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Southern Strategy

Michael F. Flynn

The day is cruel hot, and the asphalt road shimmers in the distance, as if molten. The car has become an oven. Sweat beads and drips on forehead; clothing sags and clings. Stevenson has turned the wing window to blow air on his face as he drives, but it helps only a little, and brings with it the cloying scents of honeysuckle and marigold and rich, black loam. Telephone poles snap by. He swings around a flatbed piled high with cotton bales and pulled by a battered old John Deere. The driver is white and does not look especially happy.

Stevenson pulls a handkerchief from his pants pocket and mops his face. Cypress shrouded with Spanish moss crowds in on both sides, encroaching on the road, growing up even through the soft asphalt, so that he seems to be driving through an all-devouring jungle. Then the foliage opens out unexpectedly, revealing mean little farmsteads with tumbledown shanties and battered old trucks up on blocks. Some properties are overgrown with briars and brambles where darkie sharecroppers have been cleared off the year before. Good land, but the owner is terrified of selling and the neighbors even more terrified of squatting.

Later, Stevenson comes to a checkpoint, and the reason why the neighbors run scared. The land here has been cleared, too; but more expertly, to provide a killing field. Three cars wait while the soldier inspects their papers. Somewhere hidden from the road a machine gun nest guards the sentry. The soldier makes a tempting target and looks as if he knows it. The machine gun will do him little good if circumstances ever call upon it. Stevenson tries to put the lad at ease by smiling a little when it comes his turn, though perhaps it is the tired, middle-aged look that causes the young man to untense.

"Papieren," he says. No bitte, but he is no more unfriendly than any Hun demanding an American's travel permit. By its very nature, the act constitutes an offense. Stevenson tries not to show it, but his eyes may narrow just a little. This is America, after all, even if only Alabama.

The sentry studies the travel papers, his lips moving slowly. Sweat pours from under his coal-scuttle helmet. He's probably thinking about the water cooler in the guard shack, or a beer later in the barracks. Stevenson glances in his rearview mirror and sees no cars behind him on the long, black road.

Finally the sentry makes a decision. Perhaps it is thirst. Perhaps it is, with no more cars to stop, a desire for a bit of diversion. He waves Stevenson over to a small apron tamped down in the earth beside the road. "Fahr hin!" And when Stevenson hesitates, adds more peremptorily, "Dort drüben."

Stevenson sighs. There is no point pretending incomprehension. Everyone knows gehen and kommen and papieren. And Halt, oder ich schieße! And if you don't understand, the Germans don't care anyway. Things are not much better in the French zone; and some of the Triple Monarchy troops—the Serbs, especially—could be downright nasty. Even the English follow the German lead. Perhaps they still nurture resentment from the Great War, over American troops that never came.

Stevenson parks the car by the guardhouse and follows the sentry inside the small, wooden shelter. An officer sits at a desk there reading some papers. In a photograph on the wall behind him, young Frederick William poses with his new English Kaiserin, Elizabeth Wettin-Windsor, the niece of the British king, who bears the wistful look of all dynastic brides. The sentry raps on the doorjamb. "Wir Besuch haben, Herr Leutnant," he says with some humor. "Es gibt der Mann auf den Morgensbericht." Stevenson pretends not to understand, but neither is he surprised to be expected: the penalties of a public life.

The officer sits up and stares with cool eyes, but Stevenson senses curiosity or indifference rather than hostility. "Sit down, senator," the man says at last, indicating a rickety wooden chair. "This will take not long if you cooperate."

"For a few minutes in the shade," Stevenson answers more dryly than he feels, "I may be tempted to drag this out, lieutenant . . ." He scans the officer's name-tag. " . . . Lieutenant Goldberg."

It is a thin joke and Goldberg gives it a thin smile in return. "You are no more unhappy than I am, here in diesem Land ohne Kultur." He gauges Stevenson's wry grimace and his smile broadens as he makes a notation. Stevenson is annoyed with himself for letting his knowledge of German show. Kept secret, it might have proven useful later.

"So, what brings you to Alabama, so far from your Illinois?" A pen, one of the new ball-point kind, is poised over a tattered notebook.

Stevenson judges the question pro forma and tries his cover story. "I'm here to meet privately with some Party officials, in the hope of putting an end to the Situation."

The Situation is what everyone calls it, trying to downplay its significance, trying to talk around the subject as if it does not really exist. It isn't an occupation; just . . . a situation. Some of Stevenson's circle even pretend that League troops are in the South by invitation—as if President Black has had any choice in the matter.

"And you have by yourself come? A man of your importance? Your father was a vice president, not so?"

"My grandfather—for Grover Cleveland, a long time ago. I'm sure you know how delicate our domestic political situation is, lieutenant. My associates and I thought it best if we kept my little trip off the record."

Goldberg shrugs off the widening rift between northern and southern Democrats. Domestic politics means less to him than the intolerable heat or the lack of a first-rate symphony; or of even a decent beer. "And these people you plan to meet with . . . None of them are the franc-tireurs, of course. No one from your Klan, or from the SCLC, or from the terrorist band led by 'Tricky Dick'."

It is a polite invitation to a demurral. They both know that Stevenson would be a fool to contact any of the guerrilla groups operating in the League-occupied zone. What no one knows, least of all Stevenson himself, is how big a fool he can be. The sweat is a sheen on his face, but he checks a move toward his handkerchief. To mop his brow might imply nervousness at the direction of the questioning. "No," he says. "Just local Party officials."

Goldberg grunts his amusement, perfectly aware that the one does not preclude the other. "Their names?" he asks, but his attention is now only partly on Stevenson. A battered pickup truck with local plates approaches the checkpoint, and the sentry, judging the senator no threat to his lieutenant, leaves the guard shack to deal with it.

Stevenson tries ignorance. "I don't know who will be there. It's all been arranged very quietly by the governor's office. We will meet in—"

"Selma," Goldberg says. "You are to meet with Sparkman and his people in Selma." Stevenson shrugs, as if to say that if Goldberg already has all the answers from the Morgensbericht, then he need not detain Stevenson for questioning.

A commotion outside distracts him. A slurred drawl—half drink, half belligerence—shouts something about "nigger-lovin' Aryans" and "get yo' ass outta 'Bama." The lieutenant frowns and rises from his seat. When he steps to the door of the guard shack his holster is already unbuttoned. "Macht er Mühe, Soldat?"

"He's drunk," Stevenson says sotto voce. "Moonshine. That's always trouble." The lieutenant nods without turning. If he was not a careful man before his draft, a few months of occupation duty have made him one.

"An' a god-damn kike officer, too," the same voice says. Stevenson hears another voice, a woman's, urging caution. He looks around the guard shack thinking how little the barnwood walls would slow a bullet. He moves his chair away from the desk, ready to throw himself on the floor if something happens.

But Goldberg describes in graphic terms what drunk drivers can do to their families and calls upon the man's duty to protect his wife and infant son. The man curses, but Goldberg persists and Stevenson is astonished when the redneck actually steps out of his truck and allows his wife to slide behind the steering wheel. He mutters something about "women drivers," but gets into the passenger seat and his wife, with a grateful nod to the lieutenant, drives him away.

"Honor and duty," Goldberg says when he returns to the shack with an over-and-under shotgun in his hand. "These Southern men understand little of civilized behavior, but that much will reach them." He notices that his holster is still unsnapped and refastens it.

"You handled that well," Stevenson says.

Goldberg places the shotgun in a barrel full of confiscated weapons labeled Beschlagsnahmen. He pours himself a drink of water from the cooler; then, in afterthought, another for Stevenson. "You thought 'The Hun' would wave weapons and shout and bring on a shooting." He sits at his desk, pulls out a tag and writes on it. Then he takes the tag to the barrel and fastens it to the shotgun trigger guard, and puts the carbon in a small card box atop the nearby filing cabinet. Stevenson thinks about the Hun obsession with record-keeping more than about their reputation for ruthlessness.

The lieutenant speaks casually while he arranges the card box. "Tell me, Herr Senator . . . What is your opinion of 'niggers' and 'kikes'?"

It is the first time that the cool detachment has cracked. Stevenson chooses his next words with care. "I'm a northern Democrat, not a southern one. You must know my record." He gestures toward the reports on the desk. German thoroughness is a commonplace. "No decent man can approve of 'racial clearing.' "

"Yet your party cannot hope the White House to retain without the votes of your southern Democrats. And so, you must embrace 'under the sheets.' Only, these sheets have hoods on them." Goldberg's lips condense into a thin line. "Have you ever opened a mass grave, senator? Have you ever smelled the rotting bodies of people slain for no other reason but who they were? Such a thing could never happen in France or England or Germany."

Stung, Stevenson hangs his head. Argument would be futile and there is too much truth in the lieutenant's charge. Yet revulsion against the lynchings had been growing, even in the South; and Black—himself an Alabaman and former Klansman—had denounced them in his radio addresses. Stevenson sometimes wonders whether the race war would have happened at all had the League of Nations not meddled.

But he does not argue the point. He is not here to convince one Imperial lieutenant that the sight of foreign paratroops dropping on American cities had turned retail murder into wholesale atrocity. Stevenson isn't sure himself. The "clearings" might have happened anyway. It was vain to argue what might have been.

* * *

The Stonewall is not a very palatial hotel. Selma is not a very palatial town. Nothing in the south, in Stevenson's estimation, quite measures up to Chicago. He unpacks his bag, tests the spring of the mattress—it is lumpy—then opens the window. The muggy breeze bears the ashy odor of old wood fires, carried over from the charred ruins of Darktown. He sees the jumble of burnt timber frames over on the other side of the tracks. They look like charcoal lines sketched against the sky, like one of those new "modern" paintings. Standing by the open window, Stevenson fans himself three times with a copy of the local newspaper. He pauses, then fans himself again, this time with his left hand.

Turning away, he settles into the desk chair and waits for the pounding of his heart to slow. Sweat glistens on his broad forehead and he fans himself, this time in earnest. His eyes light on the dresser top and notice the opened Bible. He rises and glances at the text marked by a business card. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. The card announces the finest haircuts in Selma.

When he has regained a measure of calm, Stevenson descends to the lobby, where a boy chats idly with the girl behind the desk. He looks to be perhaps seventeen or eighteen. His hair is greased and swept back in the new style favored by the youngsters and he wears his pants low on his hips. They look as if they will slide off at any moment. Stevenson resists the impulse to order the pants pulled up. Instead, he takes him aside and gives him a cartwheel and a name. The boy grins. "Rootie-tootie," he says and walks off with a sassy, hip-rolling gait. Stevenson wonders what the younger generation is coming to. Then he shrugs and sets out for a walk.

The heat beats upon him. Cicadas chicker like boys running sticks across every picket fence in the world. The sound swells and crests and diminishes in waves, but it never entirely dies away. It is not the best weather for a stroll. Eggs would fry on the sidewalks. The locals know this and stay indoors. Stevenson fancies his progress marked from behind every shaded parlor window he passes. The heat pours up from the pavement through the soles of his shoes.

Stepping inside the barber shop at last is like entering a cave. As his eyes grow slowly adjusted to the dimmer light, he sees a row of older men seated along the wall. They bear the attitude of those whose conversation has but lately fallen silent. The barber stands with his implements poised over a customer's head. Stevenson's words congest in his throat and he must cough to loosen them. "A bottle of hair tonic," he says, putting as much rural Illinois into his twang as he is able, and pulls another cartwheel from his pocket. "The kind Fosdick uses." He fights the urge to mop his brow. His fedora remains firmly in place. He holds the silver dollar so that Walking Liberty is upright from the barber's point of view.

That worthy glances at the coin and regards Stevenson a moment longer. Then he puts his clippers down and takes a bottle of tonic off his shelf. He gives it to Stevenson, but says, "Keep the dollar, boy. I won't take another man's liberty." The Greek chorus breaks silence in a mutter of affirmations.

When he returns to the hotel lobby, Stevenson finds the errand boy waiting. The lad hands him a bottle of bourbon. "Here you go, mistuh," he says with a conspiratorial leer. Stevenson takes the bottle and stares at it stupidly, until he remembers that anyone might have seen him send the boy on an errand and the bottle will explain things nicely. "Thank you," he says, handing him a nickel tip. "It's my favorite brand." In truth, he does not recognize the label. It might be more hair tonic for all he knows.

Settled once more in his room, he places the bourbon on the sideboard and lies down on the bed to rest. He wonders if he should signal at the window again, but decides not to press matters. All that remains now is to wait.

* * *

It is not a long wait. When Stevenson answers the knock, Governor Sparkman steps past him and heads directly for the liquor bottle, where he pours himself three fingers of bourbon, neat. Only after he has gotten himself outside two of those fingers does he turn and face the senator from Illinois. "How was the drive down, Adlai?"

Stevenson sits on the bed. "Tolerable, John. It was a US Highway all the way; as straight as God and local politics would allow." Sparkman's lips twitch—the US Highways were paved with more pork than asphalt—then he introduces his two companions.

Tallulah Bankhead, in her late forties, is niece and granddaughter of U.S. Senators and daughter of the late Speaker of the House. She has recently left the stage to take up her family's political mantle. Rumor has it that Sparkman is grooming her to be the next governor. (Stevenson doubts an actor can be a governor, but the Democrats could run a yellow dog in this state and still win.) He turns expectant eyes on the third member of the delegation.

He is an intense man in his early thirties, with broad lips that press close together in a look of permanent disapproval. Dark-haired and dark-complexioned, he appears brooding. Sparkman names him George Corley Wallace, state attorney general. His grip is firm but brief. "No trouble with the Hun?" he asks as he, too, seeks liquid solace. Bankhead, like Stevenson, has taken no drink, but she sits in the desk chair and eyes Stevenson with frank interest.

Stevenson tells Wallace that he has had no trouble and the young attorney general grunts. "You were lucky then. Some local fellow says the Hun out the US highway threatened to blow his baby's head off this afternoon."

Stevenson's eyebrows rise. "Red pickup truck about five years old? I saw that. The boy was likkered up and the gendarme talked him into letting his wife drive him home. That's all. Probably saved them all from a bad accident."

Wallace frowns. "That's not the way he tells it."

Sparkman, standing by the window, interrupts. "Look at them out there, goose-stepping down the street like they God-damn own it." He finishes the last finger, looks at the glass as if its emptiness were an affront before he sets it down carefully. "Tastes like hair tonic," he says. "Okay, Adlai, what's the word from the central committee?"

Stevenson considers how to present things. Southern pride is a touchy thing and though he has been rehearsing his little speech all the way down from Peoria, he knows it will not play well. "Hugo isn't standing for reelection," he says bluntly.

Sparkman is unsurprised. "Yeah, I figgered that. The Situation's not his fault—the God-damned League shoved it down his throat—but the people will never forgive him."

"The same goes for the veep—"

" 'Cept who cares what that sumbitch wants?" Sparkman snorts. "Ol' Hugo was a-gonna shitcan Curley anyway. How many vice presidents you know who serve time in jail?"

It's a rhetorical question. "What I mean," Stevenson presses on, "is that no one connected with the administration has a Chinaman's chance. We need an outsider if we're going to run a respectable campaign."

Sparkman stands a little taller. "Any names in that hat, Adlai?" His tone suggests he has a name in mind, but Stevenson quashes that thought right away.

"Party can't run a Southern man this time, John. Especially not the governor of Alabama—"

Sparkman swells like a banty rooster. "Now, hold on there—"

"—because folks up north blame all of you for the Situation. They way you treated the coloreds—the lynchings and all—that's what brought the League in."

Sparkman stikes the dresser with the flat of his hand. "Adlai, that was just white trash troublemakers, not the quality folks. Not the Sparkmans or the Bankheads." His glance touches his attorney general, but he does not include the Wallaces among the quality. If Wallace notices, he gives no sign. "Most folks down here," Sparkman insists, "they might not care to associate with the coloreds, but they never wanted to see them hung or burned out. Live and let live—"

"Separate," says Wallace, "but equal."

Stevenson doesn't think separate can ever be equal. One or the other would get shortchanged, and he doesn't think it would be the whites. The point is moot now, anyway. "That doesn't matter, John," he tells them. "Up north, John Q. Citizen isn't making any distinctions between the trash and the quality. The city machines don't think they can deliver for a Southern ticket, and you and I both know Boss Daley can deliver votes if he has to dig up the graveyard with his own two hands and drag the corpses into the polling booth. No, it's time the party put a northern man up."

"Party hasn't put up a northern man since Franklin," Tallulah points out. "And there was less there than met the eye. He sure enough brought the Glorious Twenties to a roaring halt."

Stevenson shrugs. "That was just bad luck, the market crashing when it did. After eight good years with McAdoo, Franklin expected the good times to—"

"Then he was naive," snaps Sparkman. "It cost us the White House and it let that . . . that engineer, Hoover, take credit for the recovery."

It was only natural that people looking to rebuild America after the Great Panic should look to the man who had helped rebuild Europe after the Great War. But there is no point in picking over ancient history. "The point is, John," Stevenson says, "we don't plan to dig up Franklin and nominate him again. The Great Panic is all in the past, but this business down here—The Situation—that's happening right now. Even if the League troops went home tomorrow, folks would still remember it was the South brought it on us come election time."

Sparkman's irritation shows in the pinch of his face. "Who, then?" the governor snaps. "You?" A speculative glint in Sparkman's eye and he cocks his head. "You and me," he says more thoughtfully. "Illinois and Alabama. A balanced ticket. It might work."

Stevenson recoils in horror. "I'm only a simple senator from the Midwest." And besides—although he does not voice the thought—as little as Stevenson relishes the role of president, he relishes the role of sacrificial lamb even less.

"Well, not that prancing popinjay from Massachussetts!" Wallace says in a belligerent growl. "Not that son of a goose-stepping Kaiser-kisser!"

"No, not 'Little Joe,' either." Stevenson shudders at the thought of what might happen if presidents were chosen on their good looks and breezy self-assurance. "He's just the glove," he tells them. "His daddy's the hand, and none of us want him controlling the government. No, we've been talking up the junior senator from Missouri."

Sparkman shows surprise. "Truman? He's a Prendergast man. Why not just hand Big Jim the keys to Fort Knox? Besides, Missouri's a Southern state, too."

"No, John. I've worked with Harry in the Senate. Sure, he got his start with the Machine, but he's the only one of that crowd who ever lost money in office. And Missouri is a border state." He lets Sparkman think that over.

The governor is not happy, but he sees the point. "All right, we can pretend he's a Southern man and you-all can pretend he's northern. Maybe we squeeze out a few more votes that way." He runs his hand through his hair. "Republicans make up their minds yet?"

Stevenson shakes his head. "Still split between Taft and Warren. We may be able to exploit that. Divide the Republican vote the way Wilson did." Privately, Stevenson doubts they can pull it off. A solid run by a northern Democrat is all he asks for; something that will separate the Party from the clearings in the public mind. Afterwards, . . . He thinks he can work with Earl Warren; but a congenial, cooperative term will only solidify the GOP's hold on the executive office, so he might as well butt heads with Taft for four years.

The four of them talk the pros and cons of Truman versus Warren or Taft. Sparkman promises to sound out the other Southern governors; but if the northern machines won't back a Southern man, he knows as well as Stevenson that they have no choice.

* * *

Wallace lingers after the other two leave and eyes Stevenson's bald pate. "You don't look like a man with much need of hair tonic," he says without preamble.

Stevenson hesitates, then closes the door, shutting the two of them in together. "So, you're the leader of—"

But Wallace holds up a hand. "I ain't leader of nothing. But maybe I know someone who knows someone. You wanted a meeting. This is it."

Stevenson takes a breath and walks to the other side of the room, where he leans against the dresser. He must reach deep down inside himself to pull the words out. "There has to be an accomodation," he tells the man who knows someone, "before it rips the Party in half."

Wallace grunts and crosses his arms. "Well, it's about time you-all got on board . . ."

"I beg your pardon?"

" . . . and we got some recognition for what we've done!"

The response startles Stevenson. The replies he had ready do not cover this comment. Again, he searches for words, but can do no better than to throw the same ones back. "Recognition? For what you've done?"

"Who's been fighting the Hun and his lickspittle, so-called 'allies' this past year—by ourselves? Generations of Southern men have bled and died so this land could be free. At King's Mountain, Yorktown, New Orleans, Pittsburgh Landing, Atlanta . . . We won't sit by idle while those Prussian pigs pollute it with every goose step they take. Even a Yankee should see that—if he can take his eye off the almighty dollar long enough."

"You have," Stevenson observes dryly, "an endearing way with words."

"But what do we hear from New York and Boston and Chicago? Silence, that's what. Where are the Northern boys now that our holy ground has been violated?"

"You need men," Stevenson guesses. The Germans must have cut deep into the nightriders' manpower.

Wallace just his chin forward. "And guns."

"And what else?"

"And explosives!"

"And what else?"

"Some word of thanks from the rest of you sons of bitches!"

"Thanks? Thanks!" Some things Stevenson cannot swallow. "If it hadn't been for the clearings, none of this would be happening!"

Wallace is impervious to accusation. "Don't hand me that. Sure, there were some lynchings and things. Don't get me wrong—I never approved. A mob gets its dander up and they're likely to up and lynch the wrong nigra. That's not the American way."

"And lynching the right one is?"

"For murder or rape? Maybe not 'right,' but not the same kind of 'wrong,' either. But, like I said, I never approved. We would've worked things out. The coloreds and us, we been living side by side down here for a couple hundred years. We get along—as long as everybody knows his place. But then outside agitators come along and give folks uppity notions, fill them up with dreams their abilities can never achieve—so that they lash out like frustrated children and have to be spanked."

"I'd call what happened more than a spanking, Mr. Wallace."

Wallace says nothing for a moment. His eyes smolder; then he looks away. "Things . . . got out of hand."

"Just a little."

"The boys went crazy when the Huns landed. Pure loco. I couldn't stop them. No one could. No one planned what happened. No one meant for it."

"No one with responsibility, you mean, but I suspect there were plenty of your 'rednecks' just itching for the chance. When you use a mob, Wallace, it's a fine question who leads whom on the leash."

Wallace glares at him.

"Folks up north want the League out, too," Stevenson continues, "but we can't stand with you while the clearings go on."

"That's over with. The boys ain't killin' niggers any more. They're killing collaborators."

"Who happen to be mostly Negroes. Maybe there is a difference, but it doesn't look that way up north. It has to stop, Wallace, or you'll never get the support you need."

"Why? You Yankees too yellow to go toe-to-toe with the Huns?" Wallace taunts.

"With what? Potbellied men and gas-station jockeys toting shotguns and squirrel rifles? Against the army that sacked Tokyo?"

Wallace might play loose with the truth, but he knew it when he heard it. His next words are heavy with defeat. "Wilson should never have shrunk the Army. We would've had a first-class military of our own, not just a few regiments chasing bandits and renegades out west, afraid to fight because of some treaty, some 'scrap of paper.' Then we could've taken on the Hun."

A Great Peace to follow the Great War, Wilson had proclaimed in ordering the reduction in forces—starting, of course, with the Negro regiments he so despised—and going on to grant independence to the Philipines and Puerto Rico—and barring the "golden door" against "little brown brother."

The League will enforce the Peace from now on, Wilson had proclaimed. Stevenson had been only nineteen, but he remembered it clearly. Seen with the idealism—and self-interest—of youth, Wilson's demilitarization had seemed bold and courageous.

In hindsight, Wilson seemed less wise. To keep American boys out of the meatgrinder of the Western Front was one thing. Boys who had trained with wooden rifles? Folly! It would have taken two years to build an American Expeditionary Force around the few professional regiments. And the Western Front ate regiments for breakfast. No, Wilson had been right about that.

Staying neutral had let him play peacemaker to the exhausted participants, to referee the Treaty of Silver Spring, to midwife his brainchild, the League of Nations. Yet, it is Wilson's League that now humiliates the United States, citing the very Article 10 upon which Lodge's Republicans had based their opposition. Mandatory member intervention in domestic disturbances.

"No," Stevenson tells Wallace with heavy finality. "Our citizen militias cannot fight trained professionals. We must rely on persuasion, not the rifle and grenade; and for that we need Party unity; and for that, we need these killings to stop. You 'know people who know people'? Pass the word."

"So white men must lay down their arms while the SCLC commandos creep through the hills and bayous, and strike with impunity under German protection?"

There is no audience to impress with fine words of defiance. Wallace must be speaking from the heart. His regrets about the mob running out of control might even be sincere. "I want both sides to lay down their arms," Stevenson tells him, "and stand together against the occupation."

Wallace's eyes go wide, then he laughs. "King would never agree. Why would he go against his protectors?"

"He may have his reasons. But he needs a word from . . . the friends of your friends. We have to stop this before it goes too far."

Wallace's lips seem to thicken and a distant look comes over him. "It may already have," he says sadly. And indeed, the old world of the '30s and the '40s, of cheap, servile labor, are probably gone past recalling. No matter how the Situation plays itself out, things will never again be as they were before. Thus do reactionaries, fighting to preserve a half-mythic past, create in the process a new world order.

Wallace rises and makes to leave; but at the door he turns. "You know, Stevenson," he says, "I never much cared for the nigger. All that smilin' and shuckin' and jivin' . . . Nothin' there a man could respect. But that King, he showed they could stand up like men, and I got to respect that. If you ever see that murdering son of a bitch, you tell him I said that."

Stevenson goes all bland. "When would I ever see King?"

The two of them lock eyes for a moment and Stevenson senses the pressure inside the other man. Wallace is a boiler, building a head of steam. Then the Alabaman laughs. "When he wants to see you." And then Stevenson is alone once more.

* * *

That evening, in the hotel's restaurant, talk runs high. A German soldier has raped a woman—or so the bar talk has it. The honor of the South has been tarnished once again. If they had let it go at that—if they had spoken of liberty and independence and national honor; if they had spoken only of sovereignty betrayed—he might have stomached it. But—

" . . . snooty Europeans . . ."

" . . . bringin' them niggers back to Darktown . . ."

" . . . forced busing . . ."

" . . . cold-blooded guerilla killers livin' right over the tracks from us . . ."

" . . . goose-steppers can't be everywhere, and the minute they turn their back . . ."

" . . . ain't enough bayonets in the world . . ."

" . . . that Southern Colored Liberation Corps ain't turned over their guns like they was supposed to, so why should we . . ."

Stevenson hunches over his steak. It is overdone and salty. The vegetables are boiled to a mush. No one in the South knows how to cook. He wants to tell them that they are blaming the wrong people. It wasn't the coloreds that brought in the League, not King and his SCLC; but they, themselves, and the bloody savagery they had wrought on their neighbors.

But he says nothing. If the people around him despise the coloreds and hate the Germans, they do not exactly love Yankees, either. This is a land that treasures its grudges.

Northern governors, chafing over Black's inaction, had been quietly planning the dispatch of State troops to escort those colored children into that Little Rock high school—and had they done so all hell would have broken loose, maybe even a second War Between the States. A Republican president, Stevenson is sure, would have done exactly that—using Federal troops. President Black had at least seen the folly of throwing a match into a tinderbox.

Well, the match had been thrown—by the sanctimonious Europeans—and all hell had broken loose anyhow; and if the South has lost its sovreignty, the North had lost its chance to stand up for a principle. There comes a time when circumspection sails almighty close to acquiesence; when, as Burke observed, forebearance ceases to be a virtue.

We should have spoken up, he thinks as he signs the meal to his room. Is Party unity worth this? Yet, without the Solid South, the Democrats will never win the White House. Truman is doomed, but he must run a credible campaign if the Party is to be taken seriously in '56. That means northern and southern wings closing ranks. If the party splits, men of quality like Sparkman will lose all influence and restraint over men like Wallace. And even men like Wallace would give way to those who made no fine distinction between lynching the right or wrong Negro.

That night the dull thump of an explosion shakes the windows of the hotel. It wakes him and he lies in bed unable to sleep, listening to the rattle of distant gunfire that follows.

* * *

The next morning the Germans revoke all travel permits. Stevenson drives out with the locals to look and returns shaken to his hotel room, where he pours himself the last of the bourbon, and stares into it without drinking.

A crater in the highway and burnt and scattered flinders are all that remain of the guard shack. Telephone poles have been toppled and charred like so much kindling. Gasoline fires burn hotter than Hell itself. Of Lieutenant Goldberg and the young sentry, nothing but greasy ashes remain. Stevenson stares out the hotel room window at the blackened remains of Darktown and, for a moment, he imagines the sweetish odor of crackling flesh carried on the hot summer breeze. It is overpowering, as if millions have been incinerated.

The alcohol, when he throws it back over his throat, does nothing to soothe the roiling in his belly.

Now the Germans will retaliate in their usual ham-fisted manner and the American people would have their noses rubbed once more in the consequences of a fourth-rate military. (No more dangerous than Roumania, had been Hindenburg's famous sneer.) They would have one more reason never to vote Democrat again.

Sparkman is not so inept. He knows the Party's interests lie in making the Situation go away as quickly and as quietly as possible. Wallace can call it Kaiser-kissing if he wishes, but there comes a time to turn the other cheek and negotiate a solution. Even Wallace, intemperate as he is, must know better. The attack on the guard post doesn't quite make sense yet. Somthing is missing.

Stevenson senses that not all the pieces are yet in play.

Late that afternoon, helicopters settle on the town and disgorge elite storm troops, who fan out into every neighborhood of the city. If the locals think the Wehrmacht hard to deal with, they find these newcomers in their Prussian-blue uniforms impossible. Hardened veterans of the Philipine campaign, they have dealt with tougher resistance than anything the "good ol' boys" of Selma can muster. Men who have fought with Japanese fanatics in Pacific jungles will not flinch from pot-bellied white men in overalls. They arrest one man from every block, apparently at random, and bring them to a compound just outside the city limits. In the barroom of the hotel, Stevenson now hears fear mixed with the feckless bravado.

" . . . done arrested the mayor and the chief . . ."

" . . . hope they got that damn county assessor, too . . ."

" . . . bunch'a innercent townfolk . . ."

" . . . just a bluff . . ."

" . . . half a mind to get out my varmint rifle and . . ."

" . . . barbaric, that's what it is . . ."

The bartender, a swarthy, heavy-jowled man of Stevenson's age, listens and shakes his head. He and Stevenson lock gazes for a moment and trade rueful grins. Thus do rabbits discuss the wolf. "Martyrs stiffen a cause," the barman tells him. "If the Germans execute the hostages, they'll be sowing dragon's teeth."

Stevenson grants that German antiterrorism doctrine is every bit as barbaric as the terrorism itself. Yet, it is no more than poetic justice on the people who invented "racial clearing." Just what were those "innercent townfolk" doing in the months before the Situation? Lynching their neighbors; burning down their churches. Digging mass graves—and filling them up.

Just before nightfall, the German commander arrives. Provost-general Erwin Rommel is a veteran of both the Bolshevik War and the Pacific War and has a reputation as a just man. This is bad news for Selma, since justice of any sort would wipe it off the face of the Earth. Stevenson catches a glimpse of the general as he rides down the street behind the bullet-proofed windows of his staff car. Peaked cap, Eisenkreuz dangling from a blue ribbon around his neck, a look on his face of infinite distance and pain. A father about to spank an errant child.

Stevenson remembers the cultured, intelligent lieutenant Goldberg and wishes Rommel silent success. If the random hostages do not include last night's terrorists, they surely include those of other nights. An eye for an eye.

But the food lies heavy and undigested in Stevenson's belly. He can hear Wallace in his mind. Is it not important to lynch the "right" rednecks?

* * *

Stevenson is preparing for bed when a gentle tapping at his door freezes him. He scowls, begs a moment's grace, and puts his shirt back on, pulling his suspenders up as he reaches for the knob.

A bellboy stands without—rumpled gray uniform with a button missing, pillbox cap set slightly askew. "What is it?" he asks the young man.

"The package you ordered."

Stevenson has ordered no package, but sees the note affixed to the plain brown wrapper. Follow me. Make no sign. He looks again at the boy, wondering who has sent him. Too light-complexioned for the SCLC, but he might work for Tricky Dick. Unless there are other factions. . . .  Stevenson places the package (sans note) on the dresser and follows the bellhop.

Dusk has slid quietly into night, but has brought with it no relief from the heat as bricks and asphalt slowly release the energy they have absorbed during the day. The bellhop leads him to a darkened alley cluttered with debris and trash cans, damp with fetid pools, rank with the stench of garbage and honeysuckle. A shape steps forward from the darkness and Stevenson recoils when he sees a well-muscled Negro man, broad in the shoulders, two hundred pounds and none of it fat. His head is shaved. A scar puckers one cheek and an implacable steel gleams in his eyes. Stevenson recognizes John Calvin King, "generalissimo" of the Southern Colored Liberation Corps.

"I saw by the newspaper," King says sardonically, "that you wanted to see me." His hands wave not a newspaper but an over-and-under shotgun. Stevenson notices a twist of wire on the trigger guard.

The bellboy slouches in the mouth of the alley smoking a cigarette, but he turns long enough to send a smirk in Stevenson's direction. "Ever hear of a white boy," King's voice says, "passin' fo' black?" When Stevenson turns a puzzled look on the guerilla leader, he explains. "Linc, there, he has seven white great-grandparents. Now, what do you call a boy like that?" He does not wait for Stevenson to answer. "A 'nigger,' is what. Same as if seven was black and only one was white. Shows the power of black blood."

Stevenson studies the bellhop and, now that King has pointed it out, he can see the slightly thicker lips, the slightly broader nose, the slightly duskier complexion. King, watching, lets him make up his mind before adding slyly, " 'Less I'm lyin'. There are some white folks who fight for justice."

King is playing with him, but Stevenson uses the opening. "Maybe more of us than you know."

"Doubt that, Stevenson. I sure didn't see many of you down here during the clearings."

Stevenson wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "People up north," he says, "are predisposed to look favorably on your cause—"

"He talks purty," says the bellhop, but King waves him silent. "Go on."

"They don't like what's been done to your people. The burnings, the beatings and lynchings—they elicited a great deal of sympathy up north. They would like to help. . . ."

"But . . ." suggests King. "There's a 'but' in there somewhere."

"But they won't help you break up of the United States—and that's what will happen if you keep up these vengeance strikes of yours. You have a grievance—God knows, you have a grievance—but they don't like the way the League butted in when you asked them for help."

"Who should I have asked?" King says bitterly. "Governor Sparkman? President Black? The good folks up north, who 'sympathized' with our 'plight' but never lifted one damn finger to help? If good does nothing, evil triumphs. And what was done to us was not a 'grievance'; it was not a 'plight.' It was evil! Not even some likkered-up mob losing its head because some pasty-fleshed white woman kicked up her heels for some po'-ass black boy and changed her mind next mornin'. This was deliberate, planned murder on a scale the world has never seen—carried out while officials and the 'quality folks' wrung their hands, or looked the other way, or even helped when they thought no one knew. Say what you will about the Kaiser's troops, or the Triple Monarchy, or the British Empire and the rest, but when we called on them, they came."

"Not for you," Stevenson tells him. "They're jealous of our prosperity—because we never got sucked into their wars—so they wanted to take the USA down a peg or two."

He is rewarded by a huge, black shrug. "I know that. But if a man helps get the boot off my neck, who am I to question his motives?"

"I never walked in your shoes," Stevenson admits, "but we've got to think toward the future. The longer the Situation goes on, the harder it will be to bring us back together as one nation."

"Never was one nation," King says. "Not for us."

"But it can be. Don't you see? It's what we work toward. If we lose the faith that it can be, we lose hope. And if we lose hope, we lose everything—all the good works that might yet come—and the future will be nothing but ambush and bushwhack and hate and separation, world without end."

For a moment, King seems captured by the image, as if he has had a dream of all God's children, black and white, lying dead side by side, equal at last. "If not the League," he asks suspiciously, "then who?"


King's eyes widen. "The Democrats?"

"Why stick with the Republicans? What have they ever done for the Negro?"

The guerilla leader affects innocence. "Give us our freedom?" he suggests.

"That was nearly a hundred years ago. Today, they're lapdogs for Big Business and don't care about Negroes one way or the other."

"Maybe so," King allows, "but that puts 'em up a notch, don't it. 'Cause in case you haven't noticed, the Democrats down here do care about us. One way. Or is it the other?" He smiles at Stevenson's discomfiture. "What you up to, Stevenson? You got a strategy?"

"A deal," he says. "If northern Democrats take your side against the rednecks, our Southern wing could bolt . . ."

A cynical smile splits a black face. "So you need our votes because you'd lose theirs? Good Lord above, Stevenson! Can't you take a stand just because it's right? That's the acid test. Isn't governing a nation more important than winning an election?"

Stevenson flushes. "We can't govern if we don't win; and if you help us win, then we'd owe you. But we can't help unless you break with the League and stop the vengeance strikes."

"Self-defense isn't murder."

"Retribution isn't self-defense."

King shows teeth. "Massacre don't look so good from the other end of the gun barrel, does it?"

"You lose the moral high ground when you stoop to the level of your oppressors."

"The high ground . . . ? The high ground . . . ?" King's laughter is bitter. "Shit, we already got all the 'low' ground: six feet of it, twenty thousand times over. We should stand by all meek and humble and 'yassah, boss' while they shoot us down, rape our women, burn our churches, just so other white folks can admire how Christian we are for 'turnin' the other cheek?' My mama named me for a preacher, but that don't make me one. Can you name one place in the world where 'turn the other cheek' won the day? Russia? India? China? Anywhere? No. The League wants us to trust them to keep order, but someday the League will go home. I'd rather trust my right to bear arms." King flourishes the shotgun he is holding and Stevenson takes an involuntary step backward.

"Sometimes," King says, now more to himself than to Stevenson, "I think I was born for this. That I was destined from all time to be the protector and savior of my people; to lead them into the Promised Land. Even if things had fallen out differently—no Great War, no League, no President Robinson winking while hooded nightriders rode out in the daylight—I would still find myself waging this struggle."

"But maybe with words instead of weapons."

King shrugs. "I just keep on keepin' on. If we don't stand up now, when can we? If we accept mass murder, against what injustice can we later rail? No! Never again! My destiny drives me. Here I stand; I can do nothing else."

"That's Martin Luther."

King gives him a look. "I know that, 'professor.' Just like I know you were born to be a trimmer. Always looking for the compromise. Always splitting the difference. Well, Stevenson, how do you split the difference between me and Georgie Wallace?"

"He wants to fight the Germans, not you. He's trying to control the mob."

King grunts. "A man rides a tiger, it's the tiger decides which way to run. So, how 'bout we compromise. They only kills half as many of us next year."

"Is it so terrible to bury the hatchet and search for common ground?"

"Long as the ground ain't quicksand—and the hatchet ain't buried in my head. Long as folks don't have to abandon their principles to come together. But principles don't matter to your sort, do they? Lord Jesus, I think I'd rather deal with ol' Georgie. I might not like where he stands, but at least he stands somewhere."

"That's funny," says Stevenson. "He said much the same thing about you."

King saddens Stevenson in an indefinable way. This might have been an educated man, had history treated him more kindly. Stevenson is not well read, himself; he finishes perhaps two books a year, not like Truman who consumes them weekly by the dozen. Yet he knows native intelligence when he sees it. "You'll be killed, eventually. If the nightriders don't get you, the Germans will. They came to restore order, not to help you wreak vengeance."

"They will take my gun," King prophesies, "when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers."

Stevenson shivers from a sudden vision. A shot. A body topples on a distant balcony. Cities burn in retribution. "Is it worth being killed?"

King stares as if from a distant height. "If a man hasn't discovered something he can die for, he isn't fit to live. The measure of a man is not where he stands when things are easy—fine words and sentiments flow smoothly when they cost nothing—but what measures a man is where he stands in tribulation. Has there ever been a Savior that the mob failed to crucify?"

"Predestination," Stevenson answered. "You're taking your namesake too seriously."

King gives him a quizzical look. "It bothers you. Why?"

A shake of the head. "I don't know, but I think, in another milieu, you might have achieved greatness."

"So might we all, Stevenson. You, me, Georgie, Sparkman. Our natures form us, but the world molds us. And so, instead of greatness, I lead a life that is 'nasty, brutish, and short'."

"First Calvin; now Hobbes. You're better read than you let on." Stevenson genuinely likes this man, or at least the man he might have been, but he can see now that he has come on a fool's errand. Jackson must have misread the signals. Now he can only hope that Jackson's guarantee is enough to let him leave this alley. "One word of advice. .  . ." He waits until King shows by the tilt of his head that he will listen. "Don't let the Germans know you steal your arms from their checkpoints."

King turns the shotgun over in his hand and runs a hand down its barrel. "Now don't you go carrying tales to the Germans if you can't back them up," he says at last. "Words without facts are just words."

"Did you attack the—"

"And don't ask questions you don't want to hear the answer to." He pauses a moment as he studies Stevenson's face. Then he relents. "But maybe we hear about a raid, you know what I'm saying; and we duck in while others are . . . occupied . . . and take what we can. It pleases me to arm myself with weapons the League has taken from our oppressors."

"Who warned you about the raid?" Stevenson is certain the raid was Wallace's work; but he is equally certain Wallace would never have tipped King.

Expecting evasion, he is surprised when King answers. "Tricky Dick."

"You've seen him?"

"Him? No, nobody's ever seen that sly ol' fox. He sent a message, though. Told us you'd ask about him, too; and told us to tell you it was him."

Later, back in his hotel room, a shaken Stevenson seeks liquid relief and finds that King has a mordant sense of humor. Opening the package King's minion had given him, he finds the inevitable bottle of bourbon.

It is Old Crow.

* * *

The two storm troopers bang on his door early in the morning, but they allow him to shower and dress before escorting him to the Hauptquartier. The other men hanging about the hotel stare at Stevenson as he is marched past. It is the first clue the locals have that he might be someone important. The bartender is just opening up. When he sees Stevenson, he raises both hands, with two fingers spread in a V to signal encouragement.

A vigorous man in his early sixties, Rommel questions Stevenson about the incident at the checkpoint and how Lt. Goldberg handled the drunken redneck in the pickup truck. The interrogation is persistent, but polite. America is not a conquered province and a federal senator is no small thing to toy with. Rommel represents the League of Nations, not the Kaiser. He wears the green-and-white armband on his sleeve with the crossed olive branches. Officially, there are limits to what he can do to Stevenson.

Unofficially, of course, there are always tragic accidents.

Nervous in front of the iron-gray tactician, Stevenson pulls a pack of Luckies from his coat pocket, but Rommel curtly refuses him permission to light up. Stevenson is so startled that Rommel unbuttons enough to explain.

"I have sworn off the tobacco," he says. "It is—how do you say it?—a 'movement' in Europe. Perhaps you have heard? An Austrian painter—a crusader against vivisection and animal abuse—leads the campaign. I hear him speak once at a rally in Nuremberg, where they lit a bonfire and everyone threw into the flames their cigarettes. As a painter, the man was mediocre; but as a speaker, he is spellbinding. According to him, even the smoke of others is harmful; and so, there is no smoking in my presence."

Stevenson tucks his pack away. He doesn't think an anti-tobacco attitude will serve Rommel well in the South, but the general has not come here to endear himself.

He has not come here at all, Stevenson suddenly realizes with ice in his heart. He was lured here, by the bombing. But lured by whom? And for what purpose?

Rommel has detected his abrupt stiffening. "Yes? There is something else?"

Stevenson wonders where his duty lies—as a Democrat, as an American, as a human being. Here is a man who tramples on the liberties of American citizens, who arrests without warrant, who executes without trial. And yet, the people he has come to chastise have deserved what he gives them. Indeed, the avowed League policy of "rebuilding a multiethnic society" is more than they deserve. When Rommel presses him, he says only, "You may be in danger here."

The general is interested, but not surprised. Over the years, he has been in a number of unsafe places: Minsk, Bataan, Okinawa; as a young man in his twenties, in the shell-churned abattoir of the Western Front. Very little can frighten him.

And what does Stevenson have to frighten him with? A sudden, icy feeling in the gut that everything up to now has been a setup for something yet to come. The incident at the checkpoint; the meetings with Sparkman, with Wallace, with King; the rumors, the car bomb, Rommel's arrival. But to whose advantage? There is a devious mind at work. Wallace? He lacks the subtle touch. King? Rommel has come to protect King's people—but Rommel has come also to disarm them.

In the end, Stevenson mouths platitudes about safety and the breakdown of civil order.

Rommel's smile is a wolf's smile. "It is to remedy this breakdown of your civil order that I am come."

A growing noise outside the building forestalls any reply—which is good, because Stevenson has none. Only that the League is gasoline thrown on smoldering embers; that the United States could have handled things, given time. The trends had been good; lynchings had been on the decline. If only Black had been more assertive, and less defensive of "states' rights." If only the northern machines had leaned harder on their southern colleagues. If only Wilson had not made casual bigotry so fashionable with his praise for Birth of a Nation. 

If only. Stevenson sighs.

People outside begin hooting. Looking out the window, he sees a bus escorted by a company of soldiers. There is a banner on the side of the bus: We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser. If it is meant to reassure the whites of Selma, it fails. People hurl catcalls at the bus. They shake their fists. Some stones are thrown, but when the soldiers cock their rifles and level them at the crowd, the locals disperse, muttering. They know the Germans will fire if pushed. Stevenson sees the darkies through the windows of the bus, eyes white and wide as saucers. They are unarmed and they know it. The unwelcoming crowd is supposed to be disarmed too, but no one can believe that.

Rommel has joined him by the window. "Brave men," Stevenson tells him.

"They are soldiers doing their duty."

Stevenson watches the bus out of sight. "I wasn't thinking of the soldiers." When they turn away, Stevenson asks bleakly, "What's the point, general? Too much blood has been spilled for them to live in their old neighborhoods again. Neither side can pretend the clearings never happened."

Rommel shrugs. "I am only following orders. The World Court mandated this busing. So long as my troops are here, your rednecks dare not make trouble."

"But your troops can't stay forever. Once they're gone, those people will go for each other's throats."

Rommel purses his lips, disliking the futility of his mission. "There is too much history here," he answers. "We do what we can, while we can. Yet, somehow, there must be a final solution to the redneck problem."

"What?" Stevenson asks sardonically. "Kill them all?"

Rommel makes no reply for a moment and Stevenson's heart freezes as, once again, the wind brings the odors of dead fires from the ruins of Darktown. Then the general shakes his head—though with how much reluctance Stevenson dares not guess.

* * *

Outside his hotel, a woman stops him with a hand on his sleeve. He sees red-rimmed eyes, makeup hastily applied, hair not quite in place. "They say you're an important man," she says. "A senator from up north."

Stevenson inclines his head. He does not deny it.

"You can tell them they're making a mistake, making a terrible mistake. They'll listen to an important man like you. Tell them they've made a mistake." Her voice grieves; her eyes plead.

Stevenson lays his hand over hers. "Tell who? What mistake?"

"My husband!" the distraught woman says. "They've taken my husband to the camp."

He understands now, and nods. "It's their policy," he says, "when any of their soldiers are killed by terrorists."

"But Leroy had nothin' to do with that! He's a good man, a decent man. God-fearing. He never had no truck with the coloreds—they kept to their side of town and we kept to ours—but he never wished them no harm."

Over her shoulder and down at the end of the street, across the railroad tracks, stand the cold embers of Darktown. The distant sound of hammers and saws echoes in the still, muggy air. Rebuilding—with hope or fatalism? "He wasn't one of the mob?" Stevenson says harshly. "Not one of those who fired those houses over there and shot the people who tried to run out of the blazing buildings?"

The woman backs away from him. "No, he never. Even if some of the coloreds was helpin' out the SCLC like folks said, they was only a few. Most coloreds are good folks. Leroy, he said they should just arrest the troublemakers and leave the good ones alone. The night they— The night they— The night the fire broke out, he stood by the parlor window, cussin' and sayin' how they'd bring the Huns in for sure."

"But he didn't do anything to stop them."

She flinches at the accusation in his voice, but snaps in desperation. "What did you want him to do? One man? They'd call him a 'kraut-kisser' and a 'nigger-lover' and maybe burn our home down, too. But he never burned nobody, never shot nobody, never rode out at night."

No, Stevenson thinks sadly, he only stood by while others did. He understands, finally, the message in Revelation. Ye runneth neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. Therefore, I spew ye forth from my mouth. The devil gets his due, but those who will not choose sides get nothing but contempt. He remembers King's words about how men are measured.

Yet, such a sentiment might itself be too easy. When standing up means to risk everything—wife, home, life itself—how many would sit by in quiet impotence? The Northern bosses loathe the barbarism in the South. Their graft is impartial; green is the only color that matters. But in the end they had held Party unity more dear, so who is Adlai Stevenson to judge Leroy? He looks over his shoulder to the German HQ and thinks how evil may be done even in a good cause, and not only by Erwin Rommel. Stevenson knows he ought to do something for Leroy, if only because the poor son of a bitch is the closest thing to a liberal the town has.

* * *

Stevenson counts himself wise for promising nothing, but he needs most of the Old Crow before he can accept the truth. There is no time to call Daley for instructions; and the phones would be tapped in any case. Stevenson sits at the desk in his room and scrawls a note on the hotel's stationery, informing Rommel about Wallace and King. "Rigorous questioning" at the barbershop will reveal Wallace's whereabouts, he writes. King is hiding in Selma's Darktown, but might be lured out to meet with Rommel, who is a nominal ally.

Rommel, with a German's obsession for legal literalism, will try to arrest King for theft of contraband and King, just as certainly, will resist. Wallace, his head stuffed with Southern irredentism, will never surrender either. But by making clear to them the common enemy, Stevenson might yet engineer the alliance he seeks. Martyrs do wonders for unity; the brotherhood of death can weld hostile factions together.

He calls the front desk and has a runner sent up. When the boy knocks—it is the same wavy-haired, swivel-hipped lad he used before—Stevenson hands him another cartwheel and a sealed envelope. He tells him the message is a plea to release some innocent hostages and that he should take it to Rommel immediately. The boy runs for the stairwell. Stevenson closes the door behind him and returns to the bottle of Old Crow.

Everybody does it, he tells himself.

All's fair, he tells himself.

Wallace and King are both bushwacking killers, he tells himself.

It's for the greater good, he tells himself.

It will unite the factions, he tells himself.

Finally, he can stand the sound of his own voice no longer. And besides, the bottle is empty. So he walks with careful, deliberate steps down to the lobby, where he enters the barroom and orders another bourbon.

"You look like you've had enough," the bartender reproves him. He has jowls like a basset hound, darkened now by five o'clock shadow. His dark eyes flash under lowered brows.

Stevenson surveys an empty room. The bar has not so much business that the man can afford to turn customers away. Stevenson says so, and loudly; so the bartender shrugs and pours the drink. Stevenson suspects it is watered.

His hand shaking, Stevenson lifts the glass to his lips; but the sudden roar of trucks past the window causes him to jerk and the glass drops and rolls across the bar top, leaving a glistening pool of liquor in its wake. Stevenson turns in time to see a troop truck turn the corner in the direction of the barbershop. Elite storm troopers in Prussian blue face each other ramrod straight on two benches in the back. They look neither left nor right and might have been cast from steel.

When Stevenson turns his back to the sight, the bartender has replaced the spilled drink. "I'd hold on to this one tight, if I were you," he advises.

Stevenson's mind is a haze. "Why?"

The bartender nods in the direction the troop truck has gone. "Shooting should start . . . about now."

As if awaiting that very cue, the distant pop of rifles comes faintly through the window. Stevenson squints at the bartender. A thought lurks in the back of his mind, but it will not come clear. Shortly, the messenger boy dashes into the barroom, grabbing the doorjamb to stop himself. He pants for breath a moment before blurting out, "They's holed up in the high school. Ol' Wallace, he's barracaded hisself in the schoolhouse door. The Hun's got 'im treed."

The bartender shakes his head. "He's facing a platoon of the Regiment Groszherzogthum Baden. That's the gang that hit the beaches on Honshu. I doubt the high school is as impregnable as Tojo's fortress. What do you say, Stevenson? About fifteen minutes and it's over?"

Stevenson raises a shaky finger. "You. You're Tricky Dick."

The man smiles a devil's smile, but does not deny it.

"What are you doing here?"

"Everyone has to be somewhere." The guerilla leader is relaxed and confident, yet his gaze shifts constantly and he never looks Stevenson directly in the eye. Stevenson sets his glass softly on the bar top. What better place to sift for information than in a bar. A man will tell his bartender things he conceals from his wife.

"You've been behind all of this."

"Me?" The affect of great surprise. "Behind all of what?"

"Everything! The bombing . . . Rommel coming to town . . ."

Tricky Dick laughs. "You think I order provost-generals around?"

"You didn't order him. You lured him."

Dick's grin broadens into a smile. "I thought Wallace's attack on the guard shack brought Rommel here."

"And why did Wallace attack the guard shack? He's hot-tempered, but he's not stupid."

"Jury's still out on that. But if I have to guess, I would say the rumors about the guard threatening the baby and assaulting the wife must have outraged him beyond reason."

If he has to guess. . . . Tricky Dick is as convoluted as a snake. A master manipulator. "And who spread the rumors?"

Tricky Dick pulls out a bar rag and begins wiping the counter top. "It's funny," he says. "When a man believes the worst of someone, he'll credit anything bad he hears. He won't even stop to ask if it makes sense or not. That's a man's weak spot. We all have one: King, Rommel, you . . . Wallace thought the Germans were the devil's spawn, profaning . . ." And here Tricky Dick places a solemn hand over his heart. " . . . the sacred heartland of the Southern people. You could have told him that the expletive-deleted Huns ate Belgian babies or burned people in ovens and he would believe it. He didn't need me to feed him rumors."

Stevenson has actually begun to admire Tricky Dick's lies. There is an artistry to them that excites respect. He is a master of prevarication. Never so uncouth as a straightforward, bald-faced fabrication, his lies are fashioned by intaglio, the lie lying in what is not said, questions answered by the manner in which they are dodged.

"I know it was you who told King to steal the contraband weapons."

A shrug of dismissal. "That's always been his strategy. All I passed on was when and where an opportunity lay. Like I said, if you tell people what they want to hear, they're more likely to act on it."

"They say you have the greatest tactical mind since General Miles or General Crook."

Tricky Dick dips his head modestly. "Well, I am not a Miles."

Maybe not, Stevenson muses. More like Machiavelli than a military man. Tricky Dick's genius lay in scheme, not rifles in the field. His band of operatives—known as "The Plumbers," because they worked to "plunge the crap out"—was probably a small, tight-knit band. Had to be, for the man to be seen so little when sought so much. "How'd you get Wallace to barricade himself in the schoolhouse?"

Dick has been polishing the bar top. He looks up, sees Stevenson's knowing, just-us-chickens smile. He folds the rag and tucks it in his apron cord. "Ol' George, he's a Romantic. What he sees in his mind are the heroic poses, the grand speeches; not the bayonet sliding into the gut, not the slugs ripping and tearing the flesh and splintering the bones. So, a bunch of them were in here yesterday, griping like they always do; and Wallace compares the way he's standing up to the Hun to the way Washington and them stood up to the Brits. So, I told him about the heroic stand the Irish made in Dublin back about the end of the Great War. It really inspired him."

"The Brits stomped the Irish good," Stevenson points out. "Those that weren't killed were executed."

The Dick wags a finger. "Ah, but it led to the revolution and the Republic. The inspirational value of martyrs," he adds with a wink. "Ol' George really thinks his heroic stand will inspire others to follow him."

"Like Custer."

Tricky Dick shrugs. "It really is inspiring, you know. If Wallace and his cause weren't a bucket of expletives deleted, it might be even viewed as a noble sacrifice. A man capable of such an act is capable of redemption—if the world allows his heart the time to change."

Stevenson has been memorizing Tricky Dick's face so he can describe it to Daley's police artists. The Dick's greatest asset until now has been his invisibility. A man can be hard to find when no one knows what he looks like. Even Dick's last name or his native state are unknown. It is part of his mystique. Revealing himself to Stevenson is a major misstep; but if every man has a weakness, Dick's lies in his own cleverness. It is not always what a man believes of others that makes him vulnerable, but often what he believes of himself. Pleased with his own cleverness, the guerilla leader has succumbed to the desire to preen before a mind capable of appreciating that cleverness.

"What I don't understand . . ." Stevenson leans over the bar and taps it with a stiff forefinger. " . . . is what you hope to accomplish. As far as I can tell, you're just making things worse by stirring the pot." By pushing the pride button, Stevenson hopes to elicit some careless revelations.

Tricky Dick takes Stevenson's now-empty glass and dunks it in a sink full of dishwater. "I have a plan," he confides. "A secret plan to end the Situation." He wipes his hands on a bar towel, then turns on a small radio on a shelf on the back wall. In a few minutes, the tubes have warmed up and he twists the tuner to put the receiver back on frequency. Stevenson catches a brief moment of "hepcat jive" in four-part harmony before the radio settles on a fainter, more distant signal playing nondescript dance tunes.

The sound of the radio makes Stevenson aware that the distant gunfire has fallen silent. When his head cocks, Tricky Dick makes a show of checking his watch. "Seventeen minutes," he says with some satisfaction. "A little longer than I expected, but Elvis will be back soon with a battle report."

Stevenson forms a plan. The Germans are just as anxious to lay hold of Tricky Dick as the Democrats. His raids and sabotage have come down hard on Wallace's supporters, and occasionally have frustrated King's dreams of vengeance; but his mere existence is an affront to the German sense of Law and Order. Alles in Ordnung is the most satisfied remark a German can make. German lovers tell each other that after sex.

The masterstroke slowly comes clear through the bourbon haze. A way to discomfit the League, please the Sparkman-Bankhead faction, neutralize Tricky Dick, mollify the factions he means to unite by showing them another common enemy.

Stevenson excuses himself and weaves his way to the jakes, where he takes care of business before stopping at the writing stand in the lobby on his way back and scribbling a hasty note: Tricky Dick is the bartender at the Stonewall Hotel. He places it in an envelope and seals the envelope with his tongue.

Then he pauses under the weight of a great sadness. In many ways, he and Tricky Dick are brothers, sharing a single vision. Outrage over the racial clearings; and distrust of Wallace's ability to control them. Sympathy for King's people; but not for vengeance and retribution. Satisfaction that the Germans have brought justice; but fierce anger at the violation of sovreignty. Had the dice rolled another way, he thinks, it might be "Agile Adlai," the "fighting perfesser," out there exacerbating the Situation while "Senator Richard" desperately seeks to bring the factions together.

Young Elvis comes dashing back in, breathless with news of the battle. Stevenson stops him and hands him the message. "Take this to Rommel. Quick. I forgot to tell him something earlier."

But the lad is not to be deflected. "I gotta tell the Man," he says. "You shoulda seen it! Ol' Wallace, he took a slug right in the spine. You shoulda seen him twist and shout before the Dutchies tied him into a stretcher and carried him out. That poor sumbitch'll be in a wheelchair for sure—if the Dutchies don't hang him first." And with that, he ran into the barroom to tell Tricky Dick.

And Stevenson ran into the lavatory, where he puked his guts into a stained and smelly toilet. One rolling heave followed another until he was dry and his stomach was a shriveled cramp within him. Afterward he leaned on the sink to steady himself, taking long, slow breaths. He stared at the reflection in the mirror, wondering who the bastard staring back was to have so calmly written other men's death warrants.

It's the times, he tells himself. Had the Situation not happened, he would have been a different man; just as King or Wallace or Tricky Dick. A better man, he hopes; something more than a hireling of Boss Daley. The Party needs a strong leader, who can tame both the machines and the Southern families. Franklin had had that dream—of welding the Party into a single, coordinated, national force. But the Great Panic had put paid to those dreams; and shortly after, the polio made running for office unthinkable.

Nuts. You play the hand you're dealt. Stevenson turns on the faucet and cups the water in his hands to rinse his mouth. He spits into the sink several times, but the sour taste does not leave his tongue.

Returning to the barroom, he sees that the boy has gone to run his errand. Shortly, the Germans will be coming to seize Tricky Dick. Best not to be here when that happens. "I'm calling it a night," he says, but the barman waves him over.

"Not without signing your tab, you're not." He shoves a paper at Stevenson and Stevenson scrawls his signature at the bottom. As he turns to go, the music on the radio cuts off abruptly and a faint, scratchy voice begins to speak.

"This just off our wire services: A major gun battle has developed in the town of Selma, Alabama, between a right-wing militia group apparently led by the state's attorney general, George Wallace, and the German peacekeepers. Details are not yet clear, but casualties are said to be heavy. More news as it develops. On a personal note, let me say that never have two combatants so deserved each other. Self-appointed partisans impatient with the considered wisdom of our leaders in Washington versus merciless militarists who came to bring justice to the oppressed, but did so with such callous brutality that people are apt to forget the true victims. All I can say is, 'There they go again.' This is Dutch Reagan for CBS News Radio."

The music returns and Tricky Dick laughs as he turns the knob off. "I get a hoot out of that guy. You ever catch his a.m. TV show, Morning in America? Someone has to uphold liberalism in this country against the corrupt machines, the racists, the goose-steppers. . . . Hey . . . !" He looks down at his feet, puzzlement on his face. "I'll be . . . Come back here a second and look at this. What do you make of it?"

Stevenson grimaces and staggers around the end of the bar. "What?" Tricky Dick points to the sink, but when Stevenson leans his hands against the edge he suddenly finds them bound by handcuffs. "What the hell?" He yanks and pulls, but the cuffs are fastened to solid brackets. They clack and rattle. "What is this?" Puzzlement has not yet given way to irritation. His mind, awash in bourbon, has not yet grasped the situation.

"There he goes." Tricky Dick points to the outside window and Stevenson looks up to see Rommel's car speed by. "Going off to round up King, I suppose."

Stevenson jerks his head around to look at the man, who is now untying his apron. "How do you know that?"

Dick's smile is pure venom. "Because you sold him out just to have a martyr, you expletive deleted. You don't think my boys will carry messages without showing them to me first, do you? Or that you can say anything in your room that I don't tape record? I keep tapes of everything. I know what you discussed with Sparkman, and with Wallace, and even out back in the alley with King. And it's all for nothing. When people see how you sold everyone out to everyone else, any hope of Democrat unity will vanish for a generation."

"How would they know I—"

"Your note to Rommel, you fool."

"I didn't sign it."

Tricky Dick holds up a sheet of paper. "You just did, right here, a few minutes ago. We copied your note and kept the original. Just the sort of thing to send Dutch, so he can show the whole country on TV. They may join forces, like you thought. It's a long shot, but if they do, they'll join with us. They'll join with the progressive party of Lincoln and TR and LaFollette and Warren, not the Party of their betrayer." He steps behind Stevenson and decks the apron over him, tying it up in back. Then he tucks the bar rag in the cord. "There," he says in satisfied tones. "Now you look like a genuine bartender." He opens a cabinet underneath the liquor rack and mirror. Stevenson feels a cool draft and, twisting to look over his shoulder, sees that the cabinet is really a stairwell to the storage basement.

The Dick looks at his watch. "You thought you could come down here," he says with some heat, "and meet with me and manipulate me like you did the others. You thought you could kick me around. Well, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. You won't have ol' Dick to kick around much longer."

An explosion rattles the entire barroom. Stevenson feels the floor beneath him shrug. The window on the street cracks. There is a moment of total silence, then the screams begin. A man runs past the window. His shirt is torn and his glasses are shattered. Blood runs from cuts on his scalp. Stevenson turns horrified eyes on his captor.

"That was the bomb we planted under a manhole cover," The Dick says. "My boy Elvis set it off by radio when Rommel's car passed over it."

"Rommel . . ." Stevenson's soul turns to ice. The man is a hero of the Second Reich, idolized by his troops. He tries to imagine what retribution the Germans will take over this latest atrocity. His eyes lock again on Tricky Dick, who has climbed halfway down the ladder to the basement.

"You!" Stevenson gropes for truth, finds a shard of it. "You're no better than me. You talk about betrayal . . . But you passed my note on to Rommel. You're as responsible as I am. And your manhole bomb must have killed bystanders. And Rommel . . . How many hostages will they round up and shoot over this?"

The guerilla leader laughs. "Enough," he predicts, "that the British and French will turn against them." He grasps the door handle, ready to pull it down over him. "You think too small, Stevenson. You want martyrs to unite the country? The Germans will oblige." Then the door closes and the latch turns from the other side.

Tricky Dick is the bartender at the Stonewall Hotel.

Frantic, Stevenson rehearses what he will say when they come for him. "Freunde! Freunde! Nicht shieße! Ich heiße Stevenson; nicht der 'Tricky Dick'!" And yet, it was a note from Stevenson that lured Rommel into his fatal ride. It is diabolical, the way the Dick has boxed him in.

There are two fascinating details he notices when the storm troopers burst into the barroom screaming, "Hände hoch! Hände hoch!"

The first is that these tough, pitiless men, whose bootheels have pressed the streets of Moscow and Tokyo, have tears streaming down their cheeks.

The second is that, when he tries to raise his hands, the rattle of his chains sounds remarkably like the cocking of a pistol.


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