The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Leaving Small’s Hotel
by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy


Chapter 13
September 22
Local Boy Snaps Shots
Everything we do, we actually do for our own sake.  We may appear to be sacrificing ourselves, when we are merely satisfying ourselves. 
     Denis Diderot


IT IS ALWAYS DIFFICULT to pin down the onset of an idea, but I think that it was this morning, when I surprised Albertine in the kitchen, on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floor, doing a job that we have always paid someone else to do, even in the hotel’s leanest early days, and she looked at me and I saw that she was embarrassed to have been caught saving money this way, embarrassed for me, because she hadn’t wanted me to see that she thought it necessary, or at least prudent, to save money this way, that I really understood how sad she was, how heavily the weight of everything that was a care to her fell on her, and I think that it was at that moment that inspiration struck.  I knew that the ultimate target I wanted Rockwell Kingman to pursue was me. 
   At the time, I thought that the operations of my mind were being conducted in the pursuit of a goal that was purely—let us not say “merely”—literary, that I had been inspired to use my own situation to construct the final chapter of Murder While You Wait and that I would go on to construct the rest of the book to lead up to that chapter.  That is what I thought I thought, or, to attempt to be perfectly precise about this, that is what I think I would have thought I was thinking if I had thought about what I was thinking at the time.  Someone, a man, a desperate man, would come to Kingman in the hope of employing his skill, and in particular his talent for misdirection, to hide a suicide.  He wanted to kill himself—or, if Kingman thought it best, to be killed—so that his wife would collect his insurance money. 
   His business was failing—some business, any business.  Make it a small hotel on a small island. . . .

   “Look, here’s the way it is,” he says.  He’s wringing his hands.  “This morning I happened to see my wife—” 
   “It’s an old story,” I say.  I light a cigarette.  I turn my back to the guy and look out the window.  I’m not interested. 
   “No,” he says.  “That’s not the story.  Not my story.  I surprised her.  I saw what she hadn’t wanted me to see.  I came into the kitchen and there she was, Albertine, my Albertine, my honey-bunchie-wunchie, on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floor, doing a job that we have always paid someone else to do, even in the hotel’s lean early days, and she looked at me and I saw that she was embarrassed to be caught saving money this way—embarrassed for me, because she hadn’t wanted me to see that she thought she had to save money this way—” 
   I open the window, lean out.  I see it’s going to be a nice day. 
   “You see,” he says, and I can hear that pleading tone starting to insinuate itself into his voice, “it was at that moment that I really understood how sad she is, how heavily the weight of—of—everything—every care—every worry—how heavily the weight of every worry falls on her, and that all of that is all my fault.” 
   He gets up out of the chair.  He walks over to the window.  He puts his hand on my shoulder.  I hate that.  I hate the personal appeal.  I shrug him off. 
   “Sorry,” he says.  He draws a breath.  “It’s my fault, and I’ve got to make amends.”  He draws another breath, and then he lays out his plan in the measured voice that people always use when they’re laying out their plans.  “When Albertine and I bought the hotel we also bought a life insurance policy on me, enough to cover the mortgage.  Over the years, we’ve increased the mortgage to finance repairs and maintenance, but whenever we did we increased the insurance too.  If I die an accidental death, she will collect enough to pay off her debts and unload the hotel, which she’s come to think of as a prison.  Then she can add whatever is left to what she’s managed to put away in our retirement fund, and she will have—at last—financial security.” 
   He pauses, and I can tell he’s considering the hand on the shoulder again, the chummy approach.  I spin around and look him in the eye to put the kibosh on that. 
   He holds his hands out, palms up.  He sighs.  “Security,” he says.  “Peace.  And I will have provided it.  I will be a success.”

   As I saw it, Kingman would not be interested.  He would find the idea bizarre, even perverted.  As a killer, he would find the desire for death impossible to understand.  It would take Peter weeks to persuade Kingman to accept him as a client.  It would involve riveting discussions of the meaning of life and the meaning of death.  I anticipated the writing of those scenes with relish. 

I SPENT the rest of the morning trapping cats.  Lou and Grumpy Cluck helped me.  We brought the launch and the rowboat around to the wildlife area, pulled the rowboat up on shore, and laid a catwalk from the bow to the sand.  We dotted the walk with food—cat food that Suki had concocted—and set little bowls of it along the shore.  We put several large bowls in the rowboat, a movable feast, and then the three of us sat in the launch, drinking coffee—Irish coffee that Lou had concocted—and watched the rowboat fill with cats.  When it seemed to be as full as it was likely to get, we began paddling the launch, slowly, gently, quietly.  The line on the rowboat tightened, and we drew the boat out behind us toward the open bay.  There had been some talk, earlier, about scuttling the rowboat and drowning the cats, but Irish coffee makes a guy verbose and sentimental, and the three of us were soon running on at length about the miracle of life and the joy of living, and scolding what Lou liked to call “the culture of shit” for putting so low a price on life, living, joy, and everything else worthwhile.  We towed the rowboat to the largest of the uninhabited islands near us, and we set the cats free there.  (In other words, I said to myself without looking back, we marooned the cats there.) 

JEFFREY HIMSELF brought the boatload of prospects to the island in the afternoon.  They were crisp and efficient.  There were a dozen of them, nine men and three women.  All of them wore scent of one kind or another, and each one had a notebook with a checklist.  From what I could see, no two checklists were identical.  It was easy to decide which one would have been upset about the cats—a round pink man with a few strands of white hair combed over his round pink pate, the one wearing the red necktie on which kittens cavorted. 
   “Very interesting possibilities,” was the phrase I heard most.  “Very interesting possibilities.” 
   “Would you like to begin at the hotel?” asked Albertine. 
   “Oh, yes!” said a woman at the head of the group.  “That will make a wonderful social center!”  She turned toward the others and they laughed awkwardly.  The woman flushed and said, “I mean—it might—it could—that is, if we decide—” 
   “The idea,” said Jeffrey, “is to turn the island into a residential community—an exclusive residential community.” 
   “Like a gated community?” I asked. 
   “Yes!” said the round pink man.  He swept his arm toward the expanse of bay that separated us from potential interlopers.  “The ultimate in exclusivity, an island!  With a natural moat to keep the undesirable element out.”  When he said the words undesirable element he winked at me. 
   Albertine and I looked at each other. 
   She said, “Shit,” and then she said, slowly, to the round pink man, “While you’re looking the place over, bear in mind that the boiler may blow up at any moment and the roof leaks, and you might want to stay out of the area to the west, where there are giant frogs, wild hamsters, chinchilla rabbits, minks, free-ranging chickens, turkeys, talking budgies—and hundreds of rabid feral cats.” 
   “Oh, my goodness,” said the round pink man.  “That doesn’t sound very promising.” 

THAT NIGHT’S READING was “Local Boy Snaps Shots,” the thirteenth episode of Dead Air

THE HEADLINE in the Babbington Reporter read, “Saucers Swarm over Babbington, Local Boy Snaps Shots of Mysterious Craft.”  Below the headline was the picture that I had snapped.  Apparently, Porky White’s attempt to demonstrate that common objects thrown into the air would not resemble flying saucers had been a failure.  Judging from the headline, a viewer who was not aware of the circumstances under which the photograph was taken—and that would be every viewer but Porky and me—might assume that the objects in the sky were much larger than clams and, therefore, higher in the sky and farther away than the clams had actually been.  Such a viewer might even mistake the clams for flying saucers. 
Reporter clipping
   When I first saw the picture, I felt the thrill you would expect a boy to feel if the local newspaper published a picture he had taken, but very quickly I began to feel cheated.  I hadn’t intended to have this picture published in the Reporter; I hadn’t given permission for it to be published; no one had even asked my permission; my name was misspelled; and no one had paid me. 
   I called Porky. 
   “Did you see the paper today?” I asked. 
   “I sure did!” said Porky.  “Hold on a minute.”  Away from the mouthpiece he called out, “Pour some coffee for those guys and apologize for the delay.  Make ’em feel good.”  Into the mouthpiece he said, “Great picture, wasn’t it?” 
   “Do you think I should have him arrested?” I asked. 
   “Who?  What for?” 
   “Mr. Himmelfarb, for sending the picture to the paper.” 
   “Are you nuts?  Himmelfarb did us a favor.” 
   “Sure.  Listen to this.”  He stopped talking, and from the background I heard the sound of animated conversation, clinking china, glasses, laughter, and, some voices raised in dispute.  Porky came back on the line.  “Amazing, isn’t it?  The place is packed!” 
   “Curiosity seekers,” I said, the way my father did whenever we were stuck in a traffic jam caused by the rubbernecking curious slowing down to get a good look at an accident. 
   “Yeah!” said Porky with enthusiasm. 
   “What a pain.” 
   “Are you kidding?” asked Porky.  “I’m not screening people at the door here, you know.  All are welcome at Kap’n Klam, including curiosity seekers.  You understand?” 
   “Oh, sure,” I said, speaking as an investor in the enterprise, “but,” I added, quoting my father, “what is it about these people that makes them think nothing has really happened until they’ve witnessed it?” 
   “Just a damn minute there,” said Porky.  “We are all curiosity seekers, Peter.  It’s one of the things that make us human.  Don’t ever disparage curiosity.  I think it’s the noblest of human traits, if you ask me, and it’s honest, not like generosity, for example.  You scratch generosity, and very often you’ll find self-interest lying underneath it, but curiosity, scratch that, and you’re going to find nothing but one-hundred-per-cent curiosity through and through.  It’s a genuine human trait, unadulterated by other motives.  We may be generous to salve a guilty conscience or curry favor, but we want to know because we want to know, and we have a right to know, because we are the only creatures capable of knowing.  We are life’s witnesses.  If we don’t witness a thing, if we don’t know about a thing, it is, in a way that I don’t have time to explain right now, not real.” 
   “Porky!” called a voice from the background.  “I need three clam salad sandwiches!” 
   “Coming right up!” he shouted, and then asked, “Can you give me a hand?” 
   “I’ll be right there,” I said, and a moment later I was on my way, and I was pedaling hard, because I wanted to get down there and see for myself, with my own eyes, what was going on.
BALDY closed his show that night with this: “Is this you, boys and girls?  You are a refugee, an orphan, somewhere, anywhere, who knows where.  You have been orphaned by tribal warfare, because the people of the other tribe hate your tribe because your tribe is not their tribe.  Do you understand that?  Everyone who used to sit with you at the family hearth is dead.  They were killed by the people of another tribe because the people of the other tribe need to eliminate the people of your tribe so that they can be certain that they are superior to the people of your tribe.  Do you understand that?  You watched some of the people die.  Some died at your home.  Some died on the road.  Some died in a camp where you learned to understand the limits of international patience with the refugees of tribal warfare.  You are alone.  Everything you have you can hold in your hands, everything except your memories.  Is that you, boys and girls?  No?  Lucky for you, kids.  But be careful, because there is someone out there somewhere, who knows where, who hates you because you belong to the wrong tribe and because we have not grown up enough as a species to stop living in tribes.  Do you understand that?  Neither do I. Roll the rock in front of the door, my little ones, stay in the cave, and sleep tight.”

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a beguiling tale of hope, friendship, memories, and love
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Leaving Small’s Hotel is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, at $14.00. 

You should be able to find Leaving Small’s Hotel at your local bookstore, but you can also order it by phone from: 

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Copyright © 1998 by Eric Kraft

Leaving Small’s Hotel is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. 

Leaving Small’s Hotel was first published on May 11, 1998, by Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010. 

For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, contact Alec “Nick” Rafter at Manning & Rafter Advertising, Promotion, Public Relations & Used Cars. 





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