He added, more softly, 'I wonder what his situation is, to pick up someone like her.'
The water was steaming hot but there wasn't much satisfaction in that now. Two years ago it had cost him an arm and a leg to have this hot water system installed. He had to wait a whole summer for it. Now he was selling the boat. Everything changes. Nothing is predictable any more.
Rigel vigorously soaped the warm wash cloth and applied it to his face. He thought the Great Author's respectful readers should have seen him last night dancing with Lila. They probably wouldn't have minded though. Among his respectful readers drunkenness and whoring were probably considered some form of 'Quality.'
It was interesting to get a look at someone like him up close. In Oswego he seemed so reserved. They look so
fine from a distance but when you see them up close for what they really are then all the cracks and blemishes appear. He wasn't reserved. He was just boorish.
Last night was typical. After listening to the author talk on and on about some pet idea about 'nothingness,' Rigel had tried to illustrate the point with a fishing story. The Great Author didn't even listen. Rigel had tried to warn him about sailing alone off shore and he wouldn't listen. And then after he had warned him about Lila he had the nerve to invite her to their table.
Boorish. What made it so hard to stand was that it wasn't deliberate. He just didn't know any better . . . He seemed so naive most of the time and yet there was something . . . clever about him that infuriated. He shouldn't let him make him so angry like this. He didn't really matter that much ... If he wasn't careful he was going to cut himself with this razor.
There were enough people like that, of course, but what made this all so insufferable was that here was a man who was passing himself off as an expert on 'Quality,' with a capital 'Q.' And he got away with it! It was like watching some ambulance chaser sway a jury. Once he got them emotionally on his side there wasn't much you could do about it.
Richard Rigel emptied the basin, rinsed it neatly, then folded the towel and put it on its rack to dry properly.
Capella said, 'If I'm going to wake him up, what am I going to tell him about his boat?'
Rigel thought for a while. 'I suppose I should be the one to talk to him,' he said.
He would do it tactfully. He'd invite him to breakfast, and then when the author turned the invitation down, he would be up and awake so that he could be told his boat needed moving.
Now clean and shaven Richard Rigel felt a little better. He watched in the mirror as he combed his hair into respectability, then tried on a tie. It didn't look right. With Gary Grant features like his own it would be inappropriate to be overdressed, particularly in a place like this. He removed the tie, unbuttoned the collar and carefully opened it a little. Much better.
He climbed to the deck and looked around at the harbor. There were old rotting timbers and hulks that had to be crossed by a series of precarious gangplanks to get to dry land. One was lucky if he didn't break his neck. Probably it would be a whole day wasted here.
Richard Rigel turned and was surprised to see himself being watched. The Great Author himself was in the next cockpit.
'Hello!' Richard Rigel said loudly.
His neighbor's expression seemed bland. He was wearing the same blue chambray shirt he had worn yesterday, with the same food stain above one pocket.
'I didn't expect to find you up this early,' Richard Rigel said.
The author replied, 'If you want to take your boat down to the crane dock I can cast off now.'
He must be some sort of a mind-reader, Rigel thought. He said, 'There may be another boat at the dock.'
'No, I checked.'
He seemed to be in remarkably good shape after his performance last night. He would be, Rigel thought.
'It's still too early,' Rigel said. 'There may be a boat scheduled ahead of me. Are you interested in breakfast?'
As he said it he realized it was no longer necessary to invite the author to breakfast, but it was too late.
That sounds good,' the author answered. 'I'll see if I can get Lila up.'
'What?' Richard Rigel was startled. 'No, of course not. Let the woman have her sleep. Just you come.'
'Why?' the author asked.
There it was again, that boorishness. He knew perfectly well why. 'Because this is undoubtedly the last time we will be seeing one another,' Rigel smiled. 'And I would prefer to chat alone.'
Capella appeared on deck and the three crossed the gangplanks to shore in a single file.
Inside the restaurant Capella said, 'It's hard to believe this is the same place.'
Rigel saw the juke box silent in one corner. 'Be thankful for small favors,' he said.
A blackboard in front of the bar mirror contained the breakfast menu. Beside it an old woman talked across the bar to three workmen eating breakfast at the table beside them. Probably the wife of last night's bartender, he thought.
The author was being his indifferent self again. His attention seemed to drift outside the window toward the boat-yard debris and docks where they had come from. Perhaps he was looking for Lila.
Capella said to him, 'Where did you learn to dance like that? You really stopped the action.'
The author's attention returned. 'Why?' he asked. 'Were you watching?'
'Everybody was,' Richard Rigel said.
'No.' The author grinned. 'I don't know how to dance.' He looked quizzically at both of them.
'You're way too modest,' Rigel smiled. 'You dazzled us all . . . particularly the lady.'
The author looked at them suspiciously, 'Ah, you people are teasing.'
'Maybe you had so much to drink you don't remember.'
Capella laughed, and the author exclaimed, 'I wasn't so drunk.'
'No, you weren't so drunk,' Rigel said. 'That's why you tiptoed so softly across my deck at two.'
'Sorry about that,' the author said. 'She dropped her suitcase.'
Rigel and Capella looked at each other. 'Suitcase!' Capella said.
'Yes,' the author answered. 'She's leaving the boat she was on and coming with me to Manhattan to stay with some friends there.'
'Wow!' Capella said, winking at Rigel. 'One dance with him and they pack up their suitcases.' He said to Rigel, 'I wish I knew his secret. How do you suppose he does it?'
Richard Rigel frowned and looked around. He didn't like the direction this was going. He wondered when the old woman was going to take their order. He motioned to her to come.
When she arrived he ordered ham and eggs and toast and orange juice. The others ordered too.
While they were waiting Richard Rigel said that the tide would turn at about ten. He told the author his best strategy was to wait until about nine o'clock, which was the last hour of the flood tide, then go as fast as possible with the ebb tide as far as he could before the tide changed again, moor for the night and wait for the next day's ebb into Manhattan. The author thanked him for the information.
They ate most of the breakfast in silence. Rigel felt stymied, pushed into a corner by this person. There was something about him that prevented you from saying anything to him, something that didn't leave you any room to say it. He was in such another world, talking away so glibly about Quality.
When they were finished eating Richard Rigel turned to the author. He didn't like what he had to say to him but he felt an obligation to say it anyway.
'It's none of my business whom you select for company,' he said. 'You seemed to pay no attention to me at all last night. But I think I have an obligation to advise you one last time to get Lila off your boat.'
The author looked surprised. 'I thought you said I needed a crew.'
'What's wrong with her?'
There it was again. 'You're not that naive,' Rigel said.
The author mumbled, almost to himself, 'Lila may be better than she looks.'
Richard Rigel contradicted him. 'No, Lila is much worse than she looks.'
The author looked at Capella, who was smiling, and then at Rigel with narrowing eyes. 'What makes you think that?' he said.
Richard Rigel studied the author for a while. The author really tvas innocent. 'I've known Lila Blewitt for a long, long time,' he said. 'Why don't you just take my word for it?'
'Who is she?' the author said.
'She's a very unfortunate person of very low quality,' he said.
At the word 'quality,' the author looked up as though it was some kind of challenge thrown at him. It was, of course.
The author's eyes shifted. 'What does she do for a living?' he asked, evasively.
When Capella glanced at him Richard Rigel couldn't resist a smile. 'She meets people like you, my friend,' he said. 'Didn't anyone ever tell you about people like her?'
Another challenge. The wheels were turning almost visibly inside the author's head.
Rigel wondered whether to push it any farther. There was no point in doing so, really. But there was something about the author's complacency, particularly after last night, that made him want to do it anyway. But then he decided not to. 'If you need a crew,' he said, 'why don't you wait a few days in Manhattan and then Bill will be available. I think Bill knows enough that the two of you could make it.'
Bill nodded with a smile.
They talked more about the sail into Manhattan. It was all straightforward. They should call ahead to the 79th Street Marina since even this late in the year it was hard to get in there without a reservation. An October cruise to the Chesapeake might be something he would enjoy himself, Rigel said. But of course, he wouldn't have the time.
The author said suddenly, 'I don't think you know what you're talking about. How do you know that?'
'Know what?' Rigel asked.
'I know it from the experience of a very close friend whose divorce case I handled,' Richard Rigel answered. In his memory a picture returned of Lila, arm in arm with Jim, coming into his office. Poor Jim, he thought. 'Your friend Lila completely ruined his life.
'She used to be much more attractive than she is now,' Rigel added. 'She seems to be going downhill fast.'
Capella said, 'You never told me about that.'
'It's not a public matter,' Rigel said, 'and I won't mention his name, Bill, or you'd recognize it.'
Then he looked at the author seriously. 'You've never seen such a sad, forsaken man. He lost his wife, his children, most of his friends — his reputation was gone. He had to quit his job at the bank where he had a promising future - in fact was scheduled for a vice-presidency. Eventually he had to move to get re-established. But knowing the bank's president I'm sure he put it on Jim's record, and that was the end of his career, I'm afraid. No board will ever promote him to any position of real responsibility.'
'That's really bad,' the author said, and looked down at the table.
'It was completely necessary,' Richard Rigel said. 'No one wants to trust millions of dollars to a man who hasn't enough self-control to keep his hands off a common bar-whore.'
Another challenge. This time the author's eyes hardened. It looked as though he was going to take it.
'Who was to blame?' he said.
'What do you mean?' Richard Rigel asked.
'I mean was it Lila who was to blame for your friend's misfortune or was it his wife and his so-called friends and his superiors at the bank? Who really did him in?'
'I don't follow,' Richard Rigel said.
'Was it her love or was it their hatred?'
'I wouldn't call it love.'
'Would you call it hatred on their part? What exactly did he do to them that justified their hatred?'
'Now you're no longer being naive,' Richard Rigel said. 'Now you're being deliberately stupid. Are you trying to tell me his wife had no right to be angry?'
The author thought for a while. 'I don't know,' he said, 'but there's something wrong there.'
'I think there is,' Richard Rigel said.
'There's always been something wrong, logically," the author went on. 'How can an act of love, that does no injury to anyone, be so evil? . . . Think about it. Who was injured?'
Richard Rigel thought about it. He said, 'It wasn't any act of love. Lila Blewitt doesn't know what love means. It was an act of deceit.'
He could feel anger growing. 'I've heard that word "love" so many times from the mouths of so many people who don't know what it is.' He could still see Jim's wife sitting in his office. She had shielded her eyes with her hand and tried hard to keep her voice steady. There was love.
He said, 'Let me try another word: "Honor." The person we are talking about dishonored his wife and he dishonored his children and he dishonored everyone who put trust in him, as well as himself. People forgave him for his weakness, but they lost respect for him and that was what finished him for any position of responsibility.
'But it wasn't weakness on Lila's part. She knew what she was doing.'
The author stared at him. Dumbly it seemed.
'And I don't know what the circumstances of your own personal family are my friend, but I warn you, if you're not careful she'll do it to you.'
As an afterthought he added, 'If she hasn't already.'
Rigel looked at the author to see what the effect was. There was no change of expression. Nothing, apparently, penetrated that thick crust.
'But who did she hurt?' Capella asked.
Rigel looked at Bill with surprise. Him too? He thought Capella was more sensible. It was a sign of the times.
'Well, there are some of us left,' he said, returning to the author, 'who are still holding out against your hedonistic "Quality" philosophy or whatever it is.'
'I was just asking a question,' the author said.
'But it's a question that expresses a certain point of view,' Richard Rigel answered, 'and it's a point of view that some people, including myself, find loathsome.'
'I'm still not sure why.'
God, he was insufferable. 'All right, I'll tell you why. Will you listen?'
'No, I mean really listen?'
The author was silent.
'You made a statement in your book that everyone knows and agrees to what "Quality" is. Obviously everyone does not! You refused to define "Quality," thus preventing any argument on the subject. You tell us that "dialecticians" who debate these matters are scoundrels. I guess that would include lawyers too. That's pretty good. You carefully tie your critics' hands and feet so that they cannot give you any opposition, tar their reputations for good measure, and then you say, "OK, come on out and fight." Very brave. Very brave.'
'May I come out and fight?' the author said. 'My exact statement was that people do disagree as to what Quality is, but their disagreement is only on the objects in which they think Quality inheres.'
'What's the difference?'
'Quality, on which there is complete agreement, is a universal source of things. The objects about which people disagree are merely transitory.'
My oh my, what smart talk, Richard Rigel thought. 'What "universal source of things"? Some of us can do without that universal source of things, that no one else seems to be able to talk about but you. Some of us would rather stick with our good old-fashioned transitory objects. By the way, how do you keep in touch with that marvelous "universal source of things"? Do you have some sort of special radio set? Hmmm? How do you keep in touch?'
The author did not answer.
'I'm waiting to hear,' Richard Rigel said. 'How do you keep in touch with Quality?'
The author still didn't answer.
Relief poured through Richard Rigel. He suddenly felt better than he had all morning. He had finally communicated something to him. 'There are answers,' the author finally said, 'but I don't think I can give them all to you this morning.'
He wasn't going to get off that easy.
'Let me ask an easier question then,' Richard Rigel said. 'You are in contact with this "universal source of things," aren't you?'
'Yes,' said the author. 'You are too, if only you'd understand it.'
'Well, I'm trying,' said Richard Rigel, 'but you're just going to have to help me a little. This "universal source of things" moreover tells you what's good and what's not good, doesn't it? Isn't that right?'
'Yes,' said the author.
'Well, we've been talking in a rather general way so far, now let me ask a rather specific question: did the universal source of things, that is responsible for the creation of Heaven and Earth, broadcast on your radio receiver as you stumbled across my boat at two a.m. this morning that the woman you were stumbling with was an Angel of Quality?'
'What?' the author asked.
'I'll repeat,' he said. 'Did God tell you that Miss Lila M. Blewitt of Rochester, New York, with whom you stumbled across my deck at two this morning, has Quality?'
'Forget God. Do you personally think Miss Lila M. Blewitt is a Woman of Quality?'
Richard Rigel stopped. He hadn't expected this answer.
Could the Great Author really be so stupid? ... Maybe he had some trick up his sleeve ... Richard Rigel waited but nothing came.
'Well,' he said after a long pause, 'the Great Source of All Things is really coming up with some surprises these days.'
He leaned forward and addressed the Great Author with deep gravity. 'Please will you, in future days, consider the possibility that the "Great Source of All Things," that speaks only to you and not to me, is, like so many of your ideas, just a figment of your own fertile imagination, a figment that allows you to justify any act of your own immorality as somehow God-given. I consider that undefined "Quality" to be a very dangerous commodity. It's the stuff fools and fanatics are made of.'
He waited for the author to drop his gaze or wince or blanch or get angry or walk out or give some sign of defeat, but he seemed to just settle back into his usual detachment.
He's really out of it, Richard Rigel thought. But no matter. The spine of his whole case for 'Quality' was broken.
When the old woman came to take their dishes the author finally asked, 'Do you get along entirely without Quality?'
He can't defend himself, Richard Rigel thought, and now he wants to cross-examine me. He looked at his watch. There was enough time. 'No, I don't get along without Quality entirely,' he said.
'Then how do you define it?'
Richard Rigel settled back in his chair. 'To begin with,' he said, 'quality that is independent of experience doesn't exist. I've done very well without it all these years and I'm sure I will continue without any difficulty whatsoever.'
'Well, now you asked me to define quality,' Richard Rigel snapped, 'and I've started to do that. Why don't you just let me continue?'
'I find quality to be always involved with experience of specific things, but if you ask me which things have quality and which don't I'd have a hard time answering without enumerating. But I'd say that in general, and with many qualifications, quality is found in values I've learned in childhood and grown up with and used all my life and have found nothing wrong with. Those are values that are shared by personal friends and family, my law associates and other companions. Because we believe in these common values we're able to act morally toward one another.
'In the practice of law,' he said, 'we come into contact with a fair-sized number of people who do not share traditional moral values, but feel rather that what is good and what is bad is a matter of their own independent judgment. Does that sound familiar?'
The author nodded. He'd better. He could hardly do anything else.
'Well, we give them a name,' Rigel continued. 'We call them criminals.'
The author looked as if he wanted to interrupt again but Rigel waved him down. 'Now you may argue, and many do, that the values of the community and the laws they produce are all wrong. That's permissible. The law of the land guarantees you the right to hold that opinion. And moreover, the laws provide you with political and judicial recourses by which to change the "bad" laws of the community. But as long as those recourses are there and until those laws are changed neither you nor Lila nor anyone else can just go acting as you please in disregard of everyone else, deciding what does
and what does not have "Quality." You do have a moral and legal obligation to obey the same rules others do.'
Rigel continued, 'One of the things that angered me most about your book was its appearance at a time when so many young people all over the country put themselves above the law with criminal acts -draft dodgers, arsonists, political traitors, revolutionists, even assassins, all of them justifying themselves with the belief that they alone can see the God-given truth that no one else can see.
'You talked for chapter after chapter about how to preserve the underlying form of a motorcycle, but you didn't say a single word about how to preserve the underlying form of society. And so your book may have been a big seller among some of these radicals and cult groups who are looking for that sort of thing. They're looking for anything that will justify their doing as they please. And you gave them support. You gave them encouragement.' He felt his voice becoming angry. 'I've no doubt that your intentions were good, but whatever your intentions may have been it was the devil's work you were doing.'
He sat back. The author looked stunned. Good. Capella looked sober too. Good. Bill was a good boy. These radical intellectuals can sometimes get hold of people his age and fill them with their damned fads and get them believing them because they aren't old enough yet to see what the world is really like. But Bill Capella he had hopes for.
'It's not the devil's work I'm doing,' said the author.
'You're trying to do what has "quality," isn't that right?'
'Yes,' the author said.
'Well, do you see what happens when you get all involved in fine-sounding words that nobody can define? That's why we have laws, to define what quality is. These definitions may not be as perfect as you'd like them but I can promise you they're a whole lot better than having everybody run around doing as he pleases. We've seen the results of that.'
The author looked confused. Capella looked amazed. Richard Rigel felt pleased at that. He had made his point at last, and he always enjoyed that, even when he wasn't getting paid for it. That was his skill. Maybe he should write a book about quality and what it really was.
Tell me,' he said, 'do you really and sincerely believe that Lila Blewitt has quality?'
The author thought for a long time. 'Yes,' he said.
'Well, why don't you just try to explain to us how on earth you can possibly think that Lila has quality. Do you think you can do that?'
'No, I don't think I can.'
'It's too difficult.'
It wasn't the answer Richard Rigel had expected. He saw it was time to put an end to this and leave. 'Well,' he said conciliatingly, 'maybe there's something I don't see.'
'I think so,' the author said.
He sounded sick. He had been sailing alone for a long time now. Richard Rigel looked again at his watch. It was time to go. 'Let me say just one last thing,' he said, 'and I hope you will not take it as a personal insult but rather as something to think about: I've noticed last night and in Oswego that you're one of the most isolated individuals I have ever seen. I think you will always be that way unless by some possibility you find your way to understanding and integrating yourself with the values of the community around you. Other people count. You should understand that.'