- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
CHAPTER 39 - THE ETERNAL CITY
(AnyBooksFree) CHAPTER 39 - THE ETERNAL CITY
Yossarian was going absent without official leave with Milo, who, as the plane cruised
toward Rome, shook his head reproachfully and, with pious lips pulsed, informed
Yossarian in ecclesiastical tones that he was ashamed of him. Yossarian nodded.
Yossarian was making an uncouth spectacle of himself by walking around backward
with his gun on his hip and refusing to fly more combat missions, Milo said. Yossarian
nodded. It was disloyal to his squadron and embarrassing to his superiors. He was
placing Milo in a very uncomfortable position, too. Yossarian nodded again. The men
were starting to grumble. It was not fair for Yossarian to think only of his own
safety while men like Milo, Colonel Cathcart, Colonel Korn and ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen
were willing to do everything they could to win the war. The men with seventy
missions were starring to grumble because they had to fly eighty, and there was a
danger some of them might put on guns and begin walking around backward, too.
Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian's fault. The country was in peril;
he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to
Yossarian kept nodding in the co-pilot's seat and tried not to listen as Milo prattled
on. Nately's whore was on his mind, as were Kraft and Orr and Nately and Dunbar,
and Kid Sampson and McWatt, and all the poor and stupid and diseased people he had
seen in Italy, Egypt and North Africa and knew about in other areas of the world,
and Snowden and Nately's whore's kid sister were on his conscience, too. Yossarian
thought he knew why Nately's whore held him responsible for Nately's death and
wanted to kill him. Why the hell shouldn't she? It was a man's world, and she and
everyone younger had every right to blame him and everyone older for every
unnatural tragedy that befell them; just as she, even in her grief, was to blame for
every man-made misery that landed on her kid sister and on all other children behind
her. Someone had to do something sometime. Every victim was a culprit, every culprit
a victim, and somebody had to stand up sometime to try to break the lousy chain of
inherited habit that was imperiling them all. In parts of Africa little boys were still
stolen away by adult slave traders and sold for money to men who disemboweled them
and ate them.
Yossarian marveled that children could suffer such barbaric sacrifice without
evincing the slightest hint of fear or pain. He took it for granted that they did
submit so stoically. If not, he reasoned, the custom would certainly have died, for no
craving for wealth or immortality could be so great, he felt, as to subsist on the
sorrow of children.
He was rocking the boat, Milo said, and Yossarian nodded once more. He was not a
good member of the team, Milo said. Yossarian nodded and listened to Milo tell him
that the decent thing to do if he did not like the way Colonel Cathcart and Colonel
Korn were running the group was go to Russia, instead of stirring up trouble.
Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn had both been very good to Yossarian, Milo said;
hadn't they given him a medal after the last mission to Ferrara and promoted him to
captain? Yossarian nodded. Didn't they feed him and give him his pay every month?
Yossarian nodded again. Milo was sure they would be charitable if he went to them to
apologize and recant and promise to fly eighty missions. Yossarian said he would think
it over, and held his breath and prayed for a safe landing as Milo dropped his wheels
and glided in toward the runway.
It was funny how he had really come to detest flying.
Rome was in ruins, he saw, when the plane was down. The airdrome had been bombed
eight months before, and knobby slabs of white stone rubble had been bulldozed into
flat-topped heaps on both sides of the entrance through the wire fence surrounding
the field. The Colosseum was a dilapidated shell, and the Arch of Constantine had
fallen. Nately's whore's apartment was a shambles. The girls were gone, and the only
one there was the old woman. The windows in the apartment had been smashed. She
was bundled up in sweaters and skirts and wore a dark shawl about her head. She sat
on a wooden chair near an electric hot plate, her arms folded, boiling water in a
battered aluminum pot. She was talking aloud to herself when Yossarian entered and
began moaning as soon as she saw him.
'Gone,' she moaned before he could even inquire.
Holding her elbows, she rocked back and forth mournfully on her creaking chair.
'All. All the poor young girls.'
'Away. Chased away into the street. All of them gone. All the poor young girls.'
'Chased away by who? Who did it?'
'The mean tall soldiers with the hard white hats and clubs. And by our *carabinieri*.
They came with their clubs and chased them away. They would not even let them take
their coats. The poor things. They just chased them away into the cold.'
'Did they arrest them?'
'They chased them away. They just chased them away.'
'Then why did they do it if they didn't arrest them?'
'I don't know,' sobbed the old woman. 'I don't know. Who will take care of me? Who
will take care of me now that all the poor young girls are gone?
Who will take care of me?'
'There must have been a reason,' Yossarian persisted, pounding his fist into his hand.
'They couldn't just barge in here and chase everyone out.'
'No reason,' wailed the old woman. 'No reason.'
'What right did they have?'
'*What?*' Yossarian froze in his tracks with fear and alarm and felt his whole body
begin to tingle. '*What* did you say?'
'Catch-22' the old woman repeated, rocking her head up and down. 'Catch-22.
Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.'
'What the hell are you talking about?' Yossarian shouted at her in bewildered,
furious protest. 'How did you know it was Catch-22?
Who the hell told you it was Catch-22?'
'The soldiers with the hard white hats and clubs. The girls were crying. "Did we do
anything wrong?" they said. The men said no and pushed them away out the door with
the ends of their clubs. "Then why are you chasing us out?" the girls said. "Catch-22,"
the men said. "What right do you have?" the girls said. "Catch-22," the men said. All
they kept saying was "Catch-22, Catch-22." What does it mean, Catch-22?
What is Catch-22?'
'Didn't they show it to you?' Yossarian demanded, stamping about in anger and
distress. 'Didn't you even make them read it?'
'They don't have to show us Catch-22,' the old woman answered.
'The law says they don't have to.'
'What law says they don't have to?'
'Oh, God damn!' Yossarian exclaimed bitterly. 'I bet it wasn't even really there.' He
stopped walking and glanced about the room disconsolately. 'Where's the old man?'
'Gone,' mourned the old woman.
'Dead,' the old woman told him, nodding in emphatic lament, pointing to her head with
the flat of her hand. 'Something broke in here. One minute he was living,
one minute he was dead.'
'But he can't be dead!' Yossarian cried, ready to argue insistently. But of course he
knew it was true, knew it was logical and true; once again the old man had marched
along with the majority.
Yossarian turned away and trudged through the apartment with a gloomy scowl,
peering with pessimistic curiosity into all the rooms. Everything made of glass had
been smashed by the men with the clubs. Torn drapes and bedding lay dumped on the
floor. Chairs, tables and dressers had been overturned. Everything breakable had
been broken. The destruction was total. No wild vandals could have been more
thorough. Every window was smashed, and darkness poured like inky clouds into each
room through the shattered panes. Yossarian could imagine the heavy, crashing
footfalls of the tall M.P.s in the hard white hats. He could picture the fiery and
malicious exhilaration with which they had made their wreckage, and their
sanctimonious, ruthless sense of right and dedication. All the poor young girls were
gone. Everyone was gone but the weeping old woman in the bulky brown and gray
sweaters and black head shawl, and soon she too would be gone.
'Gone,' she grieved, when he walked back in, before he could even speak.
'Who will take care of me now?'
Yossarian ignored the question.
'Nately's girl friend - did anyone hear from her?' he asked.
'I know she's gone. But did anyone hear from her?
Does anyone know where she is?'
'The little sister. What happened to her?'
'Gone.' The old woman's tone had not changed.
'Do you know what I'm talking about?' Yossarian asked sharply, staring into her eyes
to see if she were not speaking to him from a coma. He raised his voice. 'What
happened to the kid sister, to the little girl?'
'Gone, gone,' the old woman replied with a crabby shrug, irritated by his persistence,
her low wail growing louder. 'Chased away with the rest, chased away into the street.
They would not even let her take her coat.'
'Where did she go?'
'I don't know. I don't know.'
'Who will take care of her?'
'Who will take care of me?'
'She doesn't know anybody else, does she?'
'Who will take care of me?'
Yossarian left money in the old woman's lap - it was odd how many wrongs leaving
money seemed to right - and strode out of the apartment, cursing Catch-22
vehemently as he descended the stairs, even though he knew there was no such thing.
Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did
matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there
was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate,
revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up.
It was cold outside, and dark, and a leaky, insipid mist lay swollen in the air and
trickled down the large, unpolished stone blocks of the houses and the pedestals of
monuments. Yossarian hurried back to Milo and recanted. He said he was sorry and,
knowing he was lying, promised to fly as many more missions as Colonel Cathcart
wanted if Milo would only use all his influence in Rome to help him locate Nately's
whore's kid sister.
'She's just a twelve-year-old virgin, Milo,' he explained anxiously,
' and I want to find her before it's too late.'
Milo responded to his request with a benign smile. 'I've got just the twelve-year-old
virgin you're looking for,' he announced jubilantly. 'This twelve-year-old virgin is
really only thirty-four, but she was brought up on a low-protein diet by very strict
parents and didn't start sleeping with men until -'
'Milo, I'm talking about a little girl!' Yossarian interrupted him with desperate
impatience. 'Don't you understand? I don't want to sleep with her. I want to help
her. You've got daughters. She's just a little kid, and she's all alone in this city with
no one to take care of her. I want to protect her from harm.
Don't you know what I'm talking about?'
Milo did understand and was deeply touched. 'Yossarian, I'm proud of you,' he
exclaimed with profound emotion. 'I really am. You don't know how glad I am to see
that everything isn't always just sex with you. You've got principles. Certainly I've
got daughters, and I know exactly what you're talking about. We'll find that girl if
we have to turn this whole city upside down. Come along.'
Yossarian went along in Milo Minderbinder's speeding M & M staff car to police
headquarters to meet a swarthy, untidy police commissioner with a narrow black
mustache and unbuttoned tunic who was fiddling with a stout woman with warts and
two chins when they entered his office and who greeted Milo with warm surprise and
bowed and scraped in obscene servility as though Milo were some elegant marquis.
'Ah, Marchese Milo,' he declared with effusive pleasure, pushing the fat, disgruntled
woman out the door without even looking toward her. 'Why didn't you tell me you
were coming? I would have a big party for you. Come in, come in, Marchese. You
almost never visit us any more.'
Milo knew that there was not one moment to waste. 'Hello, Luigi,' he said,
nodding so briskly that he almost seemed rude. 'Luigi, I need your help.
My friend here wants to find a girl.'
'A girl, Marchese?' said Luigi, scratching his face pensively.
'There are lots of girls in Rome. For an American officer,
a girl should not be too difficult.'
'No, Luigi, you don't understand.
This is a twelve-year-old virgin that he has to find right away.'
'Ah, yes, now I understand,' Luigi said sagaciously. 'A virgin might take a little time.
But if he waits at the bus terminal where the young farm girls looking for work
arrive, I -'
'Luigi, you still don't understand,' Milo snapped with such brusque impatience that
the police commissioner's face flushed and he jumped to attention and began
buttoning his uniform in confusion. 'This girl is a friend, an old friend of the family,
and we want to help her. She's only a child.
She's all alone in this city somewhere, and we have to find her before somebody
harms her. Now do you understand? Luigi, this is very important to me. I have a
daughter the same age as that little girl, and nothing in the world means more to me
right now than saving that poor child before it's too late. Will you help?'
'*Si*, Marchese, now I understand,' said Luigi. 'And I will do everything in my power
to find her. But tonight I have almost no men. Tonight all my men are busy trying to
break up the traffic in illegal tobacco.'
'Illegal tobacco?' asked Milo.
'Milo,' Yossarian bleated faintly with a sinking heart,
sensing at once that all was lost.
'*Si*, Marchese,' said Luigi. 'The profit in illegal tobacco is so high that the
smuggling is almost impossible to control.'
'Is there really that much profit in illegal tobacco?' Milo inquired with keen interest,
his rust-colored eyebrows arching avidly and his nostrils sniffing.
'Milo,' Yossarian called to him. 'Pay attention to me, will you?'
'*Si*, Marchese,' Luigi answered. 'The profit in illegal tobacco is very high.
The smuggling is a national scandal, Marchese, truly a national disgrace.'
'Is that a fact?' Milo observed with a preoccupied smile and started
toward the door as though in a spell.
'Milo!' Yossarian yelled, and bounded forward impulsively to intercept him.
'Milo, you've got to help me.'
'Illegal tobacco,' Milo explained to him with a look of epileptic lust, struggling
doggedly to get by. 'Let me go. I've got to smuggle illegal tobacco.'
'Stay here and help me find her,' pleaded Yossarian.
'You can smuggle illegal tobacco tomorrow.'
But Milo was deaf and kept pushing forward, nonviolently but irresistibly, sweating,
his eyes, as though he were in the grip of a blind fixation, burning feverishly, and his
twitching mouth slavering. He moaned calmly as though in remote, instinctive distress
and kept repeating, 'Illegal tobacco, illegal tobacco.' Yossarian stepped out of the
way with resignation finally when he saw it was hopeless to try to reason with him.
Milo was gone like a shot.
The commissioner of police unbuttoned his tunic again and looked at Yossarian
'What do you want here?' he asked coldly. 'Do you want me to arrest you?'
Yossarian walked out of the office and down the stairs into the dark, tomblike
street, passing in the hall the stout woman with warts and two chins, who was already
on her way back in. There was no sign of Milo outside. There were no lights in any of
the windows. The deserted sidewalk rose steeply and continuously for several blocks.
He could see the glare of a broad avenue at the top of the long cobblestone incline.
The police station was almost at the bottom; the yellow bulbs at the entrance sizzled
in the dampness like wet torches. A frigid, fine rain was falling. He began walking
slowly, pushing uphill. Soon he came to a quiet, cozy, inviting restaurant with red
velvet drapes in the windows and a blue neon sign near the door that said: TONY'S
RESTAURANT FINE FOOD AND DRINK. KEEP OUT. The words on the blue neon
sign surprised him mildly for only an instant. Nothing warped seemed bizarre any
more in his strange, distorted surroundings. The tops of the sheer buildings slanted
in weird, surrealistic perspective, and the street seemed tilted. He raised the collar
of his warm woolen coat and hugged it around him. The night was raw. A boy in a thin
shirt and thin tattered trousers walked out of the darkness on bare feet.
The boy had black hair and needed a haircut and shoes and socks. His sickly face was
pale and sad. His feet made grisly, soft, sucking sounds in the rain puddles on the wet
pavement as he passed, and Yossarian was moved by such intense pity for his poverty
that he wanted to smash his pale, sad, sickly face with his fist and knock him out of
existence because he brought to mind *all* the pale, sad, sickly children in Italy that
same night who needed haircuts and needed shoes and socks. He made Yossarian
think of cripples and of cold and hungry men and women, and of all the dumb, passive,
devout mothers with catatonic eyes nursing infants outdoors that same night with
chilled animal udders bared insensibly to that same raw rain. Cows. Almost on cue, a
nursing mother padded past holding an infant in black rags, and Yossarian wanted to
smash her too, because she reminded him of the barefoot boy in the thin shirt and
thin, tattered trousers and of all the shivering, stupefying misery in a world that
never yet had provided enough heat and food and justice for all but an ingenious and
What a lousy earth! He wondered how many people were destitute that same night
even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many
husbands were drunk and wives socked, and how many children were bullied,
abused or abandoned.
How many families hungered for food they could not afford to buy? How many hearts
were broken? How many suicides would take place that same night, how many people
would go insane? How many cockroaches and landlords would triumph?
How many winners were losers, successes failures, rich men poor men?
How many wise guys were stupid? How many happy endings were unhappy endings?
How many honest men were liars, brave men cowards, loyal men traitors, how many
sainted men were corrupt, how many people in positions of trust had sold their souls
to blackguards for petty cash, how many had never had souls? How many straightand-narrow paths were crooked paths? How many best families were worst families
and how many good people were bad people? When you added them all up and then
subtracted, you might be left with only the children, and perhaps with Albert
Einstein and an old violinist or sculptor somewhere.
Yossarian walked in lonely torture, feeling estranged, and could not wipe from his
mind the excruciating image of the barefoot boy with sickly cheeks until he turned
the corner into the avenue finally and came upon an Allied soldier having convulsions
on the ground, a young lieutenant with a small, pale, boyish face . Six other soldiers
from different countries wrestled with different parts of him, striving to help him
and hold him still. He yelped and groaned unintelligibly through clenched teeth, his
eyes rolled up into his head. 'Don't let him bite his tongue off,' a short sergeant near
Yossarian advised shrewdly, and a seventh man threw himself into the fray to wrestle
with the ill lieutenant's face. All at once the wrestlers won and turned to each other
undecidedly, for now that they held the young lieutenant rigid they did not know what
to do with him. A quiver of moronic panic spread from one straining brute face to
another. 'Why don't you lift him up and put him on the hood of that car?' a corporal
standing in back of Yossarian drawled.
That seemed to make sense, so the seven men lifted the young lieutenant up and
stretched him out carefully on the hood of a parked car, still pinning each struggling
part of him down. Once they had him stretched out on the hood of the parked car,
they stared at each other uneasily again, for they had no idea what to do with him
next. 'Why don't you lift him up off the hood of that car and lay him down on the
ground?' drawled the same corporal behind Yossarian. That seemed like a good idea,
too, and they began to move him back to the sidewalk, but before they could finish, a
jeep raced up with a flashing red spotlight at the side and two military policemen in
the front seat.
'What's going on?' the driver yelled.
'He's having convulsions,' one of the men grappling with one of
the young lieutenant's limbs answered. 'We're holding him still.'
'That's good. He's under arrest.'
'What should we do with him?'
'Keep him under arrest!' the M.P. shouted, doubling over with raucous laughter at his
jest, and sped away in his jeep.
Yossarian recalled that he had no leave papers and moved prudently past the strange
group toward the sound of muffled voices emanating from a distance inside the
murky darkness ahead. The broad, rain-blotched boulevard was illuminated every
half-block by short, curling lampposts with eerie, shimmering glares surrounded by
smoky brown mist. From a window overhead he heard an unhappy female voice
pleading, 'Please don't. Please don't.' A despondent young woman in a black raincoat
with much black hair on her face passed with her eyes lowered. At the Ministry of
Public Affairs on the next block, a drunken lady was backed up against one of the
fluted Corinthian columns by a drunken young soldier, while three drunken comrades
in arms sat watching nearby on the steps with wine bottles standing between their
legs. 'Pleeshe don't,' begged the drunken lady. 'I want to go home now. Pleeshe
don't.' One of the sitting men cursed pugnaciously and hurled a wine bottle at
Yossarian when he turned to look up.
The bottle shattered harmlessly far away with a brief and muted noise. Yossarian
continued walking away at the same listless, unhurried pace, hands buried in his
pockets. 'Come on, baby,' he heard the drunken soldier urge determinedly. 'It's my
turn now.' 'Pleeshe don't,' begged the drunken lady. 'Pleeshe don't.' At the very
next corner, deep inside the dense, impenetrable shadows of a narrow, winding side
street, he heard the mysterious, unmistakable sound of someone shoveling snow. The
measured, labored, evocative scrape of iron shovel against concrete made his flesh
crawl with terror as he stepped from the curb to cross the ominous alley and hurried
onward until the haunting, incongruous noise had been left behind. Now he knew
where he was: soon, if he continued without turning, he would come to the dry
fountain in the middle of the boulevard, then to the officers' apartment seven blocks
beyond. He heard snarling, inhuman voices cutting through the ghostly blackness in
front suddenly. The bulb on the corner lamp post had died, spilling gloom over half
the street, throwing everything visible off balance.
On the other side of the intersection, a man was beating a dog with a stick like the
man who was beating the horse with a whip in Raskolnikov's dream. Yossarian strained
helplessly not to see or hear. The dog whimpered and squealed in brute, dumbfounded
hysteria at the end of an old Manila rope and groveled and crawled on its belly
without resisting, but the man beat it and beat it anyway with his heavy, flat stick. A
small crowd watched. A squat woman stepped out and asked him please to stop. 'Mind
your own business,' the man barked gruffly, lifting his stick as though he might beat
her too, and the woman retreated sheepishly with an abject and humiliated air.
Yossarian quickened his pace to get away, almost ran.
The night was filled with horrors, and he thought he knew how Christ must have felt
as he walked through the world, like a psychiatrist through a ward full of nuts, like a
victim through a prison full of thieves. What a welcome sight a leper must have been!
At the next corner a man was beating a small boy brutally in the midst of an immobile
crowd of adult spectators who made no effort to intervene. Yossarian recoiled with
sickening recognition. He was certain he had witnessed that same horrible scene
sometime before. * *j… vu*? The sinister coincidence shook him and filled him with
doubt and dread. It was the same scene he had witnessed a block before, although
everything in it seemed quite different. What in the world was happening? Would a
squat woman step out and ask the man to please stop? Would he raise his hand to
strike her and would she retreat? Nobody moved.
The child cried steadily as though in drugged misery. The man kept knocking him
down with hard, resounding open-palm blows to the head, then jerking him up to his
feet in order to knock him down again. No one in the sullen, cowering crowd seemed
to care enough about the stunned and beaten boy to interfere. The child was no more
than nine. One drab woman was weeping silently into a dirty dish towel. The boy was
emaciated and needed a haircut. Bright-red blood was streaming from both ears.
Yossarian crossed quickly to the other side of the immense avenue to escape the
nauseating sight and found himself walking on human teeth lying on the drenched,
glistening pavement near splotches of blood kept sticky by the pelting raindrops
poking each one like sharp fingernails.
Molars and broken incisors lay scattered everywhere. He circled on tiptoe the
grotesque debris and came near a doorway containing a crying soldier holding a
saturated handkerchief to his mouth, supported as he sagged by two other soldiers
waiting in grave impatience for the military ambulance that finally came clanging up
with amber fog lights on and passed them by for an altercation on the next block
between a civilian Italian with books and a slew of civilian policemen with armlocks
The screaming, struggling civilian was a dark man with a face white as flour from
fear. His eyes were pulsating in hectic desperation, flapping like bat's wings, as the
many tall policemen seized him by the arms and legs and lifted him up. His books were
spilled on the ground. 'Help!' he shrieked shrilly in a voice strangling in its own
emotion, as the policemen carried him to the open doors in the rear of the ambulance
and threw him inside. 'Police! Help! Police!'
The doors were shut and bolted, and the ambulance raced away. There was a
humorless irony in the ludicrous panic of the man screaming for help to the police
while policemen were all around him. Yossarian smiled wryly at the futile and
ridiculous cry for aid, then saw with a start that the words were ambiguous, realized
with alarm that they were not, perhaps, intended as a call for police but as a heroic
warning from the grave by a doomed friend to everyone who was not a policeman with
a club and a gun and a mob of other policemen with clubs and guns to back him up.
'Help! Police!' the man had cried, and he could have been shouting of danger.
Yossarian responded to the thought by slipping away stealthily from the police and
almost tripped over the feet of a burly woman of forty hastening across the
intersection guiltily, darting furtive, vindictive glances behind her toward a woman of
eighty with thick, bandaged ankles doddering after her in a losing pursuit. The old
woman was gasping for breath as she minced along and muttering to herself in
distracted agitation. There was no mistaking the nature of the scene; it was a chase.
The triumphant first woman was halfway across the wide avenue before the second
woman reached the curb. The nasty, small, gloating smile with which she glanced back
at the laboring old woman was both wicked and apprehensive. Yossarian knew he could
help the troubled old woman if she would only cry out, knew he could spring forward
and capture the sturdy first woman and hold her for the mob of policemen nearby if
the second woman would only give him license with a shriek of distress. But the old
woman passed by without even seeing him, mumbling in terrible, tragic vexation, and
soon the first woman had vanished into the deepening layers of darkness and the old
woman was left standing helplessly in the center of the thoroughfare, dazed,
uncertain which way to proceed, alone.
Yossarian tore his eyes from her and hurried away in shame because he had done
nothing to assist her. He darted furtive, guilty glances back as he fled in defeat,
afraid the old woman might now start following him, and he welcomed the concealing
shelter of the drizzling, drifting, lightless, nearly opaque gloom. Mobs mobs of
policemen - everything but England was in the hands of mobs, mobs, mobs.
Mobs with clubs were in control everywhere.
The surface of the collar and shoulders of Yossarian's coat was soaked. His socks
were wet and cold. The light on the next lamppost was out, too, the glass globe
broken. Buildings and featureless shapes flowed by him noiselessly as though borne
past immutably on the surface of some rank and timeless tide. A tall monk passed, his
face buried entirely inside a coarse gray cowl, even the eyes hidden. Footsteps
sloshed toward him steadily through a puddle, and he feared it would be another
barefoot child. He brushed by a gaunt, cadaverous, tristful man in a black raincoat
with a star-shaped scar in his cheek and a glossy mutilated depression the size of an
egg in one temple.
On squishing straw sandals, a young woman materialized with her whole face
disfigured by a God-awful pink and piebald burn that started on her neck and
stretched in a raw, corrugated mass up both cheeks past her eyes! Yossarian could
not bear to look, and shuddered. No one would ever love her. His spirit was sick; he
longed to lie down with some girl he could love who would soothe and excite him and
put him to sleep. A mob with a club was waiting for him in Pianosa. The girls were all
gone. The countess and her daughter-in-law were no longer good enough; he had
grown too old for fun, he no longer had the time. Luciana was gone, dead, probably; if
not yet, then soon enough.
Aarfy's buxom trollop had vanished with her smutty cameo ring, and Nurse Duckett
was ashamed of him because he had refused to fly more combat missions and would
cause a scandal. The only girl he knew nearby was the plain maid in the officers'
apartment, whom none of the men had ever slept with. Her name was Michaela, but
the men called her filthy things in dulcet, ingratiating voices, and she giggled with
childish joy because she understood no English and thought they were flattering her
and making harmless jokes. Everything wild she watched them do filled her with
enchanted delight. She was a happy, simple-minded, hard-working girl who could not
read and was barely able to write her name.
Her straight hair was the color of rotting straw. She had sallow skin and myopic
eyes, and none of the men had ever slept with her because none of the men had ever
wanted to, none but Aarfy, who had raped her once that same evening and had then
held her prisoner in a clothes closet for almost two hours with his hand over her
mouth until the civilian curfew sirens sounded and it was unlawful for her
to be outside.
Then he threw her out the window. Her dead body was still lying on the pavement
when Yossarian arrived and pushed his way politely through the circle of solemn
neighbors with dim lanterns, who glared with venom as they shrank away from him
and pointed up bitterly toward the second-floor windows in their private, grim,
Yossarian's heart pounded with fright and horror at the pitiful, ominous, gory
spectacle of the broken corpse. He ducked into the hallway and bolted up the stairs
into the apartment, where he found Aarfy pacing about uneasily with a pompous,
slightly uncomfortable smile. Aarfy seemed a bit unsettled as he fidgeted with his
pipe and assured Yossarian that everything was going to be all right.
There was nothing to worry about.
'I only raped her once,' he explained.
Yossarian was aghast. 'But you killed her, Aarfy! You killed her!'
'Oh, I had to do that after I raped her,' Aarfy replied in his most condescending
manner. 'I couldn't very well let her go around saying bad things about us, could I?'
'But why did you have to touch her at all, you dumb bastard?' Yossarian shouted.
'Why couldn't you get yourself a girl off the street if you wanted one? The city is
full of prostitutes.'
'Oh, no, not me,' Aarfy bragged. 'I never paid for it in my life.'
'Aarfy, are you insane?' Yossarian was almost speechless.
'You *killed* a girl. They're going to put you in jail!'
'Oh, no,' Aarfy answered with a forced smile.
'Not me. They aren't going to put good old Aarfy in jail. Not for killing *her*.'
'But you threw her out the window. She's lying dead in the street.'
'She has no right to be there,' Aarfy answered. 'It's after curfew.'
'Stupid! Don't you realize what you've done?' Yossarian wanted to grab Aarfy by his
well-fed, caterpillar-soft shoulders and shake some sense into him. 'You've murdered
a human being. They *are* going to put you in jail. They might even *hang* you!'
'Oh, I hardly think they'll do that,' Aarfy replied with a jovial chuckle, although his
symptoms of nervousness increased. He spilled tobacco crumbs unconsciously as his
short fingers fumbled with the bowl of his pipe. 'No, sirree. Not to good old Aarfy.'
He chortled again. 'She was only a servant girl. I hardly think they're going to make
too much of a fuss over one poor Italian servant girl when so many thousands of lives
are being lost every day. Do you?'
'Listen!' Yossarian cried, almost in joy. He pricked up his ears and watched the blood
drain from Aarfy's face as sirens mourned far away, police sirens, and then ascended
almost instantaneously to a howling, strident, onrushing cacophony of overwhelming
sound that seemed to crash into the room around them from every side. 'Aarfy,
they're coming for you,' he said in a flood of compassion, shouting to be heard above
the noise. 'They're coming to arrest you. Aarfy, don't you understand? You can't
take the life of another human being and get away with it, even if she is just a poor
servant girl. Don't you see? Can't you understand?'
'Oh, no,' Aarfy insisted with a lame laugh and a weak smile.
'They're not coming to arrest me. Not good old Aarfy.'
All at once he looked sick. He sank down on a chair in a trembling stupor, his stumpy,
lax hands quaking in his lap. Cars skidded to a stop outside. Spotlights hit the
windows immediately. Car doors slammed and police whistles screeched. Voices rose
harshly. Aarfy was green. He kept shaking his head mechanically with a queer, numb
smile and repeating in a weak, hollow monotone that they were not coming for him,
not for good old Aarfy, no sirree, striving to convince himself that this was so even
as heavy footsteps raced up the stairs and pounded across the landing, even as fists
beat on the door four times with a deafening, inexorable force. Then the door to the
apartment flew open, and two large, tough, brawny M.P.s with icy eyes and firm,
sinewy, unsmiling jaws entered quickly, strode across the room,
and arrested Yossarian.
They arrested Yossarian for being in Rome without a pass.
They apologized to Aarfy for intruding and led Yossarian away between them,
gripping him under each arm with fingers as hard as steel manacles. They said nothing
at all to him on the way down. Two more tall M.P.s with clubs and hard white helmets
were waiting outside at a closed car. They marched Yossarian into the back seat, and
the car roared away and weaved through the rain and muddy fog to a police station.
The M.P.s locked him up for the night in a cell with four stone walls. At dawn they
gave him a pail for a latrine and drove him to the airport, where two more giant M.P.s
with clubs and white helmets were waiting at a transport plane whose engines were
already warming up when they arrived, the cylindrical green cowlings oozing quivering
beads of condensation. None of the M.P.s said anything to each other either. They
did not even nod. Yossarian had never seen such granite faces.
The plane flew to Pianosa. Two more silent M.P.s were waiting at the landing strip.
There were now eight, and they filed with precise, wordless discipline into two cars
and sped on humming tires past the four squadron areas to the Group Headquarters
building, where still two more M.P.s were waiting at the parking area.
All ten tall, strong, purposeful, silent men towered around him as they turned toward
the entrance. Their footsteps crunched in loud unison on the cindered ground. He had
an impression of accelerating haste. He was terrified. Every one of the ten M.P.s
seemed powerful enough to bash him to death with a single blow. They had only to
press their massive, toughened, boulderous shoulders against him to crush all life
from his body. There was nothing he could do to save himself. He could not even see
which two were gripping him under the arms as they marched him rapidly between
the two tight single-file columns they had formed.
Their pace quickened, and he felt as though he were flying along with his feet off
the ground as they trotted in resolute cadence up the wide marble staircase to the
upper landing, where still two more inscrutable military policemen with hard faces
were waiting to lead them all at an even faster pace down the long, cantilevered
balcony overhanging the immense lobby. Their marching footsteps on the dull tile
floor thundered like an awesome, quickening drum roll through the vacant center of
the building as they moved with even greater speed and precision toward Colonel
Cathcart's office, and violent winds of panic began blowing in Yossarian's ears when
they turned him toward his doom inside the office, where Colonel Korn, his rump
spreading comfortably on a corner of Colonel Cathcart's desk, sat waiting to greet
him with a genial smile and said,
'We're sending you home.'
Back to Table of content
- Terry Pratchett
- Darren Shan
- Samantha Young
- Gav Thorpe
- Pamela Palmer
- Gene Wolfe
- F. Paul Wilson
- Amanda Maxlyn
- Jodi Ellen Malpas
- Jill Shalvis
- Susan Hill
- Sherrilyn Kenyon
- Megan Shepherd
- Colleen Gleason
- Kylie Scott
- Courtney Summers
- Elizabeth Kostova
- Yanna Lee
- Tobias S. Buckell
- Jennifer Estep
- Georgia Cates
- Emma Chase
- J.C. Reed
- C.J. Ellisson
- Brent Weeks
- Kendare Blake
- Sam Sykes
- Meg Cabot
- Nicole Peeler
- Philip Athans
- Lauren Kate
- S.D. Perry
- Max Brooks
- Fritz Leiber
- MaryJanice Davidson
- James S.A. Corey
- R.K. Lilley
- Molly McAdams
- Robert McCammon
- Katja Millay