Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
What the hell happened to you?"
Hamlet P. Buglaroni is standing at the door of Gloria Fudless's house. "I had a little, like, run-in," he says hesitantly.
Gloria stands back to let him into the house. "You look like somebody tried to beat the crap out of you."
Buglaroni has not told Gloria about his contretemps with Bark Santorelli. He stands at the threshold of the empty living room. "They're out?" he asks.
"I told you they would be. They're shopping. The won't be back for hours."
A half smile forms on the unswollen side of Buglaroni's mouth. He has never been alone with a girl in a house before, although he has fantasized about it at great length.
Gloria sits on one of the two couches that face each other beside the fireplace. Three unlighted logs are set in place, ready for the torch. "So what happened?" she asks.
Buglaroni sits down next to her. "I, like, got into a fight."
"That I can see. With who? Why? At school?"
"A couple of days ago."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was, like..." Truth to tell, he was embarrassed, but he cannot think of any way to explain it so succinctly. "I just didn't want to talk about it."
"What did you fight about?"
"I still don't want to talk about it."
She sighs. "Suit yourself. So how was the audition yesterday?"
"Oh, man. Did that suck!"
"Not good, huh?"
"They, like, really hated me, I think. Plus, I looked like, like, like this." He waves his hand in front of his face. "It really sucked."
"'Don't call us, we'll call you?'"
"Not even. They're disconnecting their telephones. They're even disconnecting their cell phones."
"That's too bad. Being in a movie would have been really interesting, really different." She puts her feet up on the coffee table. She is wearing black boots, black jeans and a black tee shirt.
"So, like, what do you want to do?" Buglaroni asks.
"I don't know. What do you want to do?"
He gulps. It's not as if they haven't touched or kissed or anything before, but never in such an unrestrained environment. He leans toward her.
"I'm not going to make out with you," Gloria says, looking straight ahead of her, rather than at Buglaroni.
"I said I'm not going to make out with you."
"Who said anything about--"
"I am not an idiot, Hamlet. Look at yourself."
He is half hanging in her direction, ready to wrap himself around her. He straightens. "What's the matter?"
"I am not going to make out with somebody who won't talk to me."
"I am talking to you! I, like, never stop talking!"
"But you don't say what I want to hear."
He gulps again. He is beginning to think that this might be some sort of diabolical test where they don't provide the questions but they nonetheless expect the correct answer. Which may, to a great degree, define the classic relationship between the sexes. "What do you want to hear?" he asks, his voice cracking. He can't imagine what she is driving at.
"I want to hear about the fight," she says, turning toward him. "My boyfriend comes to my house looking like death eating a fig newton, and he won't tell me why. That's what I want to hear about. Get real, Hamlet."
Buglaroni has never seen Gloria this way before, although not to put too fine a point on it, their relationship is only a few days old. He is beginning to realize that he doesn't know that much about what she is like, and he momentarily wonders if she is the right girl for him. But then he remembers that she likes to kiss him and hold his hand, and whether she's the right girl or not seems incidental at best.
In any case, there seems to be no getting around the fact that she wants to hear about the fight. It is a touchy subject, but short of abject lying, there is no way around it. He has no compunctions about abject lying, but an abject lie needs preparation: the correct ingredients must be blended in the precise measurements, the dough must be kneaded until the gluten is at the correct level, the oven needs preheating, and finally it needs time to rise as it bakes, slowly filling the room with its pervasive odors. You can't just blurt it out like an unplanned baking powder biscuit. Which leaves no alternative but the truth.
"It was Bark Santorelli," Buglaroni says.
Gloria's eyes widen. "Bark?"
"He found me after school. He was, like, waiting for me at my bus stop."
"Oh my God!"
"He, like, sort of just jumped me and punched me a couple of times, then, like, disappeared. It was over in, like, a minute."
"So you didn't really fight with him?"
"There was nothing to fight with. He attacked me, and then he drove off, leaving me there to, like, die in the street. Except, like, I wasn't exactly dying."
"Damn it!" Gloria stands up angrily. "God damn Bark!" She walks a few steps from the couch, then back, then away again, unsure of what to do or where to go. "That bastard!"
Buglaroni looks up at her with a puppyish expression that begs for approval. "I'm sorry," he says.
"I mean, I don't know..."
"You really don't, do you?" She returns to the couch and sits down next to him, taking his hands in hers. "Poor Hamlet. You didn't know what you were getting yourself in for when you got involved with me." She kisses him gently on the good side of his mouth. "Does that hurt?" she asks.
Buglaroni shakes his head. No, it does not hurt.
"Good." She kisses him again, for real this time. "Does that hurt?"
He shakes his head again. No, it does not hurt.
"Good." She pushes him down on the couch beneath her and starts kissing him with a vengeance.
No, it does not hurt, not one little bit.
Hans Castorp is on his hands and knees in his garden, pulling the few weeds that have had the temerity to grow around his romaine lettuce. His long hair is piled under his Dodgers baseball cap, and the sun on the back of his neck is warm and bright. He is surrounded by the smells of damp soil and ripening tomatoes and the almost perceptible noise of root vegetables digging down and up simultaneously.
A pair of highly polished black oxfords has intruded on the edge of his vision. The director looks up the route of an impeccably tailored gray suit to a large, bronzed, bald head. A pair of aviator sun glasses return his stare. The man is carrying a small black leather briefcase under his left harm.
"Who are you? How did you get in here?"
"My name is Tom Starbuck." He holds out a business card in his right hand. "I'm an attorney."
"That doesn't explain how you got in here."
"Your security man at the gate couldn't find you when he called the house. I convinced him that it would be all right if he let me look around. I think I convinced him that I wouldn't cause any damage."
Castorp tosses a handful of weeds into a basket, rubs his hands and stands up. "God damn it, this isn't Grand Central Station here, you know. Are you here serving a subpoena or something?"
"Not at all."
"Good. Then get the hell out of here." Castorp turns and starts walking along the row of carrots. Green sprouts the size of his thumb are the only indication that there are any plants underneath the ground.
"I don't think you understand," the lawyer says to his back. "I represent the Vitelli family, in New York."
The director stops. "The Vitelli family?"
"In particular, Mr. Proscenio Vitelli. You might have heard of him. Mr. Vitelli is a great fan of your work, I might add."
Castorp turns around to face the lawyer. "Proscenio Vitelli?"
"We're in a variety of industries, Mr. Castorp. You've used some of our services when you've filmed on location back east?"
"Catering. Equipment rental. And we represent some of the trade unions that make your pictures."
"I wasn't aware of that."
"Many people aren't." Starbuck's eyes catch a small group of chairs under a nearby tree. "Can we sit down?" he asks. "I would like to discuss a matter of business with you."
"What the hell," Castorp says. "This I've got to hear."
"Nice vegetables," the lawyer says offhandedly as they walk out of the garden. "You grow them yourself?"
Castorp nods. "I should be able to start harvesting the lettuce in two weeks. I won a prize once with that lettuce at a county fair when I first came to America."
"Same seed. Same lettuce. Still growing."
The two men sit across from each other on wicker chairs. There is a telephone on the table next to one of the chairs. Castorp picks it up and hits a few buttons. "Drinks," he says eventually to someone on the other end. He puts down the phone. "All right," he says to the lawyer. "I'm listening."
"Well, Mr. Castorp. As I said, Mr. Vitelli has always been a big fan of yours. He's enjoyed all of your pictures from the very beginning."
"This Proscenio Vitelli, he's the one they call the Walrus, isn't he?"
"I think they refer to him in the press as the Whale, actually, although Mr. Vitelli does not quite find that reference flattering."
"He lives in a swimming pool, right?"
"He does extensively enjoy swimming in his private pool."
"And he runs the mafia."
The lawyer doesn't skip a beat. "Not at all, Mr. Castorp. As I said, the Vitelli family is involved in a number of businesses, including some related to the performing arts, and I assure you they are all legitimate."
"He's what, the capo di tutti capi, right, now that he's the last surviving Vitelli. I watched the funeral of his father and brother on television. Ah, here's a little refreshment. Thank you, Maria."
A squat middle-aged woman in a lime green dress is walking toward them with a tray. She places it on the table next to Castorp. On it are a large pitcher and half a dozen glasses. The woman walks away.
"Mexican," Castorp says. "Fully legal. Would you like a lemonade, Mr. Starboard."
"Starbuck. Yes, thank you."
Castorp pours out a glass for both of them.
"So I guess we should get to the point," the director says, handing one of the glasses to the lawyer.
"Thank you. The reason I'm here, Mr. Castorp, is to ask a favor from you on behalf of Mr. Vitelli."
"Mr. Vitelli would be most appreciative if you would grant this favor to him, to the best of your abilities."
"And what favor is that?"
"Last week you auditioned a young man named Hamlet Buglaroni for a part in a movie. We understand that young Hamlet did not get the part."
"Didn't get the part? Mein herr, this kid was one of the worse actors I have ever seen in my life. And he was so perfect looking for the role too, until someone beat him up, that is."
"Someone beat him up?"
"He had a fat lip and a black eye. He looked like hell."
"But that would go away, either with time or with makeup."
"What wouldn't go away is the way this kid acted. What a disappointment."
The consigliere nods. "We can understand that the boy might not be leading man material, but we are certain that you can find some small part for him. Again, as a personal favor for Mr. Vitelli."
"Why should I perform any favors for Vitelli? What has he ever done for me?"
"I assure you that Mr. Vitelli would look most kindly on this, Mr. Castorp."
Castorp puts down his lemonade glass. "This brings up an interesting question, Mr. Starboard."
"Starboard, Starbuck, Queequeg, I don't really care, to tell you the truth. And I'm not going to be strong-armed by the Mafia to cast losers like that Buglaroni kid in my movies."
"We are not trying to strong-arm you, and Mr. Vitelli is not the maf--"
"Here's the interesting question," Castorp interrupts. "You see, first of all, I don't have a horse. Second of all, how the hell they cut that horse's head off and got it up to the guy's bedroom and under the covers with him without waking him up, well, nobody is that heavy a sleeper, you know?"
"Mr. Castorp, I--"
The director stands up, knocking over his chair as he does. "Now get the hell out of here!" he cries angrily. "And tell your Mafia boss I never want to have anything to do with him again. The nerve of you people, threatening Hans Castorp."
Starbuck also stands up. "I did not threaten you, Mr. Castorp. I have done nothing of the sort." He squints over at the garden. "Good day, Mr. Castorp."
The director says nothing, and the lawyer walks toward the house to a Mercedes parked near the front door. With a gentle purr the car starts and disappears down the driveway.
Bark Santorelli lights a cigarette the moment he reaches the outer door of the Veblen mall. He takes a deep puff and exhales a burst of smoke into the air like a squid spraying ink to cover its trail.
It's been a long day.
Bark's car is parked in the furthest lot from the entrance, because his boss, Mr. Weynand, and all the other mall bosses, have some bug up their butts about the best parking spaces going to the customers.
Bugs up their butts. Bark thinks of Buglaroni. Bugarooni! The dork.
It isn't easy being what might commonly be called a tough guy, although there are other names for it, such as potential felon or sociopath. For all short life, Bark has honed an image of himself as the meanest of the mean, a force to be reckoned with, the person who calls the shots. He is by no means an unintelligent person, but at times he has sacrificed his intellect on the altar of his bravado, choosing to nurture his image rather than his grade point average. He pays little or no attention in his classes, even if the teacher is interesting; he is only putting in enough time to collect a diploma. But college? What for? He knows he can make more money in half a dozen contracting trades than most college graduates could ever dream of, except for the real drudges in jobs even more boring than taping sheetrock. But sheetrockin' pays top dollar in this market, and it always has. Who needs a Mercedes when you can save up just a little bit and maybe cop a classic Mustang convertible?
Bark stops at the door of his rusted Buick. He doesn't have that convertible yet. As he reaches into his pocket for his keys he realizes that the door is unlocked.
That's unusual. Bark always locks his car, to keep anyone from copping his casettes.
"Must have been daydreaming," he mutters to himself.
He opens the door and slides in. The interior of the Buick is the size of Peoria, and the autumn chill has worked its way in. Squinting through the rising smoke of his cigarette, he starts the engine.
The cigarette drops from Bark's lips, and suddenly he dances in his seat until he finds the thing before it burns a hole in his lap that might endanger future Santorelli generations.
"Who the hell are you?" he asks, holding the butt in his hand, trying to make out the vague, dark shape in the back seat.
"Just call me a friend, Santorelli. A good friend."
Bark feels something at the back of his head. Something cold and metallic.
"You have a bad habit, Santorelli, of bothering the wrong people at the wrong time."
"Hey, man, I--"
"Shut up and listen before I do something we'll both regret."
Bark shuts up and listens.
"You've got some learning to do, boy. And you'd better do it fast. Does the name Buglaroni mean anything to you?"
"I said shut up!"
"That's better. Now there's something you'd better understand, Santorelli. Buglaroni has friends. Powerful friends. Friends like me. Are you getting my drift here?"
Bark nods again.
"That's good. Now these friends of Buglaroni, they don't like some of the things you've been doing lately. You know what I mean?"
"You might want to learn something from this, Santorelli. A valuable life lesson." The cold metal is removed from the back of his head. "We're going to talk again, Santorelli. Because I don't think you understand exactly what you're up against here."
The back door opens, and the shadowy figure pulls itself out of the car.
"Have a nice night," he says, slamming the door and disappearing into the darkness.
He doesn't know why, but suddenly he is awake.
His eyes open.
A sliver of moonlight brightens the bedroom. A slim breeze jostles the curtains at the open window. The silk sheets the envelop him are cool and dry.
He is alone in the room.
Of course he is alone in the room.
So why is he awake?
Hans Castorp stares at the ceiling. He is a good sleeper, for the most part. Insomnia is not his cup of tea, and he never has any difficulty adjusting to the time differences on the two coasts.
The face of the digital clock reads 4:43.
He rolls over on his side.
And then he feels it.
Something that shouldn't be there. Something cold. Something wet. Something that his toes have just brushed past.
He sits up. He is not alone in the bed.
He throws back the top sheet to see the head lying at his feet.
Of prize-winning romaine lettuce.
Cut from its roots before its prime, dripping the dew of the early morning.
Hans Castorp screams in terror.
Again and again and again.
Will Buglaroni hurt himself making out with Gloria?
Se how did they get that horse's head in there? I mean, if the noise didn't wake him up when they were chainsawing the poor animal into multiple parts down in the barn, you'd think at least that the disruption of putting a horse's head in his bed would disturb him to some extent. Talk about your sound sleepers!
Will Bark save enough to buy that Mustang convertible?
Would you like ranch, Italian or house dressing with that, Mr. Castorp?
Shouldn't the asparagus season be starting soon?
Forget everything you've ever read in our next episode: "Spooner's Wife, or, the Shaming of the True"
Go to the next episode due Mar 10, 1999.