For every man there’s a girl who grips his imagination and his heart as no other girl ever did or will. She may be in her teens or a mature woman. He responds to her as a boy to a girl. Whether she comes early in his life or late, there is a throne in his subconscious that she takes possession of, without trying, often without wanting to. The image he forms of her reigns there in perpetuity, even if she has left his life, or this life. Or shed the image. Or proved unworthy of it. The image endures. Her enchantment never fades or fails, and he is never immune to it. She may not be for him the last wife or paramour, but she is the last dreamgirl.
A fascinating and strange book. It goes even beyond Family Man in its portrayal of character and its creation of dramatic tension. Ollie Bower is as compelling a character as if he were handsome and outgoing…. As long as Ollie is on the page our only thought is to keep reading. You posit an intriguing problem, an ugly man with no personality and no social skills. It’s like wondering what it would be like to be blind, or armless. I was absolutely absorbed, reading this book. It’s an extraordinary tour de force.
A few excerpts of the novel appear below. An elipsis (******) indicates that material -- often a number of pages -- has been deleted from this sampling
The characters and events in this novel are products of my imagination and not based on actual persons or occurrences. Any resemblance to actual persons or their lives is accidental and unintended.
For every man there's a girl who grips his imagination and his heart as no other girl ever did or will. She may be in her teens or a mature woman. He responds to her as a boy to a girl. Whether she comes early in his life or late, there is a throne in his subconscious that she takes possession of , without trying, often without wanting to. The image he forms of her reigns there in perpetuity, even if she has left his life, or this life. Or shed the image. Or proved unworthy of it. The image endures. Her enchantment never fades or fails, and he is never immune to it. She may not be for him the last wife or paramour, but she is the last dreamgirl.
The boy is father to the man." William Wordsworth
Ollie. Age 5.
NONE OF THE SIX STREETS in little Pennview had many children on them, but the 200 block of Everest Avenue had only two when Ollie was born in late 1931. They were boys four years older than Ollie. The two were inseparable -- tough mischievous kids who loved to fight, play sports, and pull pranks on neighbors after dark. For the first few years of Ollie’s life he was too small to exist for them. At age five he was old enough to be noticed when they trespassed on the Bower front lawn or invaded the back yard from the arboretum; but they were not interested in playing with a kid four years their junior and at first barely looked at him. When they looked closely it was painful for them and more painful for Ollie.
He was playing – alone as always -- with toy soldiers in a little fort he had made at the back edge of the Bower property where the lawn ended and the trees and shrubs of the arboretum began. The two boys were pretending to be Indian scouts stealing invisibly through the forest. When one caught sight of Ollie, he signaled the other to be still. Bush by bush they advanced to about five feet from where Ollie knelt. They made no sound audible to him. He went on with an enthralling fistfight between a metal soldier and a plaster fireman. The imaginative fray involved muttered words and exaggerated facial expressions that changed radically every few seconds.
The larger boy, a handsome kid with fine features, prized looks above everything and had never seen anyone as ugly as little Ollie. Beaknosed, almost chinless, with misplaced eyes close to the perimeter of his face and a weird gap in the middle, the child reminded him of a hideous buzzard in the cartoon illustrations of a fable his mother used to read to him. He found Ollie’s face so ugly, even in repose, as to be an affront; but when Ollie contorted that repulsive face into an expression that deliberately made it uglier, the boy felt a wave of hatred and avenging fury. He picked up a smooth stone, about half the size of a golf ball, and hurled it at Ollie’s nose. It bounced off his forehead with a sickening clunk.
Ollie literally didn’t know what hit him. His face registered shock and grew violently red. The contact point on his forehead turned white and, as Ollie silently screamed, it swelled into a frightful lump, a little smaller than the roundish stone that caused it. In the ten seconds it took for Ollie’s breathless scream to enlist his diaphragm and become audible, the two boys had beat a terrified retreat into the woods. Though Ollie half-consciously saw them dashing through the bushes, he was too dazed, dizzied, anguished – and childish– to make the logical deduction that the vanishing boys were the cause of his suddenly inexplicably aching skull.
Twenty minutes later, when his wailing subsided into heaving sobs, and his mother’s soothing words and kisses were beginning to prevail over pain and terror, Ollie could give no coherent account of what had happened. The two running boys remained fragments in the kaleidoscope of impressions – bushes, trees, forts, sunlight, clouds, tin soldiers, plaster firemen, a cracking sound, searing pain, voiceless screams, vertigo, and terror – that spun in his little brain. But he couldn’t conceive or articulate anything like a clear suspicion of guilt or an indictment.
His mother finally concluded that he had “bumped his head on something,” and his father, Stewart Bower, saw no reason to think otherwise. Ollie was vaguely dissatisfied with that characterization, which implied a carelessness he did not feel guilty of, but for want of a better theory he let it stand.
A Gentleman Kidnapper
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets…. T. S. Eliot
ON HIS SECOND NIGHT OF LYING IN WAIT Ollie Bower was in luck. At about ten of nine, in the rearview mirror, he saw someone with a dog coming down the 900 block of Merrill Avenue, where he had seen the pretty teenage girl take her walks. He glanced quickly in all directions. The dark street looked deserted. Thank God!
Not trusting the mirror he turned to see if it was Sandra, but at first couldn’t be sure. He ripped off his sunglasses (worn to hide his identity and eye deformity) with such an impulsive grab that they flew out of his hand into the back seat. Damn! he muttered, then saw it was Sandra. He thought of groping in the dark for the glasses but said the hell with them. He had to see clearly and saw much better without them.
As Sandra neared his car he slid over into the passenger seat and rolled down the window, his heart thumping wildly, a gun in his trembling right hand. When she reached his window he said, “Excuse me, miss,” in a voice he found surprisingly firm.
Sandra turned with a startled look, pausing in her stride from a habit of not ignoring anyone. The tightened leash jerked her arm as the dog pulled it. Sandra stared at the man confusedly, out of deep preoccupation. The streetlight gleamed on her wet puffy eyes and cheeks. She looked distraught again, as she had two nights before. Ollie was so moved by compassion and tenderness that he almost waved her on. But, God, he had to have her.
“Do you have the time?” he asked, though he’d not intended to. She glanced at her wrist, saw she wore no watch, and when she looked up Ollie had draped his right arm over the car door and was pointing a gun at her. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. He had pierced her dark reverie. The gun felt like magic. It did what he couldn’t do. Exert power. Compel attention and respect.
“I need you to get in the car with me,” he said.
She blinked in alarm and disbelief.
“In!” he said. “Drop the leash and get in.”
In the next minute he made repeated threats to shoot the dog and then Sandra. Her resistance ended when Ollie clicked the gun in preparation for firing. The sound was ominous, heard in a thousand films and TV shows. Sandra stepped toward the open door, put her hand on it, turned her body so she could sit, then stopped as if she might bolt. “In!!!” he screamed and pulled the back of her jacket. She banged her head on the roof and fell backwards into the passenger seat. “God, you men are beasts!” she moaned.
“Sorry,” Ollie said, hearing the thunk of her head against the metal and seeing her hand hold the bruised spot. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m not a beast. You’ll see.”
Still sitting in the middle of the front seat he managed to start the car, shifting the pistol to his left hand and holding her at gunpoint. When Sandra did not close the door he reached past her, pulled it shut with a slam, and slapped down the lock. Then he slid in front of the steering wheel and shifted into gear. The dog put its paws on the door beside Sandra’s open window. The car peeled out. Ollie saw the dog in the rearview mirror. It chased them halfway down the block but gave up before Ollie had even turned the corner.
Sandra began quietly sobbing. “Roll up the window,” he commanded. Still sobbing she complied. Ollie put the gun on his lap and grabbed her forearm, afraid she might fling the door open and try to escape. Holding it firmly but not brutally he said, “I’m not going to hurt you.” He followed his plan to avoid Birch Lane, the main street, and take dark back streets all the way home. As he steered with his left hand he repeated, “Believe me, you’re safe unless you try to get away.”
He felt her arm trembling and added, “I don’t ever want to hurt you, Sandra.”
She paused in mid-sob and stared in astonishment. He had called her Sandra. “Then let me go,” she challenged.
His face hardened. “Not yet,” he said, and drove on.
THE HARDEST PART OF THE ABDUCTION was when Ollie drove down his long dark driveway and pulled the car to a stop in front of his detached garage. He turned off the ignition and said, “I want you to come into my house now.”
Sandra stared wildly about. The big lonely house seemed to be in a woods. No help in any direction. She saw light in the windows of one house a long way off, maybe a hundred yards. Everyone was inside. If she yelled no one would hear. She stared with loathing at the hideous face of her abductor. Imagined him raping her repeatedly in that dark awful house.
“Come with me,” he said, and added, “quietly.” Her expression became, if possible, more terrified. She silently shook her head, slowly at first, then rapidly, with great determination and emphasis. She would die in the car rather than go into the house of this fat ugly kidnapper. Ollie could tell what she was thinking.
“Look,” he said, taking the gun from his lap with his right hand and brandishing it menacingly, though not pointing it at her. “The last thing I want to do is shoot you. I haven’t brought you here to hurt or molest you. I just want to talk to you. That sounds incredible but it’s true. You’re Sandra Moore. I know who you are. I’ve fallen in love with you. I’m going to die soon, and before I die I want to know you, and I want you to know me.”
“Then let me go home,” she said. “I’ll talk to you on the phone. I’ll talk to you in my house. You can visit me. My mother’s waiting.”
Ollie shook his head. “No,” he said gently but firmly. “I need to talk to you here. In my house. On my ground. I’m nervous anywhere else. I’m shy and nervous everywhere but here.”
Sandra stared at him confusedly. His mention of shyness apparently touched her in a very soft spot. Was he a fellow sufferer? God, no, she couldn’t think that way. He had kidnapped her. He had a gun. He was a brute like Hal, her abusive uncle, like all men. He would talk gently, then ask her to take her clothes off, and if she wouldn’t he’d tear them off and rape her. Ollie saw her thought process, the wavering at his mention of shyness, then cynicism and resistance. She shook her head again with grim resolve.
“Look,” he said, “I’m not going to shoot you with this gun. But it’s hard and heavy and I’ll knock you out with it if you don’t cooperate. You have to come into the house with me, Sandra. This is just something you have to do. If I have to knock you unconscious to get you there I will. Please don’t make me do that. Now, will you come quietly or do I have to hurt you?”
“You said you wouldn’t hurt me,” she reminded him.
“Only if you try to get away. Then I will, to keep you with me.”
“You’re lying already.”
“Don’t fight me, Sandra,” he warned, putting the pistol on his lap, grabbing the back of her jacket collar with his right hand, and opening the driver’s side door with his left. When the door was wide open, he began sliding out and took the gun in his left hand. Pointing it at her thigh he pulled her after him as he got out of the car. “I won’t kill you but I’ll wound you,” he said, “if you yell or struggle or try to run. Do you hear me? I’ll shoot you in the leg, and that can break bones.”
With a vision of shattered thigh bones she slid to the edge of the seat. As he dragged her by the collar to her feet beside the car she muttered almost inaudibly, “You’re a brute like all of them.”
“You’re making me be one now,” he said, “but I won’t be inside.” He stepped behind her and shifted his firm grip on the back of her jacket collar from his right hand to his left. With the pistol in his right hand he said, “You’ve heard of pistol whipping. These guns are heavy and can hurt even without firing them. I’ll knock you out with it if you yell or fight me. Please don’t make that happen. Now let’s walk!” With his grip on the back of her collar he half-dragged, half-carried her to the house, wielding the gun visibly in his right hand like a deadly club. He had convinced her. She didn’t yell or struggle, and he didn’t have to hit or shoot her.
He thought of stopping in the kitchen, sitting down with her at the table and pacifying her, maybe even having coffee together, so she’d see he wanted to talk. But then he’d have to get brutal again to force her to the basement. He decided to get that part over with and then begin the process of calming and convincing her of his benign intentions when she was, well, in the cage.
That secure little bedroom didn’t look as awful as it sounded, he thought, but Sandra panicked as he forced her – now struggling and screaming -- down the cellar steps, into her new quarters, and closed the heavy iron cage door behind them. He made her sit on the easy chair beside a bookcase, then he dropped panting into the companion easy chair. “Now let’s just sit and catch our breath,” he said, sweating and breathless. “This has been hard for both of us.”
Though red-faced, teary-eyed, and bordering on hysteria, Sandra stared at him with hate-filled eyes and said, “For both of us? You want my sympathy?”
Ollie looked at her with surprise and admiration that she was capable of irony at what had to be the worst moment of her life. “No,” he said with a trace of a smile, “but you have mine. Whether you want it or not. And whether you believe it or not. I’m sorry to put you through this.”
“Sure,” she muttered caustically, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
“I don’t want your sympathy,” Ollie said, wiping his forehead with his forearm. “I just want your friendship.”
Sandra stared in disbelief, though sensing already that her abductor was not a total savage, not destitute of human feeling. In forcing her from the car to his house and then down the stairs and into – what looked like an iron-barred bedroom -- he had not touched her in any erogenous zone, as he might have if rape were all he had in mind.
To her amazement he seemed be struggling with his conscience. If she tried to reason with him she might at least defer the violence a little. Her comment about sympathy had surprised her as much as Ollie. She realized vaguely that sarcasm made her sound and feel strong. She tried it again.
“My friendship! Are you kidding? Is this how you make friends? Is there a chapter on kidnapping in Dale Carnegie?”
Ollie smiled wearily. “I haven’t read that book. But my mother has it upstairs.”
“Read it,” Sandra said. “Read it tonight and let me go.” Then she said hopefully: “Is your mother upstairs?”
“No,” Ollie said. “She died four months ago.”
“I’m sorry,” Sandra said, meaning more for her sake than for Ollie’s.
“Thank you,” Ollie said, thinking the sympathy genuine.
“Does anyone else live here?” Sandra was not only curious about that but determined to keep the conversation going. As long as they were verbalizing she felt safer: he might not get physical.
“No. My father died a few years ago. There were just the three of us.”
“I’m sorry about that, too.”
“Thank you,” Ollie said again. They were beginning to catch their breath.
After a moment of silence Sandra asked, “Who are you?”
Ollie, inspired by her tone of irony, said: “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Oliver T. Bower. My friends would call me Ollie, if I had any. But I don’t. My parents called me Ollie.” God, he thought, I’m talking with a sense of humor. This cage is working. I’m not terrified. “Please call me Ollie.”
She was surprised he made no secret of his identity, assuming he was telling the truth. Why was he not afraid of that? Was he sure she would not live to tell it? That thought was so grim she suppressed it. She remembered he had said, “I’m going to die soon.” A curious statement. He looked healthy. Not about to keel over, unfortunately. And he had easily overpowered her. Probably it was a lie, some kind of rationalization. A criminal might say anything to facilitate or justify his crime. His mind was probably as warped as his behavior. Keep the talk going, she told herself.
She swallowed hard and said, “Where are we?” She thought of appending “Ollie” but feared she would lose more than she’d gain by sounding chummy.
“This is my home in Pennview Township.”
Sandra lived in that same Philadelphia suburb.
“I wasn’t exactly noticing where you drove me, but I thought we left Pennview.”
“We left Big Pennview, where you live. But there’s another part of it, separate from the main part. We call it Little Pennview. That’s where we are. Welcome to Little Pennview. Welcome to my home.”
“Some welcome! You drag me off the street and throw me in a cage. This is a cage, isn’t it – bars all over?” She glanced up at the barred ceiling, as secure as the walls and door.
Ollie nodded. “I’m sorry. I wish there were another way.”
“Another way for what?”
“To get to know you.”
“Couldn’t you have called me on the phone?”
“No. I couldn’t. You’d have hung up on me. And besides, I wouldn’t have known what to say. I can’t talk to girls on the phone. I never could. I can’t talk to them at all.”
“You’re talking to me, now.”
“That’s why I brought you here. I thought I could do it here, even though I can’t anywhere else.”
“I don’t know why.”
“You called me Sandra. How do you know my name?”
“I looked it up in the yearbook. The Blue and White. I went to Pennview, too. Class of ’49.”
God, he has no secrets, she thought. It’s like we’re meeting at a high school reunion. Her quick mind reflected that she, at seventeen, would graduate in two months with the Class of ’62. He was thirteen years older than she, about thirty. “Why me? Why did you pick me? The yearbook is full of prettier girls.”
“You were the best.”
“That’s crazy. What do you mean, ‘the best’?”
“The best for me. I’ll explain that sometime. Not tonight. So you’ll recognize me in the morning, I’m going to take these off.” Ollie peeled off his black Hitler mustache and removed his black wig, revealing blond thinning hair.
Sandra stared at him. He was very ugly, though less so with no mustache and thinning blond hair than with that awful mustache and a mat of black hair. Worse than his terrible features was the absence of features in the middle of his face, the blank spot where his eyes and nose should have converged but didn’t. His eyes and eyebrows seemed almost on the side of his head.
She wondered if he would remove the grotesque nose and ears. He didn’t. They were apparently his. No wonder he had no friends – he was so hard to look at. You felt like running. She hoped her expression had not betrayed this deep aversion. Nodding at the wig and mustache in his hands she asked, “Do you always use those?”
“Do you kidnap girls often?”
“Never before. Never again.”
“Then why do you have a cage?”
“It was here when my father bought the house thirty years ago. The previous owner had a pet panther. I’ve never used it like this before.”
“Why now? Why did you bring me here?”
“So we can talk. Get to know each other.”
Ollie shrugged. “Talk, listen to music together, read books, look at sketches and paintings. Become friends.”
Sandra stared resentfully. Was he serious? “Can you become friends with someone who puts you in a cage?”
“I hope so,” Ollie said. “We’ll see.”
Sandra was surprised at how well Ollie spoke. His enunciation was crisp, clear, even genteel – and effortlessly so. His exterior was so malformed, so revolting, that you didn’t expect a normal, much less a polished, interior.
“When can I go home? We’ve talked. My mother’s waiting. She’s worried sick. Please let me go now!” Sandra was becoming agitated again. She began sitting on the edge of her chair and glancing at the cage door.
Ollie decided to call it a day. He stood up and stepped between her and the door, to block the path and the idea of escape. He didn’t want to exert force on her again, and he didn’t want her to start crying again. She looked up at him helplessly.
“You’ll have to sleep over, Sandra,” he said matter-of-factly. “We have to talk more tomorrow. We’ve just started.”
When he had stood up she had feared he would start to molest her. Oh God, she’d thought, now the Hal-pattern will commence. But he had made no move toward her. Spoke of a sleepover. There was nothing aggressive in his attitude. He seemed only pondering what to say next. She was torn between relief that he was not about to rape her and panic that she was still in his power and he meant to keep her there.
He pointed to the bed. “On the pillow you’ll find a nightgown that was my mother’s. Also a pair of her pajamas and her terry cloth robe. They’re too big for you, but they’ll do for tonight. Over there is a powder room. On the sink you’ll find a brand new toothbrush, still wrapped, toothpaste, dental floss, and mouthwash. I’ve thought of everything -- washcloth, towels, scented soap. A new comb and hairspray are in the medicine cabinet. Also powder, deodorant -- and personal stuff for a girl, which I won’t mention. Aspirin, in case you have trouble sleeping.
“Those book cases are full of good books and magazines. Piles of records with all kinds of music. That’s a record player. Use whatever’s here. I put it here for you. This is a well-heated basement, about seventy degrees. I’ll turn the heat down two degrees for the night, but it won’t get cold. Have I forgotten anything?”
Sandra stared at him, on the verge of tears. “The key to the cage,” she said bravely.
“I’ll take good care of it,” he said, patting his back pocket. “I’ll be on a cot in the kitchen at the top of the stairs, so I can hear you if you need anything. I’d put the cot down here, but I respect your privacy. I mean, if you want to change your clothes or something, no one will see you. Even if I were here you could go in the powder room and close the door; but it’s a cramped little room. There’s cold juice in the refrigerator in the kitchen, and cold milk and soda. If you want food or drink or company I’m at your service. Just yell.”
“Oh God, I want to yell,” she declared.
“I said I was your friend and you’ll find I am, Sandra. Don’t bother yelling for anyone but me. I’ll be there if you need me. You can leave these lamps on or turn them off – whatever suits you. I won’t switch them off from upstairs. Goodnight.”
She did not reply. He locked the cage door and started up the stairs. “Freedom suits me,” she called after him. He paused halfway up. “Please give me freedom,” she cried. “Let me out of this cage! I’m not an animal! Please!!!”
“I’m sorry,” he called over his shoulder and continued up the stairs. He heard her wailing, “Oh God! Oh God!” and then dissolving into convulsive sobs, punctuated every few minutes by the word “God” drawn out in a kind of chant, sometimes followed by “Hellllp meeee!” also intoned like a desperate prayer. He was tempted to go down and try to pacify her. After ten minutes he called to her, “Sandra, I’m here by the open kitchen door. You’re not alone and I’ll never hurt you. I’ll bring you anything you want. Would it help if I came down?”
“No!” she screamed decisively. “Just let me go. Only come down to let me go.”
“Not yet,” he replied. “I can’t yet. But I will soon. I won’t keep you long. And I’ll never hurt you.”
She went on sobbing, sometimes screaming wordlessly, sometimes calling “Help meee! Please, help meee!” as if a neighbor might hear (Ollie knew none would), other times calling on God. After twenty minutes the hysteria began to subside. In less than a half hour it had stopped. Ollie hoped silence meant that sleep had followed agitation or would soon.
PAVONE FAMILY ALBUM (1)
ALL BROTHERS ARE DIFFERENT, OF COURSE, even identical twins. Yet few were more different, and yet closer, than the brothers Pavone. In summer of 1956 they experienced a seaside epiphany that neither would ever forget, though it affected one more deeply than the other. Ron was eighteen and had graduated from high school weeks before. Pete was sixteen and Ron’s best friend, despite vestiges of sibling rivalry.
Both boys tanned magnificently. They cultivated their glowing bronze at home each year before making their first appearance in Ocean City, New Jersey. They had just spread their blanket on a crowded Fourteenth Street beach, the favorite high school and college gathering place in that delectable shore resort.
Under a cloudless sky, umbrellas of every hue and pattern provided shade for the few vacationers – mostly mature -- who worried about sunburn. Unshaded blankets outnumbered umbrellas by at least five to one. Their occupants were the youngest, tannest, most skimpily clad, most nubile, and – to pubescent males – the most maddeningly desirable females on that glistening patch of sand.
Basking in the July sun, the Pavones gazed languidly about with appraising eyes, judging all male competition by their at least slightly inferior tans, ignoring the broad shoulder, the knotted bicep, the slab-like pectoral, and hoping girls would do the same.
“Look!” Pete said in a low excited voice.
Ron glanced at him, and Pete nodded in the direction of the ocean. Ron’s eyes shifted to the water’s edge some twenty yards away. Emerging from the ankle-deep water amid a cluster of skinny children with shovels, buckets, and rubber balls came a girl of striking proportions in a black one-piece bathing suit and a white bathing cap.
The suit was modestly cut, high at the neckline and even a little loose at the waist, but it clung to her wet body, accenting an altogether marvelous pair of breasts, full, firm, wonderfully round, not hanging but extended forward inches beyond where breasts would normally point, not bouncing as she walked but swaying gently and seductively, their aureoles defined tantalizingly through wet translucent cloth.
Her body curved sharply inward between the breast and hips; that is, her waist was, despite the slight looseness of the suit, visibly slimmer than any waist for a girl of medium height and full breast had a right to be. Ron thought his fingers and thumbs would almost meet if he held her at the waist while kissing her – as he knew he must. She moved among the awkward children with slow majestic grace on long sleek legs that were in their way nearly as marvelous as her breasts. Not only did her legs have an admirable harmony of form when you viewed them separately, but her long lithe limbs retained their loveliness as they carried her toward him, step after harmonious step. There was rhythm, yes, a kind of music, in her natural unaffected walk.
The miracle of her body from neck to toe rendered her face a mere afterthought. Ron had scarcely torn his eyes away from her marvels of limb and torso long enough to glance at it – Nice, he thought, though he couldn’t see her well with that tight cap on and instantly refocused on her bust.
She reached a space on the sand within five yards of him and turned to his left, between two blankets, toward her own, a few feet beyond. As she made that turn Ron glimpsed her figure in profile for the first time. Her breasts, stunning when viewed from the front, were breathtaking from the side, their wondrous size and extension fully visible only in silhouette.
The firm rounded buns of her bottom vanished from sight as she sat down on her blanket and began towelling off. Then all of her was hidden by a middle-aged couple on the blanket in front of her. They stood up to talk with a hefty young man who, walking by, had noticed them and said hello.
Ron craned his neck to see the girl but she was completely blocked from where he sat. He looked at Pete, whose face was as pop-eyed and slack-jawed as his own, still staring at what he could no longer see. “Did --you --see -- that?” Ron slowly exclaimed in a hushed wondering tone. Pete turned to him and nodded dumbly, his wide awestruck eyes more eloquent than any comment he could have made. For the moment they were not inclined to speak, each turning his gaze wistfully toward the vision that had come and gone and might at any moment reappear behind the chatting threesome.
APRIL 2, 1962. TWO DAYS BEFORE THE ABDUCTION. Ollie didn’t sleep that night; not a wink. He finally knew what he wanted, not just in general terms but specifically. He wanted Sandra Moore in his house, in his power. He had been impotent with all the other “dreamgirls” he had selected to feed his fantasy life – unable to attract or interest them -- because he had played by society’s rules, and by those rules he was powerless. If he lived to be a hundred he would always be powerless, solitary, and frustrated -- unless he broke the rules or made up his own. He would have Sandra Moore in his power if it was the last thing he ever did -- and it probably would be. He was willing it should be.
He would not abuse his power over her. But by God he would acquire it and exercise it. The last dreamgirl would know Ollie Bower, know him well, and never forget him. For a while, at least, he would be the most important person in her life, as she was the most important person in his. Sandra had become the heroine in Ollie’s Tale that evening and would remain so as long as he lived. He would give her everything he had, and the best he had – love, art, and money. And she would give him her full attention for a time. That was all he asked. Her full attention, for a time.
But he would not just ask it; he would demand it. He would take it by force. Not her virginity, if she was a virgin (and he suspected she was). Not her sweet young slender body. Not her sexual favors, if she chose to withhold them. Not even her company, if she chose to withhold it -- refused to be friendly or even talk to him. He would respect her right to do that. But her attention he would take by force. She would listen: learn something about him and who he was. He wouldn’t keep her from rejecting him. But in his last hours or weeks he would not be ignored.
All these thoughts crowded through his mind as he sat in the living room staring into space. At 1 A.M. on the morning of April 3 he roused himself from physical torpor. It was time for concrete planning and immediate action. His sitting-and-dreaming days were over. From now on the imaginer would be a man of action.
He forced himself to think of everything Sandra might need, to make a long shopping list of things she would have packed if she were taking a vacation, since she would have nothing with her. He began by jotting down a dozen bathroom articles: toothpaste, brushes, combs, hairspray, etc. He brought the list to his mother’s bedroom and bathroom, checked off the items that were on hand and suitable, and drove to an all-night supermarket in Springfield to get the rest.
He was home by four A.M. with two shopping bags of toilet articles and food. He needed extra food, of course, because he was having a houseguest. He had never had one before. He could not recall that his parents ever had either, though they had a furnished “guest bedroom.” Sandra would be the first – and probably the last. He wouldn’t think of that. He would be optimistic. She might like it and stay forever. Unfortunately her accommodations would not be a bedroom initially but, well, a cage. Never mind, he would make it look like a bedroom.
He unlocked the cage, pulled all the junk out of it, put some in a trashcan and the rest on a shelf in the garage. He swept the concrete floor, dusted every bar from floor to ceiling (a war on cobwebs), then scrubbed the floor and sprayed it with something pine-scented from a can under the sink.
Remembering a rolled-up rug in the attic he inspected it. It was worn and faded but a decent quality oriental, free of stains. He re-rolled it, dragged it down and laid it in the cage. It filled the floor but for an eighteen-inch border at the ends and a twelve-inch border on the sides, where the concrete showed. What a huge difference that rug made! Even without furniture the cage was beginning to look like a habitable room.
Ollie disassembled the single bed he had always slept in, carried it down the two flights of stairs to the basement, and reassembled it in the cage, with fresh linens, two plump pillows, and a reading lamp which had always stood by his bed. Sandra’s presence would make the empty house a home again. A home as it had never been for him. Maybe someday she would join him in the master bedroom, as a lover or as Mrs. Ollie Bower.
He stocked the powder room in the cage with toilet articles, dental supplies, and cosmetics. He made the bed neatly and covered it with a bedspread. When he had dragged an easy chair down from the living room and put a floor-lamp beside it for reading, he realized the room was still too dark. He transferred two floor-lamps from the master bedroom to different parts of the cage. He brought down a smaller easy chair and positioned it next to hers, angled toward it so he could sit near her and chat if she let him.
He thought about a TV and a radio but decided against them for now. News of her kidnapping might be broadcast and he didn’t want her to get excited and distracted by the progress of the search he feared would follow. He wanted her for a while to live outside time, removed from the world in which both of them had been so alienated and that had treated them so badly. Instead of a TV or radio he carried down two bookcases from his bedroom and filled their shelves with books from his own collection. He also brought her a stack of his mother’s magazines.
Music. She had to have music. He had no idea what she liked so he carted down all his records and his mother’s. When he had set up his portable record player on a table in the corner, he realized he had transported nearly his whole bedroom to the cage. He was determined not to violate Sandra in any way, but it was exciting to think she would not only inhabit his basement but sleep in his bed, sit in his easy chair, read his books, and listen to his music. There was a possessive intimacy even in that, and he would not insist on more. He would be the world’s first gentleman kidnapper.
Clothes. She would need clothes. Well, he had never bought a woman’s clothes, had no taste in them, no idea of what she’d want or what her sizes were. They would come later. She could give him a list, with sizes, and he’d buy whatever she wanted. In the meantime, he brought down his mother’s nightgown, pajamas, and bathrobe. They’d be huge on Sandra but she could make do with them for a night or two. Then he’d buy her the most elegant things money could buy… if she’d let him.
By sunrise on April 3 the cage looked like a presentable – though highly secure – bedroom, set up with much forethought for a welcome guest. This left Ollie at breakfast pondering how he would convert Sandra Moore from her free and feral state into a houseguest, or, to say it bluntly, a captive in his cage. She would not come on invitation, however pleasant he meant to make her stay, however rewarding it would be for her. He faced that galling but intractable fact. Force was needed. What form should it take?
He told himself he was following venerable though prehistoric precedent. He was acting like a modern caveman, and a caveman would simply drag the woman – or carry her – to his cave. Ollie might have done the same if Sandra could be expected to stroll past his home after dark. She would not be so obliging and lived four or five miles away. Coping with modern conditions required modern technology: the wheel. He was, after all, not a caveman but a cageman. He couldn’t carry her through the streets of Pennview, but he could drive her through those streets if he could get her into his car. How could he convert her from a pedestrian to a passenger?
He thought of his father’s hunting knife and a nightstick he had stashed in the attic. Those were crude and grossly violent. Holding a knife to someone’s throat, or clubbing her into submission, was unthinkably brutal. To threaten someone with a knife or club would require a physical attitude more menacing than any he could simulate. Pointing a gun would be easy. A pistol spoke for itself. The appearance of its holder, intimidating or mild, was irrelevant to the effect of the visible weapon. Even in a child's hands it is seen as deadly.
Moreover, if his plans were foiled and he was threatened with capture, he could self-destruct instantly. Suicidal when free, he’d find prison unthinkable torture – he imagined sociopathic inmates being as cruel and vicious to him as his childhood peers had once been. So the weapon of choice was his father’s genteel-looking pistol. It was shiny silver with a longish barrel that curved elegantly to a pearl handle. He thought a starter pistol for a track meet might look like that: more a stylish noisemaker than a weapon. Having recently chosen it for suicide it would serve a dual purpose: draw into his orbit the girl who might save his life -- and end his life if the enterprise failed.
He had tested the pistol in the basement recently. It still worked: the bullets fired and made deep holes in the cellar wall. It could kill. He had two main concerns. Was Sandra’s nocturnal stroll with her dog a regular occurrence, predictable as to time and place? (Don’t dogs have to be walked every day?) And if it was, could he get her alone with no neighbors near?
He had seen no one else on the street when she passed the night before. It was cold enough that week (theoretically spring but really still winter) that most suburban streets were deserted by 9 P.M. when she’d walked by. He would go to the same place, or one near it, that night and every night till the opportunity was right. He was prepared to sit in his car from dusk until midnight twenty nights in a row, if necessary. Nothing was more important to him and there was no better way to spend his time.
He waited that night, Tuesday, April 3, from 7:00 P.M. to midnight and Sandra never came. Or if she did he missed her. Since he felt safer confronting her some distance from her home, he parked on the 900 block of Merrill Avenue, two blocks north of her 1118 Merrill address. She had walked past him on the 900 block of Merrill the night before. He hoped she was a creature of habit and would walk that way again soon, even if she didn’t every day.
As he waited all those hours a few neighbors had walked by his parked car, and though most hadn’t noticed him behind the wheel, two had. Their quick glances were so incurious as they hastened past and into their homes that he doubted they would remember him. He averted his head so they wouldn’t see his sunglasses, which looked odd on a cold night, though less odd than the eyes they hid. “Waiting for some neighbor to join him” was the mental comment he hoped they would make if he impinged on their consciousness at all.
He drove home not discouraged but resolved to park in the same place the next night. Since that would be his second night in a row there, and when Sandra vanished neighbors might recall a half-noticed stranger, he felt a need for some effort at disguise. The next day through the yellow pages he found a costume store in South Philadelphia. He bought a black mustache and a black wig to cover his blond hair. He thought they made him unrecognizable and resolved to wear them in the car every night till he had done the deed.
Did they make him look even worse than usual? Not much worse, he thought, and if a little worse that might be an advantage: he’d look better to her when he took them off. His introduction would be shocking and traumatic at best. Nuances of appearance were less important than escaping detection. He decided to drive his mother’s gray four-year-old Plymouth instead of his distinctive new Thunderbird.
The Vulture’s Nest
AT SIX O'CLOCK ON APRIL 5TH, the morning after the abduction, Sandra heard Ollie say through the cage door, “Good morning, Sandra,” in a friendly voice, as if she were a houseguest. She had been drowsing uncomfortably in the chair where he had left her. He knew she hadn’t been there all night because he had heard the toilet flush and the water running in the pipes when she had used the washbasin. But she hadn’t changed to pajamas or a nightgown or lain on the bed, unwilling to accept the comforts he offered her. She hadn’t even taken off her jacket.
“Was it warm enough?” he asked, standing at the cage door, which remained locked.
She shrugged slightly and looked morose, her eyes puffy from crying and sleeplessness.
“It’s about seventy now.” He opened the barred door and closed it behind him.
“Can I go home?”
“No. I’m here to take your order for breakfast. You didn’t ring for room service but I’m offering it.” God, I sound sophisticated, he thought. I can talk when I’m in control. When I’m not scared. He sat down beside her in the other easy chair, where he had sat the night before.
[Most of our chapters are omitted here.]
THOUGH ONLY TWENTY-FOUR Ronald Pavone had been a private investigator for six years -- four part-time while in college and two full-time since. He worked for the Wright Detective Agency on South Broad Street near center city Philadelphia. Ron had learned that mild surprises were part of every case and big surprises not uncommon. They were the spice of his professional life. Yet never had he experienced such jaw-dropping amazement as he had that night, Tuesday, June 5, 1962.
He was reeling from what he had just learned in a meeting with eyewitness Stan Grackle. It had turned the missing-person case involving Sandra Moore upside down. Ron drove off reluctantly. He had left Stan sitting in his car on Merrill Avenue in Pennview at 10:40 P. M. Stan was expecting his girlfriend -- another man’s wife -- to join him any minute with a bottle of Cutty Sark to celebrate the reward. Ron had paid part of the $1,500 then and would pay the rest the next day.
To calm down before going home Ron needed a drink. He wished Stan had asked him to stay for a shot of Cutty Sark so he could loosen up and get a look at Stan’s paramour. Stan too had a wife at home. Ron, handsome as Elvis Presley and often told he resembled him, felt sure Stan’s wife was not a beauty like his Marisa. But he and Stan knew that clandestine sex had a thrill that marital sex could rarely equal. Both men wanted the former that night and strong drink with it.
Ron drove from Merrill Avenue to Birch Lane, leaving Stan to his rendezvous. Instead of turning left on Birch toward home Ron turned right toward Philadelphia. He stopped at a phone booth by a gas station and called his favorite brothel in University City near the University of Pennsylvania campus. Lena the madam told him that Rita his favorite would be available if he got there within a half hour. Lena checked the liquor cabinet and said yes they had half a fifth of Cutty Sark on hand. Rita would have it in her room. He arrived in twenty minutes.
When Ron got home at 2:15 Wednesday morning Marisa was asleep in her blue cotton nightgown on the living room sofa. All the lights were on. She struggled to her feet as he opened the door and greeted him with a kiss, leaning over her last-mile abdomen. Their first child was due in eleven days. Despite the rotundity and puffiness of pregnancy her huge dark eyes and perfect mouth -- the loveliest lips in the world, he called them – were a joy to contemplate. Within months she would regain her wondrous figure and again be more beautiful than Marisa Pavan, the Italian film star whose name and wholesome allure were so like hers.
“Ronnie, you look exhausted,” she said, “and you’ve been drinking.”
He shrugged, knowing he’d drunk a lot – and done other things she would not approve of. He pleaded guilty to drinking, hoping she would drop other charges for which there might also be evidence. She accepted the unstated plea bargain and asked where there was a suburban bar open that late on a Tuesday night. Ron said he had gone from his car-meeting in Pennview to a bar in University City, which Penn grad students patronized till the wee hours.
“Why didn’t you come home? I’ve been waiting for you. There’s beer in the refrigerator; we have plenty of wine and some cognac.”
“Reesa,” he said, “you talked me out of keeping hard liquor in this house, so when I need a really stiff drink, I can’t come here. I had to find a bar.” He talked slowly and his tongue was a little thick.
“Why did you need a really stiff drink? Did something go wrong?”
“Yes,” he said nodding dolefully. “God, yes! Can I sit down and tell you about it?”
RON SAT WITH MARISA on the sofa and told her everything he had learned from Stan Grackle that night – the whole conversation, blow by blow, shock after shock. From the start of the investigation two months ago Ron had suspected that Sandra Moore’s live-in uncle, Hal Nevil, had committed double incest, having sex not only with his widowed sister, the girl’s mother, but with Sandra too, and had murdered the girl when she resisted or threatened to inform on him. Evidence had surfaced to support that view.
The mother, Joanne Moore, had been sick and emotionally fragile before her daughter vanished. She worsened and committed herself to a sanitarium soon after. A month later, with the daughter still missing, her brother lured Joanne home, took control of all her money, and when she resisted his sexual advances raped her. His oppression and brutality propelled her to suicide. Moments before her death she mailed this note to Ronald Pavone:
Two young men meet on ship when both are recently out of college. They share a flaming ambition. Each aims to write novels that will be internationally acclaimed and win him a place in American letters. One of them, Paul Theroux, achieves the dream in all its glory: becomes world famous, writes over 40 books, and three of his novels are made into films. The other, Shane Hayes, fails completely, but keeps tenaciously writing, decade after decade, plowing on through hundreds of rejections. Then almost half a century later, Shane contacts Paul, who remembers him, reads three of his books, likes them, and praises them with endorsements.
In writing to agents and publishers Shane could now say, “Query for a novel praised by Paul Theroux.” No one offers a book deal because of an endorsement, so rejections keep coming. But more people let him send at least a sample and are predisposed to see merit in it. At his age, time is crucial. In the month he turns 75, Shane receives contracts on two of his books from different publishers. He will always be grateful to the literary giant who remembered ten days of friendship half-a-lifetime after it ended.