Not that he had suffered personally during the war--his entire family had been in America since the twenties-- but just driving along streets peopled with Teutonic mentalities was enough to set anyone's teeth on edge.

  Especially Rosenbaum's.

  Everything set his teeth on edge. If an injustice ever dared to creep into his vicinity, he grabbed it and squeezed it with all the bile left in his seventy-eight-year-old body. The Giants moving to Jersey set his teeth on edge; the jigaboos set his teeth on edge, now more than ever, with their notion they were as good as the next guy; the Kennedys set his teeth on edge, the commies, dirty movies, dirty magazines, the spiraling price of pastrami--you name it, Rosenbaum started gnashing.

  This September day, he was particularly choleric. It was hot, and he was late as he headed toward Newark, where his only living cronies held their weekly card game in the nursing home. Three stiffs was what they were, rotten card players and rotten people, but they could all still inhale and exhale whenever they wanted to, and when you got to be seventy-eight, that counted for plenty.

  They didn't like Rosenbaum a whole lot either--the games invariably ended with shouted threats of repercussions--but he always drove over, because it was the best way he had found of getting through Thursday, which, taken as a twenty-four-hour period, set his teeth on edge without half trying. One song said "Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week," another said "Monday, Monday, how can you do this thing to me?" but Rosenbaum knew that Thursday was the one you had to watch out for. Everything wrong in his life had happened on Thursday. He had gotten married on Thursday; his children had both died on Thursday-- years apart, but still both Thursday--and whoever dreamed of outliving your very own? What a terrible thing. Rosenbaum had smoked three packs a day for going on fifty-five years, and his son never once even took a puff, so who do you think got the big C? He shifted uncomfortably in his seat; his truss had been fitted on Thursday.

  Eighty-sixth Street was all screwed up.

  Gimbels East. Ever since goddamn Gimbels East came to 86th Street, you couldn't trust it no more. It used to be his favorite cross-town easy, ten times better than 79th Street, and only tourists took 72nd anyway. No, 86th was the place you went if you wanted to really move, and Gimbels East had to come and screw it up. Nobody shopped at Gimbels East except the jigaboos--what Jew would be caught dead shopping at this Gimbels? This wasn't Gimbels, Gimbels was 34th Street, across from Macy's, and this pile of nothing could try calling itself Gimbels East all it wanted--to Rosenbaum, it was Gimbels dreck, period.

  He did not turn on 86th, but instead went up First to 87th before he took his left. As a number, 87th set his teeth on edge. His wife's initial breast exploratory had cost him 87 smackers. Just to see a fancy butcher, have a picture taken, get the news. "There is definitely a lump on your wife's left breast," the doctor had begun, and Rosenbaum, apoplectic at the man's stupidity, had turned to his pale spouse, saying, "See how lucky we were to have come to a genius specialist? We tell him there's a lump on your left breast and, armed with only that speck of information, he can absolutely assure us that the lump is a lump." He turned on the doctor now, a young cocker, probably married to a blonde shiksa. "Of course there's a lump on her breast, my God, you're a tit man, I didn't come here to ask about the lump on her face--that's called a nose, by the way, I don't know if they teach that kind of thing any more in medical school."

  "Very funny, your husband," the doctor said then to his wife, and she answered, wearily, "Not to me."

  Eighty-seventh Street didn't seem so bad. Rosenbaum tooled straight up to Second without a hitch, caught the green perfectly, got to Third in little time flat. He waited impatiently for the light to change, honked his horn twice at the damn thing before it obeyed him, then jammed on the gas and roared toward Lex. Everyone said he was a terrible driver, his whole family had always been at him about that, but they knew from nothing. Not one traffic ticket in thirty-five years. A few close calls, sure, a couple scrapes here and there, three or four times some near fistfights, but no tickets, let 'em all go to hell, criticizing him, that was all they had ever been good for anyway, giving him grief.

  Rosenbaum began to come to grief himself at the corner of 87th and Lexington. The light was red, which was no big deal--anyone could survive a red light. But the car in front of him, the car at the light, was a stupid goddamn Nazi Volkswagen, and, worse, it was waiting smack in the center of 87th Street, so he couldn't edge by to the light and then leave it behind when things turned green. Rosenbaum honked a couple of times, muttering to himself, but what could you expect from any jerk in a VW? He himself was a Chevy man, and had been since before the war. If you really knew cars, if you wanted your pennies to count for something, you drove a Chevy. Anyone who didn't was a schlemiel.

  The light switched to green, but the VW didn't move.

  Rosenbaum honked again, a lot louder, but the car ahead still blocked him. He could hear the motor coughing, try to catch. "Move to one side!" Rosenbaum shouted. "Quit hawwgggging!"

  Finally the VW started, crept across Lex, began slowly passing the back of Gimbels East. Rosenbaum rode the other car's tail now, trying to get by, but the VW would not budge from the center of 87th Street. Then, without warning, the motor died again, and the car oozed to a stop, blocking Rosenbaum completely. He leaned out the window, honking and honking, really getting his throat limbered up now: "Move-move-raove --what the hell's with you, get off the road, you're a goddamn menace, you stupid jerk, now move-your-car-or-I'll-move-it-for-you!"

  From the Volkswagen came one word: "Langsamer" Langsamer. Slow down. Take it easy. Translate it from the German how you will. Rosenbaum was starting to perspire heavily, from both the heat and aggravation. "Don't you Langsamer me, you kraut meat-head, mach snelir

  The relic in the VW leaned out the window, looked back, managed to shake an ancient fist at Rosenbaum. "Langsamer!" he said again.

  The sight of the guy set Rosenbaum's teeth on edge. So old, practically ready for stuffing, with blue eyes, just like all the Nazis, a Hun on the loose in midtown Manhattan, faded and senile; it was a disgrace anybody let him behind the wheel of a car.

  For a moment after the second "Langsamer!" Rosenbaum just sat there and sweated. Then he drove his Chevy forward and nudged the Volkswagen. It felt so terrific, he backed up a few feet and then drove forward, nudging it again, harder. It had been years since he had felt so instinctively like getting in the ring with a stranger. Why? Well, he was (a) in Yorkville; (b) on 87th Street; (c) behind Gimbels East; (d) blocked;

  (e) by a Volkswagen; (f) driven by an antique lim-burger-lover; (g) who was making him even later for his Thursday card game; (h) which was particularly galling since his Chevy wasn't air-conditioned, and even though it was mid-afternoon in mid-September, the temperature read 92 degrees; (i) Fahrenheit; (j) and rising.

  Rosenbaum banged into the other car a third time, knocking it several feet forward before it stopped, but then it suddenly went forward again as the motor caught, heading toward Park, and Rosenbaum was surprised at first, but he gunned his Chevy, quickly caught up, and prepared to pass on the right, because he knew what his mission in life was now, and it all came down to this: pass the goddamn VW, get in front of it, block it, and then slow down to... a... c. r.. a.. w... l.

  But the other car was having none of it--as Rosenbaum went right, so did the Volkswagen, and when Rosenbaum went
left, so did the Volkswagen, and suddenly, on 87th Street, war had been declared, and that was fine with Rosenbaum, because the day a Chevy couldn't mop up a pint-sized import, we might all just as well hang it up.

  They talk a lot in France about the Mistral and the insanity that possesses people when it starts blowing, and in California everybody treads softly when the Santa Ana begins to brain-bake. Well, there's a wind like that in Manhattan too, nobody's named it yet, but it's there. When a hot day turns into a real steamer and the wind swirls up from the west, blowing all the mosquitoes from the Jersey swamp straight across the Hudson--and maybe that's all this was, an aberration caused by climate, but God knows it was something, because up ahead now the lights on Park Avenue were just going into their red-to-green act, and the Chevy was pouring it on, but the VW man was keeping the lead, foot to the floor, as if nothing mattered but that the bumping madman in the car behind should never pass, never, never, no matter what, and they flew across the intersection of 87th and Park, and nurses grabbed their children and a dozen people looked helplessly around for a cop, and then they were going for Madison, with the VW starting to shake almost out of control at the effort, while the Chevy gunned and scraped, and there they were, these two guys, way over 150 years old total, fighting to the death because a stalled motor had happened in a rented Volks back by Lexington Avenue, and these things do happen all the time in cities, really, but they pass, flare-up follows quiet follows outburst, on and on, and probably this one would have passed too, except for Hunsicker.

  Hunsicker was making his regular delivery, and he hated the 87th Street job because the street was narrow, but he liked the 87th Street job because around the corner toward 88th was the Lenox Hill Deli and behind the counter of that establishment Ilene worked, and every week for going on over a year Hunsicker had eaten coffee and a Danish there, because Ilene was stacked and the head was nice too, one hunk of a divorcee, only she'd never come across. She'd joke with him, sure, she'd even sometimes reach out and rumple Hunsicker's hair, but she never wanted to meet him after work. Her first husband had been a teamster, she said, and once was more than enough, if you don't mind. "But I'm different" was Hunsicker's pitch, "I'm not some jerk who gets his jollies at the bowling league, I read best sellers, all the number ones, Love Story I read, The Godfather, you name a biggie, I got the paperback," but Ilene would not relent. He was telling her that Jackie Susann's latest, Once Is Not Enough, marked a definite improvement for her, an advance in both content and style, when the crash came.

  Hunsicker guessed it was his vehicle immediately, so he took off out the door, running like a bastard, back to 87th, and even before he turned the corner, he felt the heat, the incredible heat, because when an oil truck goes, it can incinerate a brick, and there were screams now from all over, women and kids, and as he got to 87th the flames were scorching the side of the building he was delivering to, and Hunsicker ran as far into the inferno as he could, tried to make sense of it all, but there wasn't much. It looked like two cars had creamed into each other and then spun into his truck, and from there, who knew, but my God, how many dead?

  Scorched, Hunsicker staggered back to the Deli, put in one call to the firemen, a second to the cops. He sat dully at the counter while Ilene, unasked, poured coffee. He sipped at it. Something in him touched her somehow, and she came around the corner, sat alongside him, wiping his darkened face with a clean cloth. That night she went to the movies with him for the first time, and three dates after that, he scored. So it all worked out fine for Hunsicker.

  It worked out fine for Bibby, too. He was a black kid, barely into his twenties, who wanted to be a photographer, and who happened to be on his way to the park when the crash took place. He was the only one clicking at the time, and he got some beauties. The Daily News bought a bunch and spread them across their front and center pages, and eventually offered Bibby a full-time job, so he had nothing close to a complaint, either.

  And actually, call it luck, timing, proof of Divine Intervention, only the two drivers took it, and that wasn't the greatest loss imaginable either. Rosenbaum was truly a scratchy man, seventy-eight and full of unpleasant quirks, increasingly cranky, and the VW driver was even older, eighty-two, a widower who had but one living relative, a son, whom he had not seen in close to half an ordinary lifetime, and even though their blood relationship was thick as standard, any emotional interchange had long since gone by the boards; theirs was an exercise in commerce, nothing more.

  This widower was a refugee who had outlived all his friends and had never bothered accumulating many enemies. Everyone called him Kurt Hesse, though that was not his name. His driver's license read Kurt Hesse, his passport read the same; doctors and mailmen called him Mr. Hesse, his barber "Mr. H"; children called him "thank you" when he scattered candy in the park playgrounds, something he enjoyed doing; and his sister, when she was alive and once she got used to it, always called him Kurt. Indeed, he had been Kurt Hesse for so long now that if you asked him his name without preparation, if you just ran up behind him and cried "Name!" he more than likely would have stammered "Hesse, Kurt Hesse" and not meant to be a liar.

  His real name was Kaspar Szell, but twenty-eight years had passed since anyone had called him that, and sometimes, when he was in a dreamy state before sleep, he actually sometimes wondered if there ever really had been a Kaspar Szell and, if there had, what he would have been like had he been given a chance to live.

  He died instantly in the crash. The crash killed him, not the fire. The fire only delayed identification.

  The entire incident, from Gimbels on, covered less than three minutes, and at the most, in the case of Rosenbaum, less than five seconds of primary pain. All in all, it would have been hard to have wished for a happier tragedy.

  PART

  I

  BABE

  1

  "Here comes da creep," one of the stoop kids said.

  Levy did his best to ignore them, standing at the top of the brownstone steps, making sure his sneaker laces were properly tight. These were his best shoes, the cream of the Adidas line, and they fit his feet as if divinely sculpted, never, not even on the first day, giving a hint of blister. Levy felt passionate about few items of wearing apparel, but these running shoes he cared about.

  "Hey creepy creepy creepy," another of the stoop kids shouted, this one their leader, small, quick, with usually the brightest clothes. Now he made his voice very hoity-toity: "I just absolutely adore your chateau," and he indicated Levy's hat.

  Without really meaning to, Levy adjusted his golf cap, and as he did the stoop kids, three brownstones down, hit him with the sound of their triumphant laughter. Levy was particularly sensitive about the whole cap business. He had been wearing his peakbill for years, and no one cared, but then, in the '72 Olympics, Wottle won the 800 meters for the U.S.A. and he wore a golf cap, Wottle did, so everyone assumed that Levy was merely an imitator.

  Levy felt genuinely confident about few things in this world, but one of them was--did it sound conceited? then it was conceited--his mind. He had, for someone not yet out of his middle twenties, a relatively original mind, and he would never have copied anyone, let alone a fellow runner. Now he took a breath, trying to ready himself for the taunts of the stoop kids as he began jogging storklike down the brownstone steps. The stoop kids loved his awkwardness. They flapped their arms and made goose sounds.

  Levy just hated it when they imitated him. Not because they were wrong, but because they were so aggravatingly accurate in their mimicking. He, T. B. Levy, did look like a goose, at least on occasion. He didn't much like it, but there it was.

  The stoop kids--usually six in number, Spanish in origin--seemed to live on the brownstone steps of the house three doors closer to Central Park than Levy's own. At least, they had been perched there when he arrived in June, and here it was, September now, and they showed no signs of flying south. They were maybe fifteen or sixteen, small, thin, undoubtedly dangerous when provoked, and th
ey ate on their stoop, played handball against the stoop steps or on the sidewalk in front, and often, late in the darkness, Levy would pass them necking and more with what he assumed were neighborhood girls. Morning till night, the stoop kids were there, sitting there, standing, playing, smoking, not caring to watch the world go by, because they were a world, tight-knit and constant, and sometimes, for that reason, Levy wondered if he didn't envy them. Not that he ever wanted them to offer him a seat. Certainly, he would have rejected such an offer. But then again, who knew how he'd behave, it was all academic, they'd never asked him.

  Levy turned on the sidewalk toward Central Park, jogging his way, and as he passed them the one who adored his chateau said, "Why aren't you in school?" so suddenly that Levy had to laugh, because once, in June, when they had been particularly insulting to him, he had said that to them, "Why aren't you in school?" and not only had he not shut them up, for a month they'd never let him come close to forgetting it. But this was the first time in many days they'd used the line back on him, and therefore his laughter. Humor was the unexpected juxtaposition of incongruities, who had said that? Levy rooted around in his mind a moment before he decided on Hazlitt. No. Meredith maybe? G. B. Shaw? Think, he commanded, but the right name would not come. Levy stormed at himself, because you had to know that kind of thing if you were going to be really first-rate, his father would have known just-like-that, known the author's name and the work the quote resided in and the mental state of the creator at the moment of composition--were these good times for him, bad, what? Shamed, Levy jogged faster.

  Levy lived on West 95th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus, not an appetizing neighborhood, certainly, but when you were a scholarship student you took what was available, and in June what was available was a single room with bath on the top floor of the brownstone at 148 West 95th Street. It wasn't all that bad, actually: a lovely jogging distance from Columbia, just across to Riverside Park and then up to 116th, a straight shoot along the river--you couldn't ask for more than that if you were a runner.

 
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