He added quietly, "Sure, I understand."
"In time . . ." Nim leaned across the table, balancing his words the way a conjurer might stand a plate on edge. "In time the burns will heal. They'll do skin grafts. But you can't order a new penis from the Sears catalogue."
"It's true. Can't deny it." London shook his head sadly. "That poor benighted bastard!"
The cocktail pianist was now into Lara's theme and Harry London wiped away a tear.
"Twenty-eight!" Nim said. "That's how old he is. For God's sake, twenty-eight! Why, any normal man that age has still got ahead of him a lifetime of. . ."
London said curtly, "I don't need a diagram." He finished his beer and motioned a waiter for another. "One thing you gotta remember, Nim. Not every guy's an all-star cocksman like you. With you, if you lost out the way Wally has, I could understand it being the end of the road, or you thinking it was." He asked curiously, "You ever kept score? Maybe you could get in the Guinness Book of World Records."
“There's a Belgian writer," Nim said, his thoughts for the moment diverted,
"Georges Simenon, who says he made it with ten thousand different women.
I'm not up to that many, or even near it."
"Leave out the numbers, then. The point is, maybe his dong was never as all-fired important to Wally as yours is to you."
Nim shook his head. "I doubt it." He remembered the times be had seen Wally Jr. and his wife, Mary, together. Nim's finely boned instincts told him the two of them had a good thing going sexually. He wondered sadly what might happen to their marriage.
The beer and double vodka arrived. "When you're coming back," Nim told the waiter, "bring the same again."
It was early evening. The bar they were in-the Ezy Duzzit, smallish and dark, with a sentimental pianist who was just easing into Moon River-was not far from GSP & L headquarters. Nim and Harry London had walked over here at the end of their working day. The third day.
The past three days had been the worst short period of his life that Nim ever remembered.
On the first day, at Devil's Gate, the sense of stupefaction following the electrocution of Wally Talbot Jr. had lasted only seconds. Then, while Wally was still being brought down from the tower, standard emergency procedures went into high gear.
In any big utility company, electrocutions are rare but inevitably they happen-usually several times a year. The cause is either momentary carelessness, nullifying costly and rigid safety precautions, or a "thousandth chance" accident such as that which happened so swiftly while Nim and others watched.
Ironically, Golden State Power had an aggressive publicity program, aimed at parents and children, warning of dangers when kites were flown near overhead power lines. The utility had expended thousands of dollars on posters and comic books devoted to the subject and distributed them to schools and other agencies.
As Fred Wilkins, the red-haired technician was to disclose with anguish later, he knew of the warning program. But Wilkins' wife, Danny's mother, didn't know. She tearfully admitted having a vague impression that she might have heard something of the kind, but had forgotten when or where, nor had the memory surfaced when the kite-a birthday present from grandparents-arrived with the morning mail and she helped Danny put it together. As for Danny's climbing the tower, he was described by those who knew him as "a determined boy, and fearless." the hooked aluminum rod he had carried aloft was a gaff his father used for occasional deep sea fishing; it was stored in a tool shed where the boy had seen it often. None of that was known, of course, when a trained first-aid team, alerted by the camp siren, rushed to administer help to Wally Talbot. He was unconscious, had been badly burned over large areas of his body, and breathing had stopped.
The aid team, led by a registered nurse who ran the camp's small medical clinic, competently began mouth-to-mouth breathing in conjunction with external cardiac compression. While the resuscitation continued, Wally was carried to the one-bed clinic. There, the nurse-taking radiophone instructions from a doctor in the city-used a closed-chest defibrillator in an attempt to restore normal heart action. The attempt succeeded. That, and the other measures, saved Wally's life.
By then a company helicopter was on the way to Devil's Gate-the same machine which was to have collected Nim. Wally, accompanied by the nurse, was flown directly to a hospital for more intensive treatment. It was not until next day that his suryival was assured and the detailed nature of his injuries made known. On that second day, newspapers played the story big, its impact strengthened by eyewitness accounts from reporters on the scene. The morning Chronicle-West gave it front-page treatment with a headline:
ELECTROCUTED MAN IS HERO
By afternoon, though the immediacy had lessened, the California Examiner devoted half of page three to a Nancy Molineaux by-line story headed:
Sacrifices Self in Saving Child.
The Examiner also ran a two-column cut of Wally Talbot Jr. and another of young Danny Wilkins with one side of his face bandaged-the result of abrasions when the boy slid downward near the top of the tower, the only injury he received.
TV and radio had carried bulletins the night before, but continued their coverage the following day. Because of its human interest, the story drew statewide and some national attention.
At the city's Mount Eden Hospital, shortly after noon on that second day, an attending surgeon held an impromptu press conference in a corridor.
Nim, who had visited the hospital earlier, had just returned and listened from the fringes.
"Mr. Talbot's condition is critical but stable, and he is out of immediate danger," the young surgeon, who looked like a reincarnated Robert Kennedy, announced. "He has severe bums over twenty-five percent of his body and has suffered certain other injuries."
"Could you be more specific, Doctor?" one of a dozen news reporters asked. "What are the other injuries?"
The surgeon glanced at an older man beside him whom Nim knew to be the hospital administrator.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press," the administrator said, "normally, out of respect for privacy, no additional information would be disclosed.
In this instance, however, after discussion with the family, it has been decided to be open with the press-quite frankly, to put an end to speculation. Therefore the last question will be answered. But before it is, I plead with you-out of consideration for the patient and his family-to be discreet in what you write and speak. Thank you. Please continue, Doctor."
“The effects of electrocution on the human body are always unpredictable,"
the surgeon said. "Often, death results when large charges of electricity pass through internal organs before escaping to ground. In the case of Mr. Talbot this didn't happen, so to that extent he was fortunate. Instead the electricity passed over the upper surface of his body and exited-to ground through the metal tower-by the route of his penis."
There were gasps, and a shocked silence during which no one seemed eager to ask the next question. Eventually an elderly male reporter did. "And, Doctor, the condition of . . ."
"It was destroyed. By burning. Totally. Now, if you'll excuse me . . .
The press group, unusually subdued, drifted away.
Nim had stayed on. He identified himself to the administrator and inquired about Wally Jr.'s family-Ardythe and Mary. Nim had not seen either since the accident, but knew he would have to meet both women soon.
Ardythe, Nim learned, was at the hospital under sedation. "She went into shock," the administrator said. "I presume you know about her husband's death just a short time ago."
“The younger Mrs. Talbot is with her husband, but no other visitors are being allowed for the time being."
While the administrator waited, Nim scribbled a note to Mary, telling her he was available if needed, and in any case would return to the hospital next day. That night, as during the preceding one, Nim slept only fitfully, the scene at Devil's Gate Camp repeating itself in his mind again and again, like a recurring nightmare.
On the morning of the third day he saw Mary, then Ardythe.
Mary met him outside the hospital room where Wally was still under intensive care. "Wally's conscious," she said, "but doesn't want to see anyone. Not yet." Wally's wife looked pale and tired, but some of her normal businesslike manner still came through. "Ardythe wants to see you, though. She knew you were coming."