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John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!
By William Peter Blatty
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1963 William Peter Blatty
All rights reserved.
THE CRUNCH of cleats against concrete bit angrily into the depraved May morning air with a rhythmic, chewing insistence, the yellowed teeth of its echoes rattling heavenward to ineffectually fang the brownish, bloated salami of smog that brooded moodily over the campus of Subliminal University in Los Angeles. The crisp reverberations startled a whimper of pigeons from the DeMille Memorial, where they had been softly nuzzling a graven image of the great producer contemplating the Seven Last Words of Charlton Heston; they probed uninvited into darkened classrooms where sandal- and Bermuda shorts-clad students held clicking séance with teaching machines; and they drifted, at last, into a second-story window of the Sredni Vashtar Memorial Student Dormitory where Ashley Yookoomian, a senior majoring in comparative religions, raised his head at the sound and instinctively fingered the inscription on the medal around his neck:
I AM A BUDDHIST—IN CASE OF ACCIDENT, CALL A LAMA.
Ashley's glittering blue gaze swooped out across the campus, sifting shaded walks, fraternity houses, and a muttering professor angrily shaking his fist at a reckless student bicyclist whizzing to a class in Hamster Vivisection. The cleats vibrated with a steely urgency that stirred Ashley to karmic foreboding. Not that he was encrusted in his Buddhism. It was merely his wont to plunge headlong into the swirling waters of each new doctrine taken up in the course of his studies. Buddhism was his Religion of the Month.
The cleats pounded closer. What was their meaning?
Ashley's piercing gaze gave it up and rested beamishly on the campus chapel. It was an astounding edifice. When its construction had first been proposed, the Sub U. board of trustees had bestirred itself to preserve a "total separation of campus and church," and promulgated University Bull No. 406, which commanded the School of Architecture to create a chapel design that would "eschew even the remotest suggestion of forms or symbolisms associated with any particular creed or persuasion." But the dean of architecture, after experimenting with various novel angles and arcs, experienced an urgent compulsion to hurl himself, chest bared, upon the sharp end of a flying buttress. For the bull's mandate seemed incapable of fulfillment; every conceivable design hinted at a corresponding Weltanschauung: spires were Gothic and Thomistic; squares Aristotelian; circles Confucian; and triangles clearly insinuated a Star of David. Even ellipses were out, for one of the trustees, who fancied himself a whiz at Rorschachs, had espied in them an irresistible link to Holy Rollerism.
The harried dean went into fasting, subsisting for a number of days on wheat germ and panther's milk. Then one morning he announced that "in a dream Leonardo da Vinci put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, 'Irving, do you mind? ...'" And at the prompting of this "vision," the architect appealed to Nucleic Walloon, dean of the School of Chemistry. He was well rewarded for his bleatings; for with the help of the chemists, the architects were able to design the chapel as a scale enlargement of an uncrystallized crystal—i.e., an actual amorphous mass. "It can offend no one!" crowed the trustees. And truly, it was a marvel of ambiguity. Unfortunately, however, no one had ever been able to find the entrance—except, of course, for the original planners and designers, who were last seen entering it two days prior to its formal opening and had yet to emerge. Like ancient Egyptian tomb builders, they were permanently sealed in, and the School of Chemistry was now being petitioned to do something about the smell. ...
Adrift in a poppy field of reverie, Ashley had not heard the cleats pounding to a halt beneath his window. His gaze flicked lightly downward.
Clip Markhoff, weasel-eyed coach of the Sub U. football squad, was staring up at him, the vivid scar across his left cheek pulsating angrily. "I said——"
"'Those who know, do not speak,'" quoted Ashley. "'Those who speak, do not know.'"
"What?" bellowed Markhoff.
"Lao-tzu," explained Ashley.
Markhoff spat expressively, glowering up from beneath thick cashmere eyebrows. "Freaking fag," he rumbled. Then he hulked away, his cleats grating out an obscene tattoo along winding paths and fading to indistinct, remembered scrapings as he rounded a corner out of sight. Ashley gazed fondly at the chapel again, and his smirk softened into the dark, delphic smile of some large-nosed, Armenian Mona Lisa. He wondered where his roommate No-Neck was.
* * *
The ominous approach of cleats surged over the tinkling of teacups in the campus International House, and Heinous Overreach, president of Sub U., cocked his head like a nervous terrier hearing an alien footfall on the back porch.
"More tea, Mr. Overreach?"
His automatic smile breast-stroked winningly over his half-bitten macaroon. "Thank you, no, Mrs. Borgia."
"Wasn't the demonstration ex-ot-ic!" simpered the International House hostess, shifting her teapot and her massive girth to a sari-clad Indian couple on Overreach's left. Wednesdays at eleven the foreign-exchange students clotted here for tea, cakes, and intercultural symposia. Faithful attendance plus participation in one of the weekly "entertainments" earned two semester credits in Ethnic Empathy. Today the Venezuelans had staged a demonstration of "Techniques for Spitting on Visiting Foreign Dignitaries Riding in Open Cars." Vast quantities of tea had been consumed, far more than usual, and in the demonstration area a softly cursing charwoman was mopping up. She could remember nothing worse since the Yemenites had endeavored to roast a sheep.
From across the room a dark, moon-faced young man in gray slacks and blue sportcoat caught Overreach's eye, smiled, and drifted toward him. Overreach looked away. The lad was a simple-minded bore. True, he was a prince, the eldest son of the fabulously wealthy King Fawz of Fawzi Arabia. But Overreach's background was politics, and the Arab vote in America was less clearly defined than the spoor of Judge Crater.
Overreach sniffed attar of roses, turned his head, and smiled broadly. Oh well, there was no predicting when a prince might come in handy. Cultivate the few but offend no one. Look interested. Look wise. Who knew where Alan Funt might turn up?
"Well, Your Highness; you've enjoyed your freshman year?"
Flashing white teeth grinned idiotically through lips of burnt umber. "Nice, nice."
Overreach smiled again, his facial muscles weary with the effort, but he relaxed as Mrs. Borgia ballooned once more unto the breach. "More tea, Your Highness?"
Overreach watched as the prince dolloped a fourth, and then a fifth heaping teaspoon of sugar into his cup. "You'll be back with us next year?" he asked abstractedly.
The prince looked apologetic. "Sorry. Next year I go Noter Dam."
Mrs. Borgia hove seaward.
"Sorry," repeated the prince, mistaking Overreach's uffish thoughtfulness for pique. "Maybe some my brother come here."
Overreach was listening to the cleats.
Overreach made no response.
"T'ree?" probed the prince, aching to appease him.
Overreach gazed deep into the prince's eyes, groping for the thread in labyrinthine undersea caverns where giant weeds undulated in the murk. Then suddenly his ears quivered. The pounding of the cleats was loud, louder, and there had been a sudden shift in their timbre. The stiff, bloodless fingers of a ghastly premonition fumbled for the Sub U. president's throat and instantly his eyes widened with horror. God Almighty! Markhoff had burst in amongst the teacups, chewing up the oaken floor with his cleats.
"Overreach!" bellowed the coach as heads turned wildly.
Overreach rushed to intercept him. "Not here, dammit, not here!" he whispered hoarsely, and he hustled the burbling Markhoff outside into the lobby.
"He flunked!" raved Markhoff.
"Do you have to wear those cleats! The season is over!"
"Your fag profs got their poolroom, right? Well, cleats is my fringe benefit!"
"I will not tolerate your——!"
Overreach withdrew his warning finger as he saw some deans come and go, talking of loyalty oaths and Michelangelo and, grasping Markhoff's iron arm, he hustled him into the men's room across the hall. It was empty.
"Get into a stall and keep your voice down!" husked the Sub U. president.
He entered the stall nearest to hand, then abruptly turned, horrified, on hearing Markhoff's cleats right behind him. He pressed a vigorous hand against the coach's chest and shoved violently. "Not the same stall, you idiot!"
Markhoff's profane mutterings were garbled by the scraping of cleats against tile as he bulled into the next stall. "No-Neck flunked!" he spat. "Big man; I thought you was gonna fix it!"
Fresh blotches of outrage crimsoned Overreach's cheeks as vivid noises from Markhoff's stall plainly announced that he was brazenly relieving himself during a presidential conference. "The examinations are graded by a two-million-dollar electronic brain," Overreach huffed piously. "You cannot 'fix' a Smedley IV computer!"
"Bullcrap," muttered the coach. Overreach decided to ignore this latest insolence and fixed his desperate gaze on some rather interesting inscriptions scrawled on the stall's aluminum partitions in several languages.
"What did he flunk?"
"What did he flunk?" mimicked Markhoff. "Shakespeare!" he roared. "Didn't I tell you to cancel that freaking course?"
"Markhoff!" rasped Overreach. "We cannot structure syllabi around the deficiencies of a single student, no matter how exceptional! We cannot——"
The Sub U. president abruptly purpled as Markhoff deliberately drowned out his rhetoric with the gurgling of a toilet flush accompanied by a triumphant tape-recorded rendition of the "Marseillaise." The recording was one of the unique features of International House. Each stall was dedicated to a particular nation and equipped with closed-circuit stereo components geared to render the appropriate national anthem at the precise moment of flush. It was all done with chemicals.
Markhoff's stall door banged open. "Shakespeare! Another flying fag!"
"Where are you going?" demanded Overreach over the stirring blare of the French anthem.
"Find No-Neck!" bellowed the coach. "He's liable ta do somethin' horrible!"
Overreach shuddered. During his last fit of mild pique, No-Neck had hurled a tackling dummy fifty-five yards into a window of the Egyptology room, where it had knocked the unweeting curator headfirst into an enormous vase, according him temporary but instant urn burial.
"He could sprain his wrist or somethin'," added Markhoff from the door.
"Yes," muttered Overreach bleakly, examining a provocative series of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
"I told ya before," sneered the departing coach, "No-Neck's the greatest prospect since Wrong-Way Goldfarb! And if he don't play, we're juiced—I promise you!"
The door puffed open, closed with a pneumatic sigh.
Overreach exhaled heavily. Had it come to this? Was he really posturing foolishly in a men's room, moist with the insolence of an untutored Yahoo? Were his fortunes actually intertwined with those of a shimmering ox named No-Neck? The obscene hieroglyphs melted, whirled beneath his stunned gaze, sucking his consciousness into a tumbling, stifling vortex where it grappled for air with stiff-legged priestesses bearing shafts, and the violin-scored strains of the Liberian national anthem wafted delicately over the stall tops, subtly heralding another urgent presence. Overreach heard no music.
Heinous Overreach, "boy wonder." Army colonel at twenty-five, congressman at thirty; presidential candidate at thirty-five. He'd almost won it, the big one. And now, at forty, a briefer but ever green political garland hovered tantalizingly above his receding hairline, issuing vague aromas of promise. In two years he would run for the governorship of California. Think of it! In two——
He thought of No-Neck and the garland withered. No-Neck. No-Neck Palomides. His position was fullback and his origin the north woods, where an enterprising Sub U. scout named Weed had discovered him lumberjacking for his father, Spyros Palomides. It was No-Neck's unique system of directing a given tree's path of fall that had first mesmerized the scout. Lacking the wit to place his cuts scientifically, No-Neck would press his forearms against his chest, elbows jutting outward in the classic football lineman's stance, and then lean against the tree, shoving in the chosen direction. Weed, who had wept openly with admiration upon witnessing this tour de force, signed the boy instanter. To Spyros Palomides, he advanced a down payment on a restaurant, and to the boy he promised free room, board, books and tuition, plus a monthly stipend, a whip that cried "Slash!" and the prospect of being "laid regular by starlets."
No-Neck had earned his keep immediately. Fifteen minutes prior to his first game against the Oregon State freshman squad, he darkly rumbled, "I hate beavers!" and then proceeded to flatten the opposition with such cruel and wanton abandon that Cal Tech physicist Meyer Mu Meson was moved to lead a crusade to ban him from the gridiron. The physicist organized picket lines and pounded a hundred lecterns, calling for an end to the "inhuman football race" and "crimes against bodies." But as usual, no one listened except the American Civil Liberties Union, which defended Mu Meson when he was arrested for leading an anti-No-Neck demonstration in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater. No-Neck was still around, and next year would be eligible for varsity play, where Overreach needed him. Would have been eligible ... Something had to be done. From unthinking habit, Overreach depressed the flush button and strode briskly out of the pine-scented men's room to the majestic rhythms of "God Save the Queen."
Outside the International House, sprawled in sunlight, a lean greyhound snapped gently at dust motes and mysterious visions.
"Let's go, Snipe."
The dog eyed Overreach, bared its fangs, and snarled wetly.
"Come on, come on!"
Overreach strode toward the campus administration building, which was fashioned after Hollywood's old Garden of Allah and was named Geisler Hall. Snipe hoisted himself in slow, surly jerks and padded moodily behind his master, his yellow, hooded eyes darting from side to side with cocky malevolence.
Overreach halted abruptly at the DeMille Memorial, sniffing the air with suspicion. Orange blossoms! He could still smell orange blossoms!
The university had been erected only three years ago on the site of a cleared-out orange grove, and when the breeze was right, elements of the school's inglorious origins rose up to rebuke its president's nostrils. Overreach thirsted for reassurance, and his eye roved over the ultramodern physical plant: the all-glass buildings; the study trylons; the peri-sphere labs, interconnected by spiral ramps and walkthroughs; the Hollywood Freeway off-ramp that flowed directly into the football stadium's parking area; and over all the stately, giant palm trees, swaying their heads in the smog. He imagined it all as it appeared at night, with fountains spurting in a bath of fluorescences: "King of Kings blue," "Presley purple," "Runaway green," and "Sam Katzman brown." Garish? Overreach didn't think so. Movable Nu, chairman of Sub U.'s classics department, had assured him numerous times that if the Greeks had possessed neon, they would have used it in their temples. "In the age of Pericles, there was also Sam Goldwyn!" averred Nu, and had earlier approved a school seal designed for them by Saul Bass: an armless, naked coed rampant on a field of fraternity pins.
Overreach sighed. Sub U. was to be a showcase of his talents, the proof positive of his vigor, advanced thinking, and fitness for the governorship. Here the most advanced dicta of the educationists would be put into practice and a daring, experimental end made to the teacher shortage. Teachers! Who needed them? A few personalities like Blaise Hus who could inspire thousands of students at a time via closed-circuit television—that was all; leave the rest to the amazing new teaching machines.
Excerpted from John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! by William Peter Blatty. Copyright © 1963 William Peter Blatty. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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