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Authors: Patricia Highsmith

The Blunderer

BOOK: The Blunderer
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The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

A Suspension of Mercy

Strangers on a Train

People Who Knock on the Door

The Glass Cell

Deep Water

This Sweet Sickness

A Dog's Ransom

Small g: A Summer Idyll

Little Tales of Misogyny

The Animal-Lover's Guide to Beastly Murder

Slowly, Slowly in the Wind

The Black House

Mermaids on the Golf Course


The Talented Mr. Ripley

A Game for the Living

The Cry of the Owl

The Two Faces of January

Those Who Walk Away

The Tremor of Forgery


Ripley Under Ground

Ripley's Game

Edith's Diary

The Boy Who Followed Ripley

Found in the Street

Ripley Under Water

Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes

The Price of Salt
(as Clare Morgan)

The Blunderer
Patricia Highsmith

W.W. N


For L.


Begin Reading


he man in dark-blue slacks and a forest-green sportshirt waited impatiently in the line.

The girl in the ticket booth was stupid, he thought, never had been able to make change fast. He tilted his fat bald head up at the inside of the lighted marquee, read
Marked Woman
, looked without interest at the poster of a half naked woman displaying a thigh, and looked behind him at the line to see if there was anyone in it he knew. There wasn't. But he couldn't have timed it better, he thought. Just in time for the eight o'clock show. He shoved his dollar through the scallop in the glass.

“Hello,” he said to the blonde girl, smiling.

“Hello.” Her empty blue eyes brightened. “How're you tonight?”

It wasn't a question she expected to be answered. He didn't.

He went into the slightly smelly theater, and heard the nervous, martial bugle call of the newsreel that was just beginning. He passed the candy and popcorn counter, and when he reached the other side of the theater, he turned, gracefully despite his bulk, and casually looked around him. There was Tony Ricco. He quickened his step and met Tony as they turned into the center aisle.

“Hello there, Tony!” he said in the same rather patronizing tone he used when Tony was behind the counter of his father's delicatessen.

“Hi, Mr. Kimmell” Tony smiled. “By yourself tonight?”

“My wife's just left for Albany.” He waved a hand, and began to sidle into a row of seats.

Tony went on down the aisle, closer to the screen.

The man squeezed his knees against the backs of the seats, murmuring “Excuse me” and “Thank you” as he progressed, because everyone had to stand up, or half stand up, to let him by. He kept on going and came out in the aisle along the wall. He walked down to the door with the red
sign over it, pushed through two metal doors, and came out into the hot sultry air of the sidewalk. He turned in the opposite direction of the marquee and almost immediately crossed the street. He walked around a corner and got into his black two-door Chevrolet.

He drove to within a block of the Cardinal Lines Bus Terminal, and waited in his car for about ten minutes until a bus marked
pulled out of the terminus, and then he followed it.

He followed the bus through the tedious traffic of the Holland Tunnel entrance, and then in Manhattan turned northward. He kept about two cars between himself and the bus, even after they had left the city and the traffic was thin and fast. The first rest stop, he thought, should be around Tarrytown, perhaps before. If that place wasn't propitious, he would have to go on. And if there wasn't a second rest stop—well, right in Albany, in some alley. His broad, pudgy lips pursed as he concentrated on his driving, but his tawny eyes, stretched wide behind the thick glasses, did not change.

The bus stopped in front of a cluster of lighted food stores and a café, and he drove past and stopped his car, pulling in so close to the edge of the road that the twigs of a tree scraped the side. He got out quickly and ran, slowing to a walk only when he reached the lighted area where the bus had stopped.

People were still getting off the bus. He saw her descending, caught the clumsy, sidewise jerks of her stocky body as she took the few steps. He was beside her before she had walked six feet.

“You!” she said.

Her grey and black hair was dishevelled, her stupid brown eyes stared up at him with an animal surprise, an animal fear. It seemed to him that they were still in the kitchen in Newark, arguing. “I still have a few things to say, Helen. Let's go down here.” He took her arm, turning her towards the road.

She pulled away. “They're only stopping ten minutes here. Say what you have to say now.”

“They're stopping twenty minutes. I've already inquired,” he said in a bored tone. “Let's go down here where we won't be overheard.”

She came with him. He had already noticed that the trees and the underbrush were thick and high on the right, the side near his car. Just a few yards down the road would be—

“If you think I'll change my mind about Edward,” she began tremulously and proudly, “I won't. I never will.”

Edward! The proud lady in love, he thought with revulsion. “I've changed
mind,” he said in a calm, contrite tone, but his fingers tightened involuntarily on her flabby arm. He could hardly wait. He turned her on to the highway.

“Mel, I don't want to go so far away from the—”

He lunged against her, bouncing her deep into the underbrush at the side of the road. He nearly fell himself, but he kept his grip on her wrist with his left hand. With his right, he struck the side of her head, hard enough to break her neck, he thought, yet he kept the grip on her left wrist. He had only begun. She was down on the ground, and his left hand found her throat and closed on it, crushing her scream. He banged her body with his other fist, using its side like a hammer in the hard center of her chest between the mushy, protective breasts. Then he struck her forehead, her ear, with the same regular hammerlike blows, and finally struck her under the chin with his fist as he would have hit a man. Then he reached in his pocket for his knife, opened it, and plunged its blade down—three, four, five times. He concentrated on her head because he wanted to destroy it, clouting the cheek again and again with the back of his closed fingers until his hand began to slip in blood and lose its power, though he was not aware of it. He was aware only of pure joy, of a glorious sense of justice, of injuries avenged, years of insult and injury, boredom, stupidity, most of all stupidity, paid back to her.

He stopped only when he was out of breath. He discovered himself kneeling on her thigh and took his knees from her with distaste. He could see nothing of her but the light column of her summer dress. He looked around in the dark, listening. He heard no sound except the chanting whir of insects, the quick purr of a car speeding by on the highway. He was only a few steps from the highway, he saw. He was quite sure she was dead. Positive. He wished suddenly that he could see her face, and his hand twitched towards his pocket for his pen flashlight, but he did not want to risk the light being seen.

He leaned forward cautiously, and put out one of his huge hands with the fingers delicately extended, prepared to touch, and felt his loathing swell as his hand went closer. As soon as his fingertips touched the slippery skin, his other fist shot out, aimed directly beneath the fingertips. Then he stood up, breathing hard for a moment and thinking of nothing at all—only listening. Then he began to walk towards the highway. In the yellowish highway light he glanced at himself for blood, and saw none except the blood on his hands. He wiped his hands together, absently, as he walked, but they became only stickier and more disgusting, and he longed to wash them. He regretted that he would have to touch his steering wheel before he washed his hands, and he imagined with a fastidious exactitude how he would wet the rag under the sink when he got home and would wipe the entire surface of the steering wheel. He would even scour it.

The bus was gone, he noticed. He had no idea how long it had taken him. He got back in his car, turned it around and headed south. It was a quarter to eleven by his wrist-watch. His shirtsleeve was torn, and he would have to get rid of the shirt, he thought. He reckoned that he would be back in Newark just after one.


t began to rain while Walter was waiting in the car.

He looked up from his newspaper and took his arm from the window. There was a peppering of darker blue on the blue linen sleeve of his jacket.

The drumming of the big summer drops grew loud on the car roof, and in a moment the arched tar street became wet and shining, reflecting in a long red blur the neon sign of the drugstore a block or so ahead. Dusk was falling, and the rain had cast a sudden deeper shadow over the town. Down the street the trim New England houses looked whiter than ever in the greying light, and the low white fences around the lawns stood out as sharply as the stitching on a sampler.

Ideal, ideal, Walter thought. The kind of village where you marry a healthy, good-natured girl, live with her in a white house, go fishing on Saturdays, and raise your sons to do the same things.

, Clara had said this afternoon, pointing to the miniature spinning wheel by the fireplace of the inn. She thought Waldo Point was touristy. Walter had chosen the village after a great deal of forethought because it was the least touristy of a long string of towns on Cape Cod. Walter remembered that she had had quite a good time in Provincetown and she hadn't complained that Provincetown was touristy. But that had been the first year of their marriage, and this was the fourth. The proprietor of the Spindrift Inn had told Walter yesterday that his grandfather had made the spinning wheel for his little daughters to learn on. If Clara could for one minute put herself—

It was such a little thing, Walter thought. All their arguments were. Like yesterday's—the discussion of whether a man and woman inevitably tired of each other physically after two years of marriage. Walter didn't think it was inevitable. Clara was his proof, though she had argued so cynically and unattractively that it
inevitable. Walter would have bitten his tongue off before he told her that he loved her as much physically as he ever had. And didn't Clara know it? And hadn't that been the very purpose of her stand in the argument—to irritate him?

Walter shifted to another position in the car, ran his fingers through his thick blond hair, and tried to relax and read the paper. My God, he thought, this is supposed to be a vacation.

His eyes moved quickly down a column about American army conditions in France, but he was still thinking of Clara. He was thinking of Wednesday morning after the early trip out in the fishing boat (at least she had enjoyed that fishing trip with Manuel because it had been educational), when they had come home and started to take a nap. Clara had been in a rare and wonderful mood. They had laughed at something, and then her arms around his neck had slowly tightened….

Only Wednesday morning, three days ago—but the very next day there had been acid in her voice, that old pattern of punishment after favors granted.

It was 8:10. Walter looked out of the car window at the front of the inn that was a little behind him. No sign of her yet. He looked down at his newspaper and read:

BOOK: The Blunderer
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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