The Talented Mr. Ripley
by Patricia Highsmith

"[Highsmith] has created a world of her own--a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger." --Graham Greene

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    Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster. There was no doubt the man was after him. Tom had noticed him five minutes ago, eyeing him carefully from a table, as if he weren't quite sure, but almost. He had looked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry, pay and get out.

    At the corner Tom leaned forward and trotted across Fifth Avenue. There was Raoul's. Should he take a chance and go in for another drink? Tempt fate and all that? Or should he beat it over to Park Avenue and try losing him in a few dark doorways? He went into Raoul's.

    Automatically, as he strolled to an empty space at the bar, he looked around to see if there was anyone he knew. There was the big man with red hair, whose name he always forgot, sitting at a table with a blonde girl. The red-haired man waved a hand, and Tom's hand went up limply in response. He slid one leg over a stool and faced the door challengingly, yet with a flagrant casualness.

    'Gin and tonic, please,' he said to the barman.

    Was this the kind of man they would send after him? Was he, wasn't he, was he? He didn't look like a policeman or a detective at all. He looked like a businessman, somebody's father, well-dressed, well-fed, greying at the temples an air of uncertainty about him. Was that the kind they sent on a job like this, maybe to start chatting with you in a bar, and then bang! -- the hand on the shoulder, the other hand displaying a policeman's badge. Torn Ripley, you're under arrest. Tom watched the door.

    Here he came. The man looked around, saw him and immediately looked away. He removed his straw hat, and took a place around the curve of the bar.

    My God, what did he want? He certainly wasn't a pervert, Tom thought for the second time, though now his tortured brain groped and produced the actual word, as if the word could protect him, because he would rather the man be a pervert than a policeman. To a pervert, he could simply say, 'No, thank you,' and smile and walk away. Tom slid back on the stool, bracing himself.

    Tom saw the man make a gesture of postponement to the barman, and come around the bar towards him. Here it was! Tom stared at him, paralysed. They couldn't give you more than ten years, Tom thought. Maybe fifteen, but with good conduct--In the instant the man's lips parted to speak, Tom had a pang of desperate, agonized regret.

    'Pardon me, are you Tom Ripley?'


    'My name is Herbert Greenleaf. Richard Greenleaf's father.' The expression on his face was more confusing to Tom than if he had focused a gun on him. The face was friendly, smiling and hopeful. 'You're a friend of Richard's, aren't you?'

    It made a faint connection in his brain. Dickie Greenleaf. A tall blond fellow. He had quite a bit of money, Tom remembered. 'Oh, Dickie Greenleaf. Yes.'

    'At any rate, you know Charles and Marta Schriever. They're the ones who told me about you, that you might--uh--Do you think we could sit down at a table?'

    'Yes,' Tom said agreeably, and picked up his drink. He followed the man towards an empty table at the back of the little room. Reprieved, he thought. Free! Nobody was going to arrest him. This was about something else. No matter what it was, it wasn't grand larceny or tampering with the mails or whatever they called it. Maybe Richard was in some kind of jam. Maybe Mr Greenleaf wanted help, or advice. Tom knew just what to say to a father like Mr Greenleaf.

    'I wasn't quite sure you were Tom Ripley,' Mr Greenleaf said. 'I've seen you only once before, I think. Didn't you come up to the house once with Richard?'

    'I think I did.'

    'The Schrievers gave me a description of you, too. We've all been trying to reach you, because the Schrievers wanted us to meet at their house. Somebody told them you went to the Green Cage bar now and then. This is the first night I've tried to find you, so I suppose I should consider myself lucky.' He smiled. 'I wrote you a letter last week, but maybe you didn't get it.'

    'No, I didn't.' Marc wasn't forwarding his mail, Tom thought. Damn him. Maybe there was a cheque there from Auntie Dottie. 'I moved a week or so ago,' Tom added.

    'Oh, I see. I didn't say much in my letter. Only that I'd like to see you and have a chat with you. The Schrievers seemed to think you knew Richard quite well.'

    'I remember him, yes.'

    'But you're not writing to him now?' He looked disappointed.

    'No. I don't think I've seen Dickie for a couple of years.'

    He's been in Europe for two years. The Schrievers spoke very highly of you, and thought you might have some influence on Richard if you were to write to him. I want him to come home. He has responsibilities here -- but just now he ignores anything that I or his mother try to tell him.'

    Tom was puzzled. 'Just what did the Schrievers say?'

    'They said -- apparently they exaggerated a little -- that you and Richard were very good friends. I suppose they took it for granted you were writing him all along. You see, I know so few of Richard's friends any more--' He glanced at Tom's glass, as if he would have liked to offer him a drink, at least, but Tom's glass was nearly full.

    Tom remembered going to a cocktail party at the Schrievers' with Dickie Greenleaf. Maybe the Greenleafs were more friendly with the Schrievers than he was, and that was how it had all come about, because he hadn't seen the Schrievers more than three or four times in his life. And the last time, Tom thought, was the night he had worked out Charley Schriever's income tax for him. Charley was a TV director, and he had been in a complete muddle with his free-lance accounts. Charley had thought he was a genius for having doped out his tax and made it lower than the one Charley had arrived at, and perfectly legitimately lower. Maybe that was what had prompted Charley's recommendation of him to Mr Greenleaf. Judging him from that night, Charley could have told Mr Greenleaf that he was intelligent, level-headed, scrupulously honest, and very willing to do a favour. It was a slight error.

    'I don't suppose you know of anybody else close to Richard who might be able to wield a little influence?' Mr Greenleaf asked rather pitifully.

    There was Buddy Lankenau, Tom thought, but he didn't want to wish a chore like this on Buddy. 'I'm afraid I don't,' Tom said, shaking his head. 'Why won't Richard come home?'

    'He says he prefers living over there. But his mother's quite ill right now-- Well, those are family problems. I'm sorry to annoy you like this.' He passed a hand in a distraught way over his thin, neatly combed grey hair. 'He says he's painting. There's no harm in that, but he hasn't the talent to be a painter. He's got great talent for boat designing, though, if he'd just put his mind to it.' He looked up as a waiter spoke to him. 'Scotch and soda, please. Dewar's. You're not ready?'

    'No, thanks,' Tom said.

    Mr Greenleaf looked at Tom apologetically. 'You're the first of Richard's friends who's even been willing to listen. They all take the attitude that I'm trying to interfere with his life.'

    Tom could easily understand that. 'I certainly wish I could help,' he said politely. He remembered now that Dickie's money came from a shipbuilding company. Small sailing boats. No doubt his father wanted him to come home and take over the family firm. Tom smiled at Mr Greenleaf, meaninglessly, then finished his drink. Tom was on the edge of his chair, ready to leave, but the disappointment across the table was almost palpable. 'Where is he staying in Europe?' Tom asked, not caring a damn where he was staying.

    'In a town called Mongibello, south of Naples. There's not even a library there, he tells me. Divides his time between sailing and painting. He's bought a house there. Richard has his own income--nothing huge, but enough to live on in Italy, apparently. Well, every man to his own taste, but I'm sure I can't see the attractions of the place.' Mr Greenleaf smiled bravely. 'Can't I offer you a drink, Mr Ripley?' he asked when the waiter came with his Scotch and soda.

    Tom wanted to leave. But he hated to leave the man sitting alone with his fresh drink. 'Thanks, I think I will,' he said, and handed the waiter his glass.

    'Charley Schriever told me you were in the insurance business,' Mr Greenleaf said pleasantly.

    'That was a little while ago. I--' But he didn't want to say he was working for the Department of Internal Revenue, not now. 'I'm in the accounting department of an advertising agency at the moment.'


    Neither said anything for a minute. Mr Greenleaf's eyes were fixed on him with a pathetic, hungry expression. What on earth could he say? Tom was sorry he had accepted the drink. 'How old is Dickie now, by the way?' he asked.

    'He's twenty-five.'

    So am I, Tom thought, Dickie was probably having the time of his life over there. An income, a house, a boat. Why should he want to come home? Dickie's face was becoming clearer in his memory: he had a big smile, blondish hair with crisp waves in it, a happy-go-lucky face. Dickie was lucky. What was he himself doing at twenty-five? Living from week to week. No bank account. Dodging cops now for the first time in his life. He had a talent for mathematics. Why in hell didn't they pay him for it, somewhere? Tom realized that all his muscles had tensed, that the matchcover in his fingers was mashed sideways, nearly flat. He was bored, God-damned bloody bored, bored, bored! He wanted to be back at the bar, by himself.

    Tom took a gulp of his drink. 'I'd be very glad to write to Dickie, if you give me his address,' he said quickiy. 'I suppose he'll remember me. We were at a weekend party once out on Long Island, I remember. Dickie and I went out and gathered mussels, and everyone had them for breakfast.' Tom smiled. 'A couple of us got sick, and it wasn't a very good party. But I remember Dickie talking that week-end about going to Europe. He must have left just--'

    'I remember!' Mr Greenleaf said. 'That was the last weekend Richard was here. I think he told me about the mussels.' He laughed rather loudly.

    'I came up to your apartment a few times, too,' Tom went on, getting into the spirit of it. 'Dickie showed me some ship models that were sitting on a table in his room.'

    'Those are only childhood efforts!' Mr Greenleaf was beaming. 'Did he ever show you his frame models? Or his drawings?'

    Dickie hadn't, but Tom said brightly, 'Yes! Of course he did. Pen-and-ink drawings. Fascinating, some of them.' Tom he'd never seen them, but he could see them now, precise draughtsman's drawings with every line and bolt and screw labelled, could see Dickie smiling, holding them up for him to look at, and he could have gone on for several minutes describing details for Mr Greenleaf's delight, but he checked himself.

    'Yes, Richard's got talent along those lines,' Mr Greenleaf said with a satisfied air.

    'I think he has,' Tom agreed. His boredom had slipped into another gear. Tom knew the sensations. He had them some-times at parties, but generally when he was having dinner with someone with whom he hadn't wanted to have dinner in the first place, and the evening got longer and longer. Now he could be maniacally polite for perhaps another whole hour, if he had to be, before something in him exploded and sent him running out of the door. 'I'm sorry I'm not quite free now or I'd be very glad to go over and see if I could persuade Richard myself. Maybe I could have some influence on him,' he said, just because Mr Greenleaf wanted him to say that.

    'If you seriously think so -- that is, I don't know if you're planning a trip to Europe or not.

    'No, I'm not.'

    'Richard was always so influenced by his friends. If you or somebody like you who knew him could get a leave of absence, I'd even send them over to talk to him. I think it'd be worth more than my going over, anyway. I don't suppose you could possibly get a leave of absence from your present job, could you?'

    Tom's heart took a sudden leap. He put on an expression of reflection. It was a possibility. Something in him had smelt it out and leapt at it even before his brain. Present job: nil. He might have to leave town soon, anyway. He wanted to leave New York. 'I might,' he said carefully, with the same pondering expression, as if he were even now going over the thousands of little ties that could prevent him.

    'If you did go, I'd be glad to take care of your expenses, that goes without saying. Do you really think you might be able to arrange it? Say, this fall?'

    It was already the middle of September. Tom stared at the gold signet ring with the nearly worn-away crest on Mr Greenleaf's little finger. 'I think I might. I'd be glad to see Richard again--especially if you think I might be of some help.'

    'I do! I think he'd listen to you. Then the mere fact that you don't know him very well -- If you put it to him strongly why you think he ought to come home, he'd know you hadn't any axe to grind.' Mr Greenleaf leaned back in his chair, looking at Tom with approval. 'Funny thing is, Jim Burke and his wife--Jim's my partner--they went by Mongibello last year when they were on a cruise. Richard promised he'd come home when the winter began. Last winter. Jim's given him up. What boy of twenty-five listens to an old man sixty or more? You'll probably succeed where the rest of us have failed!'

    'I hope so,' Tom said modestly.

    'How about another drink? How about a nice brandy?'

    (Excerpted from The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. Copyright © 1955 by Patricia Highsmith. Copyright renewed 1983 by Patricia Highsmith. Excerpted by permission of Vintage Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.)



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