Fiction

Are People Monkeys?

John Christopher Lorrigan said they were, Robinson the private detective said they weren’t. But that was before they started discussing the missing thirty thousand dollars

JAMES McNAMEE March 1 1954
Fiction

Are People Monkeys?

John Christopher Lorrigan said they were, Robinson the private detective said they weren’t. But that was before they started discussing the missing thirty thousand dollars

JAMES McNAMEE March 1 1954

Are People Monkeys?

Fiction

John Christopher Lorrigan said they were, Robinson the private detective said they weren’t. But that was before they started discussing the missing thirty thousand dollars

JAMES McNAMEE

THE BUILDINGS were so positioned on the terraced hillside as to repeat a visual theme, and each was flat-roofed and white. The walks between them, at this season, were bordered by forget-me-not, and rhododendron flanked the driveways. Mr. Robinson was provoked. He had read the schedule tacked to the post at the bus stop and found he must wait forty minutes for a bus to the city.

It was the hour of the evening meal. To the west a thin corrugation of cloud assumed the look of pink draperies. The only movement anywhere, as far as Mr. Robinson could see, was made by a few white-capped blue-mantled nurses walking between the buildings, and by rare male attendants who even at a distance looked muscular.

Because the breeze was cold Mr. Robinson walked up and down in front of the bus stop. From an upper window of the closest building an old man, standing behind bars and in front of a naked light, looked down at him. Mr. Robinson sensed hostility in the old man’s interest and it made him uncomfortable. Swinging his brief case he went along the driveway to where he had seen a bench under a maple tree.

As he sat down a man passed, walking toward the bus stop, and Mr. Robinson, who was chilly, envied him his overcoat and tartan scarf. The old man at the window looked at the man in the overcoat and suddenly started dancing. He clung to the bars and bobbed. The man shook his head at him, then turned and saw Mr. Robinson under the maple tree. He came back, jumped over a border of forget-me-not and sat beside him. “Am I intruding?” he asked.

“Not at all,” said Mr. Robinson. By the aid of the standard lights on the driveway he saw that the overcoat was of quality and the man’s face iron-templed and in its last youth.

“It’s cold, isn’t it?” said Mr. Robinson. The raw darkness tormented his fingers and his feet. “They shouldn’t,” he said, nodding toward the building by the bus stop, “keep cases like that so close to the highway. Gives a bad impression. Why don’t they keep them up on the hill?”

“I know,” said the man with the overcoat. “The whole setting is more or less comparable to life here and life hereafter—at the bottom, frenzy and bars; at the top, open windows and tranquillity.”

“You don’t say?” said Mr. Robinson, wondering what he had started. The buildings sparkled with lights, and from the chimney of the heating plant a great roll of black smoke snaked across the eastern sky. He blew on his fingers.

“When I sat down,” said the man, “I noticed your face was blue.” “Poor circulation,” said Mr. Robinson. “I’m cold.”

“Quite, quite blue,” said the stranger, “on both sides of the nose.” There was a restrained silence on Mr. Robinson’s part.

“I’ve seen such a blue before. Have I met you before?” asked the stranger. “Your name is not—ah—. ”

“Robinson,” said Mr. Robinson who was of Scottish descent and had blue eyes and a fringe of red hair.

“Is it really?” said the stranger.

Mr. Robinson wriggled his toes and looked again at the luminous dial of his watch. Twenty-five minutes. He became aware of lights flickering among the rhododendrons and he saw others farther up the hill.

“The moon is full tonight,” the man said.

“I was wondering about those lights,” said Mr. Robinson. “Flashlights,” said his companion. “There are always some inmates who won’t report in for supper when the moon’s full. The attendants are looking for them.”

“That’s odd,” said Mr. Robinson.

“I wouldn’t have thought of calling it odd,” said the man with the overcoat. “Such truancy seems reassuring. At least it proves there are still some so spiritually susceptible they can be influenced by a heavenly body, even if it is only the moon.”

“Is that so?” said Mr. Robinson. He felt certain the vocation of the gentleman, in sfjite of his tartan scarf, was of a clerical nature. Twenty minutes to bus time. He shivered. Watching the eccentric movements of the flashlights on the hillside, he wondered if the inmate he had come to see, John Christopher Lorrigan, could possibly be among those not accounted for. He said, “I suppose in the course of your work here you contact quite a few of these cases.”

“I do,” said the gentleman.

“Did you ever come across a fellow called Lorrigan?”

“John Christopher?” said the gentleman. “He’s here.”

“I couldn’t find him,” said Mr. Robinson. “Nobody could.”

“He’s tall,” said his companion. “Goodlooking.” An outstanding personality. He has an immense influence on the other patients. It’s an institutional habit now to refer to the male members of the staff as gorillas, and to the females as chimps; doctors and supervisors are king apes and visitors baboons. Something Lorrigan started, you know.” Sitting there in his warm overcoat and tartan scarf, he looked at Mr. Robinson and with a chuckle encouraged him to show appreciation of this absurdity, but Mr. Robinson was freezing far too fast for laughter, and besides what thoughts he had were fluttering about the disappearance of a certain thirty thousand dollars.

THE OILY black smoke from the heating plant sank to the ground east of the buddings and, like an avalanche of tar, at

treetop level, undulated down the hillside and into the valley. Suddenly, as if someone had turned a switch, an aura of soft brilliance played on the cloud and the giant rim of the moon showed, glossed and golden. Mr. Robinson put his cold hands under his armpits and beat his tortured heels. A drop of moisture, rolling down a nostril, hung at the end of his nose and tickled like a persistent housefly. As he reached for his handkerchief someone howled behind him in the rhododendron bushes.

“Sit down,” said the gentleman.

Mr. Robinson listened intently. Bodies were floundering in the scrubs but the sound was at a distance and receding. “I was startled,” he said. He sat down. “What’s more, I’ve never been so cold in my life.”

“Your face is blue,” said the man with the overcoat, “quite blue. The blue is very obvious by moonlight, Mr.—ah —

“Robinson,” he volunteered. The guy was absent-minded. Yet he knew Lorrigan, and might even know something of the thirty thousand missing dollars. “Could I ask you to do something for me?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“You’re around here every day?”

“I am.”

Mr. Robinson picked up his brief case and undid the buckle. “Would you make a point of seeing Lorrigan and giving him this?” He held out an oblong candy box. “His wife told me to bring it. Salted nuts.”

“He’ll be pleased,” said the gentleman.

“I guess so,” said Mr. Robinson. “I hear he goes around handing out nuts to people. That’s how they found he was off his rocker.”

“I know,” said the gentleman.

“Filberts and peanuts,” said Mr. Robinson. “He gave Hennessey, his father-in-law, a coconut. Threw it at him.”

“Hennessey, the electrical contractor?” “You know Hennessey?”

“Walks with his arms a little out from his sides?”

“That’s right. I’ve been retained by him.”

“Are you a lawyer?” •

“No,” said Mr. Robinson, “I’m an investigator.”

“A private detective?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Robinson.

“Divorce cases?”

To Mr. Robinson these last words sounded flat. There was derogation in them and, in the tonal quality, a change that showed prejudice. But that was more or less understandable in a cleric. Not to imperil a relationship that could be of value, Mr. Robinson explained, “This job is purely financial.”

“I thought,” said the gentleman, “your investigation might have been inspired by Hennessey’s daughter. Lorrigan says she’s a cute little monkey. But all monkey. You know what I mean?”

Mr. Robinson was not certain. He said, “Uh-huh.”

“Full of monkey tricks,” said the gentleman. “Lorrigan has a remarkable vocabulary, you know. When he talks of his wife, some of his expressions are decidedly graphic. She seems to have an unconscious habit of bodyscratching. The adjectives Lorrigan uses in describing this foible are choice.”

“Everybody scratches,” said Mr. Robinson, flexing his fingers to be sure he could still move them.

“Yes, they do,” said the gentleman. “Lorrigan found that out. Did you ever hear how, as he puts it, he graduated from the outside world?”

“He threw a coconut at Hennessey.” “No, no,” said the gentleman. “It happened at the Country Fair. Mrs. Lorrigan had insisted on taking in the show on the midway but when they came to one tent that had on its canvas front a big picture of six monkeys, all goggled, sitting in miniature racing cars, she told Lorrigan to see this by himself, she had a blister and would rather wait. Lorrigan dutifully bought a ticket and climbed a flight of steps to stand on the rim of a pit made of boards and shaped like a saucer. A loutish young man was at the bottom with three monkeys, a male, a female and a baby. The male monkey was chained to a homemade heap of galvanized junk powered by the gas motor of a washing machine. The young man pushed the contraption until it spluttered and took off, spiraling the sides. To Lorrigan, a man of pronounced native dignity, the performance was trivial, the business a fraud.” “Bunco,” said Mr. Robinson. “Lorrigan,” said the gentleman,

“took more interest in the female monkey. Her little pink hands continually floated over her body, scratching. Her expression was set, preoccupied and somehow familiar. He placed it. He recognized, too, the digital technique. He felt a definite emotional disturbance, and he turned and looked down the midway. Mrs. Lorrigan was still where he had left her, still delving a little pink hand into a bag of popcorn. For the first time Lorrigan noticed the Hennessey ridges over her eyes. She glanced to the left and to the right, and surreptitiously scratched herself. Lorrigan realized he had married a monkey! Then Lorrigan scanned the other faces circling the rim of the wooden saucer. There was not one less anthropoid than that of the poor beast below fastened to the galloping pile of junk. Lorrigan had a blinding white moment in which he clearly saw he was living in a world of monkeys. And that’s how he passed over.”

“Ah, he must have been born off his rocker,” said Mr. Robinson. Another drop of moisture hung from his nose. “Will you be seeing Lorrigan tomorrow?”

“I beg your pardon, Mr.—-ah—.” “Robinson. I said will you be seeing Lorrigan tomorrow?”

“Why, yes.”

MR. ROBINSON blew his nose. He did not allow the explosion to disrupt the sequence of his thoughts. “If I came back tomorrow could you arrange for me to see him?”

“Yes. You could always see him.” “Could you get him to sort of discuss Hennessey’s business with me. He used to be Hennessey’s accountant.” “He wouldn’t discuss anything with you.”

“He wouldn’t, eh?”

“No. He’s definitely retired from the outside world.”

“Would he talk business with you?” “He probably would,” said the gentleman.

In spite of his iced fingers, his wet nose and his petrified feet, Mr. Robinson, on hearing these words, was flooded with comfort. “How, ” he asked, “would you like a hundred dollars to spend on your church or something?” “You are offering me a hundred dollars?”

“Uh-huh. Legitimate, too.” Mr. Robinson looked beyond the bus stop and far down the valley road. No bus, hut time had become money. “For thirty months,” he said, “Hennessey had Lorrigan put a thousand dollars aside out of company revenue as a hidden reserve. Lt didn’t go through the books. Thirty thousand dollars he hides, then lie goes off his rocker. Hennessey can’t get a word out of him. It’s critical. Here he sits as nutty as a fruit cake and somewhere he’s got thirty thousand in fives, tens and twenties of Hennessey’s money. Is that right?”

The gentleman pondered. “Lorrigan says that the last time Hennessey was here he twisted his arm.” “Ah, what’s that!” said Mr. Robinson. “Who wouldn’t for thirty thousand dollars? Look. Hennessey just has to have that money.”

“That’s why he hired you?”

Mr. Robinson nodded. “It’s a confidential job.”

“Lorrigan wouldn’t tell you.” “Maybe he wouldn’t,” said Mr. Robinson, “but he’d tell you.”

The gentleman with the overcoat hesitated. “He might. Very likely he would. Then again lie perhaps feels that thirty thousand dollars would keep him well supplied with nuts. He passes them out to visitors, you know.”

“We can’t let him use Hennessey’s thirty thousand to buy nuts,” said Mr. Robinson. “Say you want the money for orphans or something.”

THE gentleman said, “Sh-sh-sh!” His eyes were fixed on a point two feet behind Mr. Robinson’s head. Mr. Robinson turned uneasily. He saw nothing strange until he became conscious of the fact that there was a blur by the trunk of the gnarled maple, a convexity, a bulge, an egg - shaped phosphorescence, a night bloom. Only it was a face.

“Hello,” said the gentleman with the overcoat, “who are you?”

“Take it easy,” whispered Mr. Robinson. “We don’t want him.” “Come out,” said the gentleman, “come and sit with us.” There was persuasion and a pastoral sweetness in his voice as if he were talking to children from a pulpit. “Come on.” Mr. Robinson looked about him. He saw three flashlights and he saw ancAher some yards ahead being held only a few inches from the ground. They were coming closer. “Leave him alone,” he said. “They’ll pick him up in a minute.”

“He won’t hurt you,” said the gentleman.

“No, but he’ll interrupt us,” said Mr. Robinson.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” said the gentleman.

Not willing to let the situation get out of hand, Mr. Robinson, while he thought, blew on his fingers. He was determined to have more to show for his day’s work than pneumonia. He looked down the valley road to see if he could spot the bus. “Two hundred.” “Come,” said the gentleman, “you’ll he safe with me.”

Someone passed between Mr. Robinson and the maple tree.

“Hello, Mac,” said the gentleman with the overcoat. “Sit here in front of me where you can keep your eve on him.”

A scrawny little man edged around Mr. Robinson, giving him a wide berth, moving his legs in a modified goose step. He sat on the damp grass, his hack to the moon and to the lights on the driveway.

“Don’t be frightened,” said the gentleman to the little man. “You heard me say he wouldn’t hurt you. I’ll introduce you. This is . .

“Robinson,” said Mr. Robinson. Far

down the valley road, miles from the bus stop, he saw headlights. “I’m offering five hundred,” he said.

“Do you notice how blue he is around the nose, Mac?”

“Poor circulation,” said Mr. Robinson. “How’s five hundred? I’ll give you fifty now.”

“Quite, quite blue.”

“Okay, okay,” said Mr. Robinson. “I get blue. Tell me, can you get the information from Lorrigan?”

“I can.”

“I said five hundred.”

The gentleman turned to the little man. “You have a hump on your face, Mac. Did the gorillas chase you?” “One thousand dollars!” said Mr. Robinson, shaking a finger like a cold auctioneer. The bus was coming. He could see the half-dozen green and amber lights on the top of the windshield. He thought for a moment to take this clerical type by the ends of his tartan scarf and throttle him. “I’ll split my commission,” said Mr. Robinson, “fifteen hundred!”

THEN he realized he was not being smart. The parson was waiting for the bus, too. If he went all the way into the city they’d have an hour to sit together and make a deal, in blessed comfort and ruddy warmth. As for surrendering half his commission, Mr. Robinson doubted if the offer had been heard, and the same thing applied to the thousand. He may not have even caught the five hundred bid. Mr. Robinson was confident he could, as soon as he got thawed out, and by the end of an hour, work the five hundred back to the original one, or below it to fifty. “Well,” said he, “we’d better go. Here’s the bus.”

“I’m not going,” said the gentleman with the overcoat. “Someone must look after Mac.”

“You can’t,” said Mr. Robinson. “The next bus is at ten o’clock.” “Mac’s a favorite of mine.” said the gentleman. “I wouldn’t leave him out here.”

“You don’t have to. There are four attendants right behind you.”

“Are there?” said the gentleman, turning and watching the flashlights. Two flashlights could be seen not more

than fifty yards away, and another was circling to the left, and another to the right. “So there are. We needn’t stay. We may as well go.”

“Good,” said Mr. Robinson.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” said the gentleman.

Mr. Robinson managed to breathe out, but he couldn’t breathe in.

The gentleman was opening the box of nuts Mr. Robinson had left with him. He put a nut in Mr. Robinson’s open mouth. “Have a filbert, Mr. Mandrill,” he said.

A presentiment, as ugly as an octopus, jumped at Mr. Robinson and held him to the bench under the maple tree and, although dazed by the enormity of it, he mumbled, “The name is Robinson.”

“Preposterous,” said the gentleman. “How can it be? You are blue about the nose. You are probably blue somewhere else. The name is Mandrill.”

Mr. Robinson’s heart threatened to pound itself into little pieces, and for all that he had the answer, he asked, “Who are you?”

“I?” said the gentleman. “I am John Christopher Lorrigan.”

Mr. Robinson did nothing for a moment but sit and shake like a jelly. Inhaling, he sucked the nut deep into his throat. He gagged and bent double and water filled his eyes, and dimly he saw Lorrigan take little Mac by the arm and jump over the border of forget-me-not and cross the driveway.

Choking, he beat his breast. He saw the bus slow down at the stop and pull away because no one was there. The flashlights had reached him. He pointed in the direction Lorrigan and little Mac had gone. He was surrounded by big men in white. They seized his arms and twisted him from side to side and to his horror he found he was in a strait jacket. Panic tightened the muscles of his throat and dislodged the filbert. “Lorrigan!” he cried, “Lorrigan!” He was slapped. “No, no, no! I’m a visitor,” he tried to say as a cloth was wadded into his mouth. The backs of his heels rubbed the ground and he was dragged toward the building with the barred windows where he had seen the old man dancing.