'Know what I like right away,' the woman said, 'about it? It feels like people have been really happy here. Have they?'
'And through here is the living room,' Marion Pierce said. 'It certainly feels so. Is it all right if we check it out upstairs?'
'That's what we're having an open house for,' Marion said. 'I don't know why anyone would want to sell this house, do you know why they would, Bradley?'
'Let's go upstairs, if you want to go upstairs,' the man said. 'While it's still daylight.'
'It's still going to be daylight for hours yet.'
'I know,' he said.
'You have to say something to people,' the woman said.
'But you say everything,' the man said. 'I mean, do you have to like make lifelong friends with everyone you meet? All she's wanting to do is sell the house.'
'She should cut and run, don't you think so? The way he talks to her. Those people just went up the stairs.'
'Or he should,' Marion said. 'She's a pain in the ass. From way back.'
'I hate a man talks like that to a woman. I can't believe you re really doing this. The Pierces selling 5746, Hillcrest? I cannot believe you're doing it.'
'Maybe we're not. We didn't exactly have an offer yet.'
'So listen, I brought you these. Farewell offering, but that doesn't mean you have to go. Non-returnable. My mother's recipe. All the way from the old country. St Louis yet! If all you are is hungry for reassurance, take the cookies and say it ain't so!'
'Give them to Barnie. He and your cookie jar go back a long way. All good things come to an end.'
'I know, and here I am still waiting for them to begin. Hey there, Grimond! Hey there, pal! He still jumps up at me.'
'He jumps up at everybody,' Marion said. 'And slobbers.'
'He's a wet lover,' Paula said. 'If you like them it's fine. How does Barnaby feel about selling? He loves this house.'
'He wants it, he can keep it,' Marion said. 'The kids've gone. I get tired keeping their rooms just like they remember them when they come by a coupla times a year.
'Is it true,' Paula Hobday said, 'he's really going to marry that girl?'
'Benjamin. Your son. Who's that! Who else have you got? The one we heard about at Thanksgiving? What's her name?'
'Put it this way,' Marion said, 'he'd better. Because we're going all the way to LA for the wedding. Imogen.'
'I'll bet you something.'
'Barnie is out all day today, am I right? Leaving you to smile at the people. I bet you he's got urgent business on number one court with Jack Piper. Men are such cowards. They pretend they want change, but do they?'
'How much did you bet? Because you just lost it. He's actually lending me moral support, and hating it. He's skulking in the den, tearing up letters he'll be asking me where they are in a coupla weeks' time.'
'Did you ever have the IRS do an audit on you? Nick Shaffer had them do an audit on him and he had to produce bills from wives he'd forgotten he ever even had, or face penalties!'
Barnaby was frowning at a script for a pilot that never got made and which was a lot funnier than he remembered. He was starting to get outraged, all these years after the event, that the Network had not liked it or even called him back on it. Maybe he could change the names of the main characters and turn the law office into ... what? Could the couple be vets possibly? They could possibly be vets or they could conceivably be personal trainers, unless someone had already done personal trainers.
Paula said, 'Barnie, you're not seriously doing this?'
'I don't seem to be getting a lot of laughs, so I guess it has to be serious.'
She kissed him as if someone might be watching. 'Have a cookie. I hate to think of you leaving the neighbourhood as slim as you arrived. I hate to think of you leaving, period. But am I ever going to say so? I very nearly have too much pride, don't I?'
'Excuse us,' Bradley said, 'if we look...'
'Go ahead,' Barnie said. 'This is the den. It's small and not particularly well lit, but you know where you are in it. Cornered.'
'You're Barnaby Pierce the comedy writer, aren't you?' the woman said. 'The Stinkinsons? Am I right?'
'You know he is,' Bradley said. 'We established that.'
'Because that was my totally favourite soap for a while. Especially the first series. You should nevera killed Evgenny. She was some character. What are you doing now?'
'Actively thinking about suicide,' Barnaby said.
'What's that, another comedy?'
'The way I do it,' Barnaby said, 'probably.'
'Suicide is killing yourself, Bernice. He's thinking about killing himself.'
'These are shelves,' Barnaby said, 'and that's a Compaq. Not the latest model because, rightly or wrongly, I don't need that. I lose enough files using this one.'
'I was going to say,' Bernice said.
'He knows that and he doesn't want you to. Is that the dining room through there?'
'Table and eight chairs round it,' Barnaby said. 'How did you guess?'
'Let me tell you something. You were right not to be a salesman,' the man said. 'You definitely made the right decision there.'
'Dining table's got a great big burn in it,' the woman said. 'Dining table's not for sale.' Barnie was looking at Paula when he called out, and she was looking at him. Then she picked up a framed photograph from a collection on the imported rotatable bookshelves with their freight of useful reference books and old scripts. 'I am; it's not, is how I feel.'
'It's still got a burn in it,' the woman said.
'Benjamin's getting married. I can't believe it.'
'That's Christopher,' he said, 'you're looking at.'
'I know that,' Paula said. 'I remember Christopher so well.'
'That's right,' Barnie Pierce said.
'How long is it now?'
He took the frame and put it back where it had been. Paula said, 'So when do you fly out?'
'Have you looked at a map? You'll find Los Angeles is still situated right the other side of the country. Driving?'
'In the red E-type Jaguar.'
'There and back?'
'There. We're giving it to Benjamin as a wedding gift. He always loved it.'
'So did you, didn't you? You took me out in it once. Remember that?'
'I remember everything,' Barnie said.
'Driving,' Paula Hobday said. 'You and Marion, or what?'
'That's the plan. We have people we want to see on the way.'
'And after that you're seriously going your separate ways?'
'We're just doing things one at a time.'
'Are you really? That'll be a first for you, won't it, Barnaby?'
'OK, Paula,' Barnie said. 'OK.'
'Are you saying OK to me? Remember who I am? You remember everything, so I guess you don't.'
'Isn't that water under the bridge I see down there?'
'And it's cold! I don't want you to go.'
'And then comes the little cough. Paula ... Don't forget the little cough. Just don't tell me how great Graham was. I know how great Graham was, and is, but don't remind me; I know. You never told her, did you?'
'Why would I?'
'And she never guessed? She never told you she guessed. Because Marion...'
'Would you be in this house right now,' Barnie said, 'if she'd ever guessed? Would you subsequently ever have been about to be the trusted recipient of our tropical fish?'
'She probably had a fling herself.'
'Marion doesn't do those things.'
'No? And here I always feared she was human.'
Jayney Biebel, the realtor, was wearing jeans and a ruffled white shirt. Her high heels made her look shorter. 'Hi, Mrs Pierce,' she said. 'Sorry we weren't here sooner, but this is Mr Reid and Ms Reinhardt I told you I was bringing.'
'Barry and Tanya,' the girl said. 'We're Barry and Tanya.'
'Come on in,' Marion said.
'Hey, Barry, listen, welcome home! Know what I mean? Because this is truly it for me. Lust at first sight!'
'Could you work here, Tanya? Is this a place you could work?'
'I'm a graphic designer. I think I could work here. Did you work here, Mrs Pierce?'
'I raised four kids,' Marion said.
'I want kids,' Tanya said, 'but I don't want to stop working.'
'Have four,' Marion said, 'and you won't.'
'You should see the upstairs,' Jayney Biebel said. 'You have four children? I didn't realise that. How great!'
'Had,' Marion said.
Barry and Tanya went upstairs and Jayney Biebel winked at Marion. 'I took them someplace else first because I knew they'd be knocked out coming here after this other place which was . . . ' She paddled her hand. 'If that.'
'You know how to sell.'
'I know how to try.'
'I threw my cookies at Barnaby's feet,' Paula said, 'and he spurned them not. He did not spurn them in the least. And now I have to go. You're not seriously driving to California?'
'He wants to.'
'You can fly the car out, or have someone else drive it.'
'He wants to drive it.'
'He doesn't want to let it go,' Paula said. 'I know that, Paula.'
'Or you. He doesn't want to let you go either. Neither do I.'
'I'm Jayney Biebel. I'm the realtor.'
'Hullo. And goodbye. Because ... Graham and I have to go to some fund-raiser chez Polunin. How come you weren't asked?'
'We were,' Marion said. 'But first things first.'
'I never seem to work that. We'll see you before you go, won't we? I have the fishes to collect, if nothing else.'
'Hullo, Mr Pierce. Jayney Biebel.'
'I'm the realtor. Are you going upstairs?'
'Do you not advise it? Is there something I should know?'
'You may find some people up there. Their names are Barry and Tanya. Who are very interested in the house.So...'
'I don't tell them about the roof, is that it?'
'He's kidding,' Marion said.
'It's a living,' Barnie said. 'Sometimes. All I'm going to do is get me a sweater. Will that shake their resolve?'
'I knew a writer once,' Jayney Biebel said. 'He was a little like your husband.'
'Really? What did he write?'
'Uh-huh. Principally T-shirts. He wrote principally for T-shirts and bumper stickers. They were bigger then. A bigger market. He worked on the last Reagan campaign so you can see how long ago this was, unfortunately.'
When Barnie went into the bedroom, Tanya and Barry were on the bed. They had not taken off the Thai silk quilt, but they were right on the bed.
Barry said, 'OK, I'm sorry. This was an impulse thing. You ever do something on an impulse?'
'Not a lot,' Barnie said. 'I usually wait till I'm asked. Would you kindly put your clothes on and leave this house?'
'We like it,' Tanya said. 'We might make you an offer.' 'My offer is you get out before I throw you out.'
'You don't want to sell your house, don't sell it.'
'You don't have to be aggressive,' Barry said. 'For the same money, you could be polite.'
'Is it polite to fuck in other people's houses? Is that polite? And another thing: where's the money?'
'I don't need to take this. I said I was sorry.'
'Come on, Barry. I don't actually like the shape of the bay window too well. And I also hate what they did to the bathroom.'
'And and also,' Barnie said. 'How many strikes is that?'
'You should see what somebody did in there. Especially the lights, which are truly such a mistake.'
There was the sound of sudden loud Beethoven from downstairs: the Milstein. Then it was as abruptly turned down. Barnie watched Tanya and Barry finish dressing and go towards the door.
Barry said, 'You walk into bedrooms, you're liable to find people doing things. Something you might like t6 remember.'
'We never needed a house this big,' Tanya said. 'I didn't realise how big it was. This many rooms?'
There were people Barnie had not seen before walking through the hall and others checking out the kitchen with Jayney Biebel. He went into the living room, where the LP of the Beethoven violin concerto was playing for a bearded man who was pulling out other old LP's from the floor-level shelf next to the fireplace. Barnie said, 'We're taking those with us.'
'You have some great pressings here. Would you be insulted if I made some kind of an offer for some of them?'
'There could well be an ugly scene,' Barnie said.
'You have the Tortelier Dvorak for instance.'
'Yes, I do.'
'Which has been unobtainable for at least ten years.'
'It still is,' Barnie said.
'Mr Pierce. Mr Pierce, would you show me and this gentleman how the pass-door works from the garage? We don't seem to be able to work the lock.'
'You punch in the code, 2468, and then you swipe the card through it, is all. You also turn the knob.'
'I'm sorry, but it doesn't seem to happen. I'm probably stupid.' Barnie went and punched in the code, 2468, and swiped the card through, kicked the bottom of the door and it opened. The red 1967 E-type was in the garage, alongside Marion's VW and the '78 Buick which Barnie never found time to get rid of.
'You also have to kick it, Mr Shapiro,' Jayney Biebel said, 'is what we didn't know.'
'While you're here, how do you operate the doors to outside?' Barnie pressed the button and the wide doors began to yawn upwards. As they rose, Barnie saw the bearded man marching towards the street with a Joaded briefcase under his arm. He looked back at the house and then he was out of the gate and Barnie was ducking low under the slow garage door, even though it was almost up already, and calling out, 'Excuse me ...'
The bearded man gave a very good performance of a man walking casually away from the house and not imagining that anyone could possibly be calling to him.
Barnie said, 'Hey! Excuse me.'
'Oh, were you calling me just now?'
'May I see something?'
'Now wait a minute ...'
'That's all it'll take,' Barnie said. Then he said, 'You know what I should do, don't you?'
'OK,' the bearded man said, 'I'm a little bit of a fanatic.'
'And also,' Barnie said, 'I think you're a little bit of a thief you omitted to mention.'
'I told you it was a rarity. It was stronger than I was.'
'And so am I, I would guess, which is probably all that's stopping you knocking me down and... Get out of here.'
'I'm sorry. Truly.'
'Go home and think about yourself,' Barnie said. 'Because you're disgusting taking other people's property.'
'I bet you haven't played that pressing in fifteen years.
'And won't again,' Barnaby said, 'but you're still not getting it, on a bet.'
When he went back into the garage, Mrs Biebel and Mr Shapiro had already left. He pressed the button and the wide doors started back on down. He had his hand on the long hood of the cold E-type as he watched the doors dock on the floor. Christopher had wanted to know why he couldn't take the Jaguar to go to Colorado. They had a Chevy in those days and Barnie said he could take that. They used a lot of salt on the roads to Aspen; he didn't want the Jaguar to come back with ulcers. Christopher didn't smile; he wanted the E-type, because it was cool. Suppose he had let him take it, would it have made any difference? What made any difference to what? Did Marion think about him and Paula? Did she possibly have something current of her own that had made her not make more of it?
When Mrs Biebel finally went, after telling them that a lotta people had expressed interest, and one or two seemed really serious, Marion opened all the windows she could reach and it still seemed stifling and unhealthy in the house. 'That was a truly hateful experience, wasn't it?'
'What happened upstairs exactly?'
'What happened upstairs? Oh! What Tanya and -- what was his name?'
'Barry, wasn't it?'
'Tanya and Barry is right were filled with affectionate feelings for each other. They were communicating on our bed. Without taking off the spread.'
'I don't believe you.'
'They were seriously. . .?'
'They were officially engaged,' Barnie said. 'In the prone position. The lady superior, if that helps you picture the scene.'
'You know something funny?'
'Unfortunately; many things. Not all of them saleable. That's probably what's unfortunate.'
'I never saw anybody else doing it.'
'You've seen blue movies, haven't you?'
'Have I? When have I?'
'The Talbots that time.'
'I never saw anybody doing it in the flesh. They weren't that blue.'
'How often does anyone?'
'I think a lot of people must. Was he actually.. . like, in her?'
'She was riding 'em, cowboy.'
'And what did you do exactly?'
'I thought about the bedspread. Exactly. I thought about you and the Thai silk bedspread and what you would say if ... something ... happened to it. On it. Which it didn't, because -- although I didn't want to -- I checked, and it didn't.'
'I talked to Hal, did I tell you, on the telephone?'
'You're telling me now. When?'
'And you're telling me today.'
'You said I should call him. I called him.'
'Is he going to be around when we hit Seattle?'
'When else did you see people doing it?'
'I thought we were through that one. I never did necessarily.'
'You did. I can tell.'
'I never saw you with Hal at least.'
'That was twenty-four years ago.'
'I know that. And I never saw you with him. OK, I saw a couple in a motel when I was working with Leslie Mickey down in Atlantic City when you were ... busy with... the kids.'
'Christopher,' she said. 'I was having Christopher. And?'
'We were working out of this motel, trying to lick a pilot, and this couple walked into a room kinda down and over from where we were working and ... I don't think I woulda ... oh, I don't know, maybe I would, but Leslie being there, it became kind of a dare, if you like, so we ... watched them. They were quite impressive. Did all kinds of stuff you might not have heard actively discussed at length on TV at that time.'
Marion said, 'Sounds like I owe them something, do I?'
'Hal said he's going to be around. He'd like us to stay with them for a coupla nights, if we feel like it. I don't think it's silly.'
'He was a black guy,' Barnie said. 'I guess she was somebody's wife.'
'It was your idea we go see Hal and... Erica.'
'No one's going to see Erica, and you know it, Sweets. You're going to see Hal.'
'He used to be your best friend. He wants to see you again just as much as he wants to see me.'
'It's all part of the same deal and you know it. "Used to be" means he isn't. "Used to be" means he fucked my wife, as you may know.'
'You told me to call him and now you act like it was all something you just found out about, just so you can have the pleasure of looking at me like that. You fucked Paula, didn't you, in this house?'
'We weren't going to ever have this conversation again.'
'And she was my best friend, supposedly, and have you noticed how nice I've been to her all these years?'
'That was your pleasure.'
'I look at her mouth and I see your dick in it. Is that my pleasure?'
'It must be, or you wouldn't.'
'Was it there ever?'
'You want a divorce, we'll have a divorce. I'm not going into details.'
'I have my answer. You seriously think I'm going to drive with you all the way to LA?'
'I'm giving the Jaguar to Benjamin for a wedding present. How else are we going to get it there?'
'Why are you?'
'Because he wants it.'
'And because you don't want to.'
'Possibly. That's possibly true. And totally irrelevant. I don't believe in motivation. I don't believe in examining motivation especially.'
'How many times did you use our room? You and Paula?'
'You bitch sometimes, Sweets, aren't you? Okay then, one time. Just the once. And you drove up. I probably should've said never and not given you the satisfaction. Just don't tell me that's the only satisfaction I ever did give you.'
'Don't script me, Barnaby, will you please?'
'Fuck it,' Barnie said. 'Fuck it, fuck you. I'll drive the car across to LA and you can fly. You can walk. You can do what you want. I never should've told you shit.'
'All this because I called Hal Pfeiffer. At your suggestion.'
'Some people pick scabs. I'm one of them.'
'You went to motels with her, is that what you did?'
'Have I ever asked you what you did?'
'I hate those trousers with elasticised waistbands she always wears. Never trust a woman who wears elasticised waistbands. They do it to make things easy for guys to get a hand in.'
'They do it because they're fat, and you know it. This is such old ground, Marion, I can't believe we're fighting over it.'
'All the best battles are fought on old ground. That's what battles are about. You c6uld perfectly well put the car on the train and we both fly to the coast and pick it up there.'
'We have to take Grimond to your sister's. How are we going to get Grimond to your sister's if we fly?'
'We can take a trip upstate and then catch the plane.'
'You don't want me to drive that car, do you? Is what this is all about. Not even alone.'
'Maybe I don't want to be alone myself.'
'You want a divorce,' he said. 'And you don't want to be alone?'
'What did she do that was so special?' Marion said. 'Paula? Did she do something I didn't? I bet she yelled. I bet she called you Barn. Did she? Did she call you Barn?'
'We're talking about eight damned years ago.'
'She climbed up and bounced, didn't she? She has the chest for that and she knows it.'
'Sweets . . .'
'Why can't we enjoy this? Why can't we revel a little bit?'
'You don't like to revel and you know it, in this particular field. You're finding reasons to be angry. You're finding reasons to justify yourself, retrospectively, because of Hal.'
'Beef up the script, Pierce; it's not working.'
'Did I ever ask you what you did or didn't do with Hal? Paula appealed to my vanity is what Paula did principally.'
'Which became twelve inches long the minute she did so.'
'Talk dirty,' Barnie said. 'It's fine by me.'
'Did you ever give her cystitis?'
'You don't give people cystitis. They get it. Men aren't responsible for women getting cystitis.'
'I'd quite like to drive,' she said. 'It's one of the things we never did, isn't it, from sea to shining, polluted sea? So now it's too late, let's do it.'
'Do you think we could shut some windows now?'
'Sure. Why didn't you ever tell Paula that you finally had to tell me about you and her?'
'I guess I still wanted something to be secret. Also.'
'Also I think I'd've wanted to tell her about you and Hal. I don't know why; but I know I didn't want to.'
'I know why,' she said, 'and so do you, of course. She called you Barn, didn't she, Barnaby?'
'You know the funny thing about marriage, Sweets? You both agree you'll forgive and forget. You sign the goddam peace treaty. And then the war begins.'
'She called you Barn, and you liked it. And that's the woman we re selling up and giving our fish to. Put that in a new series of The Stinkinsons and people would laugh and laugh.'
'Possibly,' Barnie said. 'It would have to be done right.'