WHEN THE PHONE RANG, Dortmunder was making himself a mayonnaise and baloney sandwich on white. He heard the ring, looked at his incomplete sandwich laid open on the plate like a patient etherized upon a table, and thought, what if I don’t answer? Then he replied to himself, it’ll just keep ringing. So he plunged the knife into the mayo jar and marched to the living room where, as predicted, the phone was still ringing. He answered: “Yeah?”
“Dortmunder!” rasped a voice so loud and irritating that Dortmunder automatically yanked the receiver out to arm’s length, as though it had caught fire. From that distance, the rasp was less painful but just as repellent: “Dortmunder! Where are you? You there?”
Cautiously, Dortmunder approached the receiver to his head. “Don’t shout,” he said.
“Am I shouting?” But then, of course, he wasn’t. “All these waves here, I can’t hear a thing. Can you hear them? The waves?”
Then Dortmunder knew who it was; the same voice that used to rasp from the intercom on West Eighty-ninth street. “Arnie? Is that you?”
“Who else?” Arnie Albright demanded.
“And you’re still there? The Club Med?”
“Down in the islands,” Arnie snarled. “Everything’s sand, and everybody smiles all the time. I know you’ll say it can’t be that bad, John Dortmunder, but it is. Never get sent down to a place like this.”
“If you got the choice, you’re sent up or you’re sent down, take up. You don’t have to take my word for it. Ignore me if you want, go your own way, whado I care?”
Dortmunder said, “I thought the idea was, they were gonna modify your behavior.”
“I’m modified,” Arnie assured him. “Trust me, I’m modified, but it doesn’t do any good. The G.O.s won’t eat with me.”
“The staff,” Arnie said. “The help. Everything’s democratic here, if you believe it, and the guests eat with the help. Everybody mixed up in the same tables. Only, after a few days, the G.O.s won’t eat with me any more. They pretend like they’re gonna, but then they don’t. They go sit with the smiley people instead.”
“G.O.s,” Dortmunder said. “That’s what you’ve been saying.”
“They got their own language here,” Arnie said. “Well, they do, anyway, they’re French. But even beyond that. So G.O. is staff, and G.M. is the rest of us, the guests.”
“Somebody told me,” Arnie said, “it means Gentile Members, but that can’t be right, can it?”
“I don’t know,” Dortmunder said. “I never been to a place like that.”
“Sunlight gives me a rash,” Arnie said. “I hadda come here to find that out. But I got a little porch on my room, I can get air and shade, and this whole ocean is right here, it’s practically in the place with me, and the waves don’t sound like traffic, you know that?”
“No, I didn’t know that,” Dortmunder said.
“You sure you can’t hear them? Listen,” Arnie said, and apparently held his phone closer to the ocean because now Dortmunder could hear a faint slow repeated shushing sound that wasn’t at all like traffic.
“Yeah, now I do,” he said.
A little silence, and then Arnie said, “Did you hear it?”
“Yeah, then I did.”
“Well, you don’t wanna talk to me,” Arnie said, “so let’s get to the subject matter.”
Dortmunder wanted to say, no, it’s fine to talk to you, or no, it’s good to hear your voice, but there are certain lies that just will not pass a person’s lips, no matter how firm the intention, so what he did say was, “Sure, the subject matter.”
“My cousin Archie tells me you wanna prepare a gift for when I get back there,” Arnie said, “and I should tell you what kinda gift I’d like to see.”
Getting the idea, Dortmunder said, “That’s it exactly.”
“I’m not interested in clocks.”
“I am interested in music boxes.”
“And I am interested in chess sets.”
“I’ll make a note.”
“And I am interested in coins, but only if they’re gold.”
“But I am not interested in anything else. Well, yeah, I am.”
“I’m interested,” Arnie said, “in a ticket outa here, but I don’t think you got one of those.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, I’m not gonna take up your time,” Arnie said, “on the phone here, tell you my troubles. Whada you give a shit about my troubles? The fact is, you don’t.”
“Uhhh,” Dortmunder said, and Arnie hung up.
It was amazing, really, how little effect Club Med had so far had on Arnie’s personality. And it was also amazing how much of that personality could come through over the telephone.
It was a good ten minutes before Dortmunder got his appetite back enough so he could go finish making his sandwich.