First Pages: All is Well by Dirk Vanden
Welcome to First Pages on Fridays! On Fridays, we share the first pages from a book (usually vintage), along with a bit of information about the author and the book’s history.
This week’s selection is the 1971 pulp novel All is Well, by Dirk Vanden. It was published by The Traveler’s Companion/Olympia Press, as part of The Other Traveller series. All of the books in this series feature similar cover designs, with a muted color palette.
I could write about the author Dirk Vanden, but the author’s own website does a very thorough job: www.dirkvanden.net.
Olympia Press was founded in 1953 in Paris and published many avante-garde classics, including some by William S. Burroughs. The company moved to New York in 1967 and finally closed in 1972. All is Well must have been one of the company’s final publications.
Here are the first pages; enjoy!
The note was creased and worn from many openings and refoldings. The printing was childish and the spelling atrocious, but I knew that no child had conceived such a frightening thing:
DERE ROBBER. THIS HERE IS A WARNING. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. YOR A WIKID AND TERIBEL MAN. YOU HURT PEEPLE. YOR WIFE HATES YOR GUTS AND THE GIRLS AND YOR SUN ALSO. BUT I HATE YOR MORE. YOU DESERV TO DIE AND IF GOD DON’T GIT YOU I WIL.
PS. YOR SUN IS A QUEER IF YOU DONT NO THAT ALL READY. IF YOU THING I AM FOOLING ASK JERY ASHBY. SO HA HA. THE JOKE IS ON YOU.
SINED YOU NO WHO
My hands were shaking as I angrily folded the note. I wanted to rip it to shreds, or crumple and burn it–get rid of it, forget it! What a blessed relief it would be just to get it out of my mind, if only for a couple of hours, or even a few minutes! Instead, I opened and read it again. The action had become a new habit–reading it, refolding it, unfolding it to read it again. . . .
Just two weeks ago it had come in the mail–two weeks that were now beginning to seem like two years. It had been lying innocently on my bed (where Kate always put the mail addressed specifically to me–fortunately) along with the telephone bill and a real estate brochure, addressed to MR ROBBER THORNE. I’d laughed at first, muttering, “Some idiot doesn’t know how to spell Robert.” Then I’d opened the evil thing!
PS. YOR SUN IS A QUEER. . . .
I pressed my hands hard against my legs, trying to stop them from trembling.
I needed a drink.
I looked at my watch; my plane wasn’t due to start loading for another ten minutes or so. I shuddered at the thought of taking that flight, but it had to be done. And I knew I could face it a lot more easily with a good stiff drink in my stomach.
I put the note and envelope into my briefcase, then stood wearily, glancing toward the huge front windows of the San Francisco airport. With the late afternoon sun slanting across the glass, the windows had become partly opaque, and for a few moments I studied my transparent reflection. At least I didn’t look as bad as I felt. The new clothes helped. I nodded to myself, thinking that Virginia, my secretary, would be delighted when I came in Monday morning: “Oh, wow, you did it! Oh, Mr. Thorne, now you really do look like him!” She insisted that I looked like her “very most favorite” movie star, Sean Connery, and although I couldn’t quite see the resemblance, I’d kept his James Bond image in mind, buying the new jacket and trousers. I still wasn’t sure that I liked the snug-fitting bellbottoms, but maybe that was simply because I wasn’t used to them. Or maybe it was because I felt foolish for spending almost a hundred dollars just to please my secretary–but, dammit, a man needed to please somebody once in a while.
What the hell? Other men my age were wearing bellbottoms, some of them a lot tighter and gaudier than these; the young man who’d sold them to me had insisted, “Oh, yes, sir, I’d say these were super-conservative. I mean, no one’s going to think you’re a hippie or anything like that.”
I was distracted from my thoughts by a growing uneasiness, sensing that someone was watching me. I tried to see who it might be by looking at the other reflections in the window, but the images were too hazy, and the glass kept wavering, each time someone came through the doors from outside.
I sat down again, trying to look casual–but my heart was starting to beat faster and the muscles in my stomach were tensing almost painfully: it wasn’t the first time today that I’d felt someone was watching me.
I’d awakened in my hotel room that morning with the vivid impression that someone was there in the room with me; even though that proved untrue, I couldn’t get rid of the conviction that someone had been in the room sometime during the night. I’d found nothing actually missing or noticeably out of place, but somehow it had seemed that things were not quite as I’d left them. Then later, walking along Van Ness on my way to the American Graphic Designers’ Association conference, I’d had the impression that someone was following me. Once more I’d been unable to confirm the suspicion. It had happened again in a coffee shop, just before the last session of the conference. I’d gone through the day with the increasingly uneasy premonition that something was going to happen–something bad, maybe even disastrous.
And now it was happening again!
I turned in the seat. At first there seemed to be no one the slightest bit interested in me, but as I glanced through the busy, noisy crowd, for some reason my eyes kept returning to a man standing at a bookstall about ten feet away. He was seemingly intent on reading a paperback novel, but something about him–I couldn’t tell what–gave me the feeling that he wasn’t reading the book at all.
He glanced up, and I turned away, but not before his gaze had met mine in a way that convinced me he’d been the one watching me. Moreover, I had a strangely uncomfortable feeling that I recognized him.
I was sure he wasn’t anyone I knew well–at least not at the present; something in my mind hinted that I’d known him a long time ago, maybe in college. If that were true, it would explain why he’d been watching me; he could have been trying to remember where he’d known me before–just as I was doing.
I glanced over my shoulder again. For a moment I thought he had gone–or had realized I’d seen him and had ducked behind one of the racks–but then I saw him at the counter, buying the book he’d been looking at. Obviously he was making no attempt to hide. At the moment he was leaning on the counter, looking thoroughly unconcerned, waiting for the cashier to bring back his change, casually watching the crowd moving around him.
He was a large man and rather good-looking–or perhaps “rugged” was a better word. I guessed he would stand an inch or so taller than I–maybe six-two or six-three. Dark hair, broad shoulders, a solid, muscular body. (I decided that women would probably find him very “sexy”.) There was something about him that seemed out-of-place, and it took several moments before I could decide what it was. He looked so natural and at ease in his clothing that it wasn’t until I’d looked around at several other men that I realized what made him look different. Most of the men I could see were dressed like myself, in sport coats and slacks, or in business suits; he was wearing a plain white T-shirt and the tightest pair of levis I’d seen in a long time. With his faded denim jacket hanging over one muscular arm, he looked like a burly sheepherder just down from the hills, freshly scrubbed, ready for a “night out in the Big City”. But a friendly sheepherder. He didn’t look at all sinister or dangerous. I couldn’t quite picture him sneaking into my room, or skulking after me in the street. He looked more like the type who would march up and say, “Hey, don’t I know you from somewheres?”
The only thing that really disturbed me about him was the obscene slouch he affected, which tightened his levis even more, displaying a thick and embarrassing bulge in his crotch; even from where I was sitting, the details of his sex organs were obvious. There was no way anyone could have helped noticing.
To browse this and other books in The Other Traveller series, visit the Somewhere Books online shop.