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Skin And Bones


Thorne Smith


Conversation in a Cage

IF he is really out to get it, a skeleton has little difficulty in obtaining as much privacy as he wants. The problem with which he is confronted is the establishment of desirable social contacts. Mr. Bland was fortunate in having the loyal if somewhat inebriated friendship of Mr. and Mrs. Whittle. These two hard-boiled exponents of the lower pursuits of life were a host in themselves. To know the Whittles was much like associating with a three-ring circus on the loose. Although very little occurred that surprised this well-matched couple, it was interested in almost everything. And when the Whittles' interest was aroused, some sort of trouble usually resulted. If Mr. Bland had hoped to obtain quietude and contentment when he called on them for sanctuary, he was doomed to disappointment. The Whittles were opposed to quietude and constitutionally incapable of contentment. Both of them were now jubilant over the defeat of the Great Girasol at the hands of Mr. Bland. As they followed the boy to the elevators they were making elaborate plans for their protegé's stage début, entirely disregarding his voluble opposition.

"I didn't like it at all," said Mr. Bland, "the way you made me exhibit myself in public. Suppose I should have regained my flesh when I stood there before all those people?"

"Why, that would have made your act even more piquant," replied Pauline. "I wish you could figure out a way of controlling the comings and goings of your body."

"Nothing would please me more," Mr. Bland assured her.

The elevator was crowded. When the skeleton walked in, it tried to be less crowded, but the operator was quick with the door. At that, one gentleman did succeed in getting himself out with the exception of his left foot, and even though he found himself in great danger and lying in a most undignified position on his face, he felt he had materially improved his position. When his foot was released he took it away to the nearest speakeasy, where he drank himself into a state of happy forgetfulness.

Within the ascending cage a state of panic reigned. In their eagerness to remove themselves as far as possible from the immediate vicinity of the skeleton, men and women climbed impartially on one another's shoulders. In the presence of an animated skeleton chivalry strikes a man as being nothing less than folly. Before the elevator had lifted itself six feet from its base, Mr. Bland found himself isolated in a corner with only his beard for company. This state of isolation did not long endure. Strong men, in endeavouring to achieve a point of vantage, catapulted defenceless women against him. The cries and screams that followed caused the operator to stop the elevator between floors. This did not help matters any, because everyone had planned to get off at the first opportunity, and now there was none. They were literally up against a blank wall with a skeleton in their midst.

In vain did Pauline and Mr. Whittle endeavour to bring comfort to the occupants of the cage by assuring them they were travelling with Señor Toledo, a distinguished Spanish magician. This information brought scant comfort to them so long as Señor Toledo remained in his present wasted condition.

"If he's such a distinguished magician," a gentleman inquired, "why doesn't he make things a little easier for us all by taking on a little flesh?"

"Yes," came the positive voice of a woman. "Who asked him to play nasty tricks in a public elevator? When he gets in his own room he can practise being a skeleton to his heart's content. We don't want to see him do it."

And as if in answer to these questions, Mr. Bland momentarily regained his flesh. He was first apprised of this fact by a startled exclamation from one of the ladies pressed against him.

"Gracious!" he heard her say. "There's a naked man in this lift."

"How do you know?" her friend wanted to know.

"Don't be silly," replied the first lady.

It was now Mr. Bland's turn to become panic-stricken.

"Go 'way!" he cried. "Can't you see I'm naked?"

"Well," began the lady. "I—"

"Will you two be still?" cut in Mr. Bland. "You must be bereft of shame."

He deftly yanked the skirt off the loquacious lady and wrapped it about himself.

"Oh," cried the lady to the occupants of the elevator. "The naked man has stolen my skirt, and now I'm nearly as naked as he is. What shall I do?"

"Hide behind the naked man," someone suggested.

"Like the deuce," said the naked man in an injured voice. "If she'd only kept her mouth shut no one would have been any the wiser."

"It doesn't make me feel any wiser to look at a naked man," a woman declared, stoutly.

"I'd have known," said another woman who had been forced against Mr. Bland. "At first I couldn't believe what I was—well, I just couldn't believe it, that's all," she ended up, lamely.

"What the hell sort of a hotel is this anyway," came the voice of a gentleman in complaining accents, "allowing skeletons and naked men to go riding about in elevators?"

"What I want to know is," said a fresh voice, "are we going to stay here all day with this naked man?"

"I'd rather stay in here with a naked man," proclaimed a feminine voice with disarming frankness, "than with a grinning skeleton. What's become of him?"

"He must have turned into the naked man," someone replied.

"If that's the case," said another voice, "Señor Toledo should travel with a bathrobe."

The elevator got under way, then halted again at the first floor. It is a striking commentary on the relative popularity of a naked man and a skeleton that only a few passengers got off at this floor. Panic in the cage had now given place to curiosity, and there was none more curious than Pauline Whittle.

"Do you know," she said to Mr. Bland when the crowd had somewhat thinned, "this is the first time I've seen you in the flesh? You make a perfect picture standing beside that pretty girl in those perfectly ridiculous little panties."

"He won't give me back my skirt," said the girl.

"Don't worry, my dear," replied Pauline. "You look much better with it off."

"If you'll tell me the number of your room," said Mr. Bland, "I'll bring you your skirt. You can see for yourself it wouldn't do at all to give it up now."

"Isn't he long," observed Mr. Whittle, "and lean and knobby? Don't know but what I prefer the skeleton. I'd got sort of used to that."

"I like him as he is," declared Pauline.

"You would," said Mr. Whittle.

"I wish you'd both keep your opinions to yourselves," said Mr. Bland.

"Never change back," Pauline urged him. "And never get dressed. Men look so dull with their clothes on."

"You're an incorrigible voluptuary," Mr. Whittle told her. "A sex-ridden hag."

"God gave me sex whether I wanted it or not," Pauline replied. "I say make the best of it, or the most of it, or the worst of it, according to your lights. It isn't a subject for adult consideration. Sex is simply a fact—about the only pleasant fact of life."

"How long are you going on about it?" Mr. Whittle asked her.

"I seldom talk about sex," she replied. "I let it speak for itself."

"And in no uncertain terms," said Mr. Whittle.

"Here's your skirt," said Mr. Bland to the girl in the ridiculous little panties as the elevator stopped at last at the seventeenth floor. "Thanks a lot for letting me use it, but now I don't need it any more."

The girl uttered a little cry and snatched at her skirt.

"Why, you're a skeleton again," she said.

"Unfortunately," Mr. Bland replied, stepping from the cage.

And so he was.

"There goes a beautiful friendship," said Pauline Whittle, following the skeleton out of the elevator, "not to mention some other rather entertaining possibilities."

"Am I not present," asked her husband, "that you should go on thus?"

"You should know whether you're here or not," Pauline told him.

"I know where I am, all right," said Mr. Whittle, "but I wasn't sure whether you did or not."

"I've always been above board," declared Pauline.

"And below par," added her husband.

"Little boy," said the skeleton to the page, "please lead me to my room. These people are unnecessarily tiresome."

As they progressed down the corridor, a door suddenly opened and a thuggish, bloated face appeared in the opening. Two bloodshot eyes were fixed on Mr. Bland with such burning intensity that he stopped in his tracks and turned to confront the owner of such a malevolent gaze. Mistaking the skeleton's intentions, the man whipped out a revolver and sprang into the hall.

"Ha!" he mouthed. "So you've come back to torment me. Well, I sent you to the grave once and I'll send you there again."

"There must be some mistake," said Mr. Bland, politely. "I'm not dead and I've never been buried."

"No?" sneered the man. "Then where did you get that beard?"

"I got it from a friend," Mr. Bland told him. "It's not really mine."

"You lie!" the man shouted. "You grew it in the grave. That's the only place you could grow a beard like that."

"Don't you like it?" asked Mr. Bland, hoping to keep the man's attention from straying back to the gun.

"You know I don't," said the man, excitedly. "I hate it. And when I've finished with you they can suck up your powdered bones in a vacuum cleaner."

"Gur-r-r," said Mr. Bland. "How graphically you put it."

"Look out!" warned Mr. Whittle.

And then the shooting started.

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