In early May, he sought self-improvement by taking French lessons. The language of love.
In June, he bought a pistol.
He didn't intend to use it to kill anyone.
Indeed, he would get through the rest of 1965 without resorting to another homicide. The nonfatal shooting in September would be regrettable, quite messy, painful-but necessary, and calculated to do as little damage as possible.
But first, in early July, he stopped taking French lessons. It was an impossible language. Difficult to pronounce. Ridiculous sentence constructions. Anyway, none of the good-looking women he met spoke French or cared whether he did.
In August, he developed an interest in meditation. He began with concentrative meditation-the form called meditation “with seed”—in which you must close your eyes, mentally focus on a visualized object, and clear your mind of all else.
His instructor, Bob Chicane-who visited twice a week for an hour-advised him to imagine a perfect fruit as the object of his meditation. An apple, a grape, an orange, whatever.
This didn't work for Junior. Strangely, when he focused on a mental image of any fruit-apple, peach, banana-his thoughts drifted to sex. He became aroused and had no hope of clearing his mind.
Eventually, he settled on a mental image of a bowling pin as his “seed.” This was a smooth, elegantly shaped object that invited languorous contemplation, but it did not tease his libido.
On Tuesday evening, September 7, after half an hour in the lotus position, thinking about nothing whatsoever but a white pin with two black bands at its neck and the number I painted on its head, Junior went to bed at eleven o'clock and set his alarm for three in the morning, when he intended to shoot himself.
He slept well, woke refreshed, and threw back the covers.
On the nightstand waited a glass of water on a coaster and a pharmacy bottle containing several capsules of a potent painkiller.
This analgesic was among several prescription substances that he had stolen, over time, from the drug locker at the rehab hospital where he once worked. Some he had sold; these he had retained.
He swallowed one capsule and washed it down with water. He returned the pharmacy bottle to the nightstand.
Sitting up in bed, he passed a little time reading favorite, marked passages in Zedd's You Are the World. The book presented a brilliant argument that selfishness was the most misunderstood, moral, rational, and courageous of all human motivations.
The painkiller was not morphine-based, and it did not signal its presence in the system by inducing sleepiness or even a faint blurring of the senses. After forty minutes, however, he was sure that it must be effective, and he put the book aside.
The pistol was in the nightstand, fully loaded.
Barefoot, in midnight-blue silk pajamas, he walked through his rooms turning on lights in a considered pattern, which he had settled upon after much thought and planning.
In the kitchen, he plucked a clean dishtowel from a drawer, carried it to the granite-topped secretary, and sat in front of the telephone. Previously, he had sat here with a pencil, making shopping lists. Now, instead of a pencil, there was the Italian-made .22 pistol.
After mentally reviewing what he must say, after working up a nervous edge, he dialed the SFPD emergency number.
When the police operator answered, Junior shrieked, “I've been shot! Jesus! Shot! Help me, an ambulance, oooohhhh shit! Hurry!"
The operator attempted to calm him, but he remained hysterical. Between gasps and sharp squeals of pretended pain, he shakily rattled off his name, address, and phone number.
She told him to stay on the line, stay on no matter what, told him to keep talking to her, and he hung up.
He slid his chair sideways to the secretary and leaned forward with the gun in both hands.
Ten, twenty, almost thirty seconds later, the phone rang.
On the third ring, Junior shut off the big toe on his left foot.
The gunshot was louder-and the pain initially less-than he expected. Timpani-boom, timpani-boom, the explosion echoed back and forth through the high-ceilinged apartment.
He dropped the gun. On the seventh ring, he snatched up the telephone.
Certain the caller was the police operator, Junior screamed as though in agony, wondering if his cries sounded genuine, since he'd had no opportunity to rehearse. Then, in spite of the painkiller, his cries suddenly were genuine.
Sobbing desperately, he dropped the telephone handset on the secretary, seized the dishtowel. He wrapped the cloth tightly around the shattered stump, applying pressure to diminish the bleeding.
His severed toe lay across the room, on the white tile floor. It stuck up stiffly, nail gleaming, as if the floor were snow and the toe were the only exposed extremity of a body buried in a drift.
He felt as though he might pass out.
For more than twenty-three years, he'd given his big toe little consideration, had taken it for granted, had treated it with shameful neglect. Now this lower digit seemed precious, a comparatively small fixture of flesh, but as important to his image of himself as his nose or either of his eyes.
Darkness encroached at the edges of his vision.
Dizzy, he tipped forward, out of the chair, and spilled onto the floor.
He managed to hold the towel around his foot, but it grew dark red and disgustingly mushy.
He must not pass out. He dared not.
Aftermath was not important. Only movement mattered. Just forget the busload of nuns smashed on the tracks, and stay with the onrushing train. Keep moving, looking forward, always forward.
This philosophy had worked for him previously, but forgetting the aftermath was more difficult when the aftermath was your own poor, torn, severed toe. Your own poor, torn, severed toe was infinitely more difficult to ignore than a busload of dead nuns.
Struggling to keep a grip on consciousness, Junior told himself to focus on the future, to live in the future, free of the useless past and the difficult present, but he could not get into the future far enough to be in a time when the pain was no longer with him.
He thought he heard the tick-scrape-rattle-clink of Industrial Woman on the prowl. In the living room. Now the hall. Approaching.
Unable to hold his breath or to quiet his miserable sobbing, Junior couldn't hear clearly enough to discern whether the sounds of the stalking sculpture were real or imagined. He knew that they had to be imaginary, but he felt they were real.
Frantically, he squirmed around on the floor until he was facing the entrance to the kitchen. Through tears of pain, he expected to see a Frankensteinian shadow loom in the hall, and then the creature itself, gnashing its fork-tine teeth, its corkscrew ni**les spinning.
The doorbell rang.
The police. The stupid police. Ringing the bell when they knew he'd been shot. Ringing the damn doorbell when he lay here helpless, the Industrial Woman lurching toward him, his toe on the other side of the kitchen, ringing the doorbell when he was losing enough blood to give transfusions to an entire ward of wounded hemophiliacs. The stupid bastards were probably expecting him to serve tea and a plate of butter cookies, little paper doilies between each cup and saucer.
“Break down the door!” he shouted.
Junior had left the front door locked, because if unlocked, it would look as though he had wanted to facilitate their entry, and it would make them suspicious of the whole scenario.
“Break down the damn door!"
After the stupid bastards read a newspaper or smoked a few cigarettes, they finally broke down the door. Satisfyingly dramatic: the crack of splintering wood, the crash.
Here they came at last, guns drawn, wary. Different uniforms, yet they reminded him of the cops in Oregon, gathered in the shadow of the fire tower. The same faces: hard-eyed, suspicious.
If Vanadium appeared among these men, Junior would not only puke out the contents of his stomach, but also would disgorge his internal organs, every last one of them, and spew up his bones, too, until he emptied out everything within his skin.
“I thought there was a burglar,” Junior groaned, but he knew better than to spit out his entire story at once, for then he would appear to be reciting a script.
Soon paramedics followed the police, who spread out through the apartment, and Junior relinquished his grip on the dishtowel.
In a minute or two, one of the cops returned, crouching close as the medics worked. “There's no intruder."
“I thought there was."
“No sign of forced entry."
Junior pressed the word through a grimace of pain: “Accident."
The cop had picked up the .22 pistol, using a pencil through the trigger guard, to prevent the destruction of fingerprints.
“Mine,” Junior said, nodding at the gun.
Raised eyebrows punctuated the question: “You shot yourself.
Junior strove to appear properly mortified. “Thought I heard something. Searched the apartment."
“You shot yourself in the foot?"
“Yeah,” Junior said, and refrained from adding you moron.
“How'd it happen?"
“Nervous,” he said, and howled when one of the paramedics proved to be a sadist masquerading as an angel of mercy.
Two more uniformed officers had entered the kitchen, fresh from their search of the apartment. They were amused.
Junior wanted to shoot all of them, but he said, “Take it. Keep it. Get it the hell out of here."
“Your gun?” asked the crouching officer.
“I never want to see it again. I hate guns. Jesus, this hurts."
Then by ambulance to the hospital, whisked into surgery, and for a while, blessed unconsciousness.
Paramedics preserved his raggedly severed toe in an one-quart plastic Rubbermaid container from his own pantry. Junior would never again use it to store leftover soup.
Although first-rate, the surgical team wasn't able to reattach the badly torn extremity. Tissue damage was too extensive to permit delicate bone, nerve, and blood-vessel repair.
The stump was capped at the end of the internal cuneiform, depriving Junior of everything from the metatarsal to the tip of the toe. He was delighted with this result, because successful reattachment would have been a calamity.
By Friday morning, September 10, little more than forty-eight hours after the shooting, he felt good and was in fine spirits.
He happily signed a police form, relinquishing ownership of the pistol that he'd purchased in late June. The city operated a program to melt confiscated and donated weapons and to remake them into plowshares or xylophones, or into the metal fittings of hookah pipes.
By Thursday, September 23, due to Junior's accident and surgery, the draft board-which had reinstated his I — A status after he'd lost the exemption that had come with his former job as a rehabilitation therapist-agreed to schedule a new physical examination in December.
Considering the protection that it would afford him in a world full of warmongers, Junior considered the loss of the toe, while tragic, to be a necessary disfigurement. To his doctors and nurses, he made jokes about dismemberment, and in general he put on a brave face, for which he knew he was much admired.
Anyway, traumatic as it had been, the shooting was not the worst thing that happened to him that year.
Recuperating, he had plenty of time to practice meditation. He became so proficient at focusing on the imaginary bowling pin that he could make himself oblivious of all else. A stridently ringing phone wouldn't penetrate his trance. Even Bob Chicane, Junior's instructor, who knew all the tricks, could not make his voice heard when Junior was at one with the pin.
There was plenty of time, as well, for the Bartholomew search.
Back in January, when he received the disappointing report from Nolly Wulfstan, Junior was not convinced that the private detective had exercised due diligence in his investigation. He suspected that Wulfstan's ugliness was matched by his laziness.
Using a false name, claiming that he was an adoptee, Junior made inquiries with several child-placement organizations, as well as with state and federal agencies. He discovered that Wulfstan's story was true: Adoption records were sealed by law for the protection of the birth parents, and getting at them was all but impossible.
While waiting for inspiration to present him with a better strategy, Junior returned to the telephone book in search of the right Bartholomew. Not the directory for Spruce Hills and the surrounding county, but the one for San Francisco.
The city was less than seven miles on a side, only forty-six square miles, but Junior was nevertheless faced with a daunting task. Hundreds of thousands of people resided within the city limits.
Worse, the people who adopted Seraphim's baby might be anywhere in the nine-county Bay Area. Millions of phone listings to scan.
Reminding himself that fortune favored the persistent and that he must always look for the bright side, Junior began with the city itself and with those whose surnames were Bartholomew. This was a manageable number.
Posing as a counselor with Catholic Family Services, he phoned each listed Bartholomew, with a question related to his or her recent adoption. Those who expressed bafflement, and who claimed not to have adopted a child, were generally stricken from his list.
In a few instances, when his suspicions were aroused in spite of their denials, Junior tracked down their residences. He observed them in the flesh and made additional-and subtle-inquiries of their neighbors until he was satisfied that his quarry was elsewhere.
By mid-March, he had exhausted the possibilities of Bartholomew as a surname. By the time that he shot himself in September, he had combed through the first quarter million listings in the directory in search of those whose first names were Bartholomew.
Of course, Seraphim's child would not have a telephone. He was just a baby, dangerous to Junior in a way that was not clear, but a baby nonetheless.
Bartholomew was an uncommon name, however, and logic suggested that if the baby was now called Bartholomew, he'd been named for his adoptive dad. Therefore, a search of the listings might be fruitful.
Although Junior continued to feel threatened, continued to trust his instinct in this matter, he didn't devote his every waking hour to the hunt. He had a life to enjoy, after all. Self-improvements to undertake, galleries to explore, women to pursue.
More likely than not, he would cross Bartholomew's path when he least expected, not as a consequence of his searching, but in the normal course of a (lay. If that happened, he must be prepared to eliminate the threat immediately, by any means available to him.
Therefore, after the nasty shooting, as the Bartholomew hunt continued, so did the good life.
Following a month of recuperation and postoperative medical care, Junior was able to return to his twice-a-week classes in art appreciation. He resumed, as well, his almost daily strolls through the city's better galleries and fine museums.
Of firm but pliable rubber, custom-formed to his disfigured foot, a shoe insert filled the void left by his missing toe. This simple aid ensured that virtually all footwear was comfortable, and by November, Junior walked with no discernible limp.