The colonel sat down and settled back, calm and cagey suddenly, and ingratiatingly polite.
'What did you mean,' he inquired slowly, 'when you said we couldn't punish you?'
'I'm asking the questions. You're answering them.'
'Yes, sir. I -'
'Did you think we brought you here to ask questions and for me to answer them?'
'No, sir. I -'
'What did we bring you here for?'
'To answer questions.'
'You're goddam right,' roared the colonel. 'Now suppose you start answering some before I break your goddam head. Just what the hell did you mean, you bastard, when you said we couldn't punish you?'
'I don't think I ever made that statement, sir.'
'Will you speak up, please? I couldn't hear you.'
'Yes, sir. I -'
'Will you speak up, please? He couldn't hear you.'
'Yes, sir. I -'
'Didn't I tell you to keep your stupid mouth shut?'
'Then keep your stupid mouth shut when I tell you to keep your stupid mouth shut. Do you understand? Will you speak up, please? I couldn't hear you.'
'Yes, sir. I -'
'Metcalf, is that your foot I'm stepping on?'
'No, sir. It must be Lieutenant Scheisskopf's foot.'
'It isn't my foot,' said Lieutenant Scheisskopf.
'Then maybe it is my foot after all,' said Major Metcalf.
'Yes, sir. You'll have to move your foot first, colonel. It's on top of mine.'
'Are you telling me to move my foot?'
'No, sir. Oh, no, sir.'
'Then move your foot and keep your stupid mouth shut. Will you speak up, please? I still couldn't hear you.'
'Yes, sir. I said that I didn't say that you couldn't punish me.'
'Just what the hell are you talking about?'
'I'm answering your question, sir.'
' "Just what the hell did you mean, you bastard, when you said we couldn't punish you?" ' said the corporal who could take shorthand, reading from his steno pad.
'All right,' said the colonel. 'Just what the hell did you mean?'
'I didn't say you couldn't punish me, sir.'
'When?' asked the colonel.
'When what, sir?'
'Now you're asking me questions again.'
'I'm sorry, sir. I'm afraid I don't understand your question.'
'When didn't you say we couldn't punish you? Don't you understand my question?'
'No, sir. I don't understand.'
'You've just told us that. Now suppose you answer my question.'
'But how can I answer it?'
'That's another question you're asking me.'
'I'm sorry, sir. But I don't know how to answer it. I never said you couldn't punish me.'
'Now you're telling us when you did say it. I'm asking you to tell us when you didn't say it.'
Clevinger took a deep breath. 'I always didn't say you couldn't punish me, sir.'
'That's much better, Mr. Clevinger, even though it is a barefaced lie. Last night in the latrine. Didn't you whisper that we couldn't punish you to that other dirty son of a bitch we don't like? What's his name?'
'Yossarian, sir,' Lieutenant Scheisskopf said.
'Yes, Yossarian. That's right. Yossarian. Yossarian? Is that his name? Yossarian? What the hell kind of a name is Yossarian?'
Lieutenant Scheisskopf had the facts at his fingertips. 'It's Yossarian's name, sir,' he explained.
'Yes, I suppose it is. Didn't you whisper to Yossarian that we couldn't punish you?'
'Oh, no, sir. I whispered to him that you couldn't find me guilty -'
'I may be stupid,' interrupted the colonel, 'but the distinction escapes me. I guess I am pretty stupid, because the distinction escapes me.'
'You're a windy son of a bitch, aren't you? Nobody asked you for clarification and you're giving me clarification. I was making a statement, not asking for clarification. You are a windy son of a bitch, aren't you?'
'No, sir? Are you calling me a goddam liar?'
'Oh, no, sir.'
'Then you're a windy son of a bitch, aren't you?'
'Are you a windy son of a bitch?'
'Goddammit, you are trying to pick a fight with me. For two stinking cents I'd jump over this big fat table and rip your stinking, cowardly body apart limb from limb.'
'Do it! Do it!' cried Major Metcalf
'Metcalf, you stinking son of a bitch. Didn't I tell you to keep your stinking, cowardly, stupid mouth shut?'
'Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir.'
'Then suppose you do it.'
'I was only trying to learn, sir. The only way a person can learn is by trying.'
'Who says so?'
'Everybody says so, sir. Even Lieutenant Scheisskopf says so.'
'Do you say so?'
'Yes, sir,' said Lieutenant Scheisskopf. 'But everybody says so.'
'Well, Metcalf, suppose you try keeping that stupid mouth of yours shut, and maybe that's the way you'll learn how. Now, where were we? Read me back the last line.'
' "Read me back the last line," ' read back the corporal who could take shorthand.
'Not my last line, stupid!' the colonel shouted. 'Somebody else's.'
' "Read me back the last line," ' read back the corporal.
'That's my last line again!' shrieked the colonel, turning purple with anger.
'Oh, no, sir,' corrected the corporal. 'That's my last line. I read it to you just a moment ago. Don't you remember, sir? It was only a moment ago.'
'Oh, my God! Read me back his last line, stupid. Say, what the hell's your name, anyway?'
'Well, you're next, Popinjay. As soon as his trial ends, your trial begins. Get it?'
'Yes, sir. What will I be charged with?'
'What the hell difference does that make? Did you hear what he asked me? You're going to learn, Popinjay - the minute we finish with Clevinger you're going to learn. Cadet Clevinger, what did - You are Cadet Clevinger, aren't you, and not Popinjay?'
'Good. What did -'
'I'm Popinjay, sir.'
'Popinjay, is your father a millionaire, or a member of the Senate?'
'Then you're up shit creek, Popinjay, without a paddle. He's not a general or a high-ranking member of the Administration, is he?'
'That's good. What does your father do?'
'He's dead, sir.'
'That's very good. You really are up the creek, Popinjay. Is Popinjay really your name? Just what the hell kind of a name is Popinjay anyway? I don't like it.'
'It's Popinjay's name, sir,' Lieutenant Scheisskopf explained.
'Well, I don't like it, Popinjay, and I just can't wait to rip your stinking, cowardly body apart limb from limb. Cadet Clevinger, will you please repeat what the hell it was you did or didn't whisper to Yossarian late last night in the latrine?'
'Yes, sir. I said that you couldn't find me guilty -'
'We'll take it from there. Precisely what did you mean, Cadet Clevinger, when you said we couldn't find you guilty?'
'I didn't say you couldn't find me guilty, sir.'
'When what, sir?'
'Goddammit, are you going to start pumping me again?'
'No, sir. I'm sorry, sir.'
'Then answer the question. When didn't you say we couldn't find you guilty?'
'Late last night in the latrine, sir.'
'Is that the only time you didn't say it?'
'No, sir. I always didn't say you couldn't find me guilty, sir. What I did say to Yossarian was -'
'Nobody asked you what you did say to Yossarian. We asked you what you didn't say to him. We're not at all interested in what you did say to Yossarian. Is that clear?'
'Then we'll go on. What did you say to Yossarian?'
'I said to him, sir, that you couldn't find me guilty of the offense with which I am charged and still be faithful to the cause of...'
'Of what? You're mumbling.'
'And mumble "sir" when you do.'
'Metcalf, you bastard!'
'Yes, sir,' mumbled Clevinger. 'Of justice, sir. That you couldn't find -'
'Justice?' The colonel was astounded. 'What is justice?'
'Justice, sir -'
'That's not what justice is,' the colonel jeered, and began pounding the table again with his big fat hand. 'That's what Karl Marx is. I'll tell you what justice is. Justice is a knee in the gut from the floor on the chin at night sneaky with a knife brought up down on the magazine of a battleship sandbagged underhanded in the dark without a word of warning. Garroting. That's what justice is when we've all got to be tough enough and rough enough to fight Billy Petrolle. From the hip. Get it?'
'Don't sir me!'
'And say "sir" when you don't,' ordered Major Metcalf.
Clevinger was guilty, of course, or he would not have been accused, and since the only way to prove it was to find him guilty, it was their patriotic duty to do so. He was sentenced to walk fifty-seven punishment tours. Popinjay was locked up to be taught a lesson, and Major Metcalf was shipped to the Solomon Islands to bury bodies. A punishment tour for Clevinger was fifty minutes of a weekend hour spent pacing back and forth before the provost marshal's building with a ton of an unloaded rifle on his shoulder.
It was all very confusing to Clevinger.
About the book:
Catch-22 is a hilarious, tragic novel in which an American air force base on a small island off Italy becomes a microcosm of the modern world as it might look to someone dangerously sane.
Monstrously, cynically, absurdly funny, and fantastically unique, this book has achieved cult status all over the world and is a must-read for every sane person on this planet.
Snippet from The Bone Clocks
- David Mitchell
Snippet from All the Light We Cannot See
- Anthony Doerr