“Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst”
—Jorge Luis Borges—
Bill Bright had to call Wendt’s name twice before he came out of his reverie and made his way through the gathered nominally grieving. He thanked Bright with a nod, and at the lectern addressed the mourners with as doleful and impassive a look as he could muster. Assembled was a somber though volatile mix of prickly writers of one stripe or another, as well as old friends and family who had nothing to do with literature or education even though some of them appeared to be well-educated, or at least well-off. They took up most of one side of the first row. Somehow Tom Presley had landed a seat on the end in his plaid sports coat and white sneakers.
Tom Presley was a novelist, though Wendt didn’t hold that against him. They were old friends dating back to the days when Wendt had first arrived in the city. Tom had gone through three wives in that time. Wendt had recently been on the receiving end of an unfortunate incident in his current arrangement.
Tom was always good for dinner a couple times a month and his fourth wife, the writer slash philosopher Elle DuBlevay, author of The World As I Have Found It, had accepted an understanding that was a carryover from the previous wife. Usually the fare was sumptuous and lavish, and included big meat, veggies, roasted or baked potatoes, salads, and dessert. Tom thought of himself as a gourmet but he just liked to eat. He was a big guy to begin with, and as he would say “the bigger the furnace the more room to burn.” It was also Wendt’s habit to stuff himself as he was never certain when or where he would be eating that well again.
Tom was partial to a civilized pre-dinner scotch, and maybe this particular evening he had imbibed in more than just one. Ellie had had enough of his sarcastic jollying at her expense and the meal, while delicious, was a tad Spartan compared to the usual robust fare, and which had incited Tom to make a few snide comments. Ellie understandably took umbrage and a bicker session of accusations ensued. Wendt had wisely kept out of it while mentally tallying score. At one point, Bill said something particularly cruel and Ellie fell apart into tearful quivering.
What had prompted him to speak defies the limits of logic. At Ellie’s protest that Bill was a no-good sonofabitch and that she would not stand one more minute being insulted in front of a guest even if it was only one of his free-loading friends, Wendt had inquired with as much innocence as he could muster, “Does this mean there won’t be any dessert?” The plate of clam linguini in garlic sauce then appeared not so magically in his lap.
Ellie was still with Tom, it appeared, and kept her eyes averted. She had on a lavender outfit that suggested that perhaps they were attending festivities après la mort. Next to her was Henry Croft in his usual brown suit but this time with a tie, offset by his trademark English farmer’s hat, appropriately sweat soiled. He gazed longingly and a little gape mouthed at the front of Ellie’s revealing low-cut neckline. Like all good English gentlemen everywhere he wanted to fuck somebody else’s wife. The somber attired, like beads on an abacus, and then three oddballs, Henry Croft, Ellie, and of course Tom holding the post position.
Wendt raised his eyes and gazed over the tops of heads that belonged to quite a few he knew. It was nice that they would honor the old fart. And was it any surprise that there they were, standing shoulder to shoulder at the very back edge of the assembled, the Sisterhood of the Grannyhand?
The way Dick had told it, Alice Kerr instigated it. She was one of his students and she realized that she didn’t get or particularly like poetry, but needed make-up units to graduate. Dick had been taken by her honesty, he said, and didn’t object when she proposed a solution. It didn’t have to be a blow job. Then word got around.
Last anyone had heard of Alice she was a housewife in Topeka married to a long distance trucker. Or runner. Couple of kids. No chance she was going to show. But Pat Angeli, lithe and leathery, was there. She had dropped poetry to become a yoga instructor. Kelly Moore in a black sheath that looked painted on. Sue Fonetag, publisher/editor of Clowntown Traffic, a literary magazine with a national reputation. Jeanne Croy, with the husband named Ted, and a kid. She had toughed it out, put her hand where her mouth could have been. Rae Jean, an edge of white apron showing below the oversize black suit coat she had borrowed.
Marguerite “Kay” Sayrah looked away when he glanced in her direction, prim as ever, if not more so. She was not standing with the rest of the sisterhood. That would have been admitting too much. She had thrown a crying fit earlier and had been consoled by the short hairy gnome in a black suit, black shirt, silver gray tie, and orange Converse high tops. At least he assumed he had a sense of style.
The women in the sisterhood were characteristically strong self-assured types, not what he’d call victims, but aggressive opportunists who had grabbed the bull by the horn, so to speak. He couldn’t imagine any of them being the one who blew the whistle on old Granahan.
Wendt planned to start with Blake’s “If life is thought.” And he lifted his chin to say the words. He paused. He focused on a woman standing off to one side, dark pants suit, alone, almost as if she were being shunned. He recognized her. Grace Niklia, the police inspector. Her presence at the funeral disconcerted him enough to derail what he was about to say. He felt compelled to say something, but it was as if a giant foot had jammed against his windpipe so that his voice squeaked out an octave higher. He then became very self-conscious about the big blank space between his ears. Finally he blurted, “Dick was a great poet, a tough old bird who’d been through a lot of adversity and still survived with his sense of humor intact.” He felt thick in the throat like a melon had grown to replace his Adam’s apple. He choked out, “He was one helluva guy. No matter what, you have to hand it to him.”
There was a noticeable titter among the assembled.
“He was my friend. I expect I’ll be joining him in the energy pool one of these days. We all will.” Wendt bowed his head as much to honor Granahan as to hide his emotion. When he looked up, the police inspector was gone.
Bright came over and patted him on the back, “We’ll all miss the old devil.” He was looking at his clip board and the list of people who had signed up to say something in Granahan’s memory and perhaps Wendt’s minimalist eulogy was just the ticket to keep things on track. “The less said the better” he said, and then intoned Tim Finnegan’s name.
Wendt made his way to the back of the seating and through a clot of mourners gathered there. Paul Gogang, the Samoan Chinese poet blocked his path. “You’ll pay for what you did to Reg!” He placed a forearm on the big man’s chest and pushed past him, showing him his fist. “Oh yeah? Talk to my accountant!” Then he ran smack into Mac who collared him by the lapel and brought him back to where stray members of the funeral were milling about on the periphery, grabbing a quick smoke or a moment of private conversation, the years to catch up on since the last funeral of a mutual friend, gossip to share, assignations to arrange.
Mac wore a wide mischievous grin. It complimented the angular black satin thing that featured an appendage that was either a cowl or a cape. In the brisk overcast day her lips seemed unusually red.
“What are you doing here?” He wasn’t unhappy to see her.
“I go to all the poets’ funerals.” She threw her teeth at him in a laugh. “Besides you invited me, remember?”
It was possible. They had been pretty well lit the last couple of times they had managed to get together, the last, a day or so previous, at the Marriot. Mac had a booth in the lingerie show at Fort Mason. He remembered thinking he could get used to widescreen TV.
She rubbed her leg against his and pulled him closer as if to smell his neck. “Know where I might find a good poet?”
Wendt chuckled. “The only good poet is a dead poet.” Her closeness had aroused him.
Mac’s hand found its way under his suit coat and rubbed his lower belly. “He doesn’t have to be a good poet. In fact, a bad poet will do. . .if he’s naughty enough.” And she lunged at his jaw as if to bite it.
Wendt was distracted by the whiskey voice coming over the PA. “Wait, I want to hear what Finnegan’s got to say. It should be good.” He had to crane his neck to get a glimpse of Finnegan’s sparsely thatched pate barely topping the podium, and heard the familiar brogue, amplified through the speakers.
“. . . was a poet of the people. A plain upstanding man. Do you understand what I mean? Head and shoulders over the whole bloody lot, brain box going the whole time. Not a poet in the world could hold a candle to Mr. Richard Andrew Granahan. Not a man. Or woman was fit to stand beside him. I’d back him to win by a length against the whole bloody lot of them.
“Do you know what I’m going to tell you? He was a man who could give the lot of them a good scare. He was a man who could meet them, and meet the best, and beat them at their own game, now I’m telling you.
“I know what I’m talking about. He’d be up at the bell with a poem a yard long, a bloody lovely thing that would send your nice men, and women, home in a hurry, with their bloody tails between their legs. I’ve seen his poems, and I’ve read them, and do you know what I’m going to tell you, I’ve loved them. I’m not ashamed to stand here and tell you. I’ve known the man and I’ve known his poems and loved the two of them, and loved them well. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Someone behind Wendt whispered loudly, “Is Finnegan coming out of the closet?”
“Please, put him back in,” the man with him retorted.
“Do you know what it is, then?” Finnegan queried semi-rhetorically. “I’ve met the others, the whole lot of them. I’ve met them all and know them all. I have seen them and have read their poems. I have heard them recited by men that know how to use their tongues.”
“Oh my, now I’m all aflutter,” purred another man.
“Men that couldn’t be beaten at their own game. I have seen whole books filled up with their stuff, books as thick as a ship’s plank and I’m telling you no lie, where the sail hits the yardarm there was only one poet for me.”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess,” cracked someone else.
“And that one poet was a man, as sweet a singer in his own way as you’d find in the bloody trees of a spring day, and that is a fact. The dear darling boyo was an upstanding man, a man who could write poems that you can read all day and night and keep reading them to your heart’s content, stuff that you never tire of. And the name of that man is a name that could have been given to any of us, a name that won’t shame us.”
Irma had pushed through the crowd and stared at Wendt and Mac in faux disbelief. “Now I’m sure I’m at the wrong funeral.”
“And that name is Richard Granahan, Dickie to his good friends.” It sounded like ‘Dackie’ when Finnegan said it. “Do you understand what I mean? It’s not for nothing that I call me self a pal of Dickie Granahan.
“T’wasn’t more than a week last I paid my dear old lad a visit and him at death’s door, hand on the handle, yet cheerful as the day is long. Do you know what I’m saying? Cheerful as if it wasn’t him had the grim reaper’s calling card on the bedside table, and grinning like a death’s head himself. Oh, it was a sight to see. It was as if he was already hearing the sweet voices of angels, but more than likely it was the morphine. Yet, darling man, he was lucid, clear as the purest of water blessed by the Holy Father himself, if you know what I mean. He spoke freely about the nature of poetry and he even recited poems, new ones I’d never heard before, poems he had just then been inspired to make. I worried he might get agitated as his breath was about being labored and he did admit in the shyest manner of the shyest man on earth, and one of its greatest poets, that he was a trifle parched and would I hand him his mug of hot cocoa from the bedside table. And certainly said I, but now tell me, will you, what would be the purpose of these little blue pills? Well then, says he as innocent as a lamb with its first breath of clover, if you know what I mean, ‘The cocoa helps me get to sleep and the blue pill keeps me from rolling out of bed.’ Do you know what I’m saying?”
In the deafening shocked silence that followed, Paloma’s voice could be heard denouncing the joke. “Mr. Dick nice man!”
By then Mac was leading Wendt further away from the crowd. They were intercepted by Dale Dillinger, an old State crony, who once had the misfortune of posing nude for a calendar of hot young poets. Dale was certainly a good poet, that was never in question, but the fact that he possessed an unusual endowment meant that his literary merits were hardly ever discussed. “I can’t believe she showed her face!” At Wendt’s questioning look, “Gigi! She has some nerve!”
Mac wanted to know, “Who is Gigi? And why should I hate her?”
Wendt had to explain, “She was the one who turned Granahan in for, you know, the grannyhand.”
“What’s she look like?”
Wendt shrugged, “I’ve never met her. That was after I’d stopped hanging out with the college crowd. The younger students were beginning to think of me as some kind of creepy campus fringe intellectual.”
Dale laughed. “You and me both. You say you never saw her? She hasn’t changed all that much. Tall, long dark hair.” They could look down into the parking area from where they were standing and Dale pointed. “That’s her there, getting into the grey Honda!”
Wendt had to smile. He retrieved a business card from his wallet. “Mac, let me use your cell phone.”
She reached into her purse and handed him the rectangle of plastic. “Who’re you going to call?”
“I’ve got a hunch.” Wendt looked down at the phone. “Ok, where are the numbers?”
Mac reached over and tapped the screen. “Touch each of the numbers and then press this one.”
Wendt put the phone to his ear and heard a facsimile of a bell ring. The voice answered, “Grace Niklia, Special Ops.”
“Uh, yeah, Inspector? My name is Carl Wendt. You left a bag of notebooks that belong to Jeremy? Jeremiah? I forget his last name, at my place over on Balboa? A week or so ago?”
There was a long silence. Wendt could look down into the parking lot and see the woman Dale had pointed out as Gigi with a phone to her ear. “What can I do for you, Mr. Wendt?” she finally spoke. Now she was looking up in his direction.
“You said I should call if I had any questions.”
“I’m off shift right now, and I’m taking the rest of the week off. Can your questions wait till I get back?”
“Will you have a drink with me?”
There was a soft but hearty chuckle from the other end. “I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Listen I know who you are. And I’d like to talk to you about it. Maybe you can tell me why you did it.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“This is a long shot, I know, but come to a memorial reading I’m giving next Wednesday at Golden West Hall. It starts at 7. No strings attached.”
“I have a previous engagement.”
“Think about it.”
Mac snatched the phone from his hand. “You’re not using my phone to make a date with another woman I hope.”
Next Time: Doing follow-up investigation, in part for his feature article on Val Richards and partly to assuage a persistent guilt, Wendt begins by visiting some of Val’s old haunts. To review what has transpired so far, reference the episodes listed in the sidebar, or click The Complete DAY & WEEK to read the pdf file.