Sunrise in Central Park. A man wakes up on a park bench with no idea who he is or how he got there. The only clues to his identity are the gold ring engraved “From G.V.” he wears on his right hand and the black address book with a single phone number he finds in his jacket pocket. Lacking a name, the man takes one from a passing beer truck and a plane flying overheard—Buddwing, he decides to call himself.
For the next twenty-four hours, Buddwing searches Manhattan hoping to rediscover his missing life. But no matter where he looks or whom he talks to, the past remains a confusing, disconnected jumble. One key name, however, echoes through the dim corridors of his mind: Grace.
Unfortunately, there is no grace to be found in the sprawling city. From the pretty young college student who brings him to her Greenwich Village apartment to the drunken sailor on shore leave who shows him a wild time in Chinatown to the wealthy, disillusioned blonde who claims him as a treasure-hunt prize, no one Buddwing encounters has the answers he seeks. Weary and desperate, he fears the life he’s forgotten is too terrible to recall. But even the most painful memory has to be better than the emptiness of not knowing. Or does it?
A vivid, kaleidoscopic portrait of 1950s New York City and a “fascinating exercise in the workings of the psyche,” Buddwing was the basis for the Academy Award–nominated film Mister Buddwing starring James Garner, Suzanne Pleshette, Jean Simmons, and Angela Lansbury (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Evan Hunter’s personal favorite of his many novels, this masterpiece of psychological fiction moves with dreamlike intensity toward a shattering and unforgettable conclusion.
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By Evan Hunter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1964 Evan Hunter
All rights reserved.
He could not have been asleep for more than a few hours, and yet he felt curiously refreshed, coming instantly awake without passing through that fuzzy borderland he usually associated with rising. He knew exactly where he was. He seemed only mildly surprised to discover he was wearing his street clothes, but then he supposed one did not sleep in pajamas on a wooden bench in Central Park. He sat up and rubbed a hand over his face, not to wash away any weariness — more, he suspected, as a gesture of habit. Then he glanced across the path and beyond the iron railing to where the ground sloped to a small lake. The lake ended in a narrow finger capped by a huge outcropping of primeval rock, the man-made concrete of Fifth Avenue beyond and in the distance, and behind that a pale blue sky.
Who am I? he wondered.
The words flashed across his mind in brilliant, almost searing intensity for only a second, and then were extinguished by their own absurdity. He grinned at the foolishness of the thought, grinned too because it was a beautiful day. The air was mild and warm; a balmy breeze reminiscent of somewhere in the tropics played at the back of his neck. He wondered what time it was. He looked at his wrist, surprised to see he had no watch, and then again wondered Who am I? This time the question did not seem as absurd. This time the question forced the grin from his mouth.
He sat waiting. He did not panic. He sat calmly on the park bench. This is New York City, he told himself. This is Central Park. That's Fifth Avenue up there, I can see the tops of the buildings, who am I? Patiently he waited, the knowledge on the tip of his tongue. Of course he knew who he was; he was
He felt suddenly uneasy, but he knew he would not panic. This was a temporary lapse of some kind, like forgetting the name of someone at a party, a simple block, momentary and transitory. He would not even allow his brow to furrow. He sat calmly and patiently, circling his own memory warily, like an animal preparing to spring on an elusive prey, cautiously, treading silently: I'm
But the name would not come.
Well, that's really ridiculous, he thought offhandedly, casually, I'm
The uneasiness was spreading. He glanced about him surreptitiously, as though this stupid lapse, this inconsiderate and grotesque inconvenience, were somehow something that everyone could see. But there was no one to see. He was quite alone on the bench and in the park. It must have been really very early in the morning; he could not even hear any sounds of traffic from Fifth Avenue. The uneasiness had started somewhere at the back of his skull, not in his mind, but physically at the base of his skull, the medulla oblongata. The medulla oblongata: Biology I at high school — which high school? It had then moved across his face; he could feel it tightening the flesh over his cheekbones and then spreading to his upper lip, the lips pulling taut, lodging in his throat when his cautious circling trap did not work, and then leaping instantly into his heart, fluttering wildly there. He would not panic. He told himself he would not panic. But the uneasiness was something very close to panic now, galloping in his heart. He suddenly clenched his hands.
Look, he told himself, you know who you are.
Well, then (cautiously ... he almost dreaded thinking the words again, as if, presented again with them, he knew he would again have no answer, the words reluctantly refused to come ... cautiously, very cautiously, no, it was no good playing tricks, it was no good creeping up like this) well, then, who am I?
I know who I am, he thought, I'm sitting here on a park bench, this is Central Park, that's Fifth Avenue over there, I'm in New York City, my name is
Oh, hell, he thought.
What's the matter with me this morning? What am I doing here, anyway? I should be
The panic suddenly leaped against the walls of his heart. With a certainty sharp and clear and fierce, he knew he should be somewhere else, and he had not the slightest inkling of where that somewhere else was. And then, knowing he should be elsewhere, fearing his heart would burst through his rib cage and explode the flesh on his chest, lie beating in fear on the path before the bench, he suddenly wanted to know what he looked like. He brought his hands up instantly. They were trembling. He looked about him again to see if anyone had noticed the trembling. But he was still alone, quite alone, and his aloneness added a new dimension to his panic, as though he were trapped somehow in a horrible unending dream where he would interminably shout the question WHO AM I? and there would be no one to hear and no one to answer.
He explored his face with the fingers of both hands widespread. He seemed to have the right number of eyes, and a nose, somewhat long, and a thin upper lip, and high cheekbones — he supposed they were high; they seemed to end just below his eyes. The skin on his cheeks seemed taut, pulled tight, and he had a beard stubble.
He took his hands away from his face and studied them intently, as though wondering whether they were faithful recorders of his features, and it was then that he noticed the heavy gold ring on the third finger of his right hand. The ring had a black stone, and the stone was cracked, but there were no initials, no crest, nothing on the cracked black stone, no clue in the shining black-though-marred surface of the stone or the encircling gold to tell him what the ring was supposed to commemorate or mean other than decoration. He tried to take the ring off his finger, but it would not budge past his knuckle. Still sitting on the bench — the panic had fled before his curiosity now, an idle sort of curiosity — he put his finger into his mouth, wetting it past the knuckle, and then forced the ring off. He looked into the gold circle. In delicate script lettering the legend From G.V. was engraved.
Who is G.V.? he wondered, and then became amused by the possibilities of what was happening to him. He did not know who he was, and he did not know who G.V. was, and he suddenly thought it funny that he did not know who anyone in this whole wide world was. Who is President Johnson? he asked himself, and was reassured by the very logic of his question; if he knew that Johnson was the President, then he knew who Johnson was. He found himself running through a list of names in his mind, as though arranging the geographical points on a map: Chairman Khrushchev, Pablo Casals, Sarah Vaughan, Fidel Castro, Tennessee Williams, Roger Maris, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway; they're dead, he thought, they're both dead. And then he wondered if he himself were dead.
Well, if I'm dead, he reasoned, I feel pretty good, so what the hell? If I'm dead, then being dead is like waking up in Central Park on a nice spring day, so being dead can't be so bad. And then, as if the idea had been in his mind all along, as if he had only been playing some sort of hideous game with himself, he reached into his pocket for his wallet. He knew infallibly that he kept his wallet in the left-hand pocket of his trousers, the same way he knew that Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States, the same way he knew that this was Central Park. He reached into his pocket, and knew with the same infallibility that his wallet would not be there, but felt deeper into the pocket nonetheless, and then nodded in brief disappointment. As a matter of course, he checked his other trouser pockets, but there was no wallet. He had either lost it or had it stolen from him, which might after all explain what he was doing in Central Park on a Saturday morning when
He knew it was Saturday.
He sat quite still on the bench, looking off into the distance that was Fifth Avenue, lulled by the knowledge he knew he possessed, a knowledge of place and now of time; this was Saturday. He could not have told himself how he knew it was Saturday, but he knew it for certain, and then he wondered why on earth he felt there was someplace he was supposed to be on this Saturday morning. But the panic was gone completely now. He simply sat calmly and stared into space. The search that had started with the ring on his finger and then led to his trouser pockets, looking for his wallet, inevitably led to a curious probing of the pockets of his jacket. He was wearing a dark blue suit, he noticed, and blue socks and black shoes. His shirt was white, and a pair of gold cuff links showed where his jacket ended. He was wearing a gray tie with a tiny gold tie tack. He was hatless — that did not surprise him; he knew he never wore a hat. He found a package of L&M cigarettes in the breast pocket of his jacket, and he lighted one now — he was carrying matches, no lighter — and then he replaced the cigarettes in his pocket and continued searching through the other pockets. He found a slim gold pen and pencil set in his inside jacket pocket, and a small black address book behind them, and behind that a timetable for the Harlem Division of the New York Central. He glanced only briefly at the train schedule — it meant nothing to him — and then he opened the small black book, expecting it to be crammed with names and addresses, disappointed when he learned it was not. The pages were blank except for the first page, and written onto that page in a hand he did not recognize was: MO 6-2367. On impulse, he took the pen from his pocket, turned the barrel to bring the point into writing position, and directly beneath the MO 6-2367, wrote the identical legend, which he supposed was a telephone number, MO 6-2367. The hand he had not recognized was his own; the script was identical. He replaced the book, the train schedule, and the pen in his right inside pocket, and then searched the left inside pocket and found nothing. The left waist pocket of the jacket was empty as well. In the right waist pocket, he found two torn movie stubs. He had no idea whether they were old stubs or whether he had been to a movie last night, but a cold cunning recorded the fact that there were two of them. Whenever he had been to the movie, he had not gone alone. He stuck two fingers into the watch pocket of his trousers, expecting to find nothing, and was surprised to find two small gelatin capsules with white powder in them. He did not know what the capsules contained, or why he was carrying them. He put them back in the watch pocket.
He sat quietly for several moments more, thinking very calmly, and reasoning that the first thing he should do was call the number in the black book, if it was a number. What else could it be but a telephone number? He reasoned that the book was obviously new, and that the number must be an important one if he had jotted it down as the first and only item in the book. He knew it was not his own phone number because no one ever jotted down his own phone number. Unless he had recently moved, and had a new phone, and wasn't familiar with the number as yet, in which case he might possibly have written it down as a reminder. The possibility seemed extremely remote to him, but he nonetheless did not discard it. He moved it to a place at the back of his mind somewhere, a place where he was beginning to store a bank of knowledge about this person who was himself and whom he did not know. The knowledge was scanty at best, but at least he knew he was wearing a gold ring on his right hand and none on his left, which seemed to indicate he was not married. He also knew that G.V. had given him the ring, and he further knew that he was wearing gold cuff links and a gold tie tack and a fairly decent-looking suit. He opened the jacket now and looked at the label sewn into it. De Pinna's. An expensive suit. Whatever he was, he was not a pauper. The knowledge that he could afford gold cuff links and a gold tie tack and a suit from De Pinna's was reassuring, unless all these, like the gold ring, were gifts from G.V., whoever he or she was, in which case He closed his mind against a dizzy spiraling that seemed endless and dangerous. The first thing he should do was call that number. He reached into his pocket for the black book again, and turned to the first page where the two numbers were written one under the other, the first already there when he had initially opened the book, the other that he had written to check the handwriting. MO 6-2367. Well, the first thing he would do was call the number, and yet something told him that there was no urgency about calling it, that once he called it, he would know nothing more about himself than he now knew.
Besides, he had no money.
He also had no watch, a fact that combined with the loss of his wallet and the absence of even any small change to lead him to believe he had been a robbery victim. And yet, his cuff links and tie tack had not been stolen. Would a thief have taken his wallet, his watch, and all his small change, without bothering to take his jewelry? Or had there been a thief and a robbery at all? Was it not equally possible that he had walked out of someplace, an apartment, a hotel room, someplace, anyplace, and simply left his wallet, and his watch, and his money behind? Perhaps he had never owned a watch to begin with. No, he hardly knew anyone in the world who did not own a wristwatch. Again, he was amused. Because not only did he hardly know anyone in the world who did not own a watch, he also hardly knew anyone in the world, period. Or, to be more exact, he absolutely did not know anyone in the world, never mind the hardly. He did not know a single living soul, unless perhaps he knew President Johnson and all the others whose names had flashed through his mind. Why not? Perhaps he called the President every night and said, "L.B., would you like to go bowling?" Perhaps he was a delegate to the United Nations. Perhaps, for Christ's sake, perhaps he was Adlai Stevenson himself. Why couldn't he be? He hadn't even seen his own face yet.
He suddenly touched the top of his head because the idea that he was Adlai Stevenson, that he was really Adlai Stevenson who had somehow through some curious quirk wandered into Central Park and been mugged and left on a bench, seemed very real and quite possible to him, and he knew that Adlai Stevenson was bald, so he touched the top of his head to see whether he was bald and really Adlai Stevenson.
He felt hair.
It was cut rather close to his head, not a crew cut, but close nonetheless. Well, he was not Adlai Stevenson, which he supposed was something of a relief. This did not exclude the possibility that he was someone who knew Stevenson, and who knew Johnson, in fact someone very important who wandered in very high political circles — why couldn't he be? His suit had come from De Pinna's, and he was wearing gold cuff links and a gold tie tack, and he had obviously wandered out of the Sherry-Netherland where an important Democratic political function had been taking place, accidentally leaving his watch and wallet behind in the men's washroom where he had been standing side by side with Dean Rusk.
He rose from the bench.
The first thing he had to do, he now realized, was not what he originally surmised. The telephone number in the black book, if indeed it was a telephone number, still did not seem particularly urgent, nor did it now seem even terribly important. The most important thing he had to do was find a mirror someplace and take a good hard look at himself. He might surprise himself and discover he was Cary Grant. If there were some people around (where the hell had everybody in the city vanished to?) he would know right away if he was Cary Grant, because someone would most certainly stop him for an autograph, or perhaps someone would swoon — but unfortunately, there were no people around. Anyway, a dead swoon would not necessarily indicate that he was Cary Grant. It might only indicate that he was Burt Lancaster, or Frank Sinatra, or, as some swooning circles went, perhaps even Van Cliburn. He looked at his fingers. They were long and thin. Perhaps he was a piano player, or maybe a bongo drummer; the possibilities were limitless and, to tell the truth, a little frightening. Suppose, for example, suppose he found a mirror someplace, and he faced that mirror, and suppose he really was Cary Grant, but suppose he failed to recognize Cary Grant when he looked at him, then what? Suppose he simply saw some guy looking back at him, and he hadn't the faintest notion who the hell that guy was, Tony Curtis, or Dr. Schweitzer — please God, don't let me be Dr. Schweitzer.
Excerpted from Buddwing by Evan Hunter. Copyright © 1964 Evan Hunter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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