Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2011 March 23 • Wednesday

The Cain's Hundred novel is about a former Syndicate man—one of the hundred on Cain's list— dealing drugs to students at a college in a wealthy suburb.

It begins with a horribly racist character, a 200-pound "Negro woman" named White Goddess. She and her partner, Sacred Man, start selling "reefer" to a college kid named Ferrell Crosby as he sits in Tommy's roadhouse listening to the distant sounds of cheering at the college football game.

He looked at the reefers and thought why the hell not? So he paid Sacred Man $5 for them, a drop out of his $50 a week allowance, and drove off in his sports car.

He lived with his father in a big house on Poplar Street in Whitman, but he wasn't about to smoke one there, since he had an intense conviction his father would kill him if he knew. He smoked one that night on campus, behind the science building, alone, with the din of fraternity and sorority celebrations in the distance taking the place of the crowd noise of the afternoon.

The noise stopped. He felt fine. He had a great capacity for taste. Time slowed. He had a Chinese dinner and rolled the many foods in his mouth, tasting each one separately. He went to a movie and watched the leading-man's brain tick away as he made love to the heroine. He saw life for what it was. It thrilled him.

He smoked the other two the next day, which was Sunday, then cut a class the next day to go back to Tommy's for more. Fortunately, Sacred Man and White Goddess were waiting for him. He managed to get another dozen reefers from them and, as he smoked them the rest of the week, things got clearer and clearer.

His father had like a snail in his head, a dirty little snail. That was it. The snail had been talking for years and had convinced his father that he, Ferrie, had to be put in a bottle of beer and corked. Because he, Ferrie, was dregs.

That was wrong, Ferrie thought; he wasn't dregs. Something had to get the snail out of his father's head.

He went back to see Sacred Man after his dozen reefers were gone. They sold him heroin and showed him how to pop it. It didn't cost much, considering what his father gave him. He popped it in his bedroom and liked it fine.

It wasn't a snail at all, he thought a few days later. Or maybe his father's whole head was a snail, because he couldn't see where the snail ended and the brain began.

That was very bad.

About two weeks later he went up to his room and got down his hunting rifle. Fairfax County, where he lived, had grouse in its woods. Every guy and his dad had a hunting rifle.

"Hey dad, you want to come up here for a minute?" he called downstairs.

Ferrell Crosby, Sr., grunted, put down his paper and came upstairs.

When he reached the landing, Ferrell, Jr., stepped out of his room and shot him between the eyes. He went over backward and rolled back down the stairs.

Then Ferrell, Jr., went back inside his room. He sat down at his desk and thought for a few minutes. He'd removed the snail from his father's brain and maybe even the whole brain. But he'd also killed his father.

Man, he thought. What'll I do next?

He didn't think about it very much. He put another shell in the rifle, set the stock on the floor and reached way down for the trigger. He pushed the trigger and blew his own head off.

That's near the level of pulp masterpiece.

The book never hits that kind of high mark again, though there are moments. The sentence "Then he went upstairs and did his vomiting" comes to mind.

One gratifying thing about the Cain's Hundred book is that the constantly scowling Cain is allowed to get things wrong and not be an unerring superman all the time.

There aren't any beatniks, though when Cain visits the college he hears "a student arguing loudly for his personal interpretation of a line by Ezra Pound".