Jack liked his office and it was all right to like your office. He would say that basically it worked. It was nicely enigmatic. All the tools of his trade, his papers and portfolios, were kept out of sight in a block of chrome-plated file cabinets with unlabelled drawers. He liked one thing on his desk at a time. The only way somebody uninitiated might guess he was an agent for illustrators of children’s books was through the painting on the wall behind him of a pig in armor.

The walls were a naïve yellow. At eight floors up, he was the right distance from the sounds of the street. His window looked across onto the fluted blank raw cement wall of a telephone switching center, which in his opinion conveyed a faintly Romanesque feeling that was congruent. He might concede some disappointment in the way his custom desk had worked out. It was supposed to suggest an obsidian cube, but the joins in the black plastic slabs could be detected. The flooring, black rubber tile in a raised dot pattern, heavily underpadded, was a definite success. He bounced his heels on it a little before attending to finishing his lunch.

What he wanted to know was why you had to be some kind of expert to unwrap these little foilbound wedges of Gruyère without getting cheese under your fingernails. Skinning garlic cloves was a similar thing.

Business had been good in this office. Maybe the subtle play-room associations made clients regress. It was an idea. He was scraping rusk crumbs into his palm with an index card when he heard something in the outer office. Afraid, he listened.


It was his brother.

Perfect. Just what he needed at this point. He felt indescribable. It was unfair. Showing up unannounced when he was supposed to be living happily ever after on the other side of the country was vintage Roy. All Jack wanted to know was who was to blame. Helen was, for leaving the office door open when she went to lunch. She was going to suffer. Jack made himself smile at Roy, credibly he thought. He got up. He held his palms up, showing a good-natured surrender to fate. Roy came over and they shook hands. They said each other’s names.

Roy was about the same as three years ago. As usual and like their father he had something on his mind, as his expression was making abundantly clear. Roy was acting bloody but unbowed. Actually, that was Roy’s main facial expression. Except that it was interesting that Roy was afraid of something. Roy had lost weight, some. But he was the same grim proletarian persona as always, with his cheap Coast Guard surplus raincoat, short haircut, foreman clothes, no tie, shirt buttoned to the throat. Roy was taking off his raincoat. Jack considered giving Roy the proletarian a tip. In Roy’s shirt pocket the tops of four ballpoint pens showed, and more than one pen showing was like a full-page ad for insecurity. But why should he tell Roy anything?

Roy went to look for a chair in the outer office. Everything about their grim father was coming back. It was okay to drink Benedictine because the Benedictines were okay, but no Chartreuse, ever, because there was something bad about the Carthusians. You were supposed to shun anyone who bought a Volkswagen, because of slave labor, and this was as late as the sixties. People who visited Spain before Casals went back were lepers. Their father had been a basement inventor. He had invented a dispenser cap, called Metercap, for toothpaste, that would measure out a generous average dose and thus cut down waste. The company that bought it suppressed the invention. Waste was the enemy of mankind. The company was criminal. Property was theft and so on into the night. Roy was against waste.

Roy was back, carrying a heavy pedestal chair that wasn’t meant to be moved. He positioned it off the right corner of Jack’s desk. He folded his raincoat scientifically into a pad and sat on it. Was the idea that sitting on it would somehow press it by body heat? Anything was possible.

Why was Roy here? Jack was trying to come up with a benign reason and getting nothing. Everything was settled between them, supposedly. Three years ago Roy had left for Phoenix taking his half of an inheritance that was not immense but not nothing, either. Roy had made his own bed, with a vengeance. Jack had argued the insanity of what Roy was doing, going out to be the executive secretary of some bizarre foundation having to do with flying saucer research. Roy was supposed to get perpetual room and board and subsistence, like an annuity, in exchange for his twenty-nine thousand. For a year newsletters from Roy’s foundation had come, all of which Jack had returned unopened, marking them Of No Interest/Return To Sender in black block letters that left nothing to the imagination vis-à-vis his contempt for the whole thing. Now this. And typically Roy had no reaction whatever to the office.