Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

87. The Cut of My Jib

About this Franklin Hoenikker—the pinch-faced child spoke with the timbre and conviction of a kazoo. I had heard it said in the Army that such and such a man spoke like a man with a paper rectum. Such a man was General Hoenikker. Poor Frank had had almost no experience in talking to anyone, having spent a furtive childhood as Secret Agent X-9.

Now, hoping to be hearty and persuasive, he said tinny things to me, things like, “I like the cut of your jib!” and “I want to talk cold turkey to you, man to man!”

And he took me down to what he called his “den” in order that we might, “. . . call a spade a spade, and let the chips fall where they may.”

So we went down steps cut into a cliff and into a natural cave that was beneath and behind the waterfall. There were a couple of drawing tables down there; three pale, bare-boned Scandinavian chairs; a bookcase containing books on architecture, books in German, French, Finnish, Italian, English.

All was lit by electric lights, lights that pulsed with the panting of the motor-generator set.

And the most striking thing about the cave was that there were pictures painted on the walls, painted with kindergarten boldness, painted with the flat clay, earth, and charcoal colors of very early man. I did not have to ask Frank how old the cave paintings were. I was able to date them by their subject. The paintings were not of mammoths or saber-toothed tigers or ithyphallic cave bears.

The paintings treated endlessly the aspects of Mona Aamons Monzano as a little girl.

“This—this is where Mona’s father worked?” I asked.

“That’s right. He was the Finn who designed the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle.”

“I know.”

“That isn’t what I brought you down here to talk about.”

“This is something about your father?”

“This is about you.” Frank put his hand on my shoulder and he looked me in the eye. The effect was dismaying. Frank meant to inspire camaraderie, but his head looked to me like a bizarre little owl, blinded by light and perched on a tall white post.

“Maybe you’d better come to the point.”

“There’s no sense in beating around the bush,” he said. “I’m a pretty good judge of character, if I do say so myself, and I like the cut of your jib.”

“Thank you.”

“I think you and I could really hit it off.”

“I have no doubt of it.”

“We’ve both got things that mesh.”

I was grateful when he took his hand from my shoulder. He meshed the fingers of his hands like gear teeth. One hand represented him, I suppose, and the other represented me.

“We need each other.” He wiggled his fingers to show me how gears worked.

I was silent for some time, though outwardly friendly.

“Do you get my meaning?” asked Frank at last.

“You and I—we’re going to do something together?”

“That’s right!” Frank clapped his hands. “You’re a worldly person, used to meeting the public; and I’m a technical person, used to working behind the scenes, making things go.”

“How can you possibly know what kind of a person I am? We’ve just met.”

“Your clothes, the way you talk.” He put his hand on my shoulder again. “I like the cut of your jib!”

“So you said.”

Frank was frantic for me to complete his thought, to do it enthusiastically, but I was still at sea. “Am I to understand that . . . that you are offering me some kind of job here, here in San Lorenzo?”

He clapped his hands. He was delighted. “That’s right! What would you say to a hundred thousand dollars a year?”

“Good God!” I cried. “What would I have to do for that?”

“Practically nothing. And you’d drink out of gold goblets every night and eat off of gold plates and have a palace all your own.”

“What’s the job?”

“President of the Republic of San Lorenzo.”

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