The next morning, Joe drives Johnny B. Well to the house where Joe will be sold the gun he has requested. In Joe’s pocket is £750 in wadded-up bills, and he listens disdainfully as Johnny B. Well advises him on how to speak “cool[ly]” to the men who will be providing the weapon. Johnny tells Joe that the men whom he’ll be meeting are “intellectuals” rather than mere criminals, and Joe feels as if he “already” hate[s] them. As he drives, he looks at Johnny next to him and sees the toll that the man’s lifestyle has taken on his appearance.
Joe’s powers of observation (and his inability to stop observing) are on display as he watches the face of Johnny B. Well. These paragraphs reveal, furthermore, the tension between the characters of Joe and Johnny. Joe merely wants to achieve a particular, defined goal—securing a gun. Johnny’s hope that the sale might proceed according to certain aesthetic preferences is far less rational.
After a long drive into the countryside, Joe and Johnny B. Well come eventually to an “ugly mock Tudor house,” which looks to Joe “like a place where crimes could be safely committed.” Johnny advises Joe not to “make fun of these people” when he sees them, and the two of them walk to the door and ring the bell. The man who opens the door, Steve, is an acquaintance of Johnny, and the two begin to argue about what day it is. Eventually, Steve moves further into the house, followed by Joe and Johnny.
Throughout Joe’s encounter with Johnny’s friends, his entirely reasonable plan to purchase a gun is met with absurd and irrational behavior, as when Steve and Johnny argue over the day of the week. Joe must emerge from the gauntlet of this irrationality in order to complete his logical quest.
In the kitchen is a woman named Daisy, whom Joe guesses to be “about fifty.” To Joe, Daisy’s appearance tells a “tale of regret,” and Joe watches her until the group is joined by Xan, a friend of Steve who possesses large, muscular forearms. As the group sits down at the kitchen table, Joe finds it difficult not to laugh at Steve’s “fierce burnt orange” mustache. Joe’s stomach feels uneasy, and his body seems “weightless and shivery.” To cover the combination of “anxiety and hilarity” that he feels, he takes a bite of the oatmeal that he has been served. The effort is unsuccessful, however, and, after a few moments, Joe falls to the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter. Passing this off as an ammonia allergy (the room smells of bleach), Joe apologizes. Nevertheless, he is soon drawn into a minor disagreement with Steve about the nature and origin of allergies.
Before Joe can complete his entirely reasonable business at the house, he must clear the hurdles of the other characters’ absurdities (such as Xan’s bulky figure and Steve’s mustache) and his own emotional instability. Such an instability on Joe’s part seems to be a consequence of the fact that his rationalism in under attack: by Jed Parry, broadly speaking, and by Steve, Xan, Daisy, and Johnny B. Well in this specific moment. Though Joe retains reason enough to know that he ought not to laugh at the men who will be selling him the gun, he doesn’t retain self-control enough to refrain from doing so.
As the conversation turns to the gun Joe wishes to purchase, the others assure him that they don’t “approve” of weapons. Steve and Xan argue briefly about why they’re selling the gun and whether the deal is really about “the money,” but, in the end, all agree that Joe will have to explain why he wants a gun in the first place. Joe assures the sellers that he wants the gun for self-defense, and, to seal the bargain, he puts his entire wad of money on the table at once.
The argument between Steve and Xan is inherently emotional (and ridiculous). To counteract it, and to impose his own will upon the conversation, Joe must fit his desire for a gun into an approved narrative—he merely wants the gun for self-defense—and support that desire using an approved symbol: a pile of money.
Steve briefly indicates that he will keep Joe’s money and give him nothing, but Xan insists that Steve produce the gun. The two seem not to agree about which of them will get the money, and Xan soon throws his empty porridge bowl at Steve, whose neck he misses “by an inch.” At this provocation, Steve and Xan begin to fight, violently, on and around the kitchen table. When Xan places Steve in a “headlock,” Joe warns Xan that he is “going to kill him” if he continues. As the two men fight on, Daisy leaves the room and returns with a shoebox. Inside is the gun, and she gives it to Joe and tells him to leave.
Joe’s rational quest—the purchase of a gun for self-defense—is interrupted by Steve and Xan’s highly emotional sideshow. The confrontation between the two competing ideologies ends only because Joe follows Daisy’s advice: he abandons any hope of preventing the irrational violence that is unfolding in front of him and instead focuses on his single-minded (and far more logical) plan.
Joe and Johnny B. Well flee the scene, not wanting, in Johnny’s words, “to be a witness.” As they begin to drive back to London, Joe’s phone rings, and Jed Parry is, once again, on the other line. Parry is in Joe’s apartment, he reveals, and, disturbingly, he’s “sitting [t]here with Clarissa.”
Joe is brought back to the matter at hand with great suddenness. His trip to Steve’s house has been an absurd diversion, but now Joe must re-enter the rational plan that he has devised.