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Speed lay in little pools all over the coffee table's scarred mahogany veneer. Small white tablets, slouched in little nests, elbowing for room rolling off on to the floor. Speed. Methedrine slows everything down; people talk slower, move slower, time passes more slowly. There was a perverse logic to it--you needed more time, but the Law of the Conservation of Time prevented that, you couldn't make time. But you could stretch out the time you did have, slow it down, construct the illusion of creating more time. Everything slowed down. The perverse part was only one thing didn't slow down, and that was you.
Bell leaned back, put his cowboy boots down gingerly on the table between the little puddles of methedrine. Two or three pills slid off the end of the table and hid under the ragged couch. Bell smiled; he patted the golden swirls in his boots and looked admiringly, like God, upon his handiwork. For almost an hour he had carefully counted out the little pills that would keep his central nervous system, if not his mind, ticking, ticking like a clock that would never wind down, at least not until March. Counted them out in piles of fives until there were too many piles to fit on the coffee table, too many to fit on the card table, too many to fit on the dresser. And now, loafing around the room, were 400 tiny piles of time--2000 little capsules, each containing eight or ten hours they would miraculously yield up to him, eight or ten hours he otherwise wouldn't have. And all it had cost him and his two roommates was $600--small change--only a few minutes, which was important. Six hundred dollars divided into 2000 pills times ten hours a pill was...30 cents an hour, and that was cheap. Bell smiled.
The door slammed, and it was Reed Camfort, his roommate. Camfort strode purposely into the room, his L.L. Bean hiking boots crushing errant tablets into flour, grinding them into the carpet, leaving white spots. He walked over to the stereo, picked out a disk, set it down on the turntable and flipped switched. "The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard" flowed through the air. Reed had put the stylus down on "Mama Tried." The volume was set on seven.
Camfort walked over to his roommate, and stood in front of him, shouting over the music, fingering non-existent guitar licks. "Great music isn't it, just the greatest, the greatest." Bell nodded his assent, smiling mysteriously. Camfort stopped, puzzled; Bell was playing a game with him, and wouldn't tell him the rules, and so he would try a different tack. "Got any smokes, Belladonna," Bell furiously but politely shook his head. He had gobbled six of the little time stoppers, Big Ben's little helpers, as it were, and it was silently, side-splittingly funny that his roommate talked and walked so slowwwwllyyy. Camfort saw now the methedrine stacked all over the room, and smiled back, then went on with his search for cigarettes. "Sure you haven't got any Luckies, Bell, Jesus Christ you got to have some Luckies. Goddam, didn't anybody go out and buy Luckies last night? Waht did you do, anyway?" I made a tremendous drug deal, you dumb bastard, Bell thought contentedly behind the inscrutable smile, and Reed disdainfully, with a sneer that spread across his face like jam on a child's that belied Merle Haggard, proletarian boots, and construction worker's cigarettes, picked a butt out of an ashtray overflowing with them. He lit it, burnt his nose, and Bell began to laugh, because it took all of three seconds for the match to flame up. "LSMFT," he mumbled. Camfort stopped, looked surprised, asked what? "I said," said Bell, taking great care with his words, "Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. Now there's only me to blame 'cause Mama tried," he sang brokenly with the record. "How's your Mama Reed?"
The door opened, slammed again, and before them stood their third roommate, Shapiro. Shapiro was wearing jeans and a plaid flannel shirt, a denim jacket and top hat. He walked over to Bell, grabbed a handful of speed, threw it down, and said, "Ah glorious speed. Ah the glory of Merle. When you're running down my country boy you're fucking with the fightin' side of me. Haggard is the quintessential philosopher of our times. He has much more to say to me than Hegel. He celebrates the virtues of rural life, of homosexuality in prisons, of staying off welfare, of dying in Vietnam. Let's get a beer." And watching Camfort sputter from burning his lips, he quickly ground out the butt that dropped from Camfort's shaking hand in the carpet, and adding, "Cigarettes too." He swept out of the room, and the others followed.
They subscribed to The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald-American (for the murders), The New York Post, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Berkely, Kentucky Hilltop-Mountain-Eagle, which was Bell's hometown newspaper and came once a week. Every day the newspapers stacked up outside their door, and for the first three weeks they lived in Winthrop House, to these were added yesterday's Times, Globe, etc., because their entry mates thought the box they put outside their door for the delivery boys to drop the papers into was some sort of newsprint recycling collection operation. This ended when Bell, after working his way manfully through what he termed "that mad dog fascist, William Safire's column" for the second day in a row by mistake, rigged a microphone he had stolen the previous spring from the Loeb into their 45 watt JBL speakers. Bell set them both out in the hall, and the residents of Winthrop J-Entry were awakened at 8 a.m. by the lunatic Appalachian.
"Listen up here you cunt-brained victims of tertiary syphilis. The next asshole who drops yesterday's paper in our box will be doused with kerosene and set aflame, a memorial to Guy Fawkes and John Harvard." He repeated it several times, enjoying it and becoming increasingly violent in his denunciations of the sexual proclivities and birth defects of his neighbors until the tutor who lived in the entry, a music grad student, made his way cautiously up the steps in bathrobe and-ascot. He may have even intended to say something until he saw the murderous intent in Bell's eyes. Then he slunk away back downstairs, and Bell continued his ravings, which he had stopped only for the time it took to stare the tutor down, for another 25 minutes. The tutor left for Europe the next week, Bell went back into read what Safire had to say that day, and the wholesale dumping of old newspapers into the cardboard box stopped. A sign appeared on the door: The National Affairs Suite. They would do what Hunter Thompson only imagined, they vowed.
They were Bell: self-described sleep-eyes cowlicky, lanky, lefty country boy, Marxist from east Kentucky. He was ugly, but endearingly ugly, with black hair that flopped over his ears and into his eyes. He always looked wet, and fixin' to die from pleurisy and lung concer from the Lucky Strike that was always in the corner of his mouth. Like a big bedraggled hairy bassett hound, with great hazel eyes and a wet nose. He wore a coat he's finagled from the Freshman Coat Fund two winters ago, or a corduroy jacket he'd bought second-hand, levis, and boots. He was a psychotic.
There was Shapiro, New York jewboy, prepared at Groton after getting thrown out of Outward Bound in his thirteenth summer--for taking a penknife on his solo. Shapiro once went out with woman whose sole saving grace was here last name, which was DuPont. DuPont. Shapiro rolled it around on his tongue, and it always came out--hydro-carbon effluents--nah, it came out money. Money to travel. Money to write. Money to never have to worry about money again. And she loved him, in her insipid, lobotomized little way, or so they imagined. He went out to dinner with her parents--no take-out Chinese from those Chiang gang at the Hong Kong; shit man, these people were rich. They went out to Locke-Ober's, but Shapiro, to steel himself for the ordeal, had drunk too much bourbon. By the time the steak tartare had arrived he was green; rapturously ill, he tried to run--outside, bathroom, anywhere. Her father would fix him with an eye regarded in some New York financial circles as imperious, but betrayed only the stupidity of six generations of inbreeding, and would ask him a question and he would try to answer and sit back down. Finally, the elder DuPont asked him the clincher--What will you do with your life, young man? When Shapiro tried to answer he couldn't, because he knew something awful was going to happen. It was better that he didn't, because he intended to look DuPont in the eye and say, "Write a novel sir," to which DuPont would have snorted "Balderdash!" or something equally puerile. But Shapiro was fascinated by what was moving up from his gastro-intestinal tract; slowly yes, but inexorably moving, and he felt the way pharoah's charioteers must have felt when they saw the Red Sea falling in on them, and nowhere to run. Up, up, up it came--and there it was, he figured he might as well make it good, and threw up in Mrs. DuPont's lap.
There was an awestruck silence; Mrs. DuPont looked as if she'd never even seen anybody puke, Shapiro grinned weakly, very weakly, and said, "It's all right sir--the white wine came up with the fish." When he came back from the restroom after cleaning up as best he could, he found...-nobody. The bill was paid; DuPont had even left a tip. The patriarch came, saw, and spirited away his little family as fast as possible. The young man had vomited on his wife. There was a little note left on a silver tray. It read simply, for DuPont was not an eduducated man, and no stylist:
Mr. Shapiro--It was entertaining to make your aquaintance, and gracious of you to accept my dinner invitation. If you make another attempt to see my daughter, I will have you tracked down and killed. Sincerely, S. DuP.
A dupe, that's what I am, thought Shapiro in despair. A dope. Therere was a hundred dollar bill on the plate also, which to his credit Shapiro did not pick up. It wasn't even my line, he told himself, Herman J. Mankiewicz said it. He
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