Santaroga seems to be nothing more than a prosperous farming community, but there is something different about it. It has no crime at all. Outsiders find no houses for sale or rent in the valley, and no one ever moves out. Maybe Santaroga is the last outpost of American individualism. Or maybe there is something extraordinary at work there--something far more disturbing than anyone imagines. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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September 01, 2002
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Excerpt from The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert
The sun went down as the five-year-old Ford camper-pickup truck ground over the pass and started down the long grade into Santaroga Valley. A crescent-shaped turn-off had been leveled beside the first highway curve. Gilbert Dasein pulled his truck onto the gravel, stopped at a white barrier fence and looked down into the valley whose secrets he had come to expose.
Two men already had died on this project, Dasein reminded himself. Accidents. Natural accidents. What was down there in that bowl of shadows inhabited by random lights? Was there an accident waiting for him?
Dasein's back ached after the long drive up from Berkeley. He shut off the motor, stretched. A burning odor of hot oil permeated the cab. The union of truckbed and camper emitted creakings and poppings.
The valley stretching out below him looked somehow different from what Dasein had expected. The sky around it was a ring of luminous blue full of sunset glow that spilled over into an upper belt of trees and rocks.
There was a sense of quiet about the place, of an island sheltered from storms.
What did I expect the place to be? Dasein wondered.
He decided all the maps he'd studied, all the reports on Santaroga he'd read, had led him to believe he knew the valley.But maps were not the land. Reports weren't people.
Dasein glanced at his wristwatch: almost seven. He felt reluctant to continue.
Far off to the left across the valley, strips of green light glowed among trees. That was the area labeled "green-houses" on the map. A castellated block of milky white on an outcropping down to his right he identified as the Jaspers Cheese Cooperative. The yellow gleam of windows and moving lights around it spoke of busy activity.
Dasein grew aware of insect sounds in the darkness around him, the swoop-humming of air through night-hawks' wings and, away in the distance, the mournful baying of hounds. The voice of the pack appeared to come from beyond the Co-op.
He swallowed, thinking that the yellow windows suddenly were like baleful eyes peering into the valley's darker depths.
Dasein shook his head, smiled. That was no way to think. Unprofessional. All the ominous nonsense muttered about Santaroga had to be put aside. A scientific investigation could not operate in that atmosphere. He turned on the cab's dome light, took his briefcase from the seat beside him. Gold lettering on the brown leather identified it: "Gilbert Dasein--Department of Psychology--University of California--Berkeley."
In a battered folder from the case he began writing: "Arrived Santaroga Valley approximately 6:45 p.m. Setting is that of a prosperous farm community ..."
Presently, he put case and folder aside.
Prosperous farm community, he thought. How could he know it was prosperous? No--prosperity wasn't what he saw. That was something he knew from the reports.
The real valley in front of him now conveyed a sense of waiting, of quietness punctuated by occasional tinklings of cowbells. He imagined husbands and wives down there after a day of work. What did they discuss now in their waiting darkness?
What did Jenny Sorge discuss with her husband--provided she had a husband? It seemed impossible she'd still be single--lovely, nubile Jenny. It was more than a year since they'd last seen each other at the University.
Dasein sighed. No escaping thoughts of Jenny--not here inSantaroga. Jenny contained part of Santaroga's mystery. She was an element of the Santaroga Barrier and a prime subject for his present investigation.
Again, Dasein sighed. He wasn't fooling himself. He knew why he'd accepted this project. It wasn't the munificent sum those chain stores were paying the university for this study, nor the generous salary provided for himself.
He had come because this was where Jenny lived.
Dasein told himself he'd smile and act normal, perfectly normal, when he met her. He was here on business, a psychologist detached from his usual teaching duties to make a market study in Santaroga Valley.
What was a perfectly normal way to act with Jenny, though? How did one achieve normalcy when encountering the paranormal?
Jenny was a Santarogan--and the normalcy of this valley defied normal explanations.
His mind went to the reports, "the known facts." All the folders of data, the collections of official pryings, the secondhand secrets which were the stock in a trade of the bureaucracy--all this really added up to a single "known fact" about Santaroga: There was something extraordinary at work here, something far more disturbing than any so-called market study had ever tackled before.
Meyer Davidson, the soft looking, pink fleshed little man who'd presented himself as the agent of the investment corporation, the holding company behind the chain stores paying for this project, had put it in an angry nutshell at the first orientation meeting: "The whole thing about Santaroga boils down to this--Why were we forced to close our branches there? Why won't even one Santarogan trade with an outsider? That's what we want to know. What's this Santaroga Barrier which keeps us from doing business there?"
Davidson wasn't as soft as he looked.
Dasein started the truck, turned on his headlights, resumed his course down the winding grade.
All the data was a single datum.
Outsiders found no houses for rent or sale in this valley.
Santaroga officials said they had no juvenile delinquency figures for the state's statistics.
Servicemen from Santaroga always returned when they were discharged. In fact, no Santarogan had ever been known to move out of the valley.
Why? Was it a two-way barrier?
And the curious anomalies: The data had included a medical journal article by Jenny's uncle, Dr. Lawrence Piaget, reputedly the valley's leading physician. The article: "The Poison Oak Syndrome in Santaroga." Its substance: Santarogans had a remarkable susceptibility to allergens when forced to live away from their valley for extended periods. This was the chief reason for service rejection of Santaroga's youths.
Data equaled datum.
Santaroga reported no cases of mental illness or mental deficiency to the State Department of Mental Hygiene. No Santarogan could be found in a state mental hospital. (The psychiatrist who headed Dasein's university department, Dr. Chami Selador, found this fact "alarming.")
Cigarette sales in Santaroga could be accounted for by transient purchasers.
Santarogans manifested an iron resistance to national advertising. (An un-American symptom, according to Meyer Davidson.)
No cheese, wines or beers made outside the valley could be marketed to Santarogans.
All the valley's businesses, including the bank, were locally owned. They flatly rejected outside investment money.
Santaroga had successfully resisted every "pork barrel" government project the politicians had offered. Their State Senator was from Porterville, ten miles behind Dasein and well outside the valley. Among the political figures Dasein had interviewed to lay the groundwork for his study, the State Senator was one of the few who didn't think Santarogans were "a pack of kooks, maybe religious nuts of some kind."
"Look, Dr. Dasein," he'd said, "all this mystery crap about Santaroga is just that--crap."
The Senator was a skinny, intense man with a shock of gray hair and red-veined eyes. Barstow was his name; one of the old California families.
Barstow's opinion: "Santaroga's a last outpost of American individualism. They're Yankees, Down Easters living in California.Nothing mysterious about 'em at all. They don't ask special favors and they don't fan my ears with stupid questions. I wish all my constituents were as straightforward and honest."
One man's opinion, Dasein thought.
An isolated opinion.
Dasein was down into the valley proper now. The two-lane road leveled into a passage through gigantic trees. This was the Avenue of the Giants winding between rows of sequoia gigantea.
There were homes set back in the trees. The datum-data said some of these homes had been here since the gold rush. The scroll work of carpenter gothic lined their eaves. Many were three stories high, yellow lights in their windows.
Dasein grew aware of an absence, a negative fact about the houses he saw: No television flicker, no cathode living rooms, no walls washed to skimmed-milk gray by the omnipresent tube.
The road forked ahead of him. An arrow pointed left to "City Center" and two arrows directed him to the right to "The Santaroga House" and "Jaspers Cheese Co-op."
Dasein turned right.
His road wound upward beneath an arch: "Santaroga, The Town That Cheese Built." Presently, it emerged from the redwoods into an oak flat. The Co-op loomed gray white, bustling with lights and activity behind a chain fence on his right. Across the road to his left stood Dasein's first goal here, a long three-storey inn built in the rambling 1900 style with a porch its full length. Lines of multipaned windows (most dark) looked down onto a gravel parking area. The sign at the entrance read: "Santaroga House--Gold Rush Museum--Hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m."
Most of the cars nosed to a stone border parallel to the porch were well-kept older models. A few shiny new machines were parked in a second row as though standing aloof.
Dasein parked beside a 1939 Chevrolet whose paint gleamed with a rich waxy gloss. Red-brown upholstery visible through the windows appeared to be hand-tailored leather.
Rich man's toy, Dasein thought.
He took his suitcase from the camper, turned to the inn.There was a smell of new mown lawn in the air and the sound of running water. It reminded Dasein of his childhood, his aunt's garden with the brook along the back. A strong sense of nostalgia gripped him.
Abruptly, a discordant note intruded. From the upper floors of the inn came the raucous sound of a man and woman arguing, the man's voice brusk, the woman's with a strident fishwife qualify.
"I'm not staying in this godforsaken hole one more night," the woman screamed. "They don't want our money! They don't want us! You do what you want; I'm leaving!"
"Belle, stop it! You've ..."
A window slammed. The argument dimmed to a muted screeching-mumbling.
Dasein took a deep breath. The argument restored his perspective. Here were two more people with their noses against the Santaroga Barrier.
Dasein strode along the gravel, up four steps to the porch and through swinging doors with windows frosted by scroll etching. He found himself in a high-ceilinged lobby, crystal chandeliers overhead. Dark wood paneling, heavily grained like ancient charts enclosed the space. A curved counter stretched across the corner to his right, an open door behind it from which came the sound of a switch-board. To the right of this counter was a wide opening through which he glimpsed a dining room--white tablecloths, crystal, silver. A western stagecoach was parked at his left behind brass posts supporting a maroon velvet rope with a "Do Not Touch" sign.
Dasein stopped to study the coach. It smelled of dust and mildew. A framed card on the boot gave its history: "Used on the San Francisco-Santaroga route from 1868 to 1871." Below this card was a slightly larger frame enclosing a yellowed sheet of paper with a brass legend beside it: "A note from Black Bart, the Po-8 Highwayman." In sprawling script on the yellow paper it read:
"So here I've stood while wind and rain Have set the trees a-sobbin' And risked my life for that damned stage That wasn't worth the robbin'."
Dasein chuckled, shifted his briefcase to his left arm, crossed to the counter and rang the call bell.
A bald, wrinkled stick of a man in a black suit appeared in the open doorway, stared at Dasein like a hawk ready to pounce. "Yes?"
"I'd like a room," Dasein said.
"What's your business?"
Dasein stiffened at the abrupt challenge. "I'm tired," he said. "I want a night's sleep."
"Passing through, I hope," the man grumbled. He shuffled to the counter, pushed a black registry ledger toward Dasein.
Dasein took a pen from its holder beside the ledger, signed.
The clerk produced a brass key on a brass tag, said: "You get two fifty-one next to that dang' couple from L.A. Don't blame me if they keep y' awake arguing." He slapped the key onto the counter. "That'll be ten dollars ... in advance."
"I'm hungry," Dasein said, producing his wallet and paying. "Is the dining room open?" He accepted a receipt.
"Closes at nine," the clerk said.
"Is there a bellboy?"
"You look strong enough to carry your own bag." He pointed beyond Dasein. "Room's up them stairs, second floor."
Dasein turned. There was an open area behind the stagecoach. Scattered through it were leather chairs, high wings and heavy arms, a few occupied by elderly men sitting, reading. Light came from heavy brass floor lamps with fringed shades. A carpeted stairway led upward beyond the chairs.
It was a scene Dasein was to think of many times later as his first clue to the real nature of Santaroga. The effect was that of holding time securely in a bygone age.
Vaguely troubled, Dasein said: "I'll check my room later. May I leave my bag here while I eat?"
"Leave it on the counter. No one'll bother it."
Dasein put the case on the counter, caught the clerk studying him with a fixed stare.
"Something wrong?" Dasein asked.
The clerk reached for the briefcase under Dasein's arm, butDasein stepped back, removed it from the questing fingers, met an angry stare.
"Hmmmph!" the clerk snorted. There was no mistaking his frustration. He'd wanted a look inside the briefcase.
Inanely, Dasein said: "I ... uh, want to look over some papers while I'm eating." And he thought: Why do I need to explain?
Feeling angry with himself, he turned, strode through the passage into the dining room. He found himself in a large square room, a single massive chandelier in the center, brass carriage lamps spaced around walls of dark wood paneling. The chairs at the round tables were heavy with substantial arms. A long teak bar stretched along the wall at his left, a wood-framed mirror behind it. Light glittered hypnotically from the central chandelier and glasses stacked beneath the mirror.
The room swallowed sounds. Dasein felt he had walked into a sudden hush with people turning to look at him. Actually, his entrance went almost unnoticed.
A white-coated bartender on duty for a scattering of customers at the bar glanced at him, went back to talking to a swarthy man hunched over a mug of beer.
Family groups occupied about a dozen of the tables. There was a card game at a table near the bar. Two tables held lone women busy with their forks.
There was a division of people in this room, Dasein felt. It was a matter of nervous tension contrasted with a calmness as substantial as the room itself. He decided he could pick out the transients--they appeared tired, more rumpled; their children were closer to rebellion.
As he moved farther into the room, Dasein glimpsed himself in the bar mirror--fatigue lines on his slender face, the curly black hair mussed by the wind, brown eyes glazed with attention, still driving the car. A smudge of road dirt drew a dark line beside the cleft in his chin. Dasein rubbed at the smudge, thought: Here's another transient.
"You wish a table, sir?"
A Negro waiter had appeared at his elbow--white jacket, hawk nose, sharp Moorish features, a touch of gray at the temples. There was a look of command about him all out ofagreement with the menial costume. Dasein thought immediately of Othello. The eyes were brown and wise.
"Yes, please: for one," Dasein said.
"This way, sir."
Dasein was guided to a table against the near wall. One of the carriage lamps bathed it in a warm yellow glow. As the heavy chair enveloped him, Dasein's attention went to the table near the bar--the card game ... four men. He recognized one of the men from a picture Jenny had carried: Piaget, the doctor uncle, author of the medical journal article on allergens. Piaget was a large, gray-haired man, bland round face, a curious suggestion of the Oriental about him that was heightened by the fan of cards held close to his chest.
"You wish a menu, sir?"
"Yes. Just a moment ... the men playing cards with Dr. Piaget over there."
"Who are they?"
"You know Dr. Larry, sir?"
"I know his niece, Jenny Sorge. She carried a photo of Dr. Piaget."
The waiter glanced at the briefcase Dasein had placed in the center of the table. "Dasein," he said. A wide smile put a flash of white in the dark face. "You're Jenny's friend from the school."
The waiter's words carried so many implications that Dasein found himself staring, open-mouthed.
"Jenny's spoken of you, sir," the waiter said.
"The men playing cards with Dr. Larry--you want to know who they are." He turned toward the players. "Well, sir, that's Captain Al Marden of the Highway Patrol across from Dr. Larry. On the right there, that's George Nis. He manages the Jaspers Cheese Co-op. The fellow on the left is Mr. Sam Scheler. Mr. Sam runs our independent service station. I'll get you that menu, sir."
The waiter headed toward the bar.
Dasein's attention remained on the card players, wondering why they held his interest so firmly. Marden, sitting with his back partly turned toward Dasein, was in mufti, a dark bluesuit. His hair was a startling mop of red. He turned his head to the right and Dasein glimpsed a narrow face, tight-lipped mouth with a cynical downtwist.
Scheler of the independent service station (Dasein wondered about this designation suddenly) was dark skinned, an angular Indian face with flat nose, heavy lips. Nis, across from him, was balding, sandy-haired, blue eyes with heavy lids, a wide mouth and deeply cleft chin.
"Your menu, sir."
The waiter placed a large red-covered folder in front of Dasein.
"Dr. Piaget and his friends appear to be enjoying their game," Dasein said.
"That game's an institution, sir. Every week about this hour, regular as sunset--dinner here and that game."
"What do they play?"
"It varies, sir. Sometimes it's bridge, sometimes pinochle. They play whist on occasion and even poker."
"What did you mean--independent service station?" Dasein asked. He looked up at the dark Moorish face.
"Well, sir, we here in the valley don't mess around with those companies fixin' their prices. Mr. Sam, he buys from whoever gives him the best offer. We pay about four cents less a gallon here."
Dasein made a mental note to investigate this aspect of the Santaroga Barrier. It was in character, not buying from the big companies, but where did they get their oil products?
"The roast beef is very good, sir," the waiter said, pointing to the menu.
"You recommend it, eh?"
"I do that, sir. Grain fattened right here in the valley. We have fresh corn on the cob, potatoes Jaspers--that's with cheese sauce, very good, and we have hot-house strawberries for dessert."
"Salad?" Dasein asked.
"Our salad greens aren't very good this week, sir. I'll bring you the soup. It's borscht with sour cream. And you'd like beer with that. I'll see if I can't get you some of our local product."
"With you around I don't need a menu," Dasein said. Hereturned the red-covered folder. "Bring it on before I start eating the tablecloth."
Dasein watched the retreating black--white coated, wide, confident. Othello, indeed.
The waiter returned presently with a steaming bowl of soup, a white island of sour cream floating in it, and a darkly amber mug of beer.
"I note you're the only Negro waiter here," Dasein said. "Isn't that kind of type casting?"
"You asking if I'm their show Negro, sir?" The waiter's voice was suddenly wary.
"I was wondering if Santaroga had any integration problems."
"Must be thirty, forty colored families in the valley, sir. We don't rightly emphasize the distinction of skin color here." The voice was hard, curt.
"I didn't mean to offend you," Dasein said.
"You didn't offend me." A smile touched the corners of his mouth, was gone. "I must admit a Negro waiter is a kind of institutional accent. Place like this ..." He glanced around the solid, paneled room. " ... must've had plenty of Negro waiters here in its day. Kind of like local color having me on the job." Again, that flashing smile. "It's a good job, and my kids are doing even better. Two of 'em work in the Co-op; other's going to be a lawyer."
"You have three children?"
"Two boys and a girl. If you'll excuse me, sir; I have other tables."
"Yes, of course."
Dasein lifted the mug of beer as the waiter left.
He held the beer a moment beneath his nose. There was a tangy odor about it with a suggestion of cellars and mushrooms. Dasein remembered suddenly that Jenny had praised the local Santaroga beer. He sipped it--soft on the tongue, smooth, clean aftertaste of malt. It was everything Jenny had said.
Jenny, he thought. Jenny ... Jenny ...
Why had she never invited him to Santaroga on her regular weekend trips home? She'd never missed a weekend, herecalled. Their dates had always been in mid-week. He remembered what she'd told him about herself: orphaned, raised by the uncle, Piaget, and a maiden aunt ... Sarah.
Dasein took another drink of the beer, sampled the soup. They did go well together. The sour cream had a flavor reminiscent of the beer, a strange new tang.
There'd never been any mistaking Jenny's affection for him, Dasein thought. They'd had a thing, chemical, exciting. But no direct invitation to meet her family, see the valley. A hesitant probing, yes--what would he think of setting up practice in Santaroga? Sometime, he must talk to Uncle Larry about some interesting cases.
What cases? Dasein wondered, remembering. The Santaroga information folders Dr. Selador had supplied were definite: "No reported cases of mental illness."
Jenny ... Jenny ...
Dasein's mind went back to the night he'd proposed. No hesitant probing on Jenny's part then--Could he live in Santaroga?
He could remember his own incredulous demand: "Why do we have to live in Santaroga?"
"Because I can't live anywhere else." That was what she'd said. "Because I can't live anywhere else."
Love me, love my valley.
No amount of pleading could wring an explanation from her. She'd made that plain. In the end, he'd reacted with anger boiling out of injured manhood. Did she think he couldn't support her any place but in Santaroga?
"Come and see Santaroga," she'd begged.
"Not unless you'll consider living outside."
Remembering the fight, Dasein felt his cheeks go warm. It'd been finals week. She'd refused to answer his telephone calls for two days ... and he'd refused to call after that. He'd retreated into a hurt shell.
And Jenny had gone back to her precious valley. When he'd written, swallowed his pride, offered to come and see her--no answer. Her valley had swallowed her.
Dasein sighed, looked around the dining room, rememberingJenny's intensity when she spoke about Santaroga. This paneled dining room, the Santarogans he could see, didn't fit the picture in his mind.
Why didn't she answer my letters? he asked himself. Most likely she's married. That must be it.
Dasein saw his waiter come around the end of the bar with a tray. The bartender signaled, called: "Win." The waiter stopped, rested the tray on the bar. Their heads moved close together beside the tray. Dasein received the impression they were arguing. Presently, the waiter said something with a chopping motion of the head, grabbed up the tray, brought it to Dasein's table.
"Doggone busybody," he said as he put the tray down across from Dasein, began distributing the dishes from it. "Try to tell me I can't give you Jaspers! Good friend of Jenny's and I can't give him Jaspers."
The waiter's anger cooled; he shook his head, smiled, put a plate mounded with food before Dasein.
"Too doggone many busybodies in this world, y' ask me."
"The bartender," Dasein said. "I heard him call you 'Win.'"
"Winston Burdeaux, sir, at your service." He moved around the table closer to Dasein. "Wouldn't give me any Jaspers beer for you this time, sir." He took a frosted bottle from the tray, put it near the mug of beer he'd served earlier. "This isn't as good as what I brought before. The food's real Jaspers, though. Doggone busybody couldn't stop me from doing that."
"Jaspers," Dasein said. "I thought it was just the cheese."
Burdeaux pursed his lips, looked thoughtful. "Oh, no, sir. Jaspers, that's in all the products from the Co-op. Didn't Jenny ever tell you?" He frowned. "Haven't you ever been up here in the valley with her, sir?"
"No." Dasein shook his head from side to side.
"You are Dr. Dasein--Gilbert Dasein?"
"You're the fellow Jenny's sweet on, then." He grinned, said: "Eat up, sir. It's good food."
Before Dasein could collect his thoughts, Burdeaux turned, hurried away.
"You're the fellow Jenny's sweet on," Dasein thought. Present tense ... not past tense. He felt his heart hammering,cursed himself for an idiot. It was just Burdeaux's way of talking. That was all it could be.
Confused, he bent to his food.
The roast beef in his first bite lived up to Burdeaux's prediction--tender, juicy. The cheese sauce on the potatoes had a flowing tang reminiscent of the beer and the sour cream.
The fellow Jenny's sweet on.
Burdeaux's words gripped Dasein's mind as he ate, filled him with turmoil.
Dasein looked up from his food, seeking Burdeaux. The waiter was nowhere in sight. Jaspers. It was this rich tang, this new flavor. His attention went to the bottle of beer, the non-Jaspers beer. Not as good? He sampled it directly from the bottle, found it left a bitter metallic aftertaste. A sip of the first beer from the mug--smooth, soothing. Dasein felt it cleared his head as it cleared his tongue of the other flavor.
He put down the mug, looked across the room, caught the bartender staring at him, scowling. The man looked away.
They were small things--two beers, an argument between a waiter and a bartender, a watchful bartender--nothing but clock ticks in a lifetime, but Dasein sensed danger in them. He reminded himself that two investigators had met fatal accidents in the Santaroga Valley--death by misadventure ... a car going too fast around a corner, off the road into a ravine ... a fall from a rocky ledge into a river--drowned. Natural accidents, so certified by state investigation.
Thoughtful, Dasein returned to his food.
Presently, Burdeaux brought the strawberries, hovered as Dasein sampled them.
"Very good. Better than that bottle of beer."
"My fault, sir. Perhaps another time." He coughed discreetly. "Does Jenny know you're here?"
Dasein put down his spoon, looked into his dish of strawberries as though trying to find his reflection there. His mind suddenly produced a memory picture of Jenny in a red dress, vital, laughing, bubbling with energy. "No ... not yet," he said.
"You know Jenny's still a single girl, sir?"
Dasein glanced across to the card game. How leathery tanthe players' skin looked. Jenny not married? Dr. Piaget looked up from the card game, said something to the man on his left. They laughed.
"Has ... is she in the telephone directory, Mr. Burdeaux?" Dasein asked.
"She lives with Dr. Piaget, sir. And why don't you call me Win?"
Dasein looked up at Burdeaux's sharp Moorish face, wondering suddenly about the man. There was just a hint of southern accent in his voice. The probing friendliness, the volunteered information about Jenny--it was all faintly southern, intimate, kindly ... but there were undertones of something else: a questing awareness, harsh and direct. The psychologist in Dasein was fully alert now.
"Have you lived very long here in the valley, Win?" Dasein asked.
"'Bout twelve years, sir."
"How'd you come to settle here?"
Burdeaux shook his head. A rueful half-smile touched his lips. "Oh, you wouldn't like to hear about that, sir."
"But I would." Dasein stared up at Burdeaux, waiting. Somewhere there was a wedge that would open this valley's mysteries to him. Jenny not married? Perhaps Burdeaux was that wedge. There was an open shyness about his own manner, Dasein knew, that invited confidences. He relied upon this now.
"Well, if you really want to know, sir," Burdeaux said. "I was in the N'Orleans jailhouse for cuttin' up." (Dasein noted a sudden richening of the southern accent.) "We was doin' our numbers, usin' dirty language that'd make your neck hair walk. I suddenly heard myself doin' that, sir. It made me review my thinkin' and I saw it was kid stuff. Juvenile." Burdeaux mouthed the word, proud of it. "Juvenile, sir. Well, when I got out of that jailhouse, the high sheriff tellin' me never to come back, I went me home to my woman and I tol' Annie, I tol' her we was leavin'. That's when we left to come here, sir."
"Just like that, you left?"
"We hit the road on our feet, sir. It wasn't easy an' therewas some places made us wish we'd never left. When we come here, though, we knew it was worth it."
"You just wandered until you came here?"
"It was like God was leadin' us, sir. This place, well, sir, it's hard to explain. But ... well, they insist I go to school to better myself. That's one thing. I can speak good standard English when I want ... when I think about it." (The accent began to fade.)
Dasein smiled encouragingly. "These must be very nice people here in the valley."
"I'm going to tell you something, sir," Burdeaux said. "Maybe you can understand if I tell you about something happened to me here. It's a thing would've hurt me pretty bad one time, but here ... We were at a Jaspers party, sir. It was right after Willa, my girl, announced her engagement to Cal Nis. And George, Cal's daddy, came over and put his arm across my shoulder. 'Well there, Win, you old nigger bastard,' he said, 'we better have us a good drink and a talk together because our kids are going to make us related.' That was it, Mr. Dasein. He didn't mean a thing calling me nigger. It was just like ... like the way we call a pale blonde fellow here Whitey. It was like saying my skin's black for identification the way you might come into a room and ask for Al Marden and I'd say: 'He's that red-headed fellow over there playing cards.' As he was saying it I knew that's all he meant. It just came over me. It was being accepted for what I am. It was the friendliest thing George could do and that's why he did it."
Dasein scowled trying to follow the train of Burdeaux's meaning. Friendly to call him nigger?
"I don't think you understand it," Burdeaux said. "Maybe you'd have to be black to understand. But ... well, perhaps this'll make you see it. A few minutes later, George said to me: 'Hey, Win, I wonder what kind of grandchildren we're going to have--light, dark or in between?' It was just a kind of wonderment to him, that he might have black grandchildren. He didn't care, really. He was curious. He found it interesting. You know, when I told Annie about that afterward, I cried. I was so happy I cried."
It was a long colloquy. Dasein could see realization of thisfact come over Burdeaux. The man shook his head, muttered: "I talk too much. Guess I'd better ..."
He broke off at a sudden eruption of shouting at the bar near the card players. A red-faced fat man had stepped back from the bar and was flailing it with a briefcase as he shouted at the bartender.
"You sons of bitches!" he screamed. "You think you're too goddamn' good to buy from me! My line isn't good enough for you! You can make better ..."
The bartender grabbed the briefcase.
"Leggo of that, you son of a bitch!" the fat man yelled. "You all think you're so goddamn' good like you're some foreign country! An outsider am I? Let me tell you, you pack of foreigners! This is America! This is a free ..."
The red-headed highway patrol captain, Al Marden, had risen at the first sign of trouble. Now, he put a large hand on the screamer's shoulder, shook the man once.
The screaming stopped. The angry man whirled, raised the briefcase to hit Marden. In one long, drawn-out second, the man focused on Marden's glaring eyes, the commanding face, hesitated.
"I'm Captain Marden of the Highway Patrol," Marden said. "And I'm telling you we won't have any more of this." His voice was calm, stern ... and, Dasein thought, faintly amused.
The angry man lowered the briefcase, swallowed.
"You can go out and get in your car and leave Santaroga," Marden said. "Now. And don't come back. We'll be watching for you, and we'll run you in if we ever catch you in the valley again."
Anger drained from the fat man. His shoulders slumped. He swallowed, looked around at the room of staring eyes. "I'm glad to go," he muttered. "Nothing'd make me happier. It'll be a cold day in hell when I ever come back to your dirty little valley. You stink. All of you stink." He jerked his shoulder from Marden's grasp, stalked out through the passage to the lobby.
Marden returned to the card game shaking his head.
Slowly, the room returned to its previous sounds of eating and conversation. Dasein could feel a difference, though. The salesman's outburst had separated Santarogans and transients.An invisible wall had gone up. The transient families at their tables were hurrying their children, anxious to leave.
Dasein felt the same urgency. There was a pack feeling about the room now--hunters and hunted. He smelled his own perspiration. His palms were sweaty. He noted that Burdeaux had gone.
This is stupid! he thought. Jenny not married?
He reminded himself that he was a psychologist, an observer. But the observer had to observe himself.
Why am I reacting this way? he wondered. Jenny not married?
Two of the transient families already were leaving, herding their young ahead of them, voices brittle, talking about going "on to the next town."
Why can't they stay here? he asked himself. The rates are reasonable.
He pictured the area in his mind: Porterville was twenty-five miles away, ten miles outside the valley on the road he had taken. The other direction led over a winding, twisting mountain road some forty miles before connecting with Highway 395. The closest communities were to the south along 395, at least seventy miles. This was an area of National Forests, lakes, fire roads, moonscape ridges of lava rock--all of it sparsely inhabited except for the Santaroga Valley. Why would people want to travel through such an area at night rather than stay at this inn?
Dasein finished his meal, left the rest of the beer. He had to talk this place over with his department head, Dr. Chami Selador, before making another move. Burdeaux had left the check on a discreet brown tray--three dollars and eighty-six cents. Dasein put a five dollar bill on the tray, glanced once more around the room. The surface appeared so damn' normal! The card players were intent on their game. The bartender was hunched over, chatting with two customers. A child at a table off to the right was complaining that she didn't want to drink her milk.
It wasn't normal, though, and Dasein's senses screamed this fact at him. The brittle surface of this room was prepared to shatter once more and Dasein didn't think he would like whatmight be revealed. He wiped his lips on his napkin, took his briefcase and headed for the lobby.
His suitcase stood atop the desk beside the register. There was a buzzing and murmurous sound of a switchboard being operated in the room through the doors at the rear corner. He took the suitcase, fingered the brass room key in his pocket--two fifty-one. If there was no phone in the room, he decided he'd come down and place his call to Chami from a booth.
Feeling somewhat foolish and letdown after his reaction to the scene in the dining room, Dasein headed for the stairs. A few eyes peered at him over the tops of newspapers from the lobby chairs. The eyes looked alert, inquisitive.
The stairs led to a shadowy mezzanine--desks, patches of white paper. A fire door directly ahead bore the sign: "To Second Floor. Keep this door closed."
The next flight curved left, dim overhead light, wide panels of dark wood. It led through another fire door into a hall with an emergency exit sign off to the left. An illuminated board opposite the door indicated room two fifty-one down the hall to the right. Widely spaced overhead lights, the heavy pile of a maroon carpet underfoot, wide heavy doors with brass handles and holes for old-fashioned passkeys gave the place an aura of the Nineteenth Century. Dasein half expected to see a maid in ruffled cap, apron with a bow at the back, long skirt and black stockings, sensible shoes--or a portly banker type with tight vest and high collar, an expanse of gold chain at the waist. He felt out of place, out of style here.
The brass key worked smoothly in the door of two fifty-one; it let him into a room of high ceilings, one window looking down onto the parking area. Dasein turned on the light. The switch controlled a tasseled floor lamp beside a curve-fronted teak dresser. The amber light revealed a partly opened doorway into a tiled bathroom (the sound of water dripping there), a thick-legged desk-table with a single straight chair pushed against it. The bed was narrow and high with a heavily carved headboard.
Dasein pushed down on the surface of the bed. It felt soft. He dropped his suitcase onto the bed, stared at it. An edge of white fabric protruded from one end. He opened the suitcase, studied the contents. Dasein knew himself for a prissy, meticulouspacker. The case now betrayed a subtle disarray. Someone had opened it and searched it. Well, it hadn't been locked. He checked the contents--nothing missing.
Why are they curious about me? he wondered.
He looked around for a telephone, found it, a standard French handset, on a shelf beside the desk. As he moved, he caught sight of himself in the mirror above the dresser--eyes wide, mouth in a straight line. Grim. He shook his head, smiled. The smile felt out of place.
Dasein sat down in the straight chair, put the phone to his ear. There was a smell of disinfectant soap in the room--and something like garlic. After a moment, he jiggled the hook.
Presently, a woman's voice came on: "This is the desk."
"I'd like to place a call to Berkeley," Dasein said. He gave the number. There was a moment's silence, then: "Your room number, sir?"
"One moment, please."
He heard the sound of dialing, ringing. Another operator came on the line. Dasein listened with only half his attention as the call was placed. The smell of garlic was quite strong. He stared at the high old bed, his open suitcase. The bed appeared inviting, telling him how tired he was. His chest ached. He took a deep breath.
"Dr. Selador here."
Selador's India-cum-Oxford accent sounded familiar and close. Dasein bent to the telephone, identified himself, his mind caught suddenly by that feeling of intimate nearness linked to the knowledge of the actual distance, the humming wires reaching down almost half the length of the state.
"Gilbert, old fellow, you made it all right, I see." Selador's voice was full of cheer.
"I'm at the Santaroga House, Doctor."
"I hear it's quite comfortable."
"Looks that way." Through his buzzing tiredness, Dasein felt a sense of foolishness. Why had he made this call? Selador's sharp mind would probe for underlying meanings, motives.
"I presume you didn't call just to tell me you've arrived," Selador said.
"No ... I ..." Dasein realized he couldn't express his own vague uneasiness, that it wouldn't make sense, this feeling of estrangement, the separation of Santarogans and Outsiders, the pricklings of warning fear. "I'd like you to look into the oil company dealings with this area," Dasein said. "See if you can find out how they do business in the valley. There's apparently an independent service station here. I want to know who supplies the gas, oil, parts--that sort of thing."
"Good point, Gilbert. I'll put one of our ..." There was a sudden crackling, bapping sound on the line. It stopped and there was dead silence.
Damn! Dasein thought. He jiggled the hook. "Operator. Operator!"
A masculine voice came on the line. Dasein recognized the desk clerk's twang. "Who's that creating all that commotion?" the clerk demanded.
"I was cut off on my call to Berkeley," Dasein said. "Could you ..."
"Line's out," the clerk snapped.
"Could I come down to the lobby and place the call from a pay phone?" Dasein asked. As he asked it, the thought of walking that long distance down to the lobby repelled Dasein. The feeling of tiredness was a weight on his chest.
"There's no line out of the valley right now," the clerk said. "Call can't be placed."
Dasein passed a hand across his forehead. His skin felt clammy and he wondered if he'd picked up a germ. The room around him seemed to expand and contract. His mouth was dry and he had to swallow twice before asking: "When do they expect to have the line restored?"
"How the hell do I know?" the clerk demanded.
Dasein took the receiver away from his ear, stared at it. This was a very peculiar desk clerk ... and a very peculiar room the way it wavered and slithered with its stench of garlic and its ...
He grew aware of a faint hissing.
Dasein's gaze was drawn on a string of growing astonishmentto an old-fashioned gaslight jet that jutted from the wall beside the hall door.
Stink of garlic? Gas!
A yapping, barking voice yammered on the telephone.
Dasein looked down at the instrument in his hand. How far away it seemed. Through the window beyond the phone he could see the Inn sign: Gold Rush Museum. Window equaled air. Dasein found muscles that obeyed, lurched across the desk, fell, smashing the telephone through the window.
The yapping voice grew fainter.
Dasein felt his body stretched across the desk. His head lay near the shattered window. He could see the telephone cord stretching out the window. There was cool air blowing on a distant forehead, a painful chill in his lungs.
They tried to kill me, he thought. It was a wondering thought, full of amazement. His mind focused on the two investigators who'd already died on this project--accidents. Simple, easily explained accidents ... just like this one!
The air--how cold it felt on his exposed skin. His lungs burned with it. There was a hammering pulse at his temple where it pressed against the desk surface. The pulse went on and on and on ...
A pounding on wood joined the pulse. For a space, they beat in an insane syncopation.
"You in there! Open up!" How commanding, that voice. Open up, Dasein thought. That meant getting to one's feet, crossing the room, turning a door handle ...
I'm helpless, he thought. They could still kill me.
He heard metal rasp against metal. The air blew stronger across his face. Someone said: "Gas!"
Hands grabbed Dasein's shoulders. He was hauled back, half carried, half dragged out of the room. The face of Marden, the red-haired patrol captain, swung across his vision. He saw the clerk: pale, staring face, bald forehead glistening under yellow light. There was a brown ceiling directly in front of Dasein. He felt a rug, hard and rasping, beneath his back.