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The Nightlife Of The Gods


Thorne Smith



SECTIONALLY folded in a deck chair, Hawk sat that evening on the broad veranda of his old home. He was waiting. He was waiting most unpleasantly. He was waiting for the return of Griggs, an avenging Griggs reinforced this time with great quantities of highly explosive state troopers.

Of course, he could petrify the lot of them, but who wanted a small army of petrified policeman scattered about one's lawn in various bellicose attitudes?

Lumps of darkness surrounded Mr Hawk as he sat there in brooding silence. These lumps bore names. The oldest and darkest lump was Grandpa Lambert. Then there was Daffy, Cyril Sparks, and Meg—an exceedingly small lump, Meg, quietly observant.

The excellent Betts, with the devoted assistance of Hebe, was engaged in transferring bottles from the cellar to the capacious body of the Emperor. The car had been parked in a back lane ready for instant action.

Diana was sitting on the veranda steps. As she whistled a song of the hunt she cleverly fashioned arrows with the aid of a bread knife. The gods were knocking about outside the great wall which had once been the rightful property of one Mr Shrewsberry. The gods also had done some considerable transferring of bottles. But not to the Emperor. Not the gods. Within their huge bodies surged and seethed an amazing mixture of wines and spirits, for the gods were by nature indefatigable experimentalists. Their stomachs now represented so many chemical experiments, the vast cavern of Bacchus being perhaps the most interesting—a complete laboratory in itself.

Venus was attempting to carry on with the father of Amelia. The poor mortal was at present only fit for carrying.

Out of the darkness came the voice of Mr Hawk.

'How's your old man?' he inquired of Meg.

'About the same as yours,' she replied.

'No. I mean it.'

'If you really want to know, it grieves me to state that the ancient sot was so busy counting the roll of bills you sent him that he didn't even have time to say good-bye to me when I left.'

'Your parental thief is an excellent rogue. I like him.'

'Yes. He steals and drinks, but still I am fond of him, myself,' mused Meg.

'So do you, my speck, but still I am fond of you,' replied Mr Hawk.

'With me it's an art. With him it's a vice,' said the girl.

'A distinction without a difference,' observed Mr Hawk. 'Did you tell him to consider my house his own?'

'He told me to tell you he always had.'

'Then he won't feel out of place.'

Once more silence settled down on the group. There was a feeling of tension in the air, a sort of anxious expectancy. Presently Hawk spoke again.

'I created an irrevocable trust to-day,' he announced.

'Not in me,' snapped Meg. 'I wouldn't trust you out of my sight.'

'And I don't trust you even when you're in my sight,' replied Mr Hawk, with dignity. 'But that is neither here nor there. You fail to understand. I have disposed of my property. I am now a comparatively poor man, most of it goes to you, Daffy, and to Cy.'

'Thank God,' breathed Cy. 'Now for the booze and bugs.'

'Sweet boy,' remarked Meg.

'How about me?' demanded old man Lambert. 'Am I to be left to the tender mercies of three who should be dead?'

'By no means,' replied Mr Hawk. 'Daffy will care for you. She'll buy you a lovely pornographic library and read to you every night.'

'Sounds good,' admitted the old man.

'And Daffy,' continued Mr Hawk, 'I'm afraid you'll just have to marry Cyril. Here it is the end of summer, and he hasn't ruined you yet. I doubt if he ever will, this side of wedlock.'

'I'll wed the beast,' Daffy agreed after a moment of thoughtful silence, 'but I'll jolly well hold the key to the lock.'

'What are you going to do?' asked Cy Sparks. 'Die on us or something?'

'Something,' said Mr Hawk, sitting up suddenly and listening. 'And all of us are going to do something else pretty soon. The time has arrived. Let us gird our well-known loins for battle.'

From the other side of the wall came the sound of much evil speaking—the voices of coarse men making no attempt to disguise their hostile feelings. The lumps on the veranda became animated with life. Diana, with her bow and fresh supply of arrows, was already streaking across the lawn.

'I'd like to get in on this myself,' grated old man Lambert, struggling to his feet.

Betts, flanked by Hebe and Venus, popped from the house and made after the flying goddess. From an upper bedroom window Perseus carelessly hurled himself and hit the ground running. Amelia's voice floated sweetly after him.

'Murder them all, my dear,' was her Spartan injunction. 'Then return to me.'

'Shall we go?' Hunter Hawk asked in the most casual manner in the world. 'Let's take a last crack at the forces of law and order. Events march to a grand and inglorious climax.'

He rose, and, followed by the others, hurried across the lawn in the direction of a burst of unpleasant words crackling in the air near the wall.

Thus opened the final stage of Mr Hawk's classic contest with organized society—the Battle of the Stolen Wall, perhaps one of the most wonder-provoking conflicts of its kind ever to go officially unrecorded. Had Hunter Hawk been less of a philosopher, victory would have gone to his forces. There is no question of that. However, the man was what he was—an anti-social moral objector, and being such, he was growing a little fed up with many things. He had no intention of being further fed. It was not that he was too proud to fight. He was too bored or, perhaps, too detached.

At the start of this weird encounter most of the action was confined to the opposite side of the wall where, judging from the oaths and cries of anguish of the enemy, the gods fought fiercely and well. Presently, however, the scene of the conflict shifted. The gods, apparently growing weary of smiting the foe, began to cast them bodily over the top of the wall. Soon state troopers were raining down on the heads of Mr Hawk and his small contingent like maledictions from on high.

'You damned fools,' came the voice of Hawk, 'you're chucking 'em in, and we want to keep 'em out.'

'Our mistake,' shouted Perseus, who had joined his brother gods on the opposite side of the wall. 'We'll be right over and chuck the beggars back.'

'Gord,' a voice complained in the darkness, 'are we going to be pitched and tossed over this damn wall all night long?'

It seemed that they were.

Perseus, accompanied by the mighty Neptune, swarmed over the wall and laid violent hands on two of the prostrate figures.

'Hold on, Brother,' one of them managed to get out. 'This is the strangest way of fighting I ever saw. First you heave us in, then you heave us out. It might be a game to you, but it's a pain all over to us.'

'All we want is Mr Hawk,' wheezed the other.

'Is that all?' grunted Perseus, feeling deftly in the darkness for the seat of the man's trousers. 'Well, my man, you're going to get much more than you wanted. Over you go.'

And over he went. Likewise the other.

It was a battle marked by many novel methods and hitherto untested forms of attack. Things were done that night that had never been done before.

Above the swish and thud of falling bodies sounded the deep voice of the sea god.

'Where's Griggs?' he shouted. 'I want Griggs.'

Hebe looked up from something she had been doing and peered mildly through the darkness.

'Does anybody want Griggs?' she inquired. 'I think I have him, but he doesn't seem to go any more.'

Neptune rushed to her side and found the dawn-bosomed bearer of the cup methodically churning Griggs in the back with the trident the great god had cast aside on his way over the wall.

'Is he any good?' asked Hebe. 'When I first started doing this to him he sort of moved about, but now he doesn't do it hardly any.'

'I'll make him move,' gritted Neptune, seizing the trident from the accommodating goddess and plunging it deep into the most mountainous part of Griggs.

'There he goes!' exclaimed Hebe, highly pleased. 'He's working beautifully now.'

'But not enough,' muttered Neptune. 'No man can pluck at my beard with impunity.'

While these two Olympians were carrying the battle into Griggs' quarter or quarters, Venus was doing a peculiar thing. Having found a man sitting up in a dazed condition, she had promptly thrust a bucket over his head and then proceeded to beat upon the side of the bucket with a large stick. It was like some new musical instrument. Every time the bucket resounded, the man inside emitted a piercing scream. Venus seemed to derive no little enjoyment from this.

The tactics employed by Meg and Daffy, although totally different, were equally novel and effective. These two enterprising young ladies had seized upon an unfortunate trooper and were holding him well immersed in a trough of cement, discussing the while how long it would take for the stuff to solidify round him.

From the low limb of a tree Diana was sniping earnestly with her bow and arrows. So far she had succeeded in stinging Cyril Sparks as he was stooping over to ascertain if his victim still had breath in his body.

'That's not a nice thing to do,' cried the youth, more outraged than injured.

'Pardon me,' said Diana. 'I was trying out my point of aim.'

'Well, try it out on someone else's,' retorted Cyril.

Naturally the state troopers were at a great disadvantage. Their plight was due not so much to their lack of courage as to their method of training. When they were studying how to state troop no one had told them how best to resist an infuriated bucket, or what would be the right thing to do when being flung into a trough of cement by two attractive young ladies. Such forms of attack were entirely new to them. Familiar as they were with clubs, machine guns, and revolvers, they were altogether puzzled by flying arrows and twisting tridents. All these things were not put down in the Troopers' Manual. How were they to know?

Old man Lambert's method of attack was of all the most difficult to anticipate. The devil himself would have been both shocked and surprised by it. Having observed a trooper descend heavily on the back of his neck and lie still, the dear old gentleman, in lieu of any other weapon, had fumbled out his fountain pen and carefully seated himself beside the fallen enemy. Whenever the trooper attempted to open his eyes or mouth the venerable Lambert promptly shook red ink into the opening thus offered. Only a viciously senile mind could have conceived such a trick. Naturally the injured trooper was both enraged and amazed.

'Stop that!' he told the aged creature.

'No!' retorted the old man. 'They gave me this thing for Christmas, knowing I never wrote. This is the first time I've had a chance to use it.' He paused to try the point of the pen on the man's forehead, then continued, in a confidential tone, 'Daffy wasn't in on it. She gave me a bottle of gin. A good girl, Daffy.'

'I don't give a damn how good Daffy is,' replied the man. 'Stop doing things to my face.'

This remark did not help matters any for the trooper. When they found him at last, he appeared to be the bloodiest of the lot.

Thrice had Mr Hawk been brutally felled by the same man. The scientist was on the point of losing his patience. When he arose from the third felling he danced spryly away from his assailant, and at the same time vividly drew the man's attention to the evil nature of his parentage on both sides. Having thus successfully lured the indignant fellow to a soft spot in the wall, of which there were many, Mr Hawk neatly side-stepped the next rage-blinded rush and permitted the man to pass partly through the wall. The part that passed through was immediately set upon by the gods without. The part that remained behind was soundly kicked by the avenging Hawk within.

'Who might this be?' asked Perseus, seizing the man's legs and inspecting all that could be seen. 'Don't seem to recognize him.'

'Do you usually recognize your friends that way?' asked Mr Hawk mildly.

This question so upset the great hero that he pushed the man clean through the wall, where he was given an additional beating for having damaged the handiwork of the gods.

While this justly merited punishment was being administered, Mercury, always on the alert, glanced up in time to see a fresh contingent of motor-cycle troopers speeding down the road.

'Much law and order coming,' he cried. 'Much more.'

'All right, boys,' shouted Mr Hawk. 'Let's call it a day and make for the Emperor.' Then he added as an afterthought, 'It's full of wine.'

Bacchus was painfully pushed through the wall by his loyal fellow gods.

'That makes two walls I've been through in one day,' remarked the fat deity, on all fours. 'I fancy one can grow accustomed to this sort of thing.'

He rose and wearily followed the line of the retreating Olympians across the lawn.

'It's now or never,' thought Blotto to himself, as with a tug of sheer desperation he secured what he had been after for some time. With this ragged prize held firmly in his mouth, the souvenir-hunting dog raced after Bacchus. The trooper, relieved of the weight of Blotto, felt what little was left of his trousers and fervently thanked his patron saint the dog had gone no farther.

Into the Emperor piled the Olympians. From the front seat Meg, Betts, and Mr Hawk watched and counted them. Blotto hurtled after his friends. Mr Hawk petrified the dog, but was too late. Blotto, a thing of stone, rainbowed through the air and landed with a dull thud on the heaving paunch of Bacchus.

'Zeus Almighty,' groaned that god. 'Am I giving this party?'

Mr Hawk thrust a long arm through the window and beckoned to Daffy.

'Come here,' he said quietly.

Across the lawn the troopers were speeding. Some enthusiast was working a gun. There was the sound of many voices. Mr Hawk took the girl's face between his thumb and fingers and shook it gently.

'You're a good kid,' he said in a low voice. 'Take care of our pet drunkard and the Bettses. Also my friend Turner. We've had grand times together. I would like to think you'll remember them at times.'

Daffy's throat grew tight. Her heart was filled with little inarticulate cries. She wanted to say something.

'I—I—' she gasped.

'Aw, go on,' said Hunter Hawk, and gave her face a gentle push. 'So long, consumer of my alcohol. Good hunting.'

The car dashed down the lane, and Daffy stood looking after it, her hands pressed to her cheeks where the touch of her uncle's fingers still lingered. Old man Lambert and Cyril Sparks stood looking after the car over her shoulder.

'There goes the damnedest uncle a girl ever had,' said Daffy.

'And the most useless, black-hearted brother of a daughter-in-law an old man ever had,' observed old man Lambert, who seemed not to care how involved he became.

Daffy turned on him with a smile. 'You old devil. You terrible old man,' she said. 'If you don't keep a civil tongue in your head, I won't buy you that lovely pornographic library.'

'Let's catch a drink,' muttered Cyril. 'State troopers are literally stepping on my toes.'

Daffy turned back once more to the lane. The tail light of the Emperor had vanished.

'He's gone now,' she said. 'Gone for good.'

Together the three of them made their way to the house where for some time they listened to the complaints of various representatives of law and order. Later they sat quietly on the veranda and discussed the battle. Amelia joined them and asked timidly about Perseus.

'Don't bother us,' Daffy told her. 'Perseuses can be had for the picking.'

This cheered the girl up considerably.

Meanwhile things were none too good with the Hawk outfit. Once he had been forced to stop the car until Perseus had found his head, which he insisted had been left behind out of sheer malice. He had previously packed the thing in the car in anticipation of the flight.

'I hope you know what I wish you would do with that head.' Mr Hawk bitterly observed, as he jammed the car into action.

The retreat of the gods was punctuated by the popping of many corks. They were flying hither and yon, and foam soaked into the upholstery. If earnest, the retreat was none the less a merry one.

Three yellow eyes were trailing the car. Meg looked back apprehensively at them and cursed under her breath.

'Darling,' she said to the man beside her, 'there are always too many cops and gods knocking about. I need a little cherishing.'

'You'll get it soon enough,' was the scientist's grim reply. 'A judge will cherish you.'

'I'd prefer to have you undertake the job,' said Meg. 'Let's give up this mad life and go back to the grotto, or visit Niagara Falls, or learn how to play the zither. I'm too old for this sort of business and far too much of a lady.'

'I can believe the first, but the second part offends my ears,' said Hunter Hawk. 'But I'm with you, Meg, only I'm far, far older. However, just look at those gods. Think how ancient they are, yet they're having the time of their lives.'

'Just wait,' was Meg's reply. 'In a short time they'll be pleading for their pedestals.'

'One thing I know,' observed the scientist, watching the following eyes in his mirror. 'There's little room in this world for me, and damned if I blame the world.'

For several miles he concentrated his attention on the wheel and the road ahead. He was looking for some unexpected byway into which he could heave his car, but no such fortuitous avenue of escape offered itself.

'Evidently this road never gave birth to any pups,' he remarked at last. 'It's just road all the way through. And the Emperor was never built to retreat. It is essentially an advancing car. There are sinister lights coming towards us and equally sinister lights in the rear. The next town has a large jail, and that jail draws closer with every mile. I do not like jails.'

'Are we licked?'

'Let us say delayed. I have a plan. Father Neptune is going to play Hunter Hawk. He has already been mistaken for me to the everlasting sorrow of Griggs. It was a lucky day when I donned that false beard. In their present condition our Olympians will be just as happy in jail as anywhere else.'

'You're not going to leave them flat?' Meg's voice was reproachful.

'Only temporarily suspended.' Hawk turned a little to Betts. 'Snatch a couple of bottles from those milling hands back there and stand by to abandon ship.'

He stopped the Emperor and turned to the gods.

'Listen,' he said. 'Pipe down, you gods and you goddesses. Venus, for the memory of your long-lost maidenhood, please stop singing the Roman equivalent of Frankie and Johnnie. Perseus, please interrupt your maudlin sobbing for a moment. Thanks.'

He paused to look back at the lights, striving to judge their distance and the speed of their approach. He would have to hurry. That was evident.

'In a little while I must leave you,' he resumed.

Shouts of protest from the Olympians.

'Half a minute,' pleaded Mr Hawk. 'Give me a chance. We won't be parted long. Neptune, I depend on you. You must play you're me, Hunter Hawk. I'll slip all my papers in your pocket. It's because of your beard. Mine was false and not nearly as splendid as yours, but yours looks too good to be true, at that. When we slip out, you take my place behind the wheel and just sit there doing absolutely nothing until they come to arrest you.'

'Good Zeus!' exclaimed Neptune. 'Are we all to be arrested?'

'Only for one night,' explained Mr Hawk soothingly. Tomorrow I'll get you off. It's an experience.'

'Why don't you want to share it, then?' demanded Mercury, suspiciously.

'I don't need it.'

'What makes you think we do?' asked Apollo. 'We've had lots of experience already—centuries of it.'

'Are jailers nice?' inquired Venus.

'Do they have cups in jail?' asked Hebe.

'Sure,' Mr Hawk assured her. 'Cups and everything.'

'Then I'll go,' agreed Hebe.

'We're all with you,' rumbled Bacchus. 'You've been a father to us, so we'll be felons for you.'

'Don't recognize me in court to-morrow,' said Hawk, as he handed Neptune a few of his personal papers, such as bills and dunning letters. 'And remember—I'll see you through. Wait right here, and don't worry. The officers will take care of everything.'

'You're painfully right, they will,' was Mercury's cynical observation, as Hawk, followed by Meg and Betts, slipped from the car and faded into the bushes.

The approaching lights swooped down on the Emperor and came to a halt. From behind the glare a number of officers with guns in their hands advanced on the Olympians. This time the law was taking no chances. The loud pop of a champagne bottle momentarily brought everything to a standstill, but the loud laughter of Bacchus reassured the enemy. The car was boarded and captured. Neptune, drunk as only a god can be, had no difficulty in playing Mr Hawk. He actually thought he was Mr Hawk.

From the security of the bushes the three watchers saw the car drive off down the road. Venus was still singing her wild pagan ballad. When the last light had vanished, the three of them sat down in a field and drank wine. Presently they rose and moved off carefully in the direction of the town. They were in quest of sleeping quarters.

In the town only a mile distant, the police station gave the appearance of old home week. It was reeking with an assortment of sportive Olympians, one stone dog, and one stone head. The last two objects gave the captain behind the desk much to think about. He could not bear the head.

'A clean haul,' he said, but I wish to God you'd have left those two horrible things behind. This night's work will mean a boost all along the line.'

The captain failed to state whether the boost would be up or down.

'That was a good idea of mine,' said Mercury, as he was being locked in his cell.

'Which, Son?' asked Bacchus.

'That idea about building a wall.'

'Oh, that,' said Bacchus thoughtfully, as he felt his steel-ribbed bunk. 'That was a fine idea, as ideas go. It was a funny idea. I enjoyed my trip through that wall.'

In the bedroom of a nearby hotel Mr Hawk suddenly clapped a hand to his forehead.

'What's wrong with you?' asked Meg, pausing with stocking in her hand.

'I forgot all about Blotto,' said Hawk, 'and the poor beast is petrified as stiff as a stone.'

'That's the only way to be in jail,' the young lady replied, and calmly continued making herself ready for bed.

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