In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


  The sun was blazing. A small boat was riding at anchor in a mild sea: the Estrellita, with four persons aboard—Dick, Perry, a young Mexican, and Otto, a rich middle-aged German.

  “Please. Again,” said Otto, and Perry, strumming his guitar, sang in a husky sweet voice a Smoky Mountains song:

  “In this world today while we’re living

  Some folks say the worst of us they can,

  But when we’re dead and in our caskets,

  They always slip some lilies in our hand.

  Won’t you give me flowers while I’m living . . .”

  A week in Mexico City, and then he and Dick had driven south—Cuernavaca, Taxco, Acapulco. And it was in Acapulco, in a “jukebox honky-tonk,” that they had met the hairy-legged and hearty Otto. Dick had “picked him up.” But the gentleman, a vacationing Hamburg lawyer, “already had a friend”—a young native Acapulcan who called himself the Cowboy. “He proved to be a trustworthy person,” Perry once said of the Cowboy. “Mean as Judas, some ways, but oh, man, a funny boy, a real fast jockey. Dick liked him, too. We got on great.”

  The Cowboy found for the tattooed drifters a room in the house of an uncle, undertook to improve Perry’s Spanish, and shared the benefits of his liaison with the holidaymaker from Hamburg, in whose company and at whose expense they drank and ate and bought women. The host seemed to think his pesos well spent, if only because he relished Dick’s jokes. Each day Otto hired the Estrellita, a deep-sea-fishing craft, and the four friends went trolling along the coast. The Cowboy skippered the boat; Otto sketched and fished; Perry baited hooks, daydreamed, sang, and sometimes fished; Dick did nothing—only moaned, complained of the motion, lay about sun-drugged and listless, like a lizard at siesta. But Perry said, “This is finally it. The way it ought to be.” Still, he knew that it couldn’t continue—that it was, in fact, destined to stop that very day. The next day Otto was returning to Germany, and Perry and Dick were driving back to Mexico City—at Dick’s insistence. “Sure, baby,” he’d said when they were debating the matter. “It’s nice and all. With the sun on your back. But the dough’s going-going-gone. And after we’ve sold the car, what have we got left?”

  The answer was that they had very little, for they had by now mostly disposed of the stuff acquired the day of the Kansas City check-passing spree—the camera, the cuff links, the television sets. Also, they had sold, to a Mexico City policeman with whom Dick had got acquainted, a pair of binoculars and a gray Zenith portable radio. “What we’ll do is, we’ll go back to Mex, sell the car, and maybe I can get a garage job. Anyway, it’s a better deal up there. Better opportunities. Christ, I sure could use some more of that Inez.” Inez was a prostitute who had accosted Dick on the steps of the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City (the visit was part of a sightseeing tour taken to please Perry). She was eighteen, and Dick had promised to marry her. But he had also promised to marry Maria, a woman of fifty, who was the widow of a “very prominent Mexican banker.” They had met in a bar, and the next morning she had paid him the equivalent of seven dollars. “So how about it?” Dick said to Perry. “We’ll sell the wagon. Find a job. Save our dough. And see what happens.” As though Perry couldn’t predict precisely what would happen. Suppose they got two or three hundred for the old Chevrolet. Dick, if he knew Dick, and he did—now he did—would spend it right away on vodka and women.

  While Perry sang, Otto sketched him in a sketchbook. It was a passable likeness, and the artist perceived one not very obvious aspect of the sitter’s countenance—its mischief, an amused, babyish malice that suggested some unkind cupid aiming envenomed arrows. He was naked to the waist. (Perry was “ashamed” to take off his trousers, “ashamed” to wear swimming trunks, for he was afraid that the sight of his injured legs would “disgust people,” and so, despite his underwater reveries, all the talk about skin-diving, he hadn’t once gone into the water.) Otto reproduced a number of the tattoos ornamenting the subject’s overmuscled chest, arms, and small and calloused but girlish hands. The sketchbook, which Otto gave Perry as a parting gift, contained several drawings of Dick—“nude studies.”

  Otto shut his sketchbook, Perry put down his guitar, and the Cowboy raised anchor, started the engine. It was time to go. They were ten miles out, and the water was darkening.

  Perry urged Dick to fish. “We may never have another chance,” he said.

  “Chance?”

  “To catch a big one.”

  “Jesus, I’ve got the bastard kind,” Dick said. “I’m sick.” Dick often had headaches of migraine intensity—“the bastard kind.” He thought they were the result of his automobile accident. “Please, baby. Let’s be very, very quiet.”

  Moments later Dick had forgotten his pain. He was on his feet, shouting with excitement. Otto and the Cowboy were shouting, too. Perry had hooked “a big one.” Ten feet of soaring, plunging sailfish, it leaped, arched like a rainbow, dived, sank deep, tugged the line taut, rose, flew, fell, rose. An hour passed, and part of another, before the sweat-soaked sportsman reeled it in.

  There is an old man with an ancient wooden box camera who hangs around the harbor in Acapulco, and when the Estrellita docked, Otto commissioned him to do six portraits of Perry posed beside his catch. Technically, the old man’s work turned out badly—brown and streaked. Still, they were remarkable photographs, and what made them so was Perry’s expression, his look of unflawed fulfillment, of beatitude, as though at last, and as in one of his dreams, a tall yellow bird had hauled him to heaven.

  One December afternoon Paul Helm was pruning the patch of floral odds and ends that had entitled Bonnie Clutter to membership in the Garden City Garden Club. It was a melancholy task, for he was reminded of another afternoon when he’d done the same chore. Kenyon had helped him that day, and it was the last time he’d seen Kenyon alive, or Nancy, or any of them. The weeks between had been hard on Mr. Helm. He was “in poor health” (poorer than he knew; he had less than four months to live), and he was worried about a lot of things. His job, for one. He doubted he would have it much longer. Nobody seemed really to know, but he understood that “the girls,” Beverly and Eveanna, intended to sell the property—though, as he’d heard one of the boys at the café remark, “ain’t nobody gonna buy that spread, long as the mystery lasts.” It “didn’t do” to think about—strangers here, harvesting “our” land. Mr. Helm minded—he minded for Herb’s sake. This was a place, he said, that “ought to be kept in a man’s family.” Once Herb had said to him, “I hope there’ll always be a Clutter here, and a Helm, too.” It was only a year ago Herb had said that. Lord, what was he to do if the farm got sold? He felt “too old to fit in somewhere different.”

  Still, he must work, and he wanted to. He wasn’t, he said, the kind to kick off his shoes and sit by the stove. And yet it was true that the farm nowadays made him uneasy: the locked house, Nancy’s horse forlornly waiting in a field, the odor of windfall apples rotting under the apple trees, and the absence of voices—Kenyon calling Nancy to the telephone, Herb whistling, his glad “Good morning, Paul.” He and Herb had “got along grand”—never a cross word between them. Why, then, did the men from the sheriff’s office continue to question him? Unless they thought he had “something to hide”? Maybe he ought never to have mentioned the Mexicans. He had informed Al Dewey that at approximately four o’clock on Saturday, November 14, the day of the murders, a pair of Mexicans, one mustachioed and the other pockmarked, appeared at River Valley Farm. Mr. Helm had seen them knock on the door of “the office,” seen Herb step outside and talk to them on the lawn, and, possibly ten minutes later, watched the strangers walk away, “looking sulky.” Mr. Helm figured that they had come asking for work and had been told there was none. Unfortunately, though he’d been called upon to recount his version of that day’s events many times, he had not spoken of the incident until two weeks after the crime, because, as he explained to Dewey, “I just suddenly recalled it.” But Dewey, and some of the other investigators, seemed not
to credit his story, and behaved as though it were a tale he’d invented to mislead them. They preferred to believe Bob Johnson, the insurance salesman, who had spent all of Saturday afternoon conferring with Mr. Clutter in the latter’s office, and who was “absolutely positive” that from two to ten past six he had been Herb’s sole visitor. Mr. Helm was equally definite: Mexicans, a mustache, pockmarks, four o’clock. Herb would have told them that he was speaking the truth, convinced them that he, Paul Helm, was a man who “said his prayers and earned his bread.” But Herb was gone.

  Gone. And Bonnie, too. Her bedroom window overlooked the garden, and now and then, usually when she was “having a bad spell,” Mr. Helm had seen her stand long hours gazing into the garden, as though what she saw bewitched her. (“When I was a girl,” she had once told a friend, “I was terribly sure trees and flowers were the same as birds or people. That they thought things, and talked among themselves. And we could hear them if we really tried. It was just a matter of emptying your head of all other sounds. Being very quiet and listening very hard. Sometimes I still believe that. But one can never get quiet enough . . .”)

  Remembering Bonnie at the window, Mr. Helm looked up, as though he expected to see her, a ghost behind the glass. If he had, it could not have amazed him more than what he did in fact discern—a hand holding back a curtain, and eyes. “But,” as he subsequently described it, “the sun was hitting that side of the house”—it made the window glass waver, shimmeringly twisted what hung beyond it—and by the time Mr. Helm had shielded his eyes, then looked again, the curtains had swung closed, the window was vacant. “My eyes aren’t too good, and I wondered if they had played me a trick,” he recalled. “But I was pretty darn certain that they hadn’t. And I was pretty darn certain it wasn’t any spook. Because I don’t believe in spooks. So who could it be? Sneaking around in there. Where nobody’s got a right to go, except the law. And how did they get in? With everything locked up like the radio was advertising tornadoes. That’s what I wondered. But I wasn’t expecting to find out—not by myself. I dropped what I was doing, and cut across the fields to Holcomb. Soon as I got there, I phoned Sheriff Robinson. Explained that there was somebody prowling around inside the Clutter house. Well, they came raring right on out. State troopers. The sheriff and his bunch. The K.B.I. fellows. Al Dewey. Just as they were stringing themselves around the place, sort of getting ready for action, the front door opened.” Out walked a person no one present had ever seen before—a man in his middle thirties, dull-eyed, wild-haired, and wearing a hip holster stocked with a .38-caliber pistol. “I guess all of us there had the identical idea—this was him, the one who came and killed them,” Mr. Helm continued. “He didn’t make a move. Stood quiet. Kind of blinking. They took the gun away, and started asking questions.”

  The man’s name was Adrian—Jonathan Daniel Adrian. He was on his way to New Mexico, and at present had no fixed address. For what purpose had he broken into the Clutter house, and how, incidentally, had he managed it? He showed them how. (He had lifted a lid off a water well and crawled through a pipe tunnel that led into the basement.) As for why, he had read about the case and was curious, just wanted to see what the place looked like. “And then,” according to Mr. Helm’s memory of the episode, “somebody asked him was he a hitchhiker? Hitchhiking his way to New Mexico? No, he said, he was driving his own car. And it was parked down the lane a piece. So everybody went to look at the car. When they found what was inside it, one of the men—maybe it was Al Dewey—said to him, told this Jonathan Daniel Adrian, ‘Well, mister, seems like we’ve got something to discuss.’ Because, inside the car, what they’d found was a .12-gauge shotgun. And a hunting knife.”

  A room in a hotel in Mexico City. In the room was an ugly modern bureau with a lavender-tinted mirror, and tucked into a corner of the mirror was a printed warning from the Management:

  SU DÍA TERMINA A LAS 2 P.M.

  YOUR DAY ENDS AT 2 P.M.

  Guests, in other words, must vacate the room by the stated hour or expect to be charged another day’s rent—a luxury that the present occupants were not contemplating. They wondered only whether they could settle the sum already owed. For everything had evolved as Perry had prophesied: Dick had sold the car, and three days later the money, slightly less than two hundred dollars, had largely vanished. On the fourth day Dick had gone out hunting honest work, and that night he had announced to Perry, “Nuts! You know what they pay? What the wages are? For an expert mechanic? Two bucks a day. Mexico! Honey, I’ve had it. We got to make it out of here. Back to the States. No, now, I’m not going to listen. Diamonds. Buried treasure. Wake up, little boy. There ain’t no caskets of gold. No sunken ship. And even if there was—hell, you can’t even swim.” And the next day, having borrowed money from the richer of his two fiancées, the banker’s widow, Dick bought bus tickets that would take them, via San Diego, as far as Barstow, California. “After that,” he said, “we walk.”

  Of course, Perry could have struck out on his own, stayed in Mexico, let Dick go where he damn well wanted. Why not? Hadn’t he always been “a loner,” and without any “real friends” (except the gray-haired, gray-eyed, and “brilliant” Willie-Jay)? But he was afraid to leave Dick; merely to consider it made him feel “sort of sick,” as though he were trying to make up his mind to “jump off a train going ninety-nine miles an hour.” The basis of his fear, or so he himself seemed to believe, was a newly grown superstitious certainty that “whatever had to happen won’t happen” as long as he and Dick “stick together.” Then, too, the severity of Dick’s “wakeup” speech, the belligerence with which he’d proclaimed his theretofore concealed opinion of Perry’s dreams and hopes—this, perversity being what it is, appealed to Perry, hurt and shocked him but charmed him, almost revived his former faith in the tough, the “totally masculine,” the pragmatic, the decisive Dick he’d once allowed to boss him. And so, since a sunrise hour on a chilly Mexico City morning in early December, Perry had been prowling about the unheated hotel room assembling and packing his possessions—stealthily, lest he waken the two sleeping shapes lying on one of the room’s twin beds: Dick, and the younger of his betrotheds, Inez.

  There was one belonging of his that need no longer concern him. On their last night in Acapulco, a thief had stolen the Gibson guitar—absconded with it from a waterfront café where he, Otto, Dick, and the Cowboy had been bidding one another a highly alcoholic goodbye. And Perry was bitter about it. He felt, he later said, “real mean and low,” explaining, “You have a guitar long enough, like I had that one, wax and shine it, fit your voice to it, treat it like it was a girl you really had some use for—well, it gets to be kind of holy.” But while the purloined guitar presented no ownership problem, his remaining property did. As he and Dick would now be traveling by foot or thumb, they clearly could not carry with them more than a few shirts and socks. The rest of their clothing would have to be shipped—and, indeed, Perry had already filled a cardboard carton (putting into it—along with some bits of unlaundered laundry—two pairs of boots, one pair with soles that left a Cat’s Paw print, the other pair with diamond-pattern soles) and addressed it to himself, care of General Delivery, Las Vegas, Nevada.

  But the big question, and source of heartache, was what to do with his much-loved memorabilia—the two huge boxes heavy with books and maps, yellowing letters, song lyrics, poems, and unusual souvenirs (suspenders and a belt fabricated from the skins of Nevada rattlers he himself had slain; an erotic netsuke bought in Kyoto; a petrified dwarf tree, also from Japan; the foot of an Alaskan bear). Probably the best solution—at least, the best Perry could devise—was to leave the stuff with “Jesus.” The “Jesus” he had in mind tended bar in a café across the street from the hotel, and was, Perry thought, muy simpático, definitely someone he could trust to return the boxes on demand. (He intended to send for them as soon as he had a “fixed address.”)

  Still, there were some things too precious to chance losing, so while the lovers
drowsed and time dawdled on toward 2:00 P.M., Perry looked through old letters, photographs, clippings, and selected from them those mementos he meant to take with him. Among them was a badly typed composition entitled “A History of My Boy’s Life.” The author of this manuscript was Perry’s father, who in an effort to help his son obtain a parole from Kansas State Penitentiary, had written it the previous December and mailed it to the Kansas State Parole Board. It was a document that Perry had read at least a hundred times, never with indifference:

  CHILDHOOD—Be glad to tell you, as I see it, both good and bad. Yes, Perry birth was normal. Healthy—yes. Yes, I was able to care for him properly until my wife turned out to be a disgraceful drunkard when my children were at school age. Happy disposition—yes and no, very serious if mistreated he never forgets. I also keep my promises and make him do so. My wife was different. We lived in the country. We are all truly outdoor people. I taught my children the Golden Rule. Live & let live and in many cases my children would tell on each other when doing wrong and the guilty one would always admit, and come forward, willing for a spanking. And promise to be good, and always done their work quickly and willing so they could be free to play. Always wash themselves first thing in the morning, dress in clean clothes, I was very strict about that, and wrong doings to others, and if wrong was done to them by other kids I made them quit playing with them. Our children were no trouble to us as long as we were together. It all started when my wife wanted to go to the City and live a wild life—and ran away to do so. I let her go and said goodby as she took the car and left me behind (this was during depression). My children all cryed at the top of their voices. She only cussed them saying they would run away to come to me later. She got mad and then said she would turn the children to hate me, which she did, all but Perry. For the love of my children after several months I went to find them, located them in San Francisco, my wife not knowing. I tryed to see them in school. My wife had given orders to the teacher not to let me see them. However, I managed to see them while playing in the school yard and was surprised when they told me, “Mama told us not to talk to you.” All but Perry. He was different. He put his arms around me and wanted to run away with me rite then. I told him No. But rite after school was out, he ran away to my lawyers office Mr. Rinso Turco. I took my boy back to his mother and left the City. Perry later told me, his mother told him to find a new home. While my children were with her they run around as they pleased, I understand Perry got into trouble. I wanted her to ask for divorce, which she did after about a year or so. Her drinkin and stepin out, living with a young man. I contested the divorce and was granted full custody of the children. I took Perry to my home to live with me. The other children were put in homes as I could not manage to take them all in my home and them being part indian blood and welfare took care of them as I requested.

 
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