American Psycho Part Three: Blackmail

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

Meredith Powell

In American Psycho, blackmail plays a large role, with several men paying money that their secrets aren’t revealed. That Evelyn may have gotten the keys to the Hampton house through this method has already been mentioned.

There is also Meredith Powell, an almost invisible figure, who is dating Timothy Price.

Price makes this statement about her:

“Meredith’s a fag hag,” Price explains, unfazed, “that’s why I’m dumping her.”

At the dinner at the start of the book, Bateman notices that Meredith isn’t there.

“J&B rocks,” I tell him, suddenly thinking it’s strange that Meredith wasn’t invited.

Perhaps because Evelyn knows her purpose is purely ceremonial. Evelyn hates Meredith, again, for reasons Bateman does not reveal.

Instead of mentioning this and have her bore me silly with inane denials, I ask about Tim’s girlfriend, Meredith, whom Evelyn despises for reasons never made quite clear to me.

Perhaps because the men Meredith exploits, Evelyn is unable to. Perhaps because though both Evelyn and Meredith are exploiting Timothy Price, Evelyn doesn’t consider what she’s doing blackmail, and so she considers what Meredith is doing utterly cruel.

There is this conversation between Price and Bateman, where possibly what the women are paid for are different things, one for sex, the other for appearing to be a girlfriend.

“Might as well hire someone from an escort service,” he shouts bitterly, almost without thinking.

“Why?” I shout.

“Because she’s gonna cost you a lot more to get laid.”

“No way,” I scream.

“Listen, I put up with it too,” Price shouts, lightly shaking his glass. Ice cubes clank loudly, surprising me. “Meredith’s the same way. She expects to be paid. They all do.

Later, Meredith is dating someone else prominent.

“How is Meredith?” I ask, trying to mask my void of disinterest.

“Oh god She’s dating Richard Cunningham.” Evelyn moans. “He’s at First Boston. If you can believe it.”

Then Van Patten.

“But there’s a limit,” Van Patten is saying. “The point is, I mean, I don’t want to spend the evening with the Cookie Monster.”

“But you’re still dating Meredith so, uh, what’s the difference?” I ask. Naturally he doesn’t hear.

Meredith makes only a brief appearance in the book at the Christmas party, where she’s now with Paul Owen.

Meredith is wearing a beaded wool gabardine dress and bolero by Geoffrey Beene from Barney’s, diamond and gold earrings by James Savitt ($13,000), gloves by Geoffrey Beene for Portolano products, and she says, “Yes boys? What are you two talking about? Making up Christmas lists?”

“The sea urchins at Le Bernardin, darling,” Owen says.

“My favorite topic.” Meredith drapes an arm over my shoulder, while she confides to me as an aside, ‘”They’re fabulous.”

“Delectable.” I cough nervously.

So she has a very rich outfit, and for some reason, when she starts talking to Bateman, he gets worried.

When Paul Owen disappears, we find out in the conversation with the detective that she’s dating someone else, and she believes Owen still has money to pay her.

“Listen, like I said, I was just hired by Meredith.” He sighs, closing his book.

Tentatively, I ask, “Did you know that Meredith Powell is dating Brock Thompson?”

He shrugs, sighs. “I don’t know about that. All I know is that Paul Owen owes her supposedly a lot of money.”

She appears one last time, seemingly indifferent to the disappearance of her ex.

I also run into Meredith Powell later this week, on Friday night, at Ereze with Brock Thompson, and though we talk for ten minutes, mostly about why neither one of us is in the Hamptons, with Brock glaring at me the entire time, she doesn’t mention Paul Owen once.

So, among the men that Meredith acts as a beard for are Price, Owen, Van Patten, Cunningham, and Thompson. In a book where all the men often look the same, where two of the most aggressively male, Bateman and Price, are gay, this raises the possibility of a larger prank – that all the male executives in the book are secretly gay, though not all of them are aware of these secret identities.

Paul Owen and the Fisher Account

Meredith is with Paul Owen for a while, and it is Paul Owen who is also involved in blackmailing various men in turn, though it is not revealed explicitly as such. He is instead connected with the Fisher account, which Bateman is obsessed with for a considerable while, constantly wondering how Owen obtained it, and which he describes as “mysterious” for reasons he never says. Then, suddenly, with the disappearance of Owen, all talk of the importance of the Fisher account ends. The Fisher account is a very lucrative prize obtained through this blackmail.

This is how Owen and the Fisher account first show up in the book.

Price began his spiel today over lunch and then brought it up again during the squash game and continued ranting over drinks at Harry’s where he had gone on, over three J&Bs and water, much more interestingly about the Fisher account that Paul Owen is handling.

Preston slurs that he obtained the Fisher account not through Owen’s own merits, but the usual suspect, jewish connections.

Owen stands at the bar wearing a double-breasted wool suit.

“He’s handling the Fisher account,” someone says.

“Lucky bastard,” someone else murmurs.

“Lucky Jew bastard,” Preston says.

“Oh Jesus, Preston,” I say. “What does that have to do with anything?”

He’s someone Bateman is frightened of.

“No. Oh no,” Van Patten says ominously. “He hasn’t spotted us yet.”

“Victor Powell? Paul Owen?” I say, suddenly scared.

I look over at Paul Owen, sitting in a booth with three other guys – one of whom could be Jeff Duvall, suspenders, slicked-back hair, horn-rimmed glasses, all of them drinking champagne – and I lazily wonder about how Owen got the Fisher account.

The only long conversation between them.

“How have you been?” Owen asks.

“I’ve been great,” I say. “And you?”

“Oh terrific,” he says. “How’s the Hawkins account going?”

“It’s…” I stall and then continue, faltering momentarily, “It’s… all right.”

“Really?” he asks, vaguely concerned. “That’s interesting,” he says, smiling, hands clasped together behind his back. “Not great?”

“Oh well,” I say. “You… know.”

“And how’s Marcia?” he asks, still smiling, looking over the room, not really listening to me. “She’s a great girl.”

“Oh yes,” I say, shaken. “I’m… lucky.”

Owen has mistaken me for Marcus Halberstam (even though Marcus is dating Cecelia Wagner) but for some reason it really doesn’t matter and it seems a logical faux pas since Marcus works at P & P also, in fact does the same exact thing I do, and he also has a penchant for Valentino suits and clear prescription glasses and we share the same barber at the same place, the Pierre Hotel, so it seems understandable; it doesn’t irk me. But Paul Denton keeps staring at me, or trying not to, as if he knows something, as if he’s not quite sure if he recognizes me or not, and it makes me wonder if maybe he was on that cruise a long time ago, one night last March. If that’s the case, I’m thinking, I should get his telephone number or, better yet, his address.

Bateman is very nervous talking to this man, and wants to say as little as possible to him out of fear. The bolded text on Halberstam, I think, carries a double meaning – he knows Halberstam is in the closet as well. The scene also includes the strange brief appearance of Denton.

The next time Owen shows up is at the U2 concert. There is the very unusual moment where Bateman watches Bono and is incredibly turned on. It is after this that he suddenly has an incredible need to ask Owen about the Fisher account.

And then everyone, the audience, the band, reappears and the music slowly swells up and Bono turns away and I’m left tingling, my face flushed, an aching erection pulsing against my thigh, my hands clenched in fists of tension. But suddenly everything stops, as if a switch has been turned off, the backdrop flashes back to white. Bono is on the other side of the stage now and everything, the feeling in my heart, the sensation combing my brain, vanishes and now more than ever I need to know about the Fisher account that Owen is handling and this information seems vital, more pertinent than the bond I feel I have with Bono, who is now dissolving and remote.

I don’t think this a jape at a banker whose every feeling moves him towards money and business. It’s the fact that his attraction to Bono on stage and the Fisher account are connected.

During the concert, he manages to talk to Owen about it.

“Are you still handling the Fisher account?” I shout back.

“Yeah,” he screams. “Lucked out, huh, Marcus?”

“You sure did,” I scream. “How did you get it?”

“Well, I had the Ransom account and things just fell into place.” He shrugs helplessly, the smooth bastard. “You know?”

My bold.

Bateman, at Christmas, is still obsessed with the account:

I wanted [Jean] to find out as much as she could about the Fisher account that Paul Owen is handling.

My priorities before Christmas include the following:

(3) to find out as much as humanly possible about Paul Owen’s mysterious Fisher account

They go out for dinner. Bateman picks a place where they won’t be seen.

I choose Texarkana because I know that a lot of people I have dealings with are not going to be eating there tonight.

Bateman keeps trying to find out about the Fisher account at dinner.

When I press for information about the Fisher account he offers useless statistical data that I already knew about: how Rothschild was originally handling the account, how Owen came to acquire it. And though I had Jean gather this information for my files months ago, I keep nodding, pretending that this primitive info is revelatory and saying things like “This is enlightening” while at the same time telling him “I’m utterly insane” and “I like to dissect girls.” Every time I attempt to steer the conversation back to the mysterious Fisher account, he infuriatingly changes the topic back to either tanning salons or brands of cigars or certain health clubs or the best places to jog in Manhattan and he keeps guffawing, which I find totally upsetting.

The conversation as presented, is completely inscrutable. Bateman never makes clear what he’s trying to find out about the account, what makes it so mysterious, or why Owen is so resistant. The conversational detours Owen makes, however, in not answering the question – tanning salons, certain health clubs, best places to jog – all could be considered places to pick up gay men.

Next, a drunk Owen ends up at Bateman’s apartment. It’s here that Bateman fantasizes murdering the man. I don’t think this happens at all. I believe they have sex, Bateman blackmails Owen, who is then forced to leave for London. Bateman, who constantly resorts to violent fantasy as a cover for his gay life does so here. The Fisher account is never brought up again – except in the last scene when an unknown voice asks who’s handling it, though an answer is never given.

The hint given that Owen and Bateman have had sex is subtle, but there in the detective interview.

“Well.” I cough, swallowing two Nuprin, dry. “I didn’t know him that well.”

“How well did you know him?” he asks.

“I’m… at a loss,” I tell him, somewhat truthfully. “He was part of that whole… Yale thing, you know.”

“Yale thing?” he asks, confused.

I pause, having no idea what I’m talking about. “Yeah . . Yale thing.”

“What do you mean… Yale thing?” Now he’s intrigued.

I pause again – what do I mean? “Well, I think, for one, that he was probably a closet homosexual.” I have no idea; doubt it, considering his taste in babes.

He doubts it, though Owen dates Meredith who’s already been described as a “fag hag”. Owen also dated Laurie Kennedy, and Bateman has as well. The Yale Club bathroom is the scene of the first prolonged encounter with Carruthers.

Also,

I’m sensing frustration on Kimball’s part and he asks, “What kind of man was he? Besides” – he falters, tries to smile – “the information you’ve just given.”

How could I describe Paul Owen to this guy? Boasting, arrogant, cheerful dickhead who constantly weaseled his way out of checks at Nell’s? That I’m heir to the unfortunate information that his penis had a name and that name was Michael? No. Calmer, Bateman. I think that I’m smiling.

Although it’s very subtle, and I’m unsure of it, I think Bateman is very nervous during the interview with the private investigator for a reason that has nothing to do with his fantasy of killing Owen.

The door to the office opens and I wave in the detective, who is surprisingly young, maybe my age, wearing a linen Armani suit not unlike mine, though his is slightly disheveled in a hip way, which worries me.

I think about it, then feebly announce, “We were both seven in 1969.”

Kimball smiles. “So was I.”

The investigator is the same age as Bateman and Owen. He dresses like Bateman, but in a way that’s more hip, which for the strangest reason frightens him. He suspects that the investigator is gay, but openly gay, and that he can tell that Bateman is as well, but hiding it.

The Cabdriver

The last instance of blackmail in the novel involves an entirely new character, the cabdriver, and it is the second to last scene. The cabdriver sees Bateman, knows he’s wanted for something, then threatens to tell unless his valuables are handed over. In the context of Bateman as serial killer, it makes no sense. The cabdriver is not frightened of the man at all. He shows no interest in calling the police or killing Bateman, though as a cabbie, he no doubt has been threatened with the possibility of violent crime. Though his photo ID is there in the cab, he points a gun at Bateman, then takes his watch, cash, and sunglasses with impunity as if he knows that Bateman will never ever try to identify him. It is not a fantasy of Bateman’s, since he neither kills the cabbie or the old woman who taunts him afterwards.

It does however, make sense in a differet context.

The chapter opens like this:

Another broken scene in what passes for my life occurs on Wednesday, seemingly pointing to someone’s fault, though whose I can’t be sure.

The scene is broken, we are only getting the partial story. Someone else, another identity is to blame for what happens next. I don’t think the next few quotes require much elaboration.

“Hey, don’t I know you?” he asks in a thick, barely penetrable accent that could easily be either New Jersey or Mediterranean.

“No.” I start putting the Walkman back on.

“You look familiar,” he says. “What’s your name?”

“I’ve seen your face somewhere.”

Finally, exasperated, I ask, trying to appear casual, “You have? Really? Interesting. Just watch the road, Abdullah.”

There’s a long, scary pause while he stares at me in the rearview mirror and the grim smile fades. His face is blank. He says, “I know. Man, I know who you are,” and he’s nodding, his mouth drawn tight.

“You’re the guy who kill Solly.” His face is locked into a determined grimace. As with everything else, the following happens very quickly, though it feels like an endurance test.

I swallow, lower my sunglasses and tell him to slow down before asking, “Who, may I ask, is Sally?”

Man, your face is on a wanted poster downtown,” he says, unflinching.

“I think I would like to stop here,” I manage to croak out.

“You’re the guy, right?” He’s looking at me like I’m some kind of viper.

The wanted poster is not one put up for someone wanted for murder. It’s a poster put up in a community identifying someone as having AIDS who continues to have sex without informing his partners.

“You kill Solly,” he says, definitely recognizing me from somewhere, cutting another denial on my part by growling, “You son-of-a-bitch.”

How do you know I’m not going to call you in and get your license revoked?” I ask, handing over a knife I just found in my pocket that looks as if it was dipped into a bowl of blood and hair.

Because you’re guilty,” he says, and then, “Get that away from me,” waving the gun at the stained knife.

“How do you know I’m guilty?” I can’t believe I’m asking this patiently.

Look what you’re doing, asshole,” he says.

Bateman’s last line in the scene:

While walking back to the highway I stop, choke back a sob, my throat tightens. “I just want to…” Facing the skyline, through all the baby talk, I murmur, “keep the game going.”

Continued…

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

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