Jesus or Junk?

Whatever Works.

The Story of the Other Wise Man.

Journey or destination?

Henry Van Dyke (1852 - 1933)

You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they travelled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking and the strange way of his finding the One whom he sought--I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.


In the days when Augustus Caesar was master of many kings and Herod reigned in Jerusalem, there lived in the city of Ecbatana, among the mountains of Persia, a certain man named Artaban. His house stood close to the outermost of the walls which encircled the royal treasury. From his roof he could look over the seven-fold battlements of black and white and crimson and blue and red and silver and gold, to the hill where the summer palace of the Parthian emperors glittered like a jewel in a crown.

Around the dwelling of Artaban spread a fair garden, a tangle of flowers and fruit-trees, watered by a score of streams descending from the slopes of Mount Orontes, and made musical by innumerable birds. But all colour was lost in the soft and odorous darkness of the late September night, and all sounds were hushed in the deep charm of its silence, save the plashing of the water, like a voice half-sobbing and half-laughing under the shadows. High above the trees a dim glow of light shone through the curtained arches of the upper chamber, where the master of the house was holding council with his friends.

He stood by the doorway to greet his guests--a tall, dark man of about forty years, with brilliant eyes set near together under his broad brow, and firm lines graven around his fine, thin lips; the brow of a dreamer and the mouth of a soldier, a man of sensitive feeling but inflexible will--one of those who, in whatever age they may live, are born for inward conflict and a life of quest.

His robe was of pure white wool, thrown over a tunic of silk; and a white, pointed cap, with long lapels at the sides, rested on his flowing black hair. It was the dress of the ancient priesthood of the Magi, called the fire-worshippers.

"Welcome!" he said, in his low, pleasant voice, as one after another entered the room--"welcome, Abdus; peace be with you, Rhodaspes and Tigranes, and with you my father, Abgarus. You are all welcome. This house grows bright with the joy of your presence."

There were nine of the men, differing widely in age, but alike in the richness of their dress of many-coloured silks, and in the massive golden collars around their necks, marking them as Parthian nobles, and in the winged circles of gold resting upon their breasts, the sign of the followers of Zoroaster.

They took their places around a small black altar at the end of the room, where a tiny flame was burning. Artaban, standing beside it, and waving a barsom of thin tamarisk branches above the fire, fed it with dry sticks of pine and fragrant oils. Then he began the ancient chant of the Yasna, and the voices of his companions joined in the hymn to Ahura-Mazda:

We worship the Spirit Divine,
all wisdom and goodness possessing,
Surrounded by Holy Immortals,
the givers of bounty and blessing;
We joy in the work of His hands,
His truth and His power confessing.

We praise all the things that are pure,
for these are His only Creation
The thoughts that are true, and the words
and the deeds that have won approbation;
These are supported by Him,
and for these we make adoration.
Hear us, O Mazda! Thou livest
in truth and in heavenly gladness;
Cleanse us from falsehood, and keep us
from evil and bondage to badness,
Pour out the light and the joy of Thy life
on our darkness and sadness.

Shine on our gardens and fields,
shine on our working and waving;
Shine on the whole race of man,
believing and unbelieving;
Shine on us now through the night,
Shine on us now in Thy might,
The flame of our holy love
and the song of our worship receiving.

The fire rose with the chant, throbbing as if the flame responded to the music, until it cast a bright illumination through the whole apartment, revealing its simplicity and splendour.

The floor was laid with tiles of dark blue veined with white; pilasters of twisted silver stood out against the blue walls; the clear-story of round-arched windows above them was hung with azure silk; the vaulted ceiling was a pavement of blue stones, like the body of heaven in its clearness, sown with silver stars. From the four corners of the roof hung four golden magic-wheels, called the tongues of the gods. At the eastern end, behind the altar, there were two dark-red pillars of porphyry; above them a lintel of the same stone, on which was carved the figure of a winged archer, with his arrow set to the string and his bow drawn.

The doorway between the pillars, which opened upon the terrace of the roof, was covered with a heavy curtain of the colour of a ripe pomegranate, embroidered with innumerable golden rays shooting upward from the floor. In effect the room was like a quiet, starry night, all azure and silver, flushed in the cast with rosy promise of the dawn. It was, as the house of a man should be, an expression of the character and spirit of the master.

He turned to his friends when the song was ended, and invited them to be seated on the divan at the western end of the room.

"You have come to-night," said he, looking around the circle, "at my call, as the faithful scholars of Zoroaster, to renew your worship and rekindle your faith in the God of Purity, even as this fire has been rekindled on the altar. We worship not the fire, but Him of whom it is the chosen symbol, because it is the purest of all created things. It speaks to us of one who is Light and Truth. Is it not so, my father?"

"It is well said, my son," answered the venerable Abgarus. "The enlightened are never idolaters. They lift the veil of form and go in to the shrine of reality, and new light and truth are coming to them continually through the old symbols." "Hear me, then, my father and my friends," said Artaban, "while I tell you of the new light and truth that have come to me through the most ancient of all signs. We have searched the secrets of Nature together, and studied the healing virtues of water and fire and the plants. We have read also the books of prophecy in which the future is dimly foretold in words that are hard to understand. But the highest of all learning is the knowledge of the stars. To trace their course is to untangle the threads of the mystery of life from the beginning to the end. If we could follow them perfectly, nothing would be hidden from us. But is not our knowledge of them still incomplete? Are there not many stars still beyond our horizon--lights that are known only to the dwellers in the far south-land, among the spice-trees of Punt and the gold mines of Ophir?"

There was a murmur of assent among the listeners.

"The stars," said Tigranes, "are the thoughts of the Eternal. They are numberless. But the thoughts of man can be counted, like the years of his life. The wisdom of the Magi is the greatest of all wisdoms on earth, because it knows its own ignorance. And that is the secret of power. We keep men always looking and waiting for a new sunrise. But we ourselves understand that the darkness is equal to the light, and that the conflict between them will never be ended."

"That does not satisfy me," answered Artaban, "for, if the waiting must be endless, if there could be no fulfilment of it, then it would not be wisdom to look and wait. We should become like those new teachers of the Greeks, who say that there is no truth, and that the only wise men are those who spend their lives in discovering and exposing the lies that have been believed in the world. But the new sunrise will certainly appear in the appointed time. Do not our own books tell us that this will come to pass, and that men will see the brightness of a great light?"

"That is true," said the voice of Abgarus; "every faithful disciple of Zoroaster knows the prophecy of the Avesta, and carries the word in his heart. `In that day Sosiosh the Victorious shall arise out of the number of the prophets in the east country. Around him shall shine a mighty brightness, and he shall make life everlasting, incorruptible, and immortal, and the dead shall rise again.'"

"This is a dark saying," said Tigranes, "and it may be that we shall never understand it. It is better to consider the things that are near at hand, and to increase the influence of the Magi in their own country, rather than to look for one who may be a stranger, and to whom we must resign our power."

The others seemed to approve these words. There was a silent feeling of agreement manifest among them; their looks responded with that indefinable expression which always follows when a speaker has uttered the thought that has been slumbering in the hearts of his listeners. But Artaban turned to Abgarus with a glow on his face, and said:

"My father, I have kept this prophecy in the secret place of my soul. Religion without a great hope would be like an altar without a living fire. And now the flame has burned more brightly, and by the light of it I have read other words which also have come from the fountain of Truth, and speak yet more clearly of the rising of the Victorious One in his brightness."

He drew from the breast of his tunic two small rolls of fine parchment, with writing upon them, and unfolded them carefully upon his knee.

"In the years that are lost in the past, long before our fathers came into the land of Babylon, there were wise men in Chaldea, from whom the first of the Magi learned the secret of the heavens. And of these Balaam the son of Beor was one of the mightiest. Hear the words of his prophecy: 'There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall arise out of Israel.'"

The lips of Tigranes drew downward with contempt, as he said:

"Judah was a captive by the waters of Babylon, and the sons of Jacob were in bondage to our kings. The tribes of Israel are scattered through the mountains like lost sheep, and from the remnant that dwells in Judea under the yoke of Rome neither star nor sceptre shall arise."

"And yet," answered Artaban, "it was the Hebrew Daniel, the mighty searcher of dreams, the counsellor of kings, the wise Belteshazzar, who was most honoured and beloved of our great King Cyrus. A prophet of sure things and a reader of the thoughts of the Eternal, Daniel proved himself to our people. And these are the words that he wrote." (Artaban read from the second roll:) " 'Know, therefore, and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to restore Jerusalem, unto the Anointed One, the Prince, the time shall be seven and threescore and two weeks."'

"But, my son," said Abgarus, doubtfully, "these are mystical numbers. Who can interpret them, or who can find the key that shall unlock their meaning?"

Artaban answered: "It has been shown to me and to my three companions among the Magi--Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. We have searched the ancient tablets of Chaldea and computed the time. It falls in this year. We have studied the sky, and in the spring of the year we saw two of the greatest planets draw near together in the sign of the Fish, which is the house of the Hebrews. We also saw a new star there, which shone for one night and then vanished. Now again the two great planets are meeting. This night is their conjunction. My three brothers are watching by the ancient Temple of the Seven Spheres, at Borsippa, in Babylonia, and I am watching here. If the star shines again, they will wait ten days for me at the temple, and then we will set out together for Jerusalem, to see and worship the promised one who shall be born King of Israel. I believe the sign will come. I have made ready for the journey. I have sold my possessions, and bought these three jewels--a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl--to carry them as tribute to the King. And I ask you to go with me on the pilgrimage, that we may have joy together in finding the Prince who is worthy to be served."

While he was speaking he thrust his hand into the inmost fold of his, girdle and drew out three great gems--one blue as a fragment of the night sky, one redder than a ray of sunrise, and one as pure as the peak of a snow-mountain at twilight--and laid them on the outspread scrolls before him.

But his friends looked on with strange and alien eyes. A veil of doubt and mistrust came over their faces, like a fog creeping up from the marshes to hide the hills. They glanced at each other with looks of wonder and pity, as those who have listened to incredible sayings, the story of a wild vision, or the proposal of an impossible enterprise.

At last Tigranes said: "Artaban, this is a vain dream. It comes from too much looking upon the stars and the cherishing of lofty thoughts. It would be wiser to spend the time in gathering money for the new fire-temple at Chala. No king will ever rise from the broken race of Israel, and no end will ever come to the eternal strife of light and darkness. He who looks for it is a chaser of shadows. Farewell."

And another said: "Artaban, I have no knowledge of these things, and my office as guardian of the royal treasure binds me here. The quest is not for me. But if thou must follow it, fare thee well."

And another said: "In my house there sleeps a new bride, and I cannot leave her nor take her with me on this strange journey. This quest is not for me. But may thy steps be prospered wherever thou goest. So, farewell."

And another said: "I am ill and unfit for hardship, but there is a man among my servants whom I will send with thee when thou goest, to bring me word how thou farest."

So, one by one, they left the house of Artaban. But Abgarus, the oldest and the one who loved him the best, lingered after the others had gone, and said, gravely: "My son, it may be that the light of truth is in this sign that has appeared in the skies, and then it will surely lead to the Prince and the mighty brightness. Or it may be that it is only a shadow of the light, as Tigranes has said, and then he who follows it will have a long pilgrimage and a fruitless search. But it is better to follow even the shadow of the best than to remain content with the worst. And those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone. I am too old for this journey, but my heart shall be a companion of thy pilgrimage day and night, and I shall know the end of thy quest. Go in peace."

Then Abgarus went out of the azure chamber with its silver stars, and Artaban was left in solitude.

He gathered up the jewels and replaced them in his girdle. For a long time he stood and watched the flame that flickered and sank upon the altar. Then he crossed the hall, lifted the heavy curtain, and passed out between the pillars of porphyry to the terrace on the roof.

The shiver that runs through the earth ere she rouses from her night-sleep had already begun, and the cool wind that heralds the daybreak was drawing downward from the lofty snow-traced ravines of Mount Orontes. Birds, half-awakened, crept and chirped among the rustling leaves, and the smell of ripened grapes came in brief wafts from the arbours.

Far over the eastern plain a white mist stretched like a lake. But where the distant peaks of Zagros serrated the western horizon the sky was clear. Jupiter and Saturn rolled together like drops of lambent flame about to blend in one.

As Artaban watched them, a steel-blue spark was born out of the darkness beneath, rounding itself with purple splendours to a crimson sphere, and spiring upward through rays of saffron and orange into a point of white radiance. Tiny and infinitely remote, yet perfect in every part, it pulsated in the enormous vault as if the three jewels in the Magian's girdle had mingled and been transformed into a living heart of light.

He bowed his head. He covered his brow with his hands.

"It is the sign," he said. "The King is coming, and I will go to meet him."


All night long, Vasda, the swiftest of Artaban's horses, had been waiting, saddled and bridled, in her stall, pawing the ground impatiently, and shaking her bit as if she shared the eagerness of her master's purpose, though she knew not its meaning.

Before the birds had fully roused to their strong, high, joyful chant of morning song, before the white mist had begun to lift lazily from the plain, the Other Wise Man was in the saddle, riding swiftly along the high-road, which skirted the base of Mount Orontes, westward.

How close, how intimate is the comradeship between a man and his favourite horse on a long journey. It is a silent, comprehensive friendship, an intercourse beyond the need of words.

They drink at the same way-side springs, and sleep under the same guardian stars. They are conscious together of the subduing spell of nightfall and the quickening joy of daybreak. The master shares his evening meal with his hungry companion, and feels the soft, moist lips caressing the palm of his hand as they close over the morsel of bread. In the gray dawn he is roused from his bivouac by the gentle stir of a warm, sweet breath over his sleeping face, and looks up into the eyes of his faithful fellow-traveller, ready and waiting for the toil of the day. Surely, unless he is a pagan and an unbeliever, by whatever name he calls upon his God, he will thank Him for this voiceless sympathy, this dumb affection, and his morning prayer will embrace a double blessing--God bless us both, the horse and the rider, and keep our feet from falling and our souls from death!

Then, through the keen morning air, the swift hoofs beat their tattoo along the road, keeping time to the pulsing of two hearts that are moved with the same eager desire--to conquer space, to devour the distance, to attain the goal of the journey.

Artaban must indeed ride wisely and well if he would keep the appointed hour with the other Magi; for the route was a hundred and fifty parasangs, and fifteen was the utmost that he could travel in a day. But he knew Vasda's strength, and pushed forward without anxiety, making the fixed distance every day, though he must travel late into the night, and in the morning long before sunrise.

He passed along the brown slopes of Mount Orontes, furrowed by the rocky courses of a hundred torrents.

He crossed the level plains of the Nisaeans, where the famous herds of horses, feeding in the wide pastures, tossed their heads at Vasda's approach, and galloped away with a thunder of many hoofs, and flocks of wild birds rose suddenly from the swampy meadows, wheeling in great circles with a shining flutter of innumerable wings and shrill cries of surprise.

He traversed the fertile fields of Concabar, where the dust from the threshing-floors filled the air with a golden mist, half hiding the huge temple of Astarte with its four hundred pillars.

At Baghistan, among the rich gardens watered by fountains from the rock, he looked up at the mountain thrusting its immense rugged brow out over the road, and saw the figure of King Darius trampling upon his fallen foes, and the proud list of his wars and conquests graven high upon the face of the eternal cliff.

Over many a cold and desolate pass, crawling painfully across the wind-swept shoulders of the hills; down many a black mountain-gorge, where the river roared and raced before him like a savage guide; across many a smiling vale, with terraces of yellow limestone full of vines and fruit-trees; through the oak-groves of Carine and the dark Gates of Zagros, walled in by precipices; into the ancient city of Chala, where the people of Samaria had been kept in captivity long ago; and out again by the mighty portal, riven through the encircling hills, where he saw the image of the High Priest of the Magi sculptured on the wall of rock, with hand uplifted as if to bless the centuries of pilgrims; past the entrance of the narrow defile, filled from end to end with orchards of peaches and figs, through which the river Gyndes foamed down to meet him; over the broad rice-fields, where the autumnal vapours spread their deathly mists; following along the course of the river, under tremulous shadows of poplar and tamarind, among the lower hills; and out upon the flat plain, where the road ran straight as an arrow through the stubble-fields and parched meadows; past the city of Ctesiphon, where the Parthian emperors reigned, and the vast metropolis of Seleucia which Alexander built; across the swirling floods of Tigris and the many channels of Euphrates, flowing yellow through the corn-lands--Artaban pressed onward until he arrived, at nightfall on the tenth day, beneath the shattered walls of populous Babylon.

Vasda was almost spent, and Artaban would gladly have turned into the city to find rest and refreshment for himself and for her. But he knew that it was three hours' journey yet to the Temple of the Seven Spheres, and he must reach the place by midnight if he would find his comrades waiting. So he did not halt, but rode steadily across the stubble-fields.

A grove of date-palms made an island of gloom in the pale yellow sea. As she passed into the shadow Vasda slackened her pace, and began to pick her way more carefully.

Near the farther end of the darkness an access of caution seemed to fall upon her. She scented some danger or difficulty; it was not in her heart to fly from it--only to be prepared for it, and to meet it wisely, as a good horse should do. The grove was close and silent as the tomb; not a leaf rustled, not a bird sang.

She felt her steps before her delicately, carrying her head low, and sighing now and then with apprehension. At last she gave a quick breath of anxiety and dismay, and stood stock-still, quivering in every muscle, before a dark object in the shadow of the last palm-tree.

Artaban dismounted. The dim starlight revealed the form of a man lying across the road. His humble dress and the outline of his haggard face showed that he was probably one of the Hebrews who still dwelt in great numbers around the city. His pallid skin, dry and yellow as parchment, bore the mark of the deadly fever which ravaged the marsh-lands in autumn. The chill of death was in his lean hand, and, as Artaban released it, the arm fell back inertly upon the motionless breast.

He turned away with a thought of pity, leaving the body to that strange burial which the Magians deemed most fitting--the funeral of the desert, from which the kites and vultures rise on dark wings, and the beasts of prey slink furtively away. When they are gone there is only a heap of white bones on the sand.

But, as he turned, a long, faint, ghostly sigh came from the man's lips. The bony fingers gripped the hem of the Magian's robe and held him fast.

Artaban's heart leaped to his throat, not with fear, but with a dumb resentment at the importunity of this blind delay.

How could he stay here in the darkness to minister to a dying stranger? What claim had this unknown fragment of human life upon his compassion or his service? If he lingered but for an hour he could hardly reach Borsippa at the appointed time. His companions would think he had given up the journey. They would go without him. He would lose his quest.

But if he went on now, the man would surely die. If Artaban stayed, life might be restored. His spirit throbbed and fluttered with the urgency of the crisis. Should he risk the great reward of his faith for the sake of a single deed of charity? Should he turn aside, if only for a moment, from the following of the star, to give a cup of cold water to a poor, perishing Hebrew?

"God of truth and purity," he prayed, "direct me in the holy path, the way of wisdom which Thou only knowest."

Then he turned back to the sick man. Loosening the grasp of his hand, he carried him to a little mound at the foot of the palm-tree.

He unbound the thick folds of the turban and opened the garment above the sunken breast. He brought water from one of the small canals near by, and moistened the sufferer's brow and mouth. He mingled a draught of one of those simple but potent remedies which he carried always in his girdle--for the Magians were physicians as well as astrologers--and poured it slowly between the colourless lips. Hour after hour he laboured as only a skilful healer of disease can do. At last the man's strength returned; he sat up and looked about him.

"Who art thou?" he said, in the rude dialect of the country, "and why hast thou sought me here to bring back my life?"

"I am Artaban the Magian, of the city of Ecbatana, and I am going to Jerusalem in search of one who is to be born King of the Jews, a great Prince and Deliverer of all men. I dare not delay any longer upon my journey, for the caravan that has waited for me may depart without me. But see, here is all that I have left of bread and wine, and here is a potion of healing herbs. When thy strength is restored thou canst find the dwellings of the Hebrews among the houses of Babylon."

The Jew raised his trembling hand solemnly to heaven.

"Now may the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob bless and prosper the journey of the merciful, and bring him in peace to his desired haven. Stay! I have nothing to give thee in return--only this: that I can tell thee where the Messiah must be sought. For our prophets have said that he should be born not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem of Judah. May the Lord bring thee in safety to that place, because thou hast had pity upon the sick."

It was already long past midnight. Artaban rode in haste, and Vasda, restored by the brief rest, ran eagerly through the silent plain and swam the channels of the river. She put forth the remnant of her strength, and fled over the ground like a gazelle.

But the first beam of the rising sun sent a long shadow before her as she entered upon the final stadium of the journey, and the eyes of Artaban, anxiously scanning the great mound of Nimrod and the Temple of the Seven Spheres, could discern no trace of his friends.

The many-coloured terraces of black and orange and red and yellow and green and blue and white, shattered by the convulsions of nature, and crumbling under the repeated blows of human violence, still glittered like a ruined rainbow in the morning light.

Artaban rode swiftly around the hill. He dismounted and climbed to the highest terrace, looking out toward the west.

The huge desolation of the marshes stretched away to the horizon and the border of the desert. Bitterns stood by the stagnant pools and jackals skulked through the low bushes; but there was no sign of the caravan of the Wise Men, far or near.

At the edge of the terrace he saw a little cairn of broken bricks, and under them a piece of papyrus. He caught it up and read: "We have waited past the midnight, and can delay no longer. We go to find the King. Follow us across the desert."

Artaban sat down upon the ground and covered his head in despair.

"How can I cross the desert," said he, "with no food and with a spent horse? I must return to Babylon, sell my sapphire, and buy a train of camels, and provision for the journey. I may never overtake my friends. Only God the merciful knows whether I shall not lose the sight of the King because I tarried to show mercy."


There was a silence in the Hall of Dreams, where I was listening to the story of the Other Wise Man. Through this silence I saw, but very dimly, his figure passing over the dreary undulations of the desert, high upon the back of his camel, rocking steadily onward like a ship over the waves.

The land of death spread its cruel net around him. The stony waste bore no fruit but briers and thorns. The dark ledges of rock thrust themselves above the surface here and there, like the bones of perished monsters. Arid and inhospitable mountain-ranges rose before him, furrowed with dry channels of ancient torrents, white and ghastly as scars on the face of nature. Shifting hills of treacherous sand were heaped like tombs along the horizon. By day, the fierce heat pressed its intolerable burden on the quivering air. No living creature moved on the dumb, swooning earth, but tiny jerboas scuttling through the parched bushes, or lizards vanishing in the clefts of the rock. By night the jackals prowled and barked in the distance, and the lion made the black ravines echo with his hollow roaring, while a bitter, blighting chill followed the fever of the day. Through heat and cold, the Magian moved steadily onward.

Then I saw the gardens and orchards of Damascus, watered by the streams of Abana and Pharpar, with their sloping swards inlaid with bloom, and their thickets of myrrh and roses. I saw the long, snowy ridge of Hermon, and the dark groves of cedars, and the valley of the Jordan, and the blue waters of the Lake of Galilee, and the fertile plain of Esdraelon, and the hills of Ephraim, and the highlands of Judah. Through all these I followed the figure of Artaban moving steadily onward, until he arrived at Bethlehem. And it was the third day after the three Wise Men had come to that place and had found Mary and Joseph, with the young child, Jesus, and had laid their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh at his feet.

Then the Other Wise Man drew near, weary, but full of hope, bearing his ruby and his pearl to offer to the King. "For now at last," he said, "I shall surely find him, though I be alone, and later than my brethren. This is the place of which the Hebrew exile told me that the prophets had spoken, and here I shall behold the rising of the great light. But I must inquire about the visit of my brethren, and to what house the star directed them, and to whom they presented their tribute."

The streets of the village seemed to be deserted, and Artaban wondered whether the men had all gone up to the hill-pastures to bring down their sheep. From the open door of a cottage he heard the sound of a woman's voice singing softly. He entered and found a young mother hushing her baby to rest. She told him of the strangers from the far East who had appeared in the village three days ago, and how they said that a star had guided them to the place where Joseph of Nazareth was lodging with his wife and her new-born child, and how they had paid reverence to the child and given him many rich gifts.

"But the travellers disappeared again," she continued, "as suddenly as they had come. We were afraid at the strangeness of their visit. We could not understand it. The man of Nazareth took the child and his mother, and fled away that same night secretly, and it was whispered that they were going to Egypt. Ever since, there has been a spell upon the village; something evil hangs over it. They say that the Roman soldiers are coming from Jerusalem to force a new tax from us, and the men have driven the flocks and herds far back among the hills, and hidden themselves to escape it."

Artaban listened to her gentle, timid speech, and the child in her arms looked up in his face and smiled, stretching out its rosy hands to grasp at the winged circle of gold on his breast. His heart warmed to the touch. It seemed like a greeting of love and trust to one who had journeyed long in loneliness and perplexity, fighting with his own doubts and fears, and following a light that was veiled in clouds.

"Why might not this child have been the promised Prince?" he asked within himself, as he touched its soft cheek. "Kings have been born ere now in lowlier houses than this, and the favourite of the stars may rise even from a cottage. But it has not seemed good to the God of wisdom to reward my search so soon and so easily. The one whom I seek has gone before me; and now I must follow the King to Egypt."

The young mother laid the baby in its cradle, and rose to minister to the wants of the strange guest that fate had brought into her house. She set food before him, the plain fare of peasants, but willingly offered, and therefore full of refreshment for the soul as well as for the body. Artaban accepted it gratefully; and, as he ate, the child fell into a happy slumber, and murmured sweetly in its dreams, and a great peace filled the room.

But suddenly there came the noise of a wild confusion in the streets of the village, a shrieking and wailing of women's voices, a clangour of brazen trumpets and a clashing of swords, and a desperate cry: "The soldiers! the soldiers of Herod! They are killing our children."

The young mother's face grew white with terror. She clasped her child to her bosom, and crouched motionless in the darkest corner of the room, covering him with the folds of her robe, lest he should wake and cry.

But Artaban went quickly and stood in the doorway of the house. His broad shoulders filled the portal from side to side, and the peak of his white cap all but touched the lintel.

The soldiers came hurrying down the street with bloody hands and dripping swords. At the sight of the stranger in his imposing dress they hesitated with surprise. The captain of the band approached the threshold to thrust him aside. But Artaban did not stir. His face was as calm as though he were watching the stars, and in his eyes there burned that steady radiance before which even the half-tamed hunting leopard shrinks, and the bloodhound pauses in his leap. He held the soldier silently for an instant, and then said in a low voice:

"I am all alone in this place, and I am waiting to give this jewel to the prudent captain who will leave me in peace."

He showed the ruby, glistening in the hollow of his hand like a great drop of blood.

The captain was amazed at the splendour of the gem. The pupils of his eyes expanded with desire, and the hard lines of greed wrinkled around his lips. He stretched out his hand and took the ruby.

"March on!" he cried to his men, "there is no child here. The house is empty."

The clamor and the clang of arms passed down the street as the headlong fury of the chase sweeps by the secret covert where the trembling deer is hidden. Artaban re-entered the cottage. He turned his face to the east and prayed:

"God of truth, forgive my sin! I have said the thing that is not, to save the life of a child. And two of my gifts are gone. I have spent for man that which was meant for God. Shall I ever be worthy to see the face of the King?"

But the voice of the woman, weeping for joy in the shadow behind him, said very gently:

"Because thou hast saved the life of my little one, may the Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace."


Again there was a silence in the Hall of Dreams, deeper and more mysterious than the first interval, and I understood that the years of Artaban were flowing very swiftly under the stillness, and I caught only a glimpse, here and there, of the river of his life shining through the mist that concealed its course.

I saw him moving among the throngs of men in populous Egypt, seeking everywhere for traces of the household that had come down from Bethlehem, and finding them under the spreading sycamore-trees of Heliopolis, and beneath the walls of the Roman fortress of New Babylon beside the Nile--traces so faint and dim that they vanished before him continually, as footprints on the wet river-sand glisten for a moment with moisture and then disappear.

I saw him again at the foot of the pyramids, which lifted their sharp points into the intense saffron glow of the sunset sky, changeless monuments of the perishable glory and the imperishable hope of man. He looked up into the face of the crouching Sphinx and vainly tried to read the meaning of the calm eyes and smiling mouth. Was it, indeed, the mockery of all effort and all aspiration, as Tigranes had said--the cruel jest of a riddle that has no answer, a search that never can succeed? Or was there a touch of pity and encouragement in that inscrutable smile--a promise that even the defeated should attain a victory, and the disappointed should discover a prize, and the ignorant should be made wise, and the blind should see, and the wandering should come into the haven at last?

I saw him again in an obscure house of Alexandria, taking counsel with a Hebrew rabbi. The venerable man, bending over the rolls of parchment on which the prophecies of Israel were written, read aloud the pathetic words which foretold the sufferings of the promised Messiah--the despised and rejected of men, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

"And remember, my son," said he, fixing his eyes upon the face of Artaban, "the King whom thou seekest is not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful. If the light of the world and the glory of Israel had been appointed to come with the greatness of earthly splendour, it must have appeared long ago. For no son of Abraham will ever again rival the power which Joseph had in the palaces of Egypt, or the magnificence of Solomon throned between the lions in Jerusalem. But the light for which the world is waiting is a new light, the glory that shall rise out of patient and triumphant suffering. And the kingdom which is to be established forever is a new kingdom, the royalty of unconquerable love.

"I do not know how this shall come to pass, nor how the turbulent kings and peoples of earth shall be brought to acknowledge the Messiah and pay homage to him. But this I know. Those who seek him will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed."

So I saw the Other Wise Man again and again, travelling from place to place, and searching among the people of the dispersion, with whom the little family from Bethlehem might, perhaps, have found a refuge. He passed through countries where famine lay heavy upon the land, and the poor were crying for bread. He made his dwelling in plague-stricken cities where the sick were languishing in the bitter companionship of helpless misery. He visited the oppressed and the afflicted in the gloom of subterranean prisons, and the crowded wretchedness of slave-markets, and the weary toil of galley-ships. In all this populous and intricate world of anguish, though he found none to worship, he found many to help. He fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and healed the sick, and comforted the captive; and his years passed more swiftly than the weaver's shuttle that flashes back and forth through the loom while the web grows and the pattern is completed.

It seemed almost as if he had forgotten his quest. But once I saw him for a moment as he stood alone at sunrise, waiting at the gate of a Roman prison. He had taken from a secret resting-place in his bosom the pearl, the last of his jewels. As he looked at it, a mellower lustre, a soft and iridescent light, full of shifting gleams of azure and rose, trembled upon its surface. It seemed to have absorbed some reflection of the lost sapphire and ruby. So the secret purpose of a noble life draws into itself the memories of past joy and past sorrow. All that has helped it, all that has hindered it, is transfused by a subtle magic into its very essence. It becomes more luminous and precious the longer it is carried close to the warmth of the beating heart.

Then, at last, while I was thinking of this pearl, and of its meaning, I heard the end of the story of the Other Wise Man.


Three-and-thirty years of the life of Artaban had passed away, and he was still a pilgrim and a seeker after light. His hair, once darker than the cliffs of Zagros, was now white as the wintry snow that covered them. His eyes, that once flashed like flames of fire, were dull as embers smouldering among the ashes.

Worn and weary and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem. He had often visited the holy city before, and had searched all its lanes and crowded bevels and black prisons without finding any trace of the family of Nazarenes who had fled from Bethlehem long ago. But now it seemed as if he must make one more effort, and something whispered in his heart that, at last, he might succeed.

It was the season of the Passover. The city was thronged with strangers. The children of Israel, scattered in far lands, had returned to the Temple for the great feast, and there had been a confusion of tongues in the narrow streets for many days.

But on this day a singular agitation was visible in the multitude. The sky was veiled with a portentous gloom. Currents of excitement seemed to flash through the crowd. A secret tide was sweeping them all one way. The clatter of sandals and the soft, thick sound of thousands of bare feet shuffling over the stones, flowed unceasingly along the street that leads to the Damascus gate.

Artaban joined a group of people from his own country, Parthian Jews who had come up to keep the Passover, and inquired of them the cause of the tumult, and where they were going.

"We are going," they answered, "to the place called Golgotha, outside the city walls, where there is to be an execution. Have you not heard what has happened? Two famous robbers are to be crucified, and with them another, called Jesus of Nazareth, a man who has done many wonderful works among the people, so that they love him greatly. But the priests and elders have said that he must die, because he gave himself out to be the Son of God. And Pilate has sent him to the cross because he said that he was the `King of the Jews.'

How strangely these familiar words fell upon the tired heart of Artaban! They had led him for a lifetime over land and sea. And now they came to him mysteriously, like a message of despair. The King had arisen, but he had been denied and cast out. He was about to perish. Perhaps he was already dying. Could it be the same who had been born in Bethlehem thirty-three years ago, at whose birth the star had appeared in heaven, and of whose coming the prophets had spoken?

Artaban's heart beat unsteadily with that troubled, doubtful apprehension which is the excitement of old age. But he said within himself: "The ways of God are stranger than the thoughts of men, and it may be that I shall find the King, at last, in the hands of his enemies, and shall come in time to offer my pearl for his ransom before he dies."

So the old man followed the multitude with slow and painful steps toward the Damascus gate of the city. Just beyond the entrance of the guardhouse a troop of Macedonian soldiers came down the street, dragging a young girl with torn dress and dishevelled hair. As the Magian paused to look at her with compassion, she broke suddenly from the hands of her tormentors, and threw herself at his feet, clasping him around the knees. She had seen his white cap and the winged circle on his breast.

"Have pity on me," she cried, "and save me, for the sake of the God of Purity! I also am a daughter of the true religion which is taught by the Magi. My father was a merchant of Parthia, but he is dead, and I am seized for his debts to be sold as a slave. Save me from worse than death!"

Artaban trembled.

It was the old conflict in his soul, which had come to him in the palm-grove of Babylon and in the cottage at Bethlehem--the conflict between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love. Twice the gift which he had consecrated to the worship of religion had been drawn to the service of humanity. This was the third trial, the ultimate probation, the final and irrevocable choice.

Was it his great opportunity, or his last temptation? He could not tell. One thing only was clear in the darkness of his mind--it was inevitable. And does not the inevitable come from God?

One thing only was sure to his divided heart--to rescue this helpless girl would be a true deed of love. And is not love the light of the soul?

He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so luminous, so radiant, so full of tender, living lustre. He laid it in the hand of the slave.

"This is thy ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures which I kept for the King."

While he spoke, the darkness of the sky deepened, and shuddering tremors ran through the earth heaving convulsively like the breast of one who struggles with mighty grief.

The walls of the houses rocked to and fro. Stones were loosened and crashed into the street. Dust clouds filled the air. The soldiers fled in terror, reeling like drunken men. But Artaban and the girl whom he had ransomed crouched helpless beneath the wall of the Praetorium.

What had he to fear? What had he to hope? He had given away the last remnant of his tribute for the King. He had parted with the last hope of finding him. The quest was over, and it had failed. But, even in that thought, accepted and embraced, there was peace. It was not resignation. It was not submission. It was something more profound and searching. He knew that all was well, because he had done the best that he could from day to day. He had been true to the light that had been given to him. He had looked for more. And if he had not found it, if a failure was all that came out of his life, doubtless that was the best that was possible. He had not seen the revelation of "life everlasting, incorruptible and immortal." But he knew that even if he could live his earthly life over again, it could not be otherwise than it had been.

One more lingering pulsation of the earthquake quivered through the ground. A heavy tile, shaken from the roof, fell and struck the old man on the temple. He lay breathless and pale, with his gray head resting on the young girl's shoulder, and the blood trickling from the wound. As she bent over him, fearing that he was dead, there came a voice through the twilight, very small and still, like music sounding from a distance, in which the notes are clear but the words are lost. The girl turned to see if some one had spoken from the window above them, but she saw no one.

Then the old man's lips began to move, as if in answer, and she heard him say in the Parthian tongue:

"Not so, my Lord! For when saw I thee an hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee? Three-and-- thirty years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King."

He ceased, and the sweet voice came again. And again the maid heard it, very faint and far away. But now it seemed as though she understood the words:

"Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me."

A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of dawn, on a snowy mountain-peak. A long breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips.

His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The Other Wise Man had found the King.

The Junky's Christmas.

Giving is Receiving.

William S Burroughs (1914 - 1997)

It was Christmas Day and Danny the Car Wiper hit the street junksick and broke after seventy-two hours in the precinct jail. It was a clear bright day, but there was warmth in the sun. Danny shivered with an inner cold. He turned up the collar of his worn, greasy black overcoat.

This beat benny wouldn't pawn for a deuce, he thought.

He was in the West Nineties. A long block of brownstone rooming houses. Here and there a holy wreath in a clean black window. Danny's senses registered everything sharp and clear, with the painful intensity of junk sickness. The light hurt his dilated eyes.

He walked past a car, darting his pale blue eyes sideways in quick appraisal. There was a package on the seat and one of the ventilator windows was unlocked. Danny walked on ten feet. No one in sight. He snapped his fingers and went through a pantomime of remembering something, and wheeled around. No one.

A bad setup, he decided. The street being empty like this, I stand out conspicuous. Gotta make it fast.

He reached for the ventilator window. A door opened behind him. Danny whipped out a rag and began polishing the car windows. He could feel the man standing behind him.

"What're yuh doin"?

Danny turned as if surprised. "Just thought your car windows needed polishing, mister."

The man had a frog face and a Deep South accent. He was wearing a camel's-hair overcoat.

"My caah don't need polishin' or nothing stole out of it neither."

Danny slid sideways as the man grabbed for him. "I wasn't lookin' to steal nothing, mister. I'm from the South too. Florida."

"Goddammed sneakin' thief!"

Danny walked away fast and turned a corner.

"Better get out of the neighborhood. That hick is likely to call the law." He walked fifteen blocks. Sweat ran down his body. There was an ache in his lungs. His lips drew back off his yellow teeth in a snarl of desperation.

"I gotta score somehow. If I had some decent clothes"

Danny saw a suitcase standing in a doorway. Good leather. He stopped and pretended to look for a cigarette.

"Funny," he thought. "No one around. Inside maybe, phoning for a cab."

The corner was only a few houses. Danny took a deep breath and picked up the suitcase. He made the corner. Another block, another corner. The case was heavy.

"I got a score here all night," he thought. "Maybe enough for a sixteenth and a room." Danny shivered and twitched, feeling a warm room and heroin emptying into his vein." Let's have a quick look." He opened the suitcase. Two long packages in brown wrapping paper. He took one out. It felt like meat. He tore the package open at one end, revealing a woman's naked foot. The toenails were painted with purple-red polish. He dropped the leg with a sneer of disgust.

"Holy Jesus!" he exclaimed. "The routines people put down these days. Legs! Well I got a case anyway." He dumped the other leg out. No bloodstains. He snapped the case shut and walked away.

"Legs!" he muttered.

He found the Buyer sitting at a table in Jarrow's Cafeteria.

"Thought you might be taking the day off." Danny said, putting the case down.

The Buyer shook his head sadly. "I got nobody. So what's Christmas to me ?" His eyes traveled over the case, poking, testing, looking for flaws. "What was in it?"


"What's the matter ? I don't pay enough?"

"I tell you there wasn't nothing in it."

"Okay. So somebody travels with an empty suitcase. Okay." He held up three fingers.

"For Christ's sake, Gimpy, give me a nickel."

"You got somebody else. Why don't he give you a nickel ?"

"It's like I say, the case was empty."

Gimpy kicked at the case despairingly. "It's all nicked up and kinda dirty-looking. " He sniffed suspiciously. "How come it stink like that? Mexican leather ?"

"So am I in the leather business?"

Gimpy shrugged- "Could be." He pulled out a roll of bills and peeled off three ones, dropping them on the table behind the napkin dispenser. "You want?"

"Okay." Danny picked up the money. "You see George the Greek?" he asked.

"Where you been? He got busted two days ago."

"Oh... That's bad."

Danny walked out. "Now, where can I score ?" he thought. George the Greek had lasted so long, Danny thought of him as permanent. "It was good H too, and no short counts."

Danny went up to 103rd and Broadway. Nobody in Jarrow's. Nobody in the Automat.

"Yeah, " he snarled. "All the pushers off on the nod someplace. What they care about anybody else? So long as they get in the vein. What they care about a sick junky?"

He wiped his nose with one finger, looking around furtively.

"No use hitting those jigs in Harlem. Like as not get beat for my money or they slip me rat poison. Might find Pantapon Rose at Eighth and 23rd."

There was no one he knew in the 23rd Street Thompson's.

"Jesus," he thought. "Where is Everybody?"

He clutched his coat collar together with one hand, looking up and down the street. "There's Joey from Brooklyn. I'd know that hat anywhere."

"Joey was walking away, with his back to Danny. He turned around. His face was sunken, skull-like. The gray eyes glittered under a greasy felt hat. Joey was sniffing at regular intervals and his eyes were watering."

"No use asking him," Danny thought. They looked at each other with the hatred of disappointment.

"Guess you heard about George the Greek," Danny said.

"Yeah. I heard. You been up to 103rd?"

"Yeah. Just came from there. Nobody around."

"Nobody around anyplace," Joey said. "I can't even score for goofballs."

"Well, Merry Christmas, Joey. See you."

"Yeah. See you."

Danny was walking fast. He had remembered a croaker on 18th Street. Of course the croaker had told him not to come back. Still, it was worth trying.

A brownstone house with a card in the window: "P. H. Zunniga, M.D." Danny rang the bell. He heard slow steps. The door opened, and the doctor looked at Danny with bloodshot brown eyes. He was weaving slightly and supported his plumb body against the doorjamb. His face was smooth, Latin, the little red mouth slack. He said nothing. He just leaned there, looking at Danny.

"Goddammed alcoholic," Danny thought. He smiled.

"Merry Christmas, Doctor."

The doctor did not reply.

"You remember me, Doctor. " Danny tried to edge past the doctor, into the house. "I'm sorry to trouble you on Christmas Day, but I've suffered another attack."


"Yes. Facial neuralgia." Danny twisted one side of his face into a horrible grimace. The doctor recoiled slightly, and Danny pushed into the dark hallway.

"Better shut the door or you'll be catching cold," he said jovially, shoving the door shut.

The doctor looked at him, his eyes focusing visibly. "I can't give you a prescription," he said.

"But Doctor, this is a legitimate condition. An emergency, you understand."

"No prescription. Impossible. It's against the law."

"You took an oath, Doctor. I'm in agony. "Danny's voice shot up to a hysterical grating whine.

The doctor winced and passed a hand over his forehead. "Let me think. I can give you one quarter-grain tablet. That's all I have in the house."

"But, Doctor--a quarter G..."

The doctor stopped him. "If your condition is legitimate, you will not need more. If it isn't, I don't want anything to do with you. Wait right here."

The doctor weaved down the hall, leaving a wake of alcoholic breath. He came back and dropped a tablet into Danny's hand. Danny wrapped the tablet in a piece of paper and tucked it away.

"There is no charge." The doctor put his hand on the doorknob. "And now, my dear..."

"But, Doctor--can't you inject the medication?"

"No. You will obtain longer relief in using orally. Please not to return.” The doctor opened the door.

"Well, this will take the edge off, and I still have money to put down on a room," Danny thought.

He knew a drugstore that sold needles without question. He bought a 26-gauge insulin needle and eyedropper, which he selected carefully, rejecting models with a curved dropper or a thick end. Finally he bought a baby pacifier, to use instead of the bulb. He stopped in the Automat and stole a teaspoon.

Danny put down two dollars on a six-dollar-a-week room in the West Forties, where he knew the landlord. He bolted the door and put his spoon, needle and dropper on a table by the bed. He dropped the tablet in the spoon and covered it with a dropper-full of water. He held a match under the spoon until the tablet dissolved. He tore a strip of paper, wet it and wrapped it around the end of the dropper, fitting the needle over the wet paper to make an airtight connection. He dropped a piece of lint from his pocket into the spoon and sucked the liquid into the dropper through the needle, holding the needle in the lint to take up the last drop.

Danny's hands trembled with excitement and his breath was quick. With a shot in front of him, his defenses gave way, and junk sickness flooded his body. His legs began to twitch and ache. A cramp stirred in his stomach. Tears ran down his face from his smarting, burning eyes. He wrapped a handkerchief around his right arm, holding the end in his teeth. He tucked the handkerchief in, and began rubbing his arm to bring out a vein.

"Guess I can hit that one," he thought, running one finger along a vein. He picked up the dropper in his left hand.

Danny heard a groan from the next room. He frowned with annoyance. Another groan. He could not help listening. He walked across the room, the dropper in his hand, and inclined his ear to the wall. The groans were coming at regular intervals, a horrible inhuman sound pushed out from the stomach.

Danny listened for a full minute. He returned to the bed and sat down. "Why don't someone call a doctor?” he thought indignantly. "It's a bringdown." He straightened his arm and poised the needle. He tilted his head, listening again.

"Oh, for Christ's sake!" He tore off the handkerchief and placed the dropper in a water glass, which he hid behind the wastebasket. He stepped into the hall and knocked on the door of the next room. There was no answer. The groans continued. Danny tried the door. It was open.

The shade was up and the room was full of light. He had expected an old person somehow, but the man on the bed was very young, eighteen or twenty, fully clothed and doubled up, with his hands clasped across his stomach.

"What's wrong, kid?" Danny asked.

The boy looked at him, his eyes blank with pain. Finally he got one word: "Kidneys."

"Kidney stones?" Danny smiled. "I don't mean it's funny, kid. It's just... I've faked it so many times. Never saw the real thing before. I'll call an ambulance."

The boy bit his lip. "Won't come. Doctor's won't come." The boy hid his face in the pillow.

Danny nodded. "They figure it's just another junky throwing a wingding for a shot. But your case is legit. Maybe if I went to the hospital and explained things... No, I guess that wouldn't be so good."

Don't live here," the boy said, his voice muffled. "They say I'm not entitled."

"Yeah, I know how they are, the bureaucrat bastards. I had a friend once, died of snakebite right in the waiting room. They wouldn't even listen when he tried to explain a snake bit him. He never had enough moxie. That was fifteen years ago, down in Jacksonville..."

Danny trailed off. Suddenly he put out his thin, dirty hand and touched the boy's shoulder.

"I--I'm sorry, kid. You wait. I'll fix you up."

He went back to his room and got the dropper, and returned to the boy's room.

"Roll up your sleeve, kid." The boy fumbled his coat sleeve with a weak hand. "That's okay. I'll get it." Danny undid the shirt button at the wrist and pushed the shirt and coat up, baring a thin brown forearm. Danny hesitated, looking at the dropper. Sweat ran down his nose. The boy was looking up at him. Danny shoved the needle in the boy's forearm and watched the liquid drain into the flesh. He straightened up.

The boy lay down, stretching. "I feel real sleepy. Didn't sleep all last night." His eyes were closing. Danny walked across the room and pulled the shade down. He went back to his room and closed the door without locking it. He sat on the bed, looking at the empty dropper. It was getting dark outside. Danny's body ached for junk, but it was a dull ache now, dull and hopeless. Numbly, he took the needle of the dropper and wrapped it in a piece of paper. Then he wrapped the needle and dropper together. He sat there with the package in his hand. "Gotta stash this someplace", he thought.

Suddenly a warm flood pulsed through his veins and broke in his head like a thousand golden speedballs.

"For Christ's sake," Danny thought. "I must have scored for the immaculate fix!

The vegetable serenity of junk settled in his tissues. His face went slack and peaceful, and his head fell forward.

Danny the Car Wiper was on the nod.

They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar.

It's Not in Walking Distance.

Rod Serling (1924 - 1975)

  1st COP






A series of cubicles: semi-glassed walls, a Secretary at her desk in front of each. At the far end is a Switchboard Operator, plugging and unplugging, announcing metallically, "Pritkin's Plastic Products" over and over again as each call comes in. Camera pans down the line of secretarial desks until we're at a vantage point near the President's office. Mr. Pritkin emerges - white-haired, paternal-looking, but obviously an all-business dynamo. Pausing by his own secretary's desk, he looks across at the secretary in front of an office which reads, on its door, "Randolph Lane - Director of Sales." The door to this office is open. Above it we see a clock. The time is 3:00. Miss Alcott, Lane's secretary, looks tense and nervous - conscious of the time, conscious of the President standing there, and especially conscious of the fact that he's aware of both the time and her boss' absence.


On its door the legend: "Harvey Doane - Assistant Sales Director." Doane comes out - a windstorm in mod: Edwardian jacket, wide tie, carefully nurtured sideburns - a walking picture of the eager young man on his way up. He looks first at the clock, then at the open door to Lane's empty office, finally at Miss Alcott. Obviously aware of Pritkin's proximity, he asks in a stage whisper:

DOANE. Randy not back yet?


Listening with interest.


MISS ALCOTT. (a forced smile) He had...several meetings outside.

DOANE. (transparent humor) With several outside martinis?

He gives Miss Alcott an extravagant wink. At this point, Pritkin walks into shot, joining them.

PRITKIN. When's he due back, Miss Alcott? I have to talk to him about the Carstair order.

DOANE. (quickly) I'm right on top of that myself, Mr. Pritkin. I can give you any information you need, sir.

PRITKIN. I thought Lane was handling that.

Miss Alcott opens her mouth to speak, but Doane is swifter.

DOANE. I've pretty much taken it over, Mr. Pritkin. Got a full report on my desk. Just give me a minute, sir, and I'll get it.

He turns, exiting hurriedly into his office. Pritkin stands looking down at Miss Alcott, who averts her eyes, busies herself, arranging her desk. In a softer tone, Pritkin asks:

PRITKIN. Where is he, Miss Alcott?

MISS ALCOTT. He...aah...he mentioned some meetings outside, Mr. Pritkin ---

PRITKIN. I've no doubt. Most of his business of late seems to be outside. (beat; turns away) Tell him I want to see him when he gets back.


As Pritkin heads for his office. Doane comes out of his office, a sheaf of papers in his hand.

DOANE. I've got the Carstair material right here, sir.

PRITKIN. Bring it into my office.


MISS ALCOTT. Mr. Pritkin ---


Pritkin turns at the door to his office. Doane fidgets, impatient to get on with it.


MISS ALCOTT. (soft, nervous voice) Today is Mr. Lane's twenty-fifth anniversary.


PRITKIN. His anniversary? The man's been a widower for five years ---

MISS ALCOTT. Twenty-five years with the Company.

PRITKIN. I wasn't aware of that.

MISS ALCOTT. Well, I only broach it, sir, because -- well, because maybe someone in the firm took him to lunch or something. Just a little celebration....

Pritkin nods, but the nod conveys nothing. He goes into his office, Doane trailing eagerly after him. Miss Alcott troubledly watches the door close, sits gnawing her lip, then rises abruptly, exiting into Lane's private office.


Closing the door, Miss Alcott goes to the desk, picks up a phone, dials a number, waits anxiously, then, into phone:

MISS ALCOTT. Antoine? Is Mr. Lane there?... Did he have lunch there?...But he's not there now...Well, if he should come in -- would you tell him to please get in touch with his office right away?...Yes, this is his secretary. Thank you.

She cradles the phone - then lets her eyes wander over Lane's desk.


Camera roams the desk, holding first a photograph of a beautiful woman, obviously taken many years ago...then a doodled calendar with the day's date circled and starred, and a scribbled notation which reads, "Quarter of a Century!!!"... then, panning down, camera reveals finally, peeking forth from the partially-open top desk drawer, a whiskey bottle.


As Miss Alcott slams the drawer shut, begins tidying up the desk. She glances up, startled, as the door opens. Lane stands there. Late 40's, a little balding, a suggestion of a pot-belly, the eyes tired and set deep in a good face that was once young and handsome. He's also had a few, and this, too, is noticeable. With a grin:

LANE. How do, madam. Could I interest you in a line of plastics?

MISS ALCOTT. It's three o'clock.

Lane brings his wristwatch to within an inch of one eye, Focussing with difficulty on the dial.

LANE. So it is. Inexorable time in its flight. (moving to desk) But what the devil. This is a special day.

MISS ALCOTT. ...I know.

LANE. (squints at her; then) On this day, twenty-five years ago, having conquered Europe for General Eisenhower and President Truman, I doffed my khaki -- and I enlisted in the cause of Pritkin's Plastic Products. Twenty-five years, Miss Alcott. A quarter of a century! (shrugs, unsteadily seating himself) So what the devil. If a man can't get a little sauced on this kind of anniversary -- where does that leave the flag and motherhood? (peers at desk) Any messages?

MISS ALCOTT. (trying to keep the concern from her voice) Mr. Pritkin was looking for the Carstair order. And Mr. Doane took it in to him.


Lane looks up, the smile a little worn around the edges.

LANE. Mr. Doane took it in to him. (a hollow chuckle) Johnny-on-the-spot Doane! With assistants like him -- who needs assassins?

He leans back in his chair, arms folded behind his head.

MISS ALCOTT. You did most of that report.

LANE. (a little shrug) What difference? You see before you, Miss Alcott, a man much too old and set in his ways, and at the moment a little too deep in his cups, to give battle to the Young Turk in the cubicle to my immediate left.

MISS ALCOTT. (anger surfacing) The Young Turk you refer to is made up of one half-brass and one-half elbow, and his mission in life is to push you right out of the picture...Are you aware of that?

LANE. (smiles wistfully) You know where I've been the last hour? I've been watching them tear down Timothy Riley's Bar. Now that doesn't mean anything to you, does it?

MISS ALCOTT. (shakes head) Should it?


LANE. Nope. It's an ancient, ugly eyesore which will now be turned into a twenty-story bank building with an underground parking lot -- and it'll have glass walls and flourescent lighting and high-speed, self- service elevators and piped-in music in the lobby...And a year from now, nobody will remember that Tim Riley had a bar on that corner. Or that he sold beer for a nickel a glass. Or that he had snooker tables in the back. Or that he had a big nickelodeon and you got three Glenn Millers for a dine. (laughs softly, leaning elbows on the desk) And while I was standing there with all the other sidewalk superintendents, it occurred to me...the thought occurred to me that there should be some kind of ceremony. Maybe a convocation of former beer drinkers and Timothy Riley patrons to hang a wreath or say a few words. Farewell, Timothy Riley's Bar -- home of the nickel beer -- snooker emporium -- repository of Blue Bird records, three for a dime...We honor you and your passing. Farewell, Timothy Riley -- and Terraplanes and rumble seats and saddle shoes and Helen Forrest and the triple-C camps and Andy Hardy and Lum 'n' Abner and the world champion New York Yankees! Rest in peace, you age of innocence -- you beautiful, serene, carefree pre-Pearl Harbor long summer night. We'll never see your likes again.


A silence. Lane looks at the picture of his wife, then raises his gaze to Miss Alcott, and there's a sadness beyond any kind of language in his face.

LANE. Bear with me, will you Miss Alcott? They knocked down the walls of Timothy Riley's Bar. And as silly and as sentimental as it sounds -- I lost something....

A beat. Then, fracturing the mood, we hear:

DOANE'S VOICE. What d'ya say, sport? Have a good lunch?

Camera shifts, reveals Doane, sticking his head in through the doorway with a grin that looks like SW.20 crankcase oil. Lane responds affably:

LANE. Dandy.

DOANE. I took the Carstair stuff in to the old man. He was kind of anxious.

LANE. (still smiling) Good on you.

DOANE. And I added a few embellishments. Hope you don't mind?

LANE. (carelessly) Be my guest.

DOANE. (more incisively) And the sales pitch you had in the opening...I had to touch that up quite a bit.

LANE. Touch away, lad. Touch away.

DOANE. (smile fading) You putting me on?

LANE. (points to himself) Me? Put you on? Why would I want to do that?

DOANE. Usually when I try to be a little Independent -- you step on me.


LANE. (evenly) Usually when you try to be a little independent -- you're too flamboyant, too artsy-craftsy and noticeably dishonest. I put my foot on you, Doane, to keep you within ten feet of Mother Earth. I know you're a hot-shot peddler, but if you don't get mildly restrained along the way, you'll be claiming the moon.


This time the smile is not phony -- and it's also not pleasant.

DOANE. It takes a while, doesn't it?

LANE. To do what?

DOANE. To get a rise out of you. Ferdinand the bull.


LANE. (pointing) My son the matador...Young Master Doane simply has to draw blood before the six o'clock whistle or he goes home and kicks his teddy bear! (a beat) Give yourself a point. You pricked me. You got the old bull riled. (again pointing a finger at Doane) But keep in mind that there's a pecking order around here. You're still outranked. You're still my assistant. And you're still ---

He breaks off abruptly, staring past camera.

PRITKIN'S VOICE. Is this a private altercation -- or may I involve myself?


Who stands in the open doorway, just behind Doane, inscrutably surveying the scene. His eyes fix on Miss Alcott.

PRITKIN. I think we might excuse you, Miss Alcott. I'm sure you have work to do.

Reluctantly, and with obvious unease, Miss Alcott exits. Pritkin closes the door, turns questioningly to Doane.

PRITKIN. Well, Doane...?

DOANE. (monumental smugness) It really wasn't anything, sir. Mr. Lane was simply reminding me of his seniority.

PRITKIN. Then perhaps Mr. Lane should be reminded that seniority doesn't come from merely putting in time. Not in this ball club. (directly to Lane) I judge a man by his current record. Not last season's batting average.

LANE. What've you done for me lately, huh?

PRITKIN. (unsmiling) Precisely. And what you've done for us lately isn't very much. You've put in time but not much else. Protracted lunch hours -- considerable martini drinking -- and precious darned little mustard cut. (a nod toward Doane) Candidly, Lane, you're assistant here has left you whinnying at the starting gate.

LANE. (waggling his finger) Mr.'re mixing your metaphors. You want this baseball --or horse racing?

PRITKIN. (ice cold) I want this understood...Your performance, Lane, has deteriorated. Your sales have slipped. Your entire attitude has become sloppy. (a beat) I suggest a trial period during which both you and Mr. Doane will share the director's spot. He'll no longer be answerable to you. You can consult each other, but any ideas he has of his own, he's free to follow. That understood?

LANE. Clearly.

Pritkin nods, turns, moves to the door, opens it, stops, Remembering something, looks back toward Lane.

PRITKIN. Incidentally...I'm reminded that this is your twenty-fifth year with the Company. This little unpleasantry notwithstanding -- I just wanted you to know that you have my congratulations. I hope the next twenty-five years bring bigger and better things.


As, with a nod to Doane, Pritkin exits. Dead silence. Lane seems surprised to find Doane still standing there.

LANE. Something else, was there? Like maybe a funeral oration?

DOANE. (for the first time, a trifle nervous) I just wanted to assure you, sport, that I had nothing to do with this. It was just as much a surprise to me as it is to you.

LANE. (smiling) Honest?

DOANE. Believe it.

LANE. He just called you in, pinched you on the cheek and promoted you -- and you were shocked out of your skivvies, weren't you? (chuckles; shakes head) Young Mr. Doane -- why don't we level with one another? I'm on the way down, you're on the way up -- and we're just passing each other in mid-air. I'm looking at a threat -- and you're looking at an obstacle. And that's a lousy basis for any friendly mutual back- scratching!

DOANE. Look -- there's no reason why we can't work together ---

LANE. No reason in the world...Except that we don't compliment each other. I'm not a competitor, young Mr. Doane. I wear gloves. I observe ancient and archaic amenities. I'm an old fashioned slob. (beat; sans smile) The fancy knifing I leave to Commandoes like you!!

Frozen-faced, Doane turns on his heel, opens the door and Walks stiffly out of the office, slamming the door.


Who sits there silently for a moment, then reaches into the desk drawer, takes out the whisky bottle, uncorks it and takes a long satisfying swig. Halfway through he becomes aware of the fact that he's no longer alone.


Standing in the doorway. She moves into the office. Lane re-corks the bottle, returns it to the drawer.

MISS ALCOTT. Can I...can I get you something?

LANE. (a twisted smile) I had in mind...a gold watch. Properly inscribed for this anointed day. Something like "Well done, good and faithful servant." (beat; shakes head) Short of that, my love, I don't think there's anything you can get me.

MISS ALCOTT. You know...on an anointed day like this...a fellow shouldn't have to spend the evening alone. (as he regards her) I've got a steak in the freezer, saved for a special occasion. I've got two large Idaho's suitable for baking, and a great salad dressing I make myself.... (a beat) What do you say?

LANE. (smile tinged with regret) I say -- that you're a very dear young lady. I say thank you... but no thank you.


LANE. The syndrome of the twenty-five year man who didn't get his gold watch. He's too full of himself and too sorry for himself and he makes lousy company. Another time.


LANE. (as she turns away) Miss Alcott? (as she stops, looks) You're a good lady.


MISS ALCOTT. That's because I work for a very good guy.

She exits, leaving Lane sitting there.


Camera favors a partially knocked down building - or at least one in the process of being obliterated. Ancient brick, broken and boarded windows, and a sign hanging askew that reads, in weathered, faded lettering, "Tim Riley's Bar."


Who has paused by the front entrance, peering in through the wood slats covering the doors. Off screen -- sound of footsteps. Lane turns to look at an approaching Policeman. Recognizing Lane, the Policeman smiles a friendly greeting.

POLICEMAN. They're closed, Randy.

LANE. (peers inside again) Don't I know it.

POLICEMAN. I know how you feel. First arrest I ever made was inside Tim Riley's. Two guys fighting over whether Carl Hubbel could throw harder'n Lefty Gomez. And if that don't date me, I'll join Tim Riley under the sod.

LANE. (nods, his own memories welling up) First date I ever had with my wife was in here. When her father heard about it, he almost had a stroke.

POLICEMAN. (smiling) Katy. Katy Dunovant. As if I didn't remember her. She was a lovely, lovely lady, Randy.

LANE. (softly) That she was. (a beat) And when I came back from the Service -- they had a surprise party for me in there. My train was late. By the time I got here, my old man was sound asleep in the corner.

POLICEMAN. (laughs) And don't I remember that! But I'll say this for him; he could drink a keg of that stuff. And many's the night I sat with him while he did it. And while I did it!

They both laugh, turn, stare again toward the darkened Interior, then at one another.

POLICEMAN. Things going well for you, Randy?

LANE . I'm forty-eight years old. I'm six years younger than my father was when he died.


POLICEMAN. When I first saw you in here, I had a spring in my step, arches in my feet, and my ambition in life was to capture Al Capone. Then one morning I woke up...and I knew I'd run out of vinegar -- all I wanted was Epsom Salts. (a hand on Lane's arm) So I just walk a little slower. And I pray for quiet nights. And I just keep reminding myself that... I'm flat-footed and slow as molasses -- but I'm still a lot faster'n Al Capone is. (a wink, a grin) Look after yourself, Randy.

He turns, and with his flat-footed policeman gait, moves Down the sidewalk and disappears.


He watches the cop for a moment, then turns, stares at the shuttered building, then, with obvious reluctance, forces himself to tear his gaze from what was once Tim Riley's Bar and begin his homeward trek. He has gone but a few steps along the sidewalk when he halts suddenly, head cocked, listening. Faintly, we hear the off screen sound of singing - "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." Lane slowly retraces his footsteps, peering once again into the interior of the darkened bar.


Camera shoots through the criss-crossed wooden planks that board up the entrance door. What we see is the bar as it once was -- specifically the night of Lane's homecoming from the war. In indistinct outlines -- as if viewed through gauze -- there's a room full of beer drinkers beckoning to camera, holding up their glasses. The actions are slow motion -- even the Bartender who moves across the room to wake up an Old Man in the corner who blinks his eyes, looks toward the front door and smiles, lifting his hand in a wave.


Suddenly, impulsively, he pulls away the wooden planks, tries the door, then kicks it open and plunges into the bar.


Lane propels himself inside - but at the moment of his entrance, the light begins to fade - the figures grow even more indistinct, the singing begins to die away. The last visible object is a hand-painted banner stretched across the top of the bar which reads, "Welcome home, Randy." And this, too, succumbs finally to the darkness as the singing dies away altogether, leaving Lane standing there in the middle of a ruined bare room, cobwebbed and dusty; the only light shining from a lamp post outside, illuminating Lane's face. He looks lost and bewildered and somehow diminished -- as if a dream had just eluded him. He turns very slowly, walks back across the littered floor to the front door and stands there motionlessly as if by silence, he could recapture that brief glimpse of the past.




Standing before Miss Alcott's desk, a sheaf of papers in his hand, is Mr. Blodgett, Pritkin's Personnel Director. From her chair behind the desk, Miss Alcott warily regards Blodgett, incredulously echoing something she's just heard:

MISS ALCOTT. A change in assignment?

BLODGETT. Yes. We're moving you.

MISS ALCOTT. From where to where?

BLODGETT. (laughs) Relax. We're not sending you to a frontier outpost. (nods off screen) Just about eight feet to your left. You'll join Mr. Doane as of next Monday morning.

MISS ALCOTT. (frigid-faced) Doane?

BLODGETT. His secretary -- Miss Trevor -- has turned in her notice. Getting married I believe. Anyway, she'll be leaving us. So you'll assume her duties.

With that, satisfied that the conversation is concluded, Blodgett turns, starts to move off. Half-rising, Miss Alcott blurts:

MISS ALCOTT. Mr. Blodgett -- (as he halts, turns; softly) What about Mr. Lane?

BLODGETT. (blankly) Mr. Lane?

MISS ALCOTT. I've been with him for two years.

BLODGETT. I'm not sure what the arrangement will be. You'll have a replacement, of course. But for the moment, I'm told Mr. Doane will need you as of Monday morning. Requested you personally, as a matter of fact.
MISS ALCOTT. (bit between teeth) What if I don't want to work for Mr. Doane?

BLODGETT. (surprised) What's that supposed to mean?

MISS ALCOTT. It's supposed to mean that he does everything but wear track shoes!


BLODGETT. Regretably, in my capacity as Personnel Director, I've neither the time nor the inclination to listen to your personal assessments of the executives of this organization. I'll have to put it to you bluntly, Miss Alcott. You'll either report for work with Mr. Doane on Monday morning -- or you'll report to the cashier this afternoon to pick up your severance pay. Now, which will it be, please? I'm very busy.


MISS ALCOTT. Does...does Mr. Lane know?

BLODGETT. (impatiently) I'm sure someone has seen fit to tell him.


Miss Alcott nods - and the nod is a surrender. A quick and altogether synthetic smile from Blodgett, who then turns on his heel and strides briskly off. En route to the door, he passes Doane's secretary, Miss Trevor, who has just entered from the corridor. As she comes to her desk, prepares to settle in, Miss Trevor takes note of Miss Alcott's expression, glances after the exiting Blodgett, registers comprehension.

MISS TREVOR. Got the word, eh?

MISS ALCOTT. Loud, clear and irrevocably.

Swiveling slightly in her chair, Miss Alcott glances over her shoulder toward the closed door to Lane's private office. She hesitates for a moment in miserable irresoluteness, then rises, goes to the door, knocks once, opens it.


Miss Alcott stands framed on the threshold. Lane sits behind his desk, chair swiveled so that he may stare pensively out the window behind him. Miss Alcott coughs discreetly. Lane turns, sees her, beckons her inside.

LANE. Close the door.

Miss Alcott closes the door, takes a step into the room.

LANE. If it makes it go down any easier --I feel a whole lot worse about this than you do.

MISS ALCOTT. I seriously doubt that.

LANE. (no self-pity now) Look -- you've got a choice. You tie yourself to a rocket -- or to a ground hog. There's so much handwriting on the walls around here, the whole place looks like a gigantic men's room!

ISS ALCOTT. I don't want to work for Doane. It's as simple as that.

LANE. So give it a shot. If there's anybody on this earth who could put him down and keep him in line -- it's you.

MISS ALCOTT. (beat; lip quivering) Is that it?

LANE. (very kindly) Oh, there's a great deal more to say. A couple of items having to do with how grateful I am for all you've done for me. But unfortunately, I'm cold stone sober now and not given to loquaciousness. (with no subterfuge or kidding) But you know that, don't you, Lynn? You know how grateful I am to you.

Miss Alcott, not trusting herself to speak, nods, smiles, turns and exits the office.


A bunch of girls have surrounded Miss Trevor's desk while she shows off her engagement ring and there is the predictable chorus of "oohs" and "aahs." There are some additional congratulations, and then somebody starts to sing, "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow."


He sits listening as the sound of o.s. singing filters in. Camera starts a slow move into his face, and concurrent with this the character of the singing changes and once again it becomes the barroom harmony from before. As if in a dream, Lane rises from the desk and, camera panning with him, moves toward the door like a captivated kid after the Pied Piper. He puts his hand on the doorknob, opens the door.


It's completely different. Now there are just two desks visible. No switchboard; no rows of offices. A partition cuts the room in half, giving it a dinky, closed feeling. The Two Secretaries we see wear below-the-knees skirts.


Who blinks, turns toward Pritkin's office, hearing the off screen door open. Camera swings, brings into view Pritkin emerging from his office. His hair is black; he sports a moustache. He's the Pritkin of 25 years ago. He walks directly over to Lane, smiles, pats him on the arm.

PRITKIN. Well, sir...what's the first day been like?


As Lane stares over Pritkin's shoulder at a calendar on a desk which reads, "May, 1945." Then he faces Pritkin, stares at him for a long moment, wets his lips.

LANE. The...the first day?

PRITKIN. (fatherly chuckle) Just wanted you to know I'm going to keep my eye on you! You're going to become our number one salesman, Randy. Numero uno! The Company'll be moving into plastics soon. It's the coming thing. And you're going to move right on up with us! Right up in front!

In back ground of shot, a Secretary has answered a ringing telephone. She looks up toward the two men.


As Lane turns toward her, she holds up the phone.

SECRETARY. It's your wife, sir. Want to get it on your own phone?

LANE. (a soft whisper) My wife? (then, louder) My wife!


Lane comes racing into his office - unaware, even as he does so, that the room has changed its character. It's smaller, less adorned - just a bare desk and not much else. He grabs up the telephone, almost devouring it.

LANE. Honey? Honey, it's Randy ---!


It's changed back to what it was originally. There are the laughing off screen voices of the secretaries, and the trailing notes of the singing as it ends. And Lane, clutching the phone to his ear, hears the filtered voice of Miss Alcott:

MISS ALCOTT'S VOICE. Did you call me, Mr. Lane?

LANE. (into phone) Who is this?

MISS ALCOTT'S VOICE. It's Lynn, Mr. Lane. You buzzed me.

Lane very slowly replaces the receiver, just stares at it. Miss Alcott appears at the door, looking worried.

MISS ALCOTT. Is there anything wrong?

Lane looks at the framed picture of his wife, touches it tentatively, murmuring:

LANE. No, No, there's nothing wrong.


Soft lights, soft music - just a low hum of desultory con- versation from the few patrons in the bar. The door opens. The Policeman enters, moves to the bar, waits for the Bar- tender to spot him. Then:

POLICEMAN. I got a message you wanted to talk to me.

BARTENDER. For whatever it's worth, Randy Lane walked out of here a half hour ago with eleven dollars and eighty cents worth of scotch and water inside of him. Did I say walked? I should've said "flowed."

POLICEMAN. So what d'you want from me, MacDougall? A pinch?

BARTENDER. You're old friends so I thought I'd tip you off. He said he was going over to Tim Riley's Bar.


Reacting. He frowns.

BARTENDER'S VOICE. He was not in what you'd call A-1 condition...Kept talking about Riley's like it was still open....


We hear Lane's voice singing softly and discordantly, "For I'm a Jolly Good Fellow." Camera pulls back, angle widening to reveal Lane standing at the bar, mug in hand.


A prowl car, red light flashing, comes around the corner, brakes to a stop in front of Tim Riley's Bar.


The door is still closed and boarded, but the nails have been wrenched out. We see a moving flashlight on the other side, then the door is pushed open. Two cops enter, shining their flashlights across the room toward Lane, who turns, grinning at them.

1ST COP. You better be the night watchman, buddy, or the equivalent.

LANE. (laughs) Night watchman? Officer -- I outrank all the night watchmen in the world! I am late a Sergeant, First Platoon, "A" Company, 505th Parachute Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. That's what I am! And I've just recently returned...V.E. Day now being behind us ---
The two cops look at one another, nod. The 1st Cop moves over to Lane, takes his arm.

1ST COP. Then why don't you come with us and we'll celebrate the event. It isn't every day a war ends.

LANE. (smiles, not budging) Like to accommodate you, Officer. Really would. But the festivities are right here. Very shortly Tim Riley will accompany my old man on the piano while my old man sings, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary." They will do it in an unharmonious harmony...but what they lack in symmetry -- they make up with gusto.

1ST COP. You gonna come with us, buddy, or ---

POLICEMAN'S VOICE. I'll take care of him. I know him.

Lane's friend, the Policeman, enters shot. The two cops look at one another.

1ST COP. You know him well enough to explain to him that he can get thirty days apiece for trespassing and being under the influence -- plus tack on ninety more for breaking and entering?

POLICEMAN. I said I'd take care of him!

The two cops look at one another, nod, exit the bar. The Policeman moves to Lane, who sways unsteadily on his feet.

POLICEMAN. Randy? I'm just goin' off duty and I got my car parked less'n a block away. What d'you say to a nice ride home?

LANE. You're not gonna stay for the party?

POLICEMAN. (very gently) Randy...the party's over.

LANE. Over? (looks around room) Where's everybody gone? Huh? Huh?

POLICEMAN. (edging close) To their respective rewards. The party's been over for twenty-five years, Randy. (takes Lane's arm) C'mon, lad -- let's go home.


who gently but firmly removes the Policeman's hand from his arm, adamantly shaking his head.

LANE. Officer McDermont -- this is where it is -- right here.

POLICEMAN. This is where what is?

LANE. The best years of my life. (a backward step; surveys the room) You may want to phone downtown for the psycho squad -- but something is happening to me. (peers at Policeman) I keep getting beckoned to by ghosts. Every now and then it's 1945...How do you like them apples? (moves toward Policeman; halts, an arm's length away) And if you think that sounds nuts -- try this one: I wish those ghosts would stick around. They're the best friends I've got. I feel a lot more comfortable with them -- than I do with all those warm, living flesh and blood bodies I ride up and down the elevators with!

POLICEMAN. Why don't you tell me about it in the car --- ?

LANE. (loudly) I'll tell you about it right here! I ate something better than I've got. Where does it say that every morning of a man's life he's got to Indian wrestle with every young contender off the sidewalk who's got an itch to climb up a rung? (voice suddenly softer; smiles, cups Police man's face in his hands) Hey, McDermont...McDermont...I've put in my time. Understand? I've paid my dues. I shouldn't have to get hustled to death in the daytime ...and die of loneliness every night. That's not the dream. That's not what it's all about.


POLICEMAN. (very softly) C'mon, Randy...I'll drive you home.

LANE. Sixty-seven Bennett Avenue.

POLICEMAN. That's not where you live.

LANE. The devil it isn't.

POLICEMAN. That's where you lived. Now you live in that high-rise on Norton.

LANE. (shakes head) I don't live there. I just wash my socks there. I live at Sixty-seven Bennett Avenue. Two story, white frame -- Katy and I bought it six months after we were married.

POLICEMAN. (infinite gentleness) It's empty now, Randy. They're tearing down all the houses on the block. Gonna be an apartment complex.

LANE. (musingly) They're tearing down the whole damn town... (then) So humor me, officer. Drive me there anyway.

The Policeman nods, moves to the door, pulls it - creaking - toward him, turns, looks at Lane, who walks slowly across the dark room and, passing him, out to the sidewalk.


A row of shuttered, closed dark houses - all of them very old, all of them boarded up. A sedan pulls up to the curb. Lane gets out, looks toward the house in front of him: the overgrown crabgrass, the broken fence, the faded "67" over the door on the front porch. The Policeman calls to him from behind the sedan's steering wheel:


LANE. (rueful grin) They don't build 'em like they used to. (looks toward car) I'll walk from here.

POLICEMAN. (hesitantly) I can ---

LANE. (cuts in) I can walk from here, McDermont. I'm sober now.

POLICEMAN. Okay. But don't go knockin' any doors down. You get a collar on you the next time -- I won't be around to help. (meshing gears) G'night, Randy. Get some sleep.

And the sedan wheels out of shot, leaving Lane standing there. He walks to the front gate, leans against it, looking toward the house.


Camera moves from the door to the various windows, and from someplace off in the distance there is the sound of a Woman's Voice - different pitched - sometimes with laughter, some- times with impatience...but at all times with love:

KATHY'S VOICE. Supper's ready, Randy...Randy, will you wipe your shoes off? You're tracking mud all over the hall carpet...Goodnight, Randy darling -- Randy my love...Randy? Randy?


At the gate. He flings it open, is about to run toward the house when his name is called by Another Voice -- much closer and much more real:



As Lane turns. Miss Alcott stands a few feet off in the shadow of a tree. Behind her, parked at the curb, we glimpse a late model economy sports coupe. She moves closer to him, illuminated by a street lamp.

LANE. You lost?

MISS ALCOTT. (trifle nervously) I thought you might be.

LANE. This is where I live. (beat; smiles) Correction. Where I used to live.

MISS ALCOTT. (wetting her lips) I know it's presumptuous, but... when you didn't come back from lunch -- I got concerned. I remembered you mentioning Tim Riley's Bar. By the time I got there, the policeman was just putting you into his car. I...I followed ---

LANE. (amused and touched) You followed, eh? Because you were concerned. And Mr. Pritkin? Was he concerned, too? (a silence) Go ahead. Tell me.

MISS ALCOTT. He was...upset.

LANE. (grins) Upset. I've no doubt. And I'm sure our Mr. Doane put in his oar.

MISS ALCOTT. With unholy glee.

LANE. And I'm sure he called Mr. Pritkin's attention to the fact that as of ten a.m., I had left the premises.

Miss Alcott nods, eyes downcast. A long silence.

LANE. I'm on my way out, Lynn. You are aware of that, aren't you?


Who nods, biting her lip, fighting back the tears.


Seemingly indifferent, he turns, looks toward the house.

LANE. Katy and I bought this six months after we were married. Katy was my wife.

MISS ALCOTT. must have been quite lovely.

LANE. It was. We had a lot of plans for it. (a beat) She had a lot of plans for it. She died not too long after.

MISS ALCOTT. (softly) You loved her very much.

LANE. (reflectively) To the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach...(stops abruptly) Which is from Browning...who is longer quoted except by lachrymose aging men.

He turns, one hand resting on the open front gate, staring intently toward the house. Miss Alcott takes a step closer.

MISS ALCOTT. Have you had anything to eat?

LANE. I have had sufficient to drink, which more than compensates for what I haven't had to eat. (turns, smiles) I thank you for caring. It's very much like you.


MISS ALCOTT. You think I play Den Mother because I feel sorry for you? (shakes head) That's not what it's all about.

LANE. Did I ask you what it's all about?

MISS ALCOTT. I don't just care about you...I care for you. Not that it matters, Mr. Lane...but I happen to be in --

Lane reaches out, gently touches her mouth, stopping her.

LANE. Enough! Enough already! (lets his fingers run gently across her cheek) I am obviously past prime, but I'm not built out of pig iron. (a beat) So please don't make it tough for me, huh?

There is the sudden rolling sound of distant thunder, and some sporadic lightning. Miss Alcott indicates the coupe.

MISS ALCOTT. You'll need a ride. It's going to rain.


Who nods absentmindedly. Again thunder, lightning, and now the first spattering of sudden rain. Angle widens as Miss Alcott walks ahead of Lane, who follows her along the side- walk to the parked sports coupe. The rain now begins to cascade down. She gets in behind the wheel, opens the door for him on the passenger side. He starts into the car, then stops, looking around. Camera eases closer.

MISS ALCOTT. What's the matter?

LANE. It was raining that night, too.

MISS ALCOTT. What night?

LANE. She'd had a miserable cold. Couldn't shake it. Wouldn't go to a doctor. And when I got home... there was a neighbor from next door. They'd tried to call me but I wasn't in.


Standing there, hunched over by the open car door, the rain pouring down his face.

LANE. Is that a kick? I'm peddling plastics -- and my wife is dying...!


She leans over, reaches out toward him.

MISS ALCOTT. Mr. Lane...Randy...Listen to me ---

LANE. That's the story of my life. A little too late for everything.

MISS ALCOTT. (almost in tears) Please get in ---

LANE. (irrational now, lost to reality; straightens, turns toward house) Katy? Katy...I'm coming! Katy, stay there -- I'm coming, Katy!


Lane races away from the coupe, smashes his way through the fence, stumbles, falls, scrambles to his feet, goes up the porch steps two-at-a-time.


It is no longer boarded up and it is no longer the front door to his house -- it is the double doors that front a long hospital corridor. They swing open to reveal a hospital gurney coming out of a room - a body covered by a sheet - a white-coated Intern and a Nurse.


Lane stands there, drenched and dripping, watching as the gurney is wheeled in the opposite direction. The Intern, seeing Lane, moves to him.

INTERN. Mr. Lane?

LANE. I came as fast as I could -- one of my neighbors told me that ---

He stops abruptly. He has been distractedly watching the disappearing gurney. Now, suddenly, it registers with sledge-hammer impact. The Intern looks toward the gurney, then at lane, venturing very gently:

INTERN. I'm afraid you're too late, Mr. Lane. It was pneumonia. We did everything we could, but....

Camera moves in for an extreme closeup of Lane's face as, thundering, echoing and re-echoing across his mind are the words, "You're late, Mr. Lane. You're too late. You're much too late," repeated over and over again, building up in a cacophony of explosive noise until Lane has to close his eyes and covers his ears.




At her desk, an anxious-looking Miss Alcott is on the phone, listening disappointedly to a filtered voice on the other end of the line:

FILTERED VOICE. I'm sorry. Mr. Lane's apartment isn't answering.

MISS ALCOTT. (into phone) Thank you.

She puts down the receiver, looks up, reacts, as an angle widens to reveal Doane standing there.

DOANE. I could've saved you the trouble. Your boss spent the night in the city jail. Little squib in the morning paper.


As it opens and Pritkin enters, carrying his briefcase.

DOANE. Oh, Mr. Pritkin? (as Pritkin turns) I'm afraid we're minus a sales director this morning.

PRITKIN. Mr. Lane's sick?

DOANE. I would imagine so -- After spending the night in the drunk tank.

PRITKIN. (a chilly silence; then to Miss Alcott) Should you hear from Mr. Lane... tell him I'd very much like to see him at his earliest convenience.

Miss Alcott just sits there, frozen. Pritkin continues on into his office. Doane turns to Miss Alcott, leering.

DOANE. Just a small suggestion, Miss Alcott -- always play the favorites.

MISS ALCOTT. That applies to thoroughbred horses and you Mr. Doane, happen to be a jackal!

At their respective desks - not looking, but listening.


Doane nervously looks around, conscious of the sudden silence in the room. Obliged to reinstate himself, he clears his throat, his voice much too loud:

DOANE. And as of the moment, Miss Alcott -- you are unemployed!

MISS ALCOTT. (rises, regarding him steadily) At last I have something to thank you for...Because not to have to work for you, Mr. Doane, is my most cherished ambition!

She turns, as if intending to quit her desk, then checks her motion, staring o.s. Camera shifts, brings into view Lane, who has just entered through the corridor door. He looks disheveled, bearded, rumpled, a little lost. Head down, shoulders slumped dispiritedly, he walks silently past all the desks, past Doane and Miss Alcott, and into his office, closing the door behind him. Doane stares at the closed door, then at Miss Alcott.

DOANE. Are you going to give him the message or am I?

MISS ALCOTT. You put your hand on that doorknob and I'll break it off at the wrist!

She turns abruptly, goes to Lane's door, opens it, enters, closing the door behind her.


He stands behind his desk, staring down at nothing, then slowly raises his eyes to Miss Alcott, grinning crookedly.
LANE. Add this to my long list of accomplishments: I now have a record of arrest.

MISS ALCOTT. (a semi-whisper) ...I know.

Lane shakes his head as if confused. He sits down, spreads out his hands on top of the desk.

LANE. A great deal can happen to a man in twenty-four hours....

The telephone on his desk rings. Lane ignores it. Miss Alcott finally moves over, picks it up, speaks into it:

MISS ALCOTT. Mr. Lane's office. (reacts worriedly; cups the phone) It's Mr. Pritkin.

Lane takes the receiver from her, leans back in his chair, speaking into the mouthpiece:

LANE. Randolph Lane here...Yes, sir. I quite understand...Oh, yes, indeed -- I know all about corporate images... That, too, Mr. Pritkin, I know the value of good public relations. Oh, yes, sir -- I'm close to an expert on that...I quite understand. I'll have vacated my desk by -- (looks at wristwatch) Would ten minutes be okay?...Fine. And thank you for telling me.

Very slowly, he puts the receiver back on its cradle.

MISS ALCOTT. The well-known axe.

Lane makes a chopping motion with the flat of his hand against the side of his neck.

LANE. In one stroke.

Rising slowly, he opens up a couple of desk drawers, fumbles around, then reaches across, picks up his wife's picture, tucks it under his arm. In his other hand is the half-consumed bottle of whiskey. He peers absently around him.

LANE. I don't think there's anything else around here that belongs to me...or that I want to take with me. When you do your house cleaning for Mr. Doane -- if you should run across anything, just ---

MISS ALCOTT. (cutting in) I won't be working for Mr. Doane. Or anyone else around here. Whereever you go -- that's where I go.


A very strange enigmatic expression on his face.

LANE. I'm afraid that won't be possible, Lynn. Where I'm going, I don't think they'd let you in.


As Lane moves around the side of the desk, Miss Alcott's eyes following him. He pauses in the doorway, looking at her.

LANE. Goodbye, Lynn dear. I've been late...too late all my life. Now I'm gonna go back and stake a claim to some of the better moments. And this trip I'm not gonna be late for!

He exits the office, leaving her standing there.


Lane strides with brisk purposefulness down the aisle between the desks - the Secretaries staring at him. As he passes, the Switchboard Operator calls:

SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR. Call for you, Mr. Lane.

Lane scoops up a phone, then looks to the Switchboard Operator who pushes in a plug. Into the phone:

LANE. Mr. Lane no longer works here. And Mr. Lane no longer lives here. And Mr. Lane is no longer available.

He slams the phone down before the shocked, inquiring eyes of the Switchboard Operator. He grins at her.

LANE. If anybody should ask...I've gone to a homecoming at Tim Riley's Bar!

And he exits out the corridor door.


Who has emerged from Lane's office. She stares toward the corridor door, then turns and walks directly past Pritkin's secretary and into his private office.


From behind his massive desk, Pritkin looks up sharply and surprised. Miss Alcott slams the door behind her.

MISS ALCOTT. For Mr. Randolph Lane who has just departed the small, lonely word on his behalf -- since nobody else seems to give a damn. In exchange for twenty-five pretty good years, you've given him the boot and the back of your hand. Now he's alone and tired and a little frightened. Maybe the least you could've given him wouldn've been a gold watch. That wouldn't have been bad. But just a...a word...a gentle word would've been better. Just a reminder to him that he's not obsolete. He's not unloved. He's not a relic to be carted off to the dump. Now he's chasing ghosts...when all he really needed was that one word to tell him that he had worth. That much you could have given him. (a beat) That much, Mr. Pritkin, you should have given him!


He just stares at her, his amazement changing to a look of understanding tinged with shame.


There are some construction trucks sitting around, some spotlights set up, and some hard-hatted workers are moving around. Lane comes along the sidewalk, stops, staring -- then he moves over to one of the workmen.

LANE. What's going on?

WORKMAN. What's it look like? We're gonna knock the place down.

And he shoulders past Lane, shouting instructions up to another workman. Camera holds Lane, who moves now to the front door which is off it's hinges.


Entering, he stops just inside the doorway, peering around.


A Work Crew is industriously removing furniture, vending machines, etc.


whose eyes have come finally to rest on a workman who is hammering the hell out of a big, already cracked, mirror behind what was once the bar. Lane starts toward the workman.

LANE. Wait a minute!...Hey! I want you to wait a minute ---

He seizes the workman, whirls him around.


The workman is Tim Riley, the bartender.

TIM. (smiling) Welcome home, Randy.

The place is now lit, and this time it has reality -- bar, bunting, a "Welcome Home" banner over the bar, juke box, piano, boisterous crowd of convivial patrons. Camera favors Lane as, mystified and yet delighted, he walks away from the bar through back-slapping, grinning, raucously singing, shouting people. He first moves to an old man (his Father) who puts his arms around him.

FATHER. How are you, son?

LANE. Fine, Pop. Just fine.

He turns. A girl, Katy, walks up to him. They embrace. He kisses her -- and continues to kiss her -- with such an ache, such a longing.

KATY. Hello, darling.

LANE. Katy...Oh, how I've missed you!

Tim Riley circles the bar, coming over to slap Lane on the back.

LANE. Good to see you, Tim! Awful good.

TIM. And you, Randy. Good to see you. What's more, it's on the house!

He beckons to a Waiter, who draws a beer, slides it down the bar. Tim catches it deftly, hands it to Lane. Camera goes with Tim as he moves now to the piano, sits, begins to play "A Long Way to Tipperary." Lane's Father goes over to sing along with him.


listening, wet-eyed, as the o.s. crowd now joins in singing.


Each holding up a beer mug. Camera pans over their smiling, loving faces, fastens on Katy, who holds up her glass as, at the same moment, the voices die away -- and concurrent with this the lights dim ever so slightly. Katy very softly begins to sing "Auld Lang Syne," and a chorus of soft voices join her.


As he takes a step toward Katy.

LANE. Katy -- no sad songs for this occasion. This is a homecoming!


The singing fades away, and in its place we have the sound of hammering, a pneumatic drill, glass breaking, walls crumbling. Lane lifts his voice to drown out the noise:

LANE. Go ahead, Katy! Sing! Sing! (then looking around) All of you -- sing! This is an occasion. I's not every day a guy comes back. (louder, supplicating) Please...everybody sing!!


As his Father steps away from the piano, his voice raised above the noise of the pounding.

FATHER. Randy....

LANE. (desperately) Go ahead, Pop -- give us a coupla choruses of "Tipperary." Go ahead, Tim -- play the piano for him. (whirls to the crowd) Everybody...everybody sing!


As they all listen to the tumultuous pounding, glass shattering, plaster cracking, wood splintering -- then all noise stops, and in its place is an almost ethereal stillness. In a soft, sad voice, Lane's Father ventures:

FATHER. How about that, Randy? They're tearing down Tim Riley's Bar. (turns to Tim) That's what they're doing Tim.

Tim silently nods.


LANE. Don't pay any attention. Forget about them. C'mon, everybody -- (to Katy) This is where it is! Right here! This place! This bar! (gazing over the silent faces) I'm back! Understand? It's 1945 and I'm back! (again to Katy) We're going to get married. You and me. Then we're going to buy a white, two-story house. That's what's going to happen. But let me tell you something, let me tell you this right now -- We're going to change everything. We're going to do it right, this time. I'm not going to lose you, Katy. I swear to God -- I'm not going to lose you---

He stops, staring.


The figures are becoming indistinct, the light is fading. Lane goes left, then right - frantic moves, trying to reach out and touch that which isn't there. First to Katy, then to his Father, then to Tim Riley - and each time, the figures become even more indistinct, the darkness more encroaching. During the above, with frenzied desperation:

LANE. Wait a minute...listen to me... I can't stay here. I don't have any place here. I'm an antique...a has- been. I don't have any function here...I don't have any purpose. (halts, holds out his hands, fists clenched) You leave me now and I'm marooned! (points toward window) I can't survive out there! Pop? Tim? They stacked the deck that way. They fix it so you get elbowed off the earth! You just don't understand what's going on now! The whole bloody world is coming apart at the seams. And I can't hack it! I swear to God ... I can't hack it! (beat; a step toward Katy, voice softer)'re all I've got. I can't lose you...I've lost everything else
SECOND WORKMAN. Wanna get outta the way, mister? We're on overtime as it is.



Where Tim Riley's Bar had stood there is now an empty lot. The construction workers are just putting away their equipment. And in the middle of this empty square stands Randolph Lane, all by himself. He takes a slow, directionless walk away from the square onto the sidewalk.


As he walks, then suddenly stops dead in his tracks. We hear the o.s. singing of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" - very close. Lane looks around, seeks out the source of the song with his eyes, then walks toward it.


the singing is close by now. Through the front window we see Lane crossing the street as if drawn by a magnet. He enters the cocktail lounge, halts, wide-eyed.


Assembled here, Miss Alcott, some secretaries, Policeman McDermont -- and even Pritkin. They hold up their glasses to camera as they finish the song.


who stands there, not knowing what to do, what to say, how to react. He is absolutely and thoroughly torn. Rising, Pritkin moves out in front of the group.

PRITKIN. Randy Lane? It occurred to some of us...your friends...that a man shouldn't have twenty-five years go by without being remembered...and thanked...and reminded that he is held in deep affection and sizeable esteem. (a beat) It's to my discredit, Randy, and I ask you to forgive me for not having told you this before...and more than once. (raises his glass) To the past twenty-five. But, much more the next twenty-five!