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The Nightlife Of The Gods


Thorne Smith



'WHY the hell couldn't you have left that damn head behind?' demanded Apollo, as the great Perseus, still clinging to Venus's precarious girdle, tried to snuggle down beside him in the back seat of the automobile. Perseus carefully placed his ghastly souvenir in his lap and patted it affectionately.

'You know,' he admitted quite seriously, 'I'd feel lost without this head. And, anyway, why can't I have my head if I want it. Neptune has his trident, and Diana's brought along her bow, and Mercury still clings to his craven worms. I wouldn't swap this head for the lot of them put together.'

'There's no accounting for tastes,' remarked Diana from somewhere in the depths of the swiftly moving car.

'What's wrong with this head?' asked Perseus defensively. 'Why does everyone keep on picking on my head?'

'Your head is a horrible head,' retorted Diana. 'Both of them.

'And to pick on either properly,' put in Mercury, 'one would be forced to use an axe.'

'You're quite funny, aren't you?' replied Perseus, after a moment's thought. 'But for all that, I keep my head. If Mr Hawk hadn't stricken my snakes flat, you'd be singing a different song about my head. You'd be smiling into its face, making much of it.'

'There's too much of it as it is,' said Apollo.

'Dear boy,' put in Venus soothingly, 'don't believe a word they're saying. All it needs is a haircut.'

'What! Lose all my snakes?' cried Perseus in horror.

'Well, wouldn't they grow out again?' asked Venus, innocently. 'They might grow even longer, you know, and thicker.'

'Yes, and I'd like to know what barber would take the job?' Mercury sarcastically inquired.

'We'd have to find some snake-loving barber,' said Venus easily. 'That's all.'

'But if he loved snakes,' observed Apollo, 'he wouldn't like to snip 'em off.'

'Then we'll have to find a barber who doesn't like snakes,' replied Venus. 'That's not so hard to figure out.'

'But ninety-nine barbers out of a hundred don't care for snakes,' said Mercury.

'All the better,' replied Venus. 'They'd welcome the opportunity to do 'em a bad turn.'

'Not necessarily,' retorted Mercury, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the argument. They might hate snakes so much they wouldn't want to have a thing to do with them. Prefer to leave them entirely alone.'

'I'm not listening to a word anybody is saying,' put in Perseus. 'This head goes to no barber. Only over my dead body.'

'That would make it all the pleasanter,' said Diana.

'How long, may I ask,' inquired Neptune with dangerous mildness, 'are you all going to keep on about those snakes and that head? While history is being made you all forget everything for the sake of a handful of low-caste reptiles. If you were talking about fish it would be an altogether different matter.'

'But barbers couldn't do anything with a fish,' objected Perseus, who apparently was not nearly so bright as he was heroic.

Neptune grew crimson with exasperation. 'I know, I know,' he said. 'I didn't claim that barbers could do anything with fish.'

'Might not be able to do anything professionally,' Mercury observed judicially, 'but socially they might eat them.'

'Of course, of course,' replied Neptune.

'Not necessarily,' interposed Bacchus, drawn into the argument in spite of himself. 'Did it ever occur to you that a great many barbers might not care for fish? I haven't the slightest doubt that there are as many anti-fish barbers as there are pro.'

'Exactly,' put in Mercury. 'And you never can tell what might turn the scales in their favour.'

Nobody laughed.

'I said,' repeated Mercury, 'you never can tell what might turn the scales in their favour.'

'We didn't hear you,' said Venus. 'We don't now.'

'And anyway,' continued the sea god, 'what does it matter whether barbers do or do not like snakes or fish? A hundred years from now who will even know whether any barber alive to-day ever expressed an opinion one way or another?'

'Of course, if you put it that way,' said Diana. 'But, just the same, the principle of the thing holds true.'

'And that is?' inquired Neptune.

'This head goes to no barber,' Perseus supplied with finality.

'Then don't take your head to a barber,' snapped Diana.

At Fifty-ninth Street Mr Hawk skirted the park and headed the car west. He knew of a store on Broadway that catered both for men and women in all things wearable. If he could only succeed in getting these scantily clad gods and goddesses safely inside, all might be well. Once dressed they were safe from detection. On the front seat beside him Meg and Hebe were wedged. Meg had made friends with Hebe and was now explaining to her about stockings and step-ins and garters and allied feminine adornment. Hebe's eyes grew brighter as she listened, but suddenly a disturbing thought occurred to her.

'But they're easy to get off, aren't they?' she asked.

'Simplicity itself,' Meg assured her.

Hebe sighed contentedly and once more became all attention.

'Meg,' said Hunter Hawk, 'once we get some clothes on their bodies, I will call the adventure a complete success. Help those women to dress. Stick 'em in booths and hurl things at 'em. You'll have to take care of Venus yourself.'

'Wouldn't you like that job?' she asked a little spitefully.

'Don't be lewd,' Mr Hawk admonished.

'I will,' said Meg, 'at the earliest convenient moment.'

At Broadway the Emperor turned south and joined the stream of traffic. The great car continued on for a certain number of blocks, then drew up before a highly lighted shop. Its windows attractively displayed raiment and accessories of all description for both men and women. Behind him in the body of the car the gods and goddesses were in a great state of excitement.

'As I understand it,' Neptune was saying, 'as soon as the doors are opened we're to pop out and run like hell.'

'Correct,' said Mr Hawk. 'And when I fling you a pair of trousers you're to yank 'em on your legs with a snap.'

'Have these trousers you're talking about any possible means of escape?' asked Apollo anxiously.

'He means, have they any exits?' explained Bacchus.

'Adequate exits,' Mr Hawk assured the two Olympians. 'But be careful how you use them.'

'Oh, we know a thing or two,' Bacchus replied confidently.

'Good,' said Mr Hawk. 'Everybody all set? The women are to stick to Meg, the men follow me.'

'What about this lady's girdle?' asked Perseus. 'It seems too bad to let it slide at this late date.'

'Diana will pinch it for you,' said Mr Hawk.

'And I'll bet you an old sandal she'll do me dirt,' quoth Venus.

'None of that sort of stuff,' the scientist warned sternly. 'As I said before—no skylarking. When I open these two doors, out you pop. Here goes, and may luck be with us.'

A moment later the traffic policeman standing in the centre of one of the world's most famous thoroughfares, and about half a hundred pedestrians received the shock of their lives. To this day a majority of the witnesses of the unique scene are not sure that they actually saw the sights their eyes registered. Many of them believe they heard a nearly naked armless woman exhorting another woman wearing little more than a bow to do something about a girdle.

'Hold the thing up,' Venus was panting. I'm not ashamed of my feet, you know.'

This interruption in the ordinary routine of Broadway's night life had a disturbing effect on the policeman. At the sight of the nude figures piling with nervous alacrity out of the automobile and hot-footing it across the pavement as if the devil himself were behind them, the officer stopped traffic in all directions. He had no belief that this was going to prove in any way helpful, but he urgently felt the need for some sort of drastic action. The sight of Bacchus lumbering delicately along behind, his vast paunch at the heels of a beautiful but brazen woman, caused the policeman to reverse his decision. He started traffic in all directions. As a result of this, Broadway in his vicinity became an extremely confused area. In the midst of this confusion, and totally disregarding it, the policeman stood diligently scratching his head.

'This Earl Carroll guy is getting too damn fresh,' he mused to himself. 'He'll be having his girls bathing under the fire hydrants next.'

For a few moments he considered this possibility, while motor cars clashed and clattered about him.

'What are we to do?' asked one driver, leaning far out of his car and peering anxiously into the officer's blank face.

'Do?' said the policeman vaguely. 'I don't know. What are you going to do?'

'That's what I'm asking you,' replied the motorist.

'Well, don't ask me,' said the policeman. 'I'm thinking about something else. Go away and bother another cop.'

The motorist obediently wedged himself inextricably between a couple of ill-temperedly bleating automobiles, and the officer returned to his thoughts. He had a feeling he was not doing exactly the right thing. Some effective action had been omitted. He had failed to take steps. Leaving the traffic to worry along for itself he walked slowly in the direction of the store into which he had seen the naked bodies disappear. A large crowd had gathered, and through it he toilfully made his way, wondering if all these people had seen the same thing as had he.

And in the meantime the gods were getting dressed.

Mr Hawk at the head of a solid phalanx of nudity burst into the store and cornered an immediately interested individual who proved to be the manager. Behind Mr Hawk's back crowded the bare Olympians, their eyes darting about the shop with acquisitive alertness.

'I'll buy everything,' gasped Mr Hawk.

'You'll need to,' replied the manager, looking with, amused admiration at his prospective customers.

'Close the doors,' continued Mr Hawk, 'and lock them. I'll make it worth your while.'

'You have already,' the manager assured him, stroking his smooth black hair as his eyes dwelt on Diana. 'How did you manage to keep your clothes?'

'We won,' said Mr Hawk. 'This lady and myself.'

'You must have played your cards pretty close,' remarked the man as he quietly directed a subordinate to close and lock the doors and also to pull down the shades in the store windows. The few customers remaining in the establishment were fortunate. They were the sole witnesses of a scene well out of the ordinary.

'I think your friends will take everything fairly large,' continued the manager. 'Shall we begin at the beginning?'

'Yes,' replied Mr Hawk. 'And make it snappy. I expect a cop at any minute.'

The manager appeared utterly unperturbed.

'I'm surprised the reserves are not here already,' he observed with a bland smile.

'If the law steps in,' Mr Hawk told him, 'don't be surprised at anything that happens. Just take your cue from me.'

The manager nodded and signalled to the various members of his staff. By this time the Olympians had grown restive and had distributed themselves over the store. In one corner Apollo was busily engaged in trying on a high hat, while close beside him Perseus was strutting gallantly back and forth with a gold-headed cane. Neptune and Bacchus were sticking to their instructions. Both were struggling into a pair of trousers. Hebe, in spite of the pleadings of Megaera, had managed to get her head through a pair of salmon pink step-ins, while Diana, with gales of laughter, was doing things to Venus with a flimsy brassière. Meg saved the situation by dropping a black satin dress on the goddess's shoulders and helping her to adjust it. The dress fitted Venus perfectly and completely changed her appearance.

'If I only had arms,' the poor creature murmured, surveying herself in a long mirror.

'How about me?' demanded Diana. 'Get me something in white or green. I'd do well in both.'

Mercury alone appeared to entertain no desire for clothes. He was standing near a cash register and regarding it with a glittering eye.

It was at this unauspicious moment that the traffic policeman rapped heavily on the door. Mr Hawk was stung to action. He even forgot his customary urbanity.

'Will you two gods please stop messing about with hats and canes,' he called out, 'and snap on a pair of trousers?'

'What do you mean,' asked Perseus, 'one pair of the things between us?'

'No, a pair on each,' explained Hawk.

'On each what?' called back the god.

'Leg, you blockhead! Leg!' shouted Hawk.

'Oh,' said Perseus in an injured voice to Apollo. 'How were we to know? Wonder if this wouldn't do as well?'

He snatched up a sports sweater from a nearby counter and endeavoured to draw it over his massive limbs. The effect was engaging.

'Don't do that, you great ass,' Apollo told him. 'You're supposed to tie the damn thing round your waist.'

'Give me a chance,' heaved Perseus. 'It will get to the same place in due time.'

On the doors of the shop the knocking was growing louder and more imperative. Hawk's glance travelled swiftly about the store.

'Strike attitudes,' he called out, 'and don't try to be funny.'

'How the devil can a god strike an attitude other than an amusing one with his trousers half on?' demanded Bacchus, red in the face from exertion.

'Are fish never to be?' complained Neptune, who was in an equally undignified condition.

The scientist darted swiftly from god to goddess and back again and turned them to their original composition regardless of the state into which they had gotten themselves. A busier and more lifelike group of statues had never before been seen by the eyes of man. He seized the head of Medusa and hid it behind a counter.

'That damn head,' he muttered to himself. 'It's always in the way.'

Then he hurried back to the manager.

'If anyone gets stuffy,' said Mr Hawk, 'just tell them they're a consignment of window models that has just been delivered. Get me?'

'I get you,' replied the manager, 'but damned if I see how you did it.'

He walked briskly to the door and allowed Traffic Officer Muldoon to enter.

'What's going on in here?' that worthy demanded, stepping into the store and looking quickly about him.

'Lots,' replied the manager easily, closing and locking the door behind the officer's broad back.

'I saw a mob of naked men and women dash into this store,' continued Muldoon. 'Where did they get themselves to? That's what I want to know.'

'Is it possible he's referring to these window models I just delivered?' Mr Hawk inquired, stepping up to the manager.

'Window models me eye,' said the officer. 'The people I saw were running like hell, and as far as I could see they were mother naked.'

'I fancy the officer has good eyesight for such things,' Meg observed sweetly.

'Well, lady,' said Muldoon, 'a traffic cop ain't supposed to be blind. It wouldn't be a healthy job if he was.'

'Then if your eyesight is so good,' continued Meg, 'you must have seen my husband carrying these models into the store.'

'He must have been busy as hell, lady,' said the officer, 'and even at that he couldn't have carried them all at once.'

'Perhaps you were overtired,' suggested Mr Hawk. 'Protracted standing in the midst of traffic will do that, for no matter what you think you saw, carry them I did. Otherwise they couldn't have gotten in here at all. Take a good look at 'em and see for yourself if I'm not right,'

Traffic Officer Muldoon walked up to Hebe and inspected her with something more than mere professional interest. Suspiciously but respectfully he reached out and applied one finger to the cold tip of her nose.

'I seem to recognize this one,' he said, turning back to Mr Hawk.

'By what?' asked Meg innocently.

'By her face, lady, of course,' replied Muldoon with a triumphant smile.

'Oh,' said Meg. 'I didn't know.'

'But what the devil has she got round her neck?' he continued.

'Step-ins,' supplied the manager. 'The lady here was dressing her.'

'Well, I wouldn't interrupt her for the world,' said the officer. 'A model as true to life as that deserves to be dressed just as soon as possible.'

'You speak as one who knows, officer,' remarked Meg in an offhand tone of voice.

'I've had five children,' Muldoon retorted proudly.

'How you must have suffered,' murmured Meg.

Muldoon eyed Meg with a half grin.

'Pretty smart girl you got there,' he said, turning to Mr Hawk.

'They don't come any smarter, officer,' Mr Hawk replied.

As Muldoon wandered from statue to statue the perplexity in his brain increased. He became so sceptical of his own sanity at last that he decided it would be far, far better if he did not think at all. Obviously these inanimate figures could not be alive. And it was equally obvious that if they were not alive he could not have seen them dashing across the street to the store. But see them dash he had. Therefore the only logical conclusion to be drawn was that out there in the middle of traffic he had momentarily gone mad and become the victim of hallucinations. The less said about this the better. When he came to Perseus, poised awkwardly with the sports sweater drawn halfway up his legs, the officer abandoned all attempt to read any reason into the situation.

'Whoever tried to dress this guy couldn't have known how to dress himself,' he remarked.

'Oh, one of the boys was merely fooling,' explained the manager.

'A peculiar sense of humour,' replied Officer Muldoon.

He continued on until he came to Bacchus. The heavy god was seated on a bench in an attitude of complete discouragement. Even his munificent paunch appeared weary and disillusioned. A pair of golf knickers, several sizes too small, stubbornly refused to continue any farther up his legs. It looked as if it would be equally difficult to pull them off. Altogether Bacchus had succeeded in making quite a mess of himself. Neptune was little better.

'What are these two models supposed to represent?' asked Officer Muldoon. 'Ready-made clothes for stout parties?'

'Exactly,' replied the manager. 'If you've any fat friends, just bring them round and we'll give them a discount. This store caters for all shapes and sizes.'

'And sexes,' added Meg.

'You have to on Broadway,' said Officer Muldoon wisely. 'I've got a fat wife myself.' His eyes dwelt wistfully on the slim form of Diana, then passed with approval to Venus of the stony breasts slouching with voluptuous grace in her gleaming black gown.

'Just bring your wife in,' said the manager, noting the direction of the officer's gaze, 'and we'll make her look like that one.'

Muldoon grinned good-humouredly. 'Can't be done,' he said. The old girl needs a tent, God bless her soul.'

'Then if you're perfectly satisfied that everything is as it should be,' continued the manager, 'we'll continue with our dressing.'

Muldoon took the manager's hint and Mr Hawk's five dollars. At the door he paused and looked back.

'There's something wrong somewhere,' he said, 'but damn me if I know just where. If you see me suddenly tear off my own clothes out there and start to run about naked, just put me down as crazy and let it go at that.'

So departed Officer Muldoon, a tremendously puzzled man. The snarling traffic received him and spitefully tried to cut him down in his prime. And Officer Muldoon, sticking valiantly to his post, little realized that for a brief moment he had stood in the presence of the gods.

Back in the store Megaera and Mr Hawk were busily engaged in returning these selfsame gods to life. This accomplished, the male Olympians were placed in the hands of several competent salesmen, whilst Venus, Diana, and Hebe followed Meg and a couple of intelligent young girls to a private dressing-room where all things were done and well done.

When finally the gods and goddesses reassembled for inspection Mr Hawk was as proud of them as if he had been their father.

'You're the finest looking outfit of men and women I've ever laid eyes on,' he told them. 'You look just as well this way as you did the other. Even the ladies do, and that's saying a lot.'

'If I only had my arms,' Venus lamented prettily.

Diana, resplendent in white, laughed scornfully.

'Now that you're fully clad,' she said, 'you suddenly discover you need your arms.'

While Perseus was collecting his head, Mr Hawk went into conference with the manager.

'I suppose you'll accept my cheque for the damages?' asked the scientist.

'I suppose I'll have to,' said the manager, smiling. 'It would never do to let your friends depart in the condition in which they arrived. That would be a poor advertisement for the shop. I don't mind if customers come in naked, but I'd hate like the deuce to see them go out the same way.'

Before Mr Hawk filled in his cheque he had a number of suitcases packed with clothes and placed in the Emperor. Then he settled the bill and called to his party.

'Come on,' he told them, 'we are drawing nearer fish and everything.'

Neptune dashed to the door, and the others followed close behind. Perseus, with his head tucked under his arm, brought up the rear. He was nonchalantly swinging a walking stick in emulation of the immaculate Apollo.

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