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17

MONROE HALL, STARTLED, looked up. What was that? However, since he was alone in the library at the moment, there was no one to answer. Still, he was certain thered been a a a something.

A sound? Squinting at his signed first editions, his collection of nineteenth-century leather-bounds, his assortment of privately printed early twentieth-century erotica (under lock and key and glass), Hall felt a sudden unease. There had been a a what?

An absence. Yes? Yes. Some sort of absence. SomethingThe dog that didnt bark in the night. Yes, The Adventure of Silver Blaze in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894. He had an excellent edition over there, very fine, no jacket or signature unfortunately, but still one of the more valuable bits of Sherlockiana.

What dog? There was no dog in this house, never had been, so if it did nothing that made perfect

An absence of cuckoos.

That was it. Hall looked at his Rolex and it was nine past three, and yet no cuckoos had announced the hour, not one.

How long had this been going on, or not going on? Had he recently been only in other parts of the house, where he wouldnt have heard the clocks anyway, and so been unaware that they were falling off, or down? Here in the library, where he liked to stand and look at his possessions, but never read themreading is so bad for a bookhe was right next to the clock room. If the cuckoos had been on the job, hed have known it.

Wanting to know the worst, Hall left the library, went down the corridor, and entered the clock room, where every single clock on all the walls and standing on all the shelves was absolutely still. Not a sign of movement. Theyd run down at various hours, some with their doors and birds mouths open, the rest shut down in mid-hour, like a medieval town under siege.

Hall was horrified. It was like looking at a massacre. Hubert! he cried, Hubert being an upstairs servant one of whose jobs was to keep these clocks wound. Hubert?

No answer. Hurrying to the wall phone, gleaming plastic among the dead wood, he pounded out Huberts extension, which would activate the mans beeper no matter where on the grounds he might be. Then he hung up and waited, staring at the phone, because now it was Huberts job to call him back.

Nothing. Where was the man? Where was Hubert? Why was there nothing in the world but all these dead cuckoo clocks?

Alicia! he screamed, needing her, needing her now. Alicia!

He hurried back to the corridor, where his voice would carry farther. Alicia! She had to be here! Where was she, off with one of those damned automobiles? Alicia!

There was no one else, no one else in the world, who understood him and could give him solace at a time like this. With the rest of the world, no matter how awful things got, one had to go on pretending to be a grownup. Only with Alicia could he relax into the baby he was.

Alicia!

No answer. No answer. They all failed you, sooner or later. No one to rely on.

He couldnt stand to look at the clocks any more, and hed lost the spirit to go on gazing at his books. Pouting, lower lip stuck out, he trailed away down the corridor until he saw the open door of the gym, and went in there instead.

Ah, the gym. If only Flip Morriscone were here. Flip was a good fellow, one of the very few good fellows Hall had ever met. A good fellow, and an honest fellow, and a hardworking fellow, and the best thing of all, he liked Monroe Hall! If he were here now, hed be supportive about the cuckoos, hed know what to do next.

At loose endswell, he was always at loose ends these daysHall went over to the treadmill, set it at a very leisurely pace indeed, far more languid than Flip would ever allow, and went for a little walk.

A little walk to nowhere, thats what his life had come down to. He could walk, he could walk all he wanted, but he couldnt actually go anywhere.

Treadmill to Oblivion, 1954, Fred Allens grim-titled memoir of his life writing and starring in a weekly radio show. Hall had a copy of it, of course, signed first edition with a dust jacket in almost perfect condition. Hed been told it was a very good book.

He didnt need to read those books. He didnt need to exercise on all these intimidating machines. He didnt need to drive all these cars. He needed to have them, thats all, have everything, have the complete set of everything ever made. Then hed be happy.

It was almost two hours later that Alicia, back from her drive, found him there, still ambling in place on the treadmill, humming a mournful little tune. Why, Monroe, she said.

Oh, Alicia, he said tragically. He stopped walking and bumped painfully into the front of the machine. Damn! Drat! Oh, why cant I He hopped off the treadmill, which ambled on without him. This is so awful! he cried.

Switching off the machine, Alicia said, Youre all upset, Monroe. Whats happened?

The clocks, he told her. Theyve all stopped.

Oh, dear, she said.

I called for Hubert, but no answer. Where is he? He doesnt have days off, does he?

Oh, Monroe, Alicia said, Im afraid Hubert has left us.

Left us? Why would he do a thing like that?

His family talked against us, she said. They found him a different job, so he wont have to associate with us.

With you? Hall cried. Everybody likes to associate with you!

Well, yes, dear, she said. I didnt want to make too much of it, but yes, it was mostly you he was talking about. His family talking about.

So hes just gone off, and left the cuckoos to die. What a cruel heartless thing to do.

I tell you what, Monroe, she said, why dont we go in and wind them up again? The two of us?

We cant wind all those clocks! Alicia, we need servants!

Well, Im afraid were having fewer and fewer.

You go wind cuckoos if you want, Hall told her. Im going to call Cooper.

I dont think Cooper can do much for us, Monroe.

Hes an employment agent, Hall pointed out. Hes supposed to find employees for people who need employees, and God knows thats us. Im going to call him now.

Halls office was farther down the corridor. Entering it, he made straight for the mid-nineteenth-century partners desk with its green felt inserts on both sides. (He used both sides himself, of course.) Rolodexes were placed here and there, but he didnt need them. He well knew Coopers number. He dialed it, gave his name to the receptionist, waited a very long time, and then the cheeky girl came back and said, Mr. Cooper isnt in at the moment. Woodja like to leave your name and number?

Mr. Cooper certainly is in, Hall told her, and he already knows my name and number. Hes ducking me. Hes avoiding me. You can give him a message for me.

Sure thing. Shoot.

Monroe Hall needs staff. Did you get that? Did you write that down?

Monroe Hall needs staff, she repeated, deadpan.

Tell him, Hall said, and slammed the phone down. Somewhere, a cuckoo rang.


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