APRIL 17th, 1965, the blackest day in the history of North America, started like any other day for Billy Justin. Thirty-seven years old, once a free-lance commercial artist, a pensioned veteran of Korea, he was now a dairy farmer, and had been during the three years of the war. It was that, or be drafted to a road crew—with great luck, a factory bench.
He rose, therefore, at 5.15, shut off his alarm clock and went, bleary-eyed in bathrobe and slippers, to milk his eight cows. He hefted the milk cans to the platform for the pickup truck of t he Eastern Milkshed Administration and briefly considered washing out the milking machine and pails as he ought to. He then gave a disgusted look at his barn, his house, his fields the things that once were supposed to afford him a decent, dignified retirement and had become instead vampires of his leisure—and shambled back to bed.
At the more urbane hour of ten he really got up and had breakfast, including an illegal egg withheld from his quota. Over unspeakably synthetic coffee he consulted the electricity bulletin tacked to his kitchen wall and sourly muttered: “Goody.” Today was the day Chiunga County rural residents got four hours of juice 10.30 to 2.30.
The most important item was recharging his car battery. He vaguely understood that it ruined them to just stand when they were run down. St ill in bathrobe and slippers he went to his sagging garage, unbolted the corroded battery terminals and clipped on the leads from the trickle charger that hung on the wall. Not that four hours of trickle would do a lot of good, he reflected, but maybe he could scrounge some tractor gas somewhere. Old Man Croley down in the store at Norton was supposed to have an arrangement with the Liquid Fuels Administration tank-truck driver.
Ten-thirty struck while he was still in the garage; he saw the needle on the charger dial kick over hard and heard a buzz. So that was all right.
Quite a few lights were on in the house. The last allotment of juice had come in late afternoon and evening, which made considerably more sense than 10.30 to 2.30. Chiunga County, N. Y., he decided after reflection, was getting the short end as usual.
The radio, ancient and slow to warm up, boomed at him suddenly:
...bring you all in your time of trial and striving, The Hour of Faith. Beloved sisters and brethren, let us pray. Almighty Father ”
Justin said without rancor: “Amen,” and turned the dial to the other CONELRAD station. Early in the war that used to he one of the biggest of the nuisances: only two broadcast frequencies allowed instead of the old American free-for-all which would have guided bombers or missiles. With only two frequencies you had, of course, only two programs and frequently both of them stank. It was surprising how easily you forgot the early pique when Current Conservation went through and you rarely heard the programs.
He was pleased to find a newscast on the other channel.
“The Defense Department announced today that the fighting in Alberta continues to rage. Soviet units have penetrated to within three hundred yards of the American defense perimeter. Canadian armored forces are hammering at the flanks of their salient in a determined attack involving hundreds of Acheson tanks and 280-millimeter self-propelled cannon. The morale of our troops continues high and individual acts of heroism are too numerous to describe here.
“Figures released today indicate that the enemy on the home front is being as severely and as justly dealt with as the foreign invader to whom he pledges allegiance. A terse announcement from Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary included this report: ‘Civilians executed for treason during the six-month period just ending - 784.’ From this reporter to the FBI, a hearty ‘Well done!’
"The Attorney-General’s Office issued a grim and pointed warning today that the Harboring of Deserters Act means precisely what it says and will be enforced to the letter. The government will seek the death penalty against eighty-seven-year-old Mrs. Arthur Schwartz of Chicago who allegedly gave money and food to her grandson, Pte. William O. Temple, as he was passing through Chicago after deserting under fire from the United States Army. Temple, of course, was apprehended in Windsor, Ontario, on March 17 and shot.
“Good news for candy lovers! The Nonessential Foodstuffs Agency reports that a new substitute chocolate has passed testing and will soon be available to B-card holders at all groceries. It’s just two points for a big, big, half-ounce bar! From this reporter to the hard-working boys and girls of the NFA, a hearty ”
Justin, a little nauseated, snapped the set off. It was time to walk up to his mailbox anyway. He hoped to hitch a ride on into Norton with the postwoman. The connecting rod of his well pump had broken and he was getting sick of hoisting up his water with a bucket. Old Man Croley might have a rod or know somebody who’d make him one.
He dressed quickly and sloppily, and didn’t even think of shaving. “How are you fixed for blades?” wasn’t much of a joke by then. He puffed up the steep quarter mile to his box and leaned on it, scanning the winding black top to the north from which she would come. He understood that a new girl had been carrying the mail for ten days or so, and wondered what had happened to Mrs. Elkins--fat, friendly, unkempt Mrs. Elkins who couldn’t add and whose mailbox notes in connection with postage due and stamps and money orders purchased were marvels of illegibility and confusion. He hadn’t seen the new girl yet, nor had there been any occasion for notes between them.
DEEP in the cloudless blue sky to the north there was a sudden streak of white scribbled across heaven —condensation trail of a stratosphere guided missile. The wild jogs and jolts meant it was set for evasive action. Not very interested, he decided that it must be a Soviet job trying just once more for the optical and instrument shops of Corning, or possibly the fair-sized airforce base at Elmira. Launched, no doubt, from a Russian or Chinese carrier somewhere in the Atlantic. But as he watched Continental Air Defense came through again. It almost always did. Half a dozen thinner streaks of white soared vertically from nowhere, bracketed the bogey, and then there was a golden glint of light up there that meant “mission accomplished.” Those CAD girls were good, he appreciatively thought. Too bad about Hamilton and Pittsburgh, but they were green then.
He sighed with boredom and shaded his eyes to look down the black top again. What he saw made him blink incredulously. A kiddycar going faster than a kiddycar should—or a magnified roller skate—but with two flailing pistons—
The preposterous vehicle closed up to him and creaked to a stop, and was suddenly no longer preposterous. It was a neatly made three-wheel wagon steered by a tiller bar on the front wheel. The power was supplied by a man in khaki who alternately pushed two levers connected to a crankshaft which was also the rear axle of the cart. The man had no legs below his thighs.
He said cheerfully to Justin: “Need a farm hand, mister?”
Justin, manners completely forgotten, could only stare.
The man said: “I get around in this thing all right and it gives me shoulders like a bull. Be surprised what I can do. String fence, run a tractor if you’re lucky, ride a horse if you ain’t, milk, cut wood, housework—and besides, who else can you get, mister?”
He took out a hunk of dense, homemade bread and began to chew on it.
Justin said slowly: “I know what you mean, and I’d be very happy to hire you if I could, but I can’t. I’m just snake-hipping through the Farm-or-Fight Law with eight cows. I haven’t got pasture for more and I can’t buy grain, of course. There just isn’t work for another pair of hands or food for another mouth.”
“I see,” the man said agreeably. “There anybody around here who might take me on?”
“Try the Shiptons,” Justin said. “Down this road, third house on the left. It used to be white with green shutters. About two miles. They’re always moaning about they need help and can’t get it.”
“Thanks a lot, mister. I’ll call their bluff. Would you mind giving me a push off? This thing starts hard for all it runs good once it’s going.”
“Wait a minute,” Justin said almost angrily. “Do you have to do this? I mean, I tremendously admire your spirit, but damn it, the country’s supposed to see that you fellows don’t have to break your backs on a farm!”
“Spirit, hell,” the man grinned. “No offense, but you farmers just don’t know.”
“Isn’t your pension adequate? My God, it should be. For that.”
“It’s adequate,” the man said. “Three hundred a month—more’n I ever made in my life. But I got good and sick of the trouble collecting it. Skipped months, get somebody else’s cheque, get the cheque but they forgot to sign it. And when you get the right cheque with the right amount and signed right, you got four-five days wait at the bank standing in line. I figured it out and wrote ’em they could cut me to a hundred so long as they paid it in silver dollars. Got back a letter saying my bid for twenty-five gross of chrome-steel forgings was satisfactory and a contract letter would be forthcoming. I just figured things are pretty bad, they might get worse, and I want to be on a farm when they do, if they do. No offense, as I say, but you people don’t know how good you have it. No cholera up here for instance, is there?”
“Cholera? Good God, no!”
“There—you see? Mind pushing me off now, mister? It’s hot just sitting here.”
Justin pushed him off. He went twinkling down the road, left-hand-right-hand-left-hand-right. Cholera?
He hadn’t even asked the man where. New York? Boston? But he got the Sunday Times every week—
THE POSTWOMAN drove up in a battered ’54 Buick. She was young and pretty, and she was obviously scared stiff to find a strange unshaven man waiting for her at a stop.
“I’m Billy Justin,” he hastily explained through the window lowered a crack. “One of your best customers, even if I did forget to shave. Anything for me today?”
She poked his copy of the Times through the crack, smiled nervously and shifted preparatory to starting.
“Please,” he said, “I was wondering if you’d do me a considerable favor. Drive me in to Norton?”
“I was told not to,” she said. “Deserters, shirkers—you never know.”
“Ma’am,” he said, “I’m an honest dairyman, redeemed by the Farm-or-Fight Law from a life of lucrative shame as a commercial artist. All I have to offer is gratitude and my sincere assurance that I wouldn’t bother you if I could possibly make it there and back on foot in time for the milking.”
“Commercial artist?” she asked. “Well, I suppose it’s all right.” She smiled and opened the door.
It was four miles to Norton, with a stop at every farmhouse. It took an hour. He found out that her name was Betsy Cardew. She was twenty. She had been studying physics at Cornell, which exempted her from service except for RWOTC courses.
“Why not admit it?” she shrugged. “I flunked out. It was nonsense my tackling physics in the first place, but my father insisted. Well, he found out he couldn’t buy brains for me, so here I am.”
She seemed to regard “here”—in the driver’s seat of a rural free-delivery car, one of the cushiest jobs going—as a degrading, uncomfortable place.
He snapped his fingers. “Cardew,” he said. “T. C.?”
“That’s my pop.”
And that explained why Betsy wasn’t in the WAC or the CAD or a labor battalion sewing shirts for soldiers. T. C. Cardew lived in a colonial mansion on a hill, and he was a National Committeeman. He shopped in Scranton or New York but he owned the ground on which almost every store in Chiunga County stood.
“Betsy,” he said tentatively, “we haven’t known each other very long, but I have come to regard you with reverent affection. I feel toward you as a brother. Don’t you think it would be nice if Mr. T. C. Cardew adopted me to make it legal?”
She laughed sharply. “It’s nice to hear a joke again,” she said. “But frankly you wouldn’t like it. To be blunt, Mr. T. C. Cardew is a skunk. I had a nice mother once, but he divorced her.”
He was considerably embarrassed. After a pause he asked: “You been in any of the big cities lately? New York? Boston?”
“Boston last month. My plane from Ithaca got forced into the northbound traffic pattern and the pilot didn’t dare turn. We would’ve gone down on the CAD screen as a bogey, and wham! The ladies don’t ask questions first any more. Not since Hamilton and Pittsburgh.”
“How was Boston?”
“I just saw the airport. The usual thing—beggars, wounded, garbage in the streets. No flies—too early in the year.”
“I have a feeling that we in the country don’t know what’s going on outside our own little milk routes. I also have a feeling that the folks in Boston don’t know about the folks in New York and vice versa.”
“Mr. Justin, your feeling is well-grounded,” she said emphatically. “The big cities are hellholes because conditions have become absolutely unbearable and still people have to bear them. Did you know New York’s under martial law?”
“Yes. The 104th Division and the 33rd Armored Division are in town. They’re needed in Edmonton, hut they were yanked south to keep New York from going through with a secession election.”
He almost said something stupid (“I didn’t read about it in the Times”) but caught himself. She went on: “Of course; I shouldn’t he telling you the state secrets, but I’ve noticed at home that a state secret is something known to everybody who makes more than fifty thousand a year and to nobody who makes less. Don’t you feel rich now, Mr. Justin?”
“Filthy rich. Don’t worry, by the way. I won’t pass anything on to anybody.”
“Bless you, I know that! Your mail’s read, your phone’s monitored and your neighbors are probably itching to collect a bounty on you for turning you in as a D-or-S.” A D-or-S was a “disaffected or seditious person” — not quite a criminal and certainly not a full-fledged citizen. He usually found himself making camouflage nets behind barbed wire in Nevada, never fully realizing what had hit him.
“You’re a little rough on my neighbors. Nobody gets turned in around here for shooting off his mouth. It’s still a small corner of America.”
Insanely dangerous to be talking like that. Sometimes he hiked over to the truck farm of his friends the Bradens, also city exiles, and they had sessions into the small hours that cleared their minds of gripes intolerably accumulated like pus in a boil. Amy Braden’s powerful home-brew helped .. .
Rumble-rumble, they rolled over the Lehigh’s tracks at the Norton grade crossing; Croley’s store was dead ahead at the end of the short main street. Norton, New York, had a population of about sixty old people and no young ones. Since a few brief years of glory a century and a half ago as a major riverboat town on the Susquehanna it had been running down. But somehow Croley made a store there pay.
She parked neatly and handed him a big sheaf of mail. “Give these to the Great Stone Face,” she said, “I don’t like to look at him.”
“Thanks for the ride,” he said. “And the talk.”
She flashed a smile. “We must do it more often,” and drove away.
Immediately, thinking of his return trip, he canvassed the cars and wagons lined up before Croley’s. When he recognized Gus Feinblatt’s stake wagon drawn by Tony and Phony, the two big geldings, he knew he had it made. Gus was that fantastic rarity, a Jewish farmer, and he lived up the road from Justin.
The store was crowded, down to the tip of its ell. Everybody in Norton was there, standing packed in utter silence. Croley’s grim face swiveled toward him as he entered: then the storekeeper nodded at a freezer compartment where he could sit.
Justin wanted to yell: “What is this, a gag?”
Then the radio, high on a shelf, spoke. As it spoke Justin realized that it had been saying the same thing for possibly half an hour, over and over again but that people stayed and listened to it over and over again, numbly waiting for somebody to cry: “Hoax” or “Get away from that mike, you dirty Red” or anything but what it would say.
The radio said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” Then the inimitable voice, but weary, deathly weary. “My fellow Americans. Our armed forces have met with terrible defeat on land and at sea.
I have just been advised by General Fraley that he has unconditionally surrendered the Army of the Northwest to Generals Novikov and Feng. General Fraley said the only choice before him was surrender or the annihilation of his troops to the last man by overwhelmingly superior forces. History must judge the wisdom of his choice; here and now I can only say that his capitulation removes the last barrier to the southward advance of the armies of the Soviet Union and the Chinese People’s Republic.
“My fellow citizens, I must now tell you that for three months the United States has not possessed a fleet in being. It was destroyed in a great air-sea battle off the Azores, a battle whose results it was thought wisest to conceal temporarily.
“We are disarmed. We are defeated.
“I have by now formally communicated the capitulation of the United States of America to the USSR and the Chinese to our embassy in Switzerland where it will be handed to the Russian and Chinese embassies.
“As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States I now order all officers and enlisted men and women to cease fire. Maintain discipline, hold your ranks, but offer no opposition to the advance of the invading armies, for resistance would he a futile waste of lives—and an offense for which the invading armies might retaliate tenfold. You will soon be returned to your homes and families in an orderly demobilization. Until then, maintain discipline. You were a great fighting force, but you were outnumbered.
“To the civilians of the United States I also say maintain discipline. Your task is the harder, for it must be self-discipline. Keep order. Obey the laws of the land. Respect authority. Make no foolish demonstrations. Comfort yourselves so that our conquerors will respect us.
Beyond that, I have no advice to give. The terms of surrender will reach me in due course and will be immediately communicated to you. Until then, may God bless you all and stay you in this hour of trial.”
There was a long pause;, and the radio said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” “My fellow Americans. Our armed forces have met with . . .”
Justin looked around him incredulously and saw that most of them were silently crying.
ALONG about one o’clock people began to drift dazedly from the store to their homes in Norton, to talk in stunned whispers on the board sidewalk fronting the grocery. Old Man Croley turned the radio off when a girl’s voice said between replays of the surrender statement that there would be a new announcement broadcast at 9 p.m. for which electric current restrictions would be temporarily relaxed.
“’That’ll be the surrender terms,” Gus Feinblatt said to Justin.
“I guess so. Gus —what do you think?”
There were four thousand years of dark history in Feinblatt’s eyes. “I think the worst is yet to come, Billy.”
“You’ll get your kids back.”
“At such a price. I don’t know whether it’s worth it . . . Well, life goes on. Mr. Croley?”
The storekeeper looked up. He didn’t say “Yes?” or “What can I do for you?” He never did; he looked and he waited and he never called anybody by name. He wasn't an old-timer as old-timers went in Norton; he had come ten years ago from a grocery in Minnesota, and had used those ten years well. Justin knew he sold hardware, fencing, coal, fuel oil, fertilizer, feed and seed—in short, everything a farmer needed to earn his living—as well as groceries. Justin suspected that he also ran a small private bank which issued loans at illegal rates of interest. He did know that there were farmers who turned pale when Croley looked speculatively at them, and farm wives who cursed him behind his back. He was sixty-five, childless and married to an ailing thin woman who spent most of her time in the apartment above the store.
“Mr. Croley,” Gus said, “I might as well get my feed. My wagon’s outside the storeroom.”
Croley put out his hand and waited, Gus laid twenty-seven dollars in it, and still the hand was out, waiting. “Coupons?” Gus asked wryly.
“You heard him,” Croley said. (After a moment you figured out that “him” was the President, who had said that civilians were to continue as before, maintaining order.) Gus tore ration coupons out of his F book and laid them on the money. The hand was withdrawn and Croley stumped outside to unlock the storeroom door and stand by, watching, as Feinblatt and Justin loaded sacks of feed onto the stake wagon. When the last one went bump on the bed he relocked the door, turned and went back into his grocery.
“Gus,” Justin said, “would you mind waiting a minute? I want to see if Croley happens to have a pump rod for me and then I’d like to bum a ride home from you.”
“Glad to have your company,” Feinblatt said, politely abstracted.
Croley listened to Justin in silence, reached under his counter and banged a pump rod down in front of his customer. He snapped: “Twelve-fifty without hardware coupon. Three-fifty with.” The old skunk knew, of course, that Justin had used up his quarterly allotment of hardware coupons to fix his milker. Justin paid, red-faced with anger, and went out to climb alongside Feinblatt on the wagon. Gus clucked at the horses and they moved off.
Rumble-rumble over the Lehigh tracks and up Straw Hill Road, with Tony and Phony pulling hard on the stiff grade, the wagon wheels crashing into three years of unfixed chuck holes. Halfway up Feinblatt called “Whoa” and fixed the brake. “Rest ’em a little,” he said to Justin. “All they get’s hay, of course. Feed has to go to the cows. How’s your herd?”
“All right, I guess,” Justin said. “I wonder if I can let ’em go now? You want to buy them? I guess I don’t get drafted for a road gang now if I stop farming.”
“Think again,” Feinblatt said. “My guess is you better stick to exactly what you’ve been doing. Things are going to keep on this way for a while— maybe quite a while. You know about the postal service in the Civil War?” Feinblatt was the local Civil War fanatic; every community seemed to have one. They spent vacations touring the battlefields ecstatically, comparing the ground with the maps. They had particular heroes among the generals and they loved to guess at what would have happened if this successful raid had failed, if that disastrous skirmish had been a triumph.
“Lincoln called for volunteers,” Gus Feinblatt said impressively. “Carolina fired on Fort Sumter. The war was on. And yet for months there was no interruption of the U. S. Mail between the two countries. Inertia, you call it. So maybe even if there isn’t any war left to fight now, maybe even if the Reds kick the President and Congress out of Underground D.C., there will still be people on the state and local level to enforce drafting you for labor if you quit farming.” He released the brake and clucked to the horses. The bay geldings strained up the hill again.
“I guess you’re right,” Justin said reluctantly. “Things won’t be squared away for a long while. I guess after things get settled they replace government people with Reds, if they can find enough.” He laughed unpleasantly. “Wait and see what happens to that snake Croley then! If ever there was anybody who qualified in the Commie book as a dirty capitalist exploiter it’s our buddy down in Norton.”
Feinblatt shrugged. “He made his bed. When I think my boys were fighting for him ... !” He spat over the side of the wagon, his face flushed.
“What do you hear from them?” Justin hastily asked. He had stopped one in Korea, but was guiltily aware that there was a keener agony of war that he had never known—the father’s agony.
“Card from Daniel last week, infantry Replacement Training Center in Montana. He was just finishing his basic. We worked out a kind of code, so I know he was hoping they wouldn’t ship him north as a rifleman, but he thought they might. He was bucking for 75-millimetre recoilless gunner. It would have kept him on ice for another two weeks. From David not a word since he joined the 270th at Edmonton. I don’t know, Billy. I just don’t know. It’s over, sure, they’ll come back maybe, but I don’t know . . .”
There was little more talk from then on. “Here’s where I get off.” Justin said at last. “My best to Leah.” He swung down at his mailbox and limped down the steep hill to his house. May be able to get some decent shoes after things settle down, he thought bitterly. That'll be something.
IT STILL did not seem real. Obviously things were badly disorganized somewhere. The house lights kept going on and off; the phone rang his number now and then, but when he answered there was only the open-circuit hum of a broken line. He couldn’t call anybody himself. He had a useless electric clock on the mantel which told him that the electric service was going badly off the beam. He timed the second hand with his watch and discovered that the alternating current delivered to bis house was wobbling between 30 and 120 cycles per second instead of flowing at an even 60 per. A bomb at Niagara? Fighting for a power substation somewhere? Engineers quitting their posts in despair?
But the Eastern Milkshed Administration truck had picked up his milk cans while he was gone. He herded his cows into the barn, belatedly washed the milker and pails, and relieved their full udders once more. God alone knew whether the milk would ever reach (cholera-ridden?) New York City, but the mail would go through. The EMA truckdriver would report him if there were no cans to pick up and the administrative machinery of a nation that was no longer alive would grind him through the gears into a road-mending crew whether it mattered a damn or not.
Once during the afternoon somebody goofed at the local radio station which was rebroadcasting the message of capitulation. A woman’s voice screamed hysterically: “Rally, Americans! Fight the godless Reds! Fight them in the streets, from behind bushes, house to house—” And then, whoever she was, somebody dragged her away from the mike and said wearily: “We regret the interruption of our service due to circumstances beyond our control.” Then, again: “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”
"My fellow Americans. Our armed forces have met with . . .”
The current went off again, this time for an hour.
There was a calm, slow knock on the door. Through the kitchen window Justin recognized Mister, sometimes the Reverend Mister Sparhawk. Sparhawk happened to be the last man on earth whom he wanted to see at the moment. He also happened to be a man practically impossible to insult, completely impervious to hints, maddeningly certain of his righteousness.
Justin sighed and opened the door. “Come on in,” he told the lean old man. “Just, for God’s sake, don’t talk. Find something to eat and go away.” He opened his breadbox and retreated into the living room hoping he wouldn’t be pursued. Sparhawk was a ref, an Englishman. Justin was sick of refs, and so was everybody. The refs from the Baltic, the Balkans, Germany, France, England, Latin America he vaguely felt that they ought to have stayed in their countries and been exterminated instead of bothering Americans. English refs were the least obnoxious, they didn’t jabber, but Sparhawk . . .
The lean old man came into the living room eating bread and cheese. “Buck up, m’boy,” Sparhawk said cheerily. “All this is only a trial, you know. You should regard it as a magnificent opportunity. Here’s your chance to play the man, acquire merit and get a leg up on your next incarnation.”
“Oh, shut up,” Justin said.
“Natural reaction, very. I don’t blame you a bit, m’boy. But sober reflection on the great events of this day will show you their spiritual meaning. How else would you haughty Americans get the chance to humble yourselves and practice asceticism if there were no Red occupation?”
Justin studied Sparhawk’s neatly pressed garb, a collection of donated items in good repair. He snapped: “If you’re so damned ascetic why don’t you go around in a jockstrap like your beloved yogis?”
Sparhawk stiffened ever so slightly, “My dear young man,” he said, “anybody who wore only a loin cloth in your atrocious climate might or might not be a saint, but he’d certainly be a bloody fool. I see you’re in no mood for serious discussion, sir. I’ll bid you good day.”
“Good riddance,” Justin muttered, but only after Sparhawk had shouldered his rucksack again and was going down the kitchen steps.
AT ABOUT seven in the evening Justin decided to visit his friends the Bradens, a mile and a half up the battered road. He hadn’t seen much of them during the winter: his meagre gas allotment had been cut to zero in the general reduction of November, 1964. He had missed them personally, missed their offbeat chatter and Amy’s generously shared home-brew. The only other liquor in the area was a vicious grape brandy illegally distilled by old Mr. Konreid on Ash Hill Road. It put you under fast. The next morning you wished you could die.
Lew Braden had a weird profession. He was a maker of fine hand-laid papers for bookbinders and etchers. Before the war it was his custom to tour the country each summer in a battered Ford offering picayune prices to farm wives for their soft old linen tablecloths and napkins, washed thousands of times, worn to rags and stored thriftily in an attic trunk. He would finish his tour with bales of the inimitable material and spend the winter turning it, with the aid of simple tools, dexterity and a great deal of know-how, into inimitable special-purpose papers. The Braden watermark was internationally famous to about five hundred bookbinders and etchers —and he cleared perhaps three thousand dollars in an average year. It was, he often said nostalgically, a very easy buck. Under the Farm-or-Fight Law he and Amy had elected to start a piggery and truck farm for the reason that it required less effort than dairying or field crops. They turned out to be right. They had sailed through three years of war without much trouble, with time to read, paint, play violin-piano duets and drink. Justin, chained to the twice-daily milking and the niggling hygiene of the milk house, envied their good sense.
Good sense, he thought, picking his way around the chuck holes in the moonlit road maybe they can explain to me what the devil has happened and what happens next.
The countryside was winking on and off in the dusk like a Christmas tree. The Horbath farm up the hill, the Parry farm to the south with its big yard light, his own house behind him, alternately flared with lights in every window and then went out. He hoped the current would steady down by nine—time for “the further announcement.”
Lew Braden prudently called as he entered their dark yard: “Who’s there? I’ve got a shotgun!”
“It’s Justin,” he called back.
The yard light went on and stayed on. Braden studied him with mild perplexity. “Darned if you aren’t,” he said. “Come in, Billy. We were hoping somebody’d drop by. What’s going on with the lights and the phone?”
“You haven’t heard?”
“Obviously not. Come in and tell us about it, whatever it is. Nobody’s been by and the radio won’t go since Amy fixed it.”
The radio was indeed roaring unintelligibly on an end table.
“It’s over,” Justin said. “That’s what it’s all about. Fraley surrendered at Edmonton. The President capitulated through the embassies in Switzerland. They’ve been broadcasting it since noon. Let me see that damned radio. It sounds as if you just haven’t got it on a station.”
He pulled the chassis out of the plastic case and saw the trouble. The cord from the tuning-knob pulley to the variable condenser was slack instead of taut; the radio worked but you couldn’t tune it from the knob. He picked up a stub of pencil and shoved the condenser over to one of the CONELRAD stations.
“—in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States I now order all officers and enlisted men to cease fire. Maintain discipline, hold your ranks—”
They listened to it twice through and then turned it down. Between each of the replays now the woman’s voice announced that a further statement would be made at nine.
Lew and Amy were looking at each other. The expression on their faces was unreadable. At last Lew turned to Justin and said softly: “Don’t worry about a thing, Billy. You’re going to have to make a big readjustment in your thinking, but so will almost everybody. You’ll find out you’ve been fed a pack of lies. You’ll fight the truth at first, but finally we’ll prove to you . . .”
“We? Who’s we?” Justin demanded.
“Shut up, Lew,” Amy said briefly.
He turned his kindly, round, bespectacled face to her. “No, Amy. You too are having difficulty in readjusting. Conditions have changed now; we’re suddenly no longer conspirators but the voice and leadership of America. A new America.”
Guilelessly he turned again to Justin: “We’re Communists, Billy. Have been for twenty years. This is the grandest day of my life.”
Justin felt an impulse to back away. “You’re kidding. Or crazy!”
“Neither one, Billy. You see, this is the first of the readjustments you will have to make. You think a Communist must necessarily be a fiend, a savage, a foreigner. You couldn’t conceive of a Communist being a soft-spoken, reasonable, mannerly person. But Amy and I are, aren’t we. And we’re Communists. When I was on those linen-buying trips I was doubling as a courier. I was in the Party category you call ‘floaters’ then. Since the war I’ve been what you call a ‘sleeper.’ No conspiratorial activity, no connection with the activist branch. I have merely been under orders to hold myself in readiness for this day. I know who lives hereabouts, I know their sentiments. I am, I think, almost everybody’s friend. My job will be to educate the people of this area.
“You see? Your education is beginning already. There will be no brutal, foreign tyrants around here. There will be Amy and me—friends and neighbors, just the way we always were, explaining to you the new America.
“And what an America it will be! Freed from the shackles of capitalist exploitation and racial hatred! Purged of the warmongers who imposed a crushing armament burden on the workers and finally goaded the USSR and the Chinese into attacking! An America freed from bondage to ancient superstition!”
There were tears of joy in his eyes. Justin asked slowly: “Have you spied? Have you been traitors?”
Lew said with dignity:
“You’re thinking of cloak-and-dagger stuff, Billy. Assassination. Break open the locked drawer and steal the great atomic secret for godless Russia. Well, there was a little melodrama, but I never liked it. I’ve risked my life more than once and I was glad to. Amy and I were couriers in the Rosenbergs’ apparatus; drawings from Los Almos passed through our hands. It was only by a fluke that the FBI didn’t stumble onto us. If they had, I suppose we would have fried with the Rosenbergs. Gladly. For America, Billy. Because I did not spy against the people. I did not commit treason against the people.” Justin said: “Good night, Lew. Good night, Amy, I don’t know what to think . . .”
Lew said confidently to his back: “You’ll readjust. It’ll be all right. Don’t worry.”
HE WALKED home and found that the current was on again apparently for good. He climbed to the attic and brought down a half-full gallon of old Mr. Konreid’s popskull. He filled a tumbler and sipped at it until nine, when the radio said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary of State.”
“Fellow citizens, I have been ordered to communicate to you the Articles of Surrender which were signed in Washington, D.C., today by the President on behalf of the United States, by Marshal Ilya Novikov on behalf of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and by Marshal Feng Chu-Tsai on behalf of the Chinese People’s Republic.
“One. The United States surrenders without conditions to the Soviet Union and China. Acts of violence against troops of the Soviet Union and China on or after April 17, 1965, are recognized by the high contracting parties as criminal banditry and terrorism, subject to summary and condign punishment.
“Two. The high contracting parties recognize and admit the criminal guilt of the United States in provoking the late war and recognize and admit the principle that the United States is liable to the Soviet Union and China for indemnities in valuta and kind.
“Three. The high contracting parties recognize and admit the personal criminal war guilt of certain civilians and soldiers of the United States and recognize and admit that these persons are subject to condign punishment.”
The Secretary’s voice shook. “I have been further asked to announce that the central functions of the United States Federal Government were assumed today by Soviet Military Government Unit 101, which today arrived by air in Washington, D.C., under the escort of two Russian and two Chinese airborne divisions.
“I have been further asked to announce that under Article Three of the Articles of Surrender I read you, the President and Vice-President of the United States were shot to death at 8 p.m. by a mixed Russian and Chinese firing squad.”
That was all.
Justin’s hand was trembling so the raw brandy slopped over the tumbler’s edge.
APRIL 23, 1965, sixth day of the defeat . . .
Justin leaned on his mailbox waiting for Betsy Cardew, his morning chores behind him, and reflected that things had gone with amazing smoothness. Nor was there any particular reason why they shouldn’t. Soviet Military Government Unit 101 had certainly planned and practiced for twenty years. The Baltic states, the Balkans, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, West Germany, France, Italy, Spain and England -they had been priceless rehearsals for the main event.
And what a main event! Half the world’s steel, coal and oil. All the world’s free helium gas. Midwest grain, northwest timber and the magnificent road net to haul them to magnificent ports. Industrial New England, shabby streets and dingy factories, but in the dingy factories the world’s biggest assemblage of the world’s finest precision tools. Detroit! South Bend! Prizes that made all the loot of all the conquerors of history flashy junk. SMGU 101 would not let the plunder slip through its fingers. It was moving fast, moving smoothly.
For the greatest part of the loot, the part without which the materials would be worthless, consisted of 160 million Americans. They knew how to extract that steel, coal, oil and gas, harvest the grain, log the forests, drive the trucks, load the freighters, run the lathes and punch presses.
Betsy Cardew had yesterday delivered to him — and to everybody on her route—SMGU Announcement Number One. So G us Feinblatt was right. They turned over a carload of SMGU announcements to the Postmaster, D.C., with the note “one to each address” and it was automatic from there. The carload was broken down by regions, states, counties, towns, rural routes, and three days later everybody had one in his hand.
They hadn’t been using radio. When current was on, and it was on more and more frequently as the days went by, all you heard was light classical music, station breaks and the time.
The SMGU announcement didn’t come to much. It was simply a slanted recap of the military situation, larded with praise of General Fraley and his troops, expressing gentle regret that so many fine young men and women had been lost to both sides. As an afterthought it stated: “The nationalization of all fissionable material is hereby proclaimed, and all Americans are notified that they must turn in any private stores of uranium, thorium or plutonium, either elemental or combined, to the nearest representative of the USSR or China at once.”
Justin decided the first announcement must have been a test shot to find out how well the distribution would work. Its message certainly was pointless.
Betsy Cardew pulled up in the battered car. Lew and Amy Braden were in the back. She said: “No mail today, Billy. Do you want a ride in? Mr. and Mrs. Braden here were first, but there’s room.”
“Thanks,” he said, and got in. He couldn’t think of one word to say to his former friends, but they had no such trouble.
“I’ve been called to Chiunga Center,” Lew said importantly. Chiunga Center was the town thereabouts: twenty thousand people in a bend of the Susquehanna, served by the Lehigh and the Lackawanna. “Advance units have reached the town.”
“Yesterday,” Betsy said. “A regiment, I guess, in trucks. Very Gl, very Russian, very much on their good behavior. They’re barracked in the Junior High. They set up a mess tent on the campus and strung barbed wire. Nine o’clock curfew in town and patrols with tommy guns. So far, everything’s quiet. A couple of kids threw rocks.” She laughed abruptly. “I saw it. I thought the sergeant was going to cut them in half with his tommy gun but he didn’t. He took down their pants and spanked them.”
“Smart cooky,” Lew said gravely from the back of the car. “He played it exactly right.”
“So,” said Betsy, “there I am in the post-office sorting room busy sorting and in march six of them, polite as you please, and say through the window: ‘Ve vish to see the postmahster’ and old Flanahan comes tottering out ready to die like a man. So they hand him six letters. ‘Pliss to expedite delivery of these, Mr. Bostmahster,’ they say and salute him, and go away. And one of the letters is for Mr. and Mrs. Braden here and they won’t tell me what it’s all about, but they don’t look like a couple going to their doom and I’m too well-trained a postal employee to pry.”
Her flow of chatter was almost hysterical and Justin thought he knew why. It was the hysteria of relief, the discovery that The Awful Thing, the thing you dreaded above all else, has happened and isn’t too bad after all. Chiunga Center was occupied, taken, conquered, seized —and life went on after all, and you felt a little foolish over your earlier terror. The Russians were just GIs, and weren’t you a fool to think they had horns?
“You see?” Lew Braden said to nobody in particular.
“What I think,” Betsy chattered, “is that they’re just as dumb as any army men anywhere. You know what the first poster they stuck up said? Turn in your uranium and plutonium at once. The dopes! The second notice covered pistols, rifles, shotguns and bayonets. That touch of idiocy is almost cute. Bayonets!”
They had reached State Highway 19 and stopped; Norton lay dead ahead and Chiunga Center was fourteen miles to the right on the highway. A convoy of trucks marked with the red star was rolling westward at maybe thirty-five. They were clean, well-maintained trucks and they were full of Russian soldiers in Class A uniforms. They caught a snatch of mournful harmony and the rhythmic nasal drone of a concertina.
“My Lord!” Betsy said. “They really do sing all the time. And in minor fifths. I thought they were putting it on at the mess tent, impressing the Amerikanskis with their culture and soul, but there isn’t any audience here.”
The last of the convoy, a couple of slum-guns, field kitchens like any army’s field kitchens complete to the fat personnel, rolled past and Justin realized that they were waiting for him to get out and proceed on foot to Norton.
“Take it easy,” he said to the Bradens, and watched the car swing right and pick up highway speed. The Bradens were about to enter into their own peculiar version of the kingdom of heaven. He himself needed another pump rod. The one Croley sold him turned out to be a painted white-metal casting instead of rolled steel. It had, of course, snapped the first time he used it.
Perce, Croley’s literally half-witted assistant, waved gaily at him as he approached the store. Perce bubbled over: “Gee, you should of seen ’im, mister, I bet he was a general or maybe a major. Boy, he came right into the store and he looked just like anybody else on’y he was a Red ! Right into the store. Boy!”
Perce couldn’t get over the wonder of it, and Justin, examining himself, was not sure that he could either. When would this thing seem real? Maybe it seemed real in the big cities, but his worm’s-eye view frustrated his curiosity and sense of drama. It was like sitting behind a post in a theatre, only the play was The Decline and Fall of the United States of America. A Russian —a general or maybe a major—appeared and then disappeared. The local underground Reds were summoned to service—where and what? The convoy passed you on the road, to duty where?
CROLEY was tacking up a notice, a big one that covered his bulletin board, buried the ration-book notices, the draft-call notices, the buy-bonds poster. It said:
SOVIET MILITARY GOVERNMENT UNIT 449
Chiunga County, New York State Residents are advised that on and after April 23, 1965, the following temporary measures will be observed :
1. A curfew is established from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. All residents must be in their homes between these hours.
2. Fissionable material must be turned in to this command at once since uranium, thorium and plutonium have been declared nationalized and unlawful for any private person to bold.
3. All privately held pistols, rifles, shotguns and bayonets must be turned in to this command or representative. For the township of------this command’s representative is--——--. The weapons should be tagged with the owner’s name and address and will later be returned.
4. Violators of these measures will be subject to military trial and if found guilty liable to sixty days in jail.
S. P. Platoff Col., Commanding
Justin shook his head slowly. Sixty days! Was this the Red barbarian they had all been dreading? He seemed to bear Lew Braden saying again: “Smart cooky . . . exactly right.”
Croley had gone behind his counter for something, a price-marking crayon. He was filling in the blanks in Number 3. “For the township of NORTON this command’s representative is FLOYD C. CROLEY. The weapons should . . .”
Croley stepped back, looked for a moment at the black, neat printing, stuck the crayon behind his ear and turned to Justin, waiting and blank-faced.
Justin asked: “Since when have you represented the Red Army?”
Croley said: “He wanted a central place. Somebody steady.” And that was supposed to dispose of that. Okay, you skunk, Justin thought. Wait until my two traitorous friends blow the whistle on you. When the Bradens finish telling the Reds all about Floyd C. Croley, Floyd C. Croley will be very small potatoes around these parts, or possibly Siberia. And aloud: “You sold me a dog, Mr. Croley. Look at this crumby thing.”
He slapped down the two broken halves of the cheap, cast pump rod. Croley picked them up, turned them over in his hands and put them down again. “Never guaranteed it,” he said.
“For twelve-fifty it shouldn’t break on the first stroke, Mr. Croley. I need a pump rod and I insist on a replacement.”
Croley picked up the pieces again and examined them minutely. He said at last: “Allow you ten dollars on a fifteen-dollar rod. Steel. No coupons.”
And that, Justin realized, was as good a deal as he’d ever get from the old snake. Too disgusted to talk, he slapped down a ten-dollar bill. Croley took it, produced another rod and a queer-looking five-dollar bill in change. The portrait was of a hot-eyed young man identified by the little ribbon as John Reed. Instead of “The United States of America,” it said: “The North American People’s Democratic Republic.”
Justin's voice broke as he yelled: “What are you trying to put over, Croley? Give me a real bill, damn you !”
Croley shrugged patiently. A take-it-or-leave-it shrug. He condescended to explain: “He bought gas. It’s good enough for h'm, it’s good enough for me. Or you.” And turned away to fiddle with the rack in which he kept the credit books of his customers.
Speechless, Justin rammed the phony bill into his pocket, picked up the rod and walked away. As he opened the door the old man’s voice came sharply: “Justin.”
He turned. Croley said: “Watch your mouth, Justin.” He jerked his thumb at the announcement (“. . . representative is FLOYD C. CROLEY. The weapons . . .”). He went back to his credit books as Justin stared incredulously, torn between laughter and disgust.
He walked out and across the Lehigh tracks. Nobody seemed to be in town; he was in for a four-mile walk, mostly uphill, to his place. The cows would be milked late—he quickened his pace.
AT THE highway a couple of Russian soldiers beside a parked jeep were just finishing erecting a roadside sign—blue letters on white, steel backing, steel post, fired-enamel front. They hadn’t rushed that out in six days. That sign had been waiting in a Red Armywarehouse for this day, waiting perhaps twenty years. It said: CHECK POINT 200 YARDS AHEAD. ALL CIVILIAN VEHICLES STOP FOR INSPECTION. That would be the old truck-weighing station, reactivated as a roadblock.
The Russians were a corporal and a private, both of the tall, blond, Baltic type. They had a slung tommy gun apiece. He said: “Hi, boys.”
The private grinned, the corporal scowled and said: “ Nye ponimayoo. Not per-mitten.”
He wanted to say something witty and cutting, something about sourpusses, or the decadent plutocrat contaminating the pure proletarian, or how the corporal might make sergeant if his English were better. He looked at the tommy guns instead, shrugged and walked on. Yes, he was scared. With the vivid imagination of an artist he could see the slugs tearing him. So the rage against Croley festered still, and the taste of defeat was still sour in his mouth. And he still had four uphill miles to walk to milk those loathsome cows of his.
By nine that night he was thinking of starting to work on Mr. Konreid’s brandy. The current was on and, according to his electric clock, steady. He had lost the radio habit during the silent years. There was now apparently only one station on the air and it offered gems from Mademoiselle Modiste. He didn’t want them. He leafed over a few of his art books and found them dull. Somewhere in the attic a six-by-eight printing press and a font of type were stashed, but he didn’t feel like digging them out to play with. That had been one of the plans for his retirement. Old Mr. Justin would amuse himself by pottering with the press, turning out minuscule private editions of the shorter classics on Braden’s beautiful hand-laid paper. Maybe old Mr. Justin would clear expenses, maybe not . . .
But now he was too sick at heart to think of the shorter classics and Braden was much too busy securing his appointment as Commissar of Norton Township or something to contribute the beautiful paper.
The phone rang two longs, his call. It was a girl’s voice that he didn’t recognize at first.
“It’s Betsy,” she said with whispered urgency. “No names. Your two friends—remember this morning?”
Yes, yes. The Bradens. Well? “Yes, I remember.”
“In the basement of the school. The janitor saw the bodies before they took them away. They were shot. You knew them. I—I thought I ought to tell you. They must have been very brave. I never suspected . . .”
“Thanks,” he said. “Good-by,” and hung up.
Betsy thought the Bradens were some kind of heroic anti-Communists. Then he began to laugh, hysterically. He could reconstruct it perfectly. The Marshal said to the General: “The first thing we’ve got to do is get rid of the damn Red troublemakers.” And so it trickled down to “Pliss to expedite delivery of these, Mr. Postmahster,” and so the Bradens got their summons and, unsuspecting, were taken down cellar and shot because, as Braden knew, those Reds were very smart cookies indeed. They knew, from long experience, that you don’t want trained revolutionaries kicking around in a country you’ve just whipped, revolutionaries who know how to hide and subvert and betray, because all of a sudden you are stability and order, and trained revolutionaries are a menace.
No; what you wanted instead of revolutionaries were people like Croley.
He couldn’t stop laughing. When he thought of thousands of underground American Communists lying tonight in their own blood on thousands of cellar floors, when he thought of Floyd C. Croley, Hero of Soviet Labor, Servant of the North American People’s Democratic Republic, he couldn’t stop laughing.
APRIL 30 ...
The first of the spring rains had come and gone. They were broadcasting weather forecasts again, which was good. You noticed that forecasts east of the Mississippi were credited to the Red Air Force Meteorological Service. From the Mississippi to the Pacific it was through the courtesy of the Weather Organization of the Chinese People’s Republic. Apparently this meant that the two Communist powers had split the continent down the middle. China got more land, which it badly needed, and Russia got more machinery, which it badly needed. A very logical solution of an inevitable problem.
The Sunday Times had stopped coming, but Justin hardly missed it. He was a farmer, whether he liked it or not, and spring was his busy season. He had grudged time to attend the auction of the Bradens’ estate, but once there he had picked up some badly needed tools and six piglets. Croley, under whose general authority the auction was held, himself bought the house and twelve acres for an absurd eight hundred dollars. Nobody bid against him. but after the place was knocked down to him half a dozen farmers tried to rent it. They were thinking of their sons and daughters in the service who should be back very soon. Croley grudgingly allowed the Wehrweins to have the place at fifty dollars a month, cash or kind.
Justin was almost happy on the spring morning that was the fourteenth day of defeat. His future looked clear for the moment. The red clover was sprouting bravely in his west pasture; he’d be able to turn his cows out any day now and still have hay in reserve. Electric service was steady; he’d be able to run a single-strand electric fence instead of having to break his back repairing and tightening the wartime four-strand non-electric fences. The piglets looked promising; he anticipated an orgy of spareribs in the fall and all the ham, bacon and sausage he could eat through the winter. His two dozen bantams were gorging themselves on the bugs of spring and laying like mad; it meant all the eggs he wanted and plenty left over for the Eastern Milkshed Administration pickup. His vegetable garden was spaded and ready for seeding; his long years of weed chopping seemed to have suddenly paid off. There wasn’t a sign of plantain, burdock, or ironweed anywhere on his place.
At 10.30 the EMA truck ground to a stop at his roadside platform and even McGinty the driver was cheery with spring. He loaded the cans and handed Justin his monthly envelope—and stood by, grinning, waiting for Justin to open it. Justin understood the gag when a few of the new phony bills fluttered from the statement. He counted up $93 in Bill Haywood ones, John Reed fives and Lincoln Steffens tens. He didn’t give McGinty the satisfaction of seeing him blow his top. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t particularly upset. If everybody agreed that this stuff was money, then it was money. He I murmured: “Paying in cash now? I guess that means I sign a receipt.”
McGinty, bitterly disappointed, produced a receipt book and a stub of pencil. “You should of heard old lady Wehrwein,” he said reminiscently. Justin checked the statement (Apr. 1 — Apr. 15 a/c Justin WH, Norton Twp. Chiunga Cy., 31 cwt at $3, $93) and signed. McGinty’s truck rumbled on.
It was a miserably small two-week net for eight good Holsteins, but they were near the end of their lactation period; soon he’d have to arrange for freshening them again.
HE WAS planting onion sets and radish seed in his vegetable garden when Rawson came down the road— the legless veteran whom he had met on the day of defeat. Rawson turned up at the estate sale and he found out that he had indeed got work at the Shiptons’ farm, but for how long was anybody’s guess with the Shiptons’ three boys and two girls due for demobilization.
Rawson seemed to be in a hell of a hurry to get to him. Justin straightened up and met him at the road. “What’s up?”
“Plenty, Billy. Couple of Red Army boys over at the Shiptons’. One’s a farm expert, the other’s an interpreter. They’re going over the place with a fine-tooth comb. Boils down to this: the Shiptons have to turn out twenty-five percent more milk, ten percent more grain, and God knows what else. The old lady told me to pass the word around. Fake your books, hide one of your cows—whatever you can think of. Push me off, will you? I’ve got some more ground to cover.”
“Thanks,” Justin said thoughtfully, and pushed. The little cart went spinning down the road, Rawson pumping away. He called it “my musclemobile.”
Justin mechanically went back to his onion sets and radish seed, but the savor had gone out of the spring morning. He couldn’t think of one right, definite thing to do. He didn’t come from twenty generations of farmers consumately skilled at looking poor when they were rich. He didn’t know the thousand dodges farmers everywhere always used, almost instinctively, to cheat the tax man of his due for the Csar, the commissar, the Emperor, the Shereef, the zamindar, La République, the American Way of Life. Billy Justin, like a fool, kept books—and only one set of them. He was a sitting duck.
THE JEEP with the red star arrived in mid-afternoon while he was mending fence in the pasture with a sledge, block and tackle, nippers and pliers. In spite of his heavy gloves he had got a few rips from the rusted, snarled old wire. He was feeling savage. He heard them honk for him, deliberately finished driving a cedar post and then slowly strolled toward the road.
Two privates were in the front seat, chauffeur and armed guard, two officers in the back, a captain and a lieutenant. Both young, both sweating in too heavy wool dress uniforms with choker collars, both festooned with incomprehensible ribbons and decorations.
The lieutenant said, looking up from a typewritten list: “You’re Mr. William H. Justin, aren’t you?”
Justin gulped. To hear the flat, midwest American speech coming from this fellow in this uniform was a jolt. It made the whole thing seem like a fancy-dress party.
“Yes,” he said. And then, inevitably: “You speak English very well.”
“Thanks, Mr. Justin. I worked hard at it. I’m Lieut. Parelhoff of the 449th Military Government outfit. Translator. And this is Capt. Kirilov of the same command. He’s the head of our agronomy group.”
Kirilov, bored, jerked a nod at Justin.
“We’d like to look over your layout as part of a survey we’re running. I see you’re listed as primarily a dairy farmer, so let’s start with your cow barn and milk house.”
“Right this way,” Justin said flatly. Captain Kirilov knew his stuff. He scowled at the unwashed milker, felt the bags of the eight Holsteins, kicked disapprovingly at a rotten board. Through it all he directed a stream of Russian at Parelhoff who nodded and took notes. Once the captain got angry. He was burrowing through the corn crib and found rat droppings. He shook them under Justin’s nose and yelled at him. After he disgustedly cast them aside and wiped his hands on a corn shuck the lieutenant said in an undertone: “He was explaining that rodents are intolerable on a well-run farm, that grain should be raised for the people and not for parasites.”
“Uh-huh,” Justin said.
When the captain came across the six piglets he was delighted. Parelhoff said: “The captain is pleased that there are six. He says, ‘At last I see the famous American principle of mass production. Our peasants at home wastefully indulge in roast-pig feasts instead of letting all the young grow to maturity.”
Finally the captain snapped something definite and final, left the barn and headed for the jeep.
Parelhoff said: “Captain Kirilov establishes your norm at twenty hundred weight of milk per week. Do you understand what that means?”
“I know what twenty hundred weight of milk is. I don’t know what a norm is.”
“It is your quota. If you fall below twenty hundred weight per week consistently, or if your production fails to average out to that, you will be subject to review.”
Parelhoff started to turn away.
“Lieutenant, what does ‘review’ mean?”
“Your farming techniques will be studied. If you need a short course to improve your efficiency, you’ll be given an opportunity to take it. We’re organizing them up at Cornell. Or it may turn out that you’re just temperamentally unsuited to farming. In that case we may have to look for a slot where you’ll function more efficiently.”
“Road gang?” Justin asked quietly.
Parelhoff was embarrassed. “Please don’t be truculent, Mr. Justin. Why should we put an intelligent person like you on a road gang? Now, please, come along to the jeep. Military Intelligence drafted us for another survey they’re running. It’ll only take a moment.”
Justin managed to conceal his relief. He could manage twenty hundred weight a week very easily. Just a little more care to the herd’s diet, get that rock-salt brick he’d been letting slide, promise the Shiptons a hog in the fall for some of their hoarded cottonseed cake. It would be a breeze, and Rawson had been unduly alarmed. But farmers had this habit of screaming bloody murder at the least little thing ... he hated to admit it, but the redstar boys were being more than fair about it. He had drifted into sloppy farming.
At the jeep again Parelhoff got out some papers and said: “Now, Mr. Justin, this is official. First, do you have any uranium, thorium or other fissionable material?”
Astounded, Justin said: “Of course not."
“A simple ‘No’ is sufficient. Sign here, please.” He held out one of the papers, his finger indicating the space. Justin read; it was simply a repeat of the statement that he did not have any fissionable materials in his possession. He signed with the lieutenant’s pen.
“Thank you. Do you know of any fissionable material that is held by any private parties? Sign here. Thank you. Would you recognize fissionable material if you saw it?”
“I don’t think so, lieutenant.”
"Very well, then. Please pay attention. Refined uranium, thorium and plutonium look like lead, but are heavier. A spherical piece of uranium weighing fifty pounds, for instance, would be no larger than a softball. Please sign here—it is a simple statement that I have described the appearance of fissionable materials to you. Thank you. Now, would you recognize the components of an atomic bomb if you saw them?”
“Very well then. Please pay attention. An atomic bomb is simply a fifty-pound mass of plutonium or uranium 235. Before exploding it consists of two or more pieces. These pieces are slammed together fast and the bomb then explodes. The slamming can be done by placing two pieces at opposite ends of a gun barrel and then blowing them together so they meet in the middle. Or it can be done by placing several chunks of plutonium on the inside of a sphere and then exploding what are called ‘shaped charges’ so the chunks are driven together into one mass and the atomic bomb proper explodes. Do you understand? Then sign here.
“Now, our Military Intelligence people would like you to swear or affirm that you will immediately report any evidence of fissionable material or atomic-bomb parts in private hands which you may encounter. Do you so swear?”
“I do,” Justin said automatically. Parelhoff had for a moment grinned wryly—and there had been a sardonic inflection on “Military Intelligence.” Hell, no doubt about it—all armies were pretty much alike. Here these two serious people were going about the serious business of stabilizing the country’s food supply and some brass hat got a bright idea: saddle them with another job, even if it’s a crackpot search for A-bombs in Chiunga County.
He signed. Parelhoff handed over a poster, a hastily printed job with hastily drawn line cuts. “Please put this up somewhere in your house, Mr. Justin, and that will be that. Good afternoon.”
He spoke to the captain in Russian, the captain spoke to the chauffeur and away they drove.
Justin studied the poster; it conveyed the same information Parelhoff had given him. Atomic bombs! He snorted and went back to his fence mending.
YES, IT seemed the Reds were determined to be firm but fair. Betsy told him there had been a near rape in Chiunga Center one night last week. By the next morning the attacker had been tried, found guilty and shot against the handball court of the junior high school—a beetle-browed corporal from some Eastern province of the USSR. It hadn’t healed the girl, but at least it showed that the Reds were being mighty touchy about their honor.
He chuckled suddenly. Without recording the fact, he had noticed that all four of the soldiers in the jeep had wrist watches, good, big chronometer jobs, identical government issue. So the Russians were still sore about their reputation as snatchers of watches, and had taken the one measure that would keep their troops from living up to it: giving them all the watches they could use.
Betsy said she and most of the people in the Center were pleasantly surprised. She in fact wished that her father hadn’t run away. Nobody had even been around asking about him, national committeeman though he was, yet he was hiding out now in some Canadian muskeg living on canned soup and possibly moose meat — though Betsy doubted that old T. C. was capable of bringing down a moose. She hoped he would drift back when the word got to him that the red-star boys’ ferocity had been greatly exaggerated.
She saw Colonel Platoff every now and then from a distance; he was the big brass of SMGU 449. He looked like a middle-aged career soldier, no more and no less. He seemed to be a bug on spit-and-polish. People observed him bawling out sentries over buttons and shoelaces and suchlike. There were always plenty of KPs in the mess tent on the high-school campus.
What else was new? Well, there was a twenty-four-hour guard on each of the town’s two liquor shops to keep soldiers from looting or trying to purchase. There seemed to be movies every evening in the school auditorium. There was a ferocious physical-fitness program going on; SMGU 449 started the day with fifty knee bends, fifty straddle hops and fifty push-ups, from Platoff on down, rain or shine, in the athletic field. They also played soccer when off duty and they sang interminably. Wherever there were more than two Russians gathered with nothing to do out came a concertina or a uke-sized balalaika and they were off.
A big fat cook shopped in town for the officers’ mess, which must be located in the school cafeteria. The enlisted men lived on tea, breakfast slop called kasha, black bread, jam and various powerful soups involving beef, cabbage, potatoes and beets. The ingredients came in red-star trucks from the north.
Rumors? Well, she had a few and she was passing them on just for entertainment. The Russians would shortly be joined by their wives. They would close all the churches in Chiunga Center. They would not close any of the churches, but instead would forcibly baptize everybody as Greek Orthodox. Demobilization of the United States Army would be completed by next week. Demobilization of the United States Army would be begun next month. The United States Army was being shipped in cattle boats to Siberia. The United States Army had disintegrated and the boys and girls were finding their way home on foot. The United States Army Atomic Service had made off with two tons of plutonium from Yellowknife before the surrender . . .
As that one ran through his mind Justin suddenly straightened up from the tangled wire.
Two tons of plutonium was enough for eighty atomic bombs. It seems that in any machine shop you could put the bombs together if you had the plutonium.
Two tons of plutonium adrift somewhere in the United States, scattered but in the hands of men who knew what they were doing, might explain quite a few things that had recently puzzled him.
And the thought gave him a stab of painful hope. It let him feel at last the full anguish of the defeat, the reality of it. He burned with shame suddenly for his lick-spittle acceptance of a firm-but-fair Lieutenant Parelhoff and his gratitude, his disgusting gratitude, that they had raised his norm no higher, his pleasure at Captain Kirilov’s bored compliment about the pigs.
Suddenly the defeat was real and agonizing. Two tons of plutonium had made it so.
GOOD drying weather, the radio had been saying for days. Justin, breaking clods and weeding in his cornfield, reflected that once you would have called it the beginning of a serious drought. The passage of two months, however, had made pessimism unfashionable—almost dangerous. Not that he was afraid. Nobody had anything on Billy Justin; he met his quota and he had been left alone . . .
Until now. A jeep was tooting impatiently for him in front of his house. More foolishness, he supposed, with Kirilov and his interpreter. At least it would he a break in the weeding.
There was only one Russian there, however, some kind of sergeant. He said: “Fermer Yoostin?”
“I guess so,” Justin said, and waited, not knowing what to expect.
The sergeant handed him a sheet of ugly two-column printing on flimsy paper, Russian on the left, English on the right: Readjustment of Agricultural Norm — W. Justin. Good! Now, how much were they going to cut from . . . He hauled up short at the words filled in. “Increase 1 cwt. per 2 wks.”
He said angrily to the sergeant: “In this weather? Kirilov’s—mistaken. It can’t be done. I’m hauling water for the cows now. And we haven’t got DDT. Flies cut down the production. I haven’t got a seed-cake quota; my herd’s too small. There must be some mistake. Can you take back word to the captain?”
The sergeant, bored, said: “Ya nye ponimayoo vas.” He held out a clipboard, a ruled form and a pen. “Podtverdeet poloocheneyeh.”
Justin said uncertainly: “Speak English? Tell Captain Kirilov?”
Headshake, then, very slowly and patiently: “Nye—ponimayoo. Nye.” Brandishing the form and pen: “Poloocheneyeh. Ee myah. Zdyehs.” He pointed to a line; Justin could do nothing but write his name, numbly.
The sergeant roared off in a cloud of dust. Justin stood there and spat grit from his mouth. This time no genial interpreter; this time no firm-but-fair agronomist. This time—orders. Quite unarguable orders.
He noticed the date on the quota form. July 4.
RAWSON came visiting in his go-cart and Justin sourly told him his discovery. The legless man shrugged his giant shoulders. “Shiptons got one too,” he said. “That’s why they sent me over. Didn’t want to use the phone. They’re thinking about holding kind of a meeting and getting up kind of a petition.”
Justin said violently: “The old fools!” And then, slower: “But they are old. I guess they just don’t get it. Didn’t you try to talk them out of it?”
“Me? The hired man? To Sam Shipton that’s farmed his farm for sixty years and his father and his gram’pappy before him? I saved my breath. Rather take a little spin in the musclemobile than pitch manure any day. I guess I tell them ‘no’ from you?”
“Of course. But isn’t there some way you can try and keep them out of trouble? Explain, for instance, that it isn’t like petitioning the highway commissioner to grade a road or put in a new culvert. Entirely different?”
“Sam Shipton’s an independent farmer, Billy. He’s going to stay one if it kills him.”
“It may do that, Sarge. Sooner than he thinks.”
“Been wondering why you call me ‘Sarge.’ Matter of fact, I was a bucktail private in the rear rank. Another thing—confidentially. On my own, not the Shiptons. I happen to have a little bit of contraband . . .”
The word covered a lot of ground. Narcotics. Untaxed liquor. Homegrown tobacco. Guns, ammunition— even reloading tools. Any item of Red Army equipment, from a pint of their purple-dyed gasoline to a case of their combat rations. Unlicensed scientific equipment and material. It was all posted on the board down at Croley’s store in Norton. Not once had Justin heard of anybody being arrested or even chided for violating the rules, though old Mr. Konreid continued to distill and peddle his popskull, and those who smoked up here grew their own tobacco, minimally concealed, with varying success. Guns and ammunition—practically all of it—had been turned in and stood racked and tagged in Croley’s storeroom, under Red Army seal. There was a widespread impression that about guns and ammunition the orders were not kidding, that the rest was just the product of some brass hat covering himself for the record. They were farmers up here, but farmers who had been under fire at San Juan Hill, Belleau Wood, Anzio, Huertgen, Iwo, Pyongyang, Juneau, Yellowknife . . . not one of them but was army wise.
Why speak of contraband?
“What about it?” Justin asked warily.
Rawson shrugged. “I want to pass it on to a fella I know, but I don’t especially want him to come to the Shiptons. It isn’t bulky. I’d just like to drop it off here some time and he’ll come by in a day or less and pick it up.”
“Why me?” Justin asked flatly. “Do I look especially like a smuggler?”
“Not especially,” Rawson grinned. “Mostly because you live alone. Also because you wouldn’t chisel on me. You’re a guy who can’t be bothered with doing things the crooked way. Old man Konreid lives alone, but he’d rip open the package as soon as I was out of sight, taste it, and then when my friend came he’d pretend he didn’t know what he was talking about.”
So it was liquor or drugs or something of the sort. Justin felt pleased that he had got the answer without crude questioning. Not that Rawson would have had anything to do with anything organized which might conceivably bring retribution. The man was a born scrounger, a cutter of not very important corners. He told him: “Drop it off when you want. Any time I can’t do a favor for a neighbor I'll close up shop.”
“Thanks, Billy.” the legless man said. “Push me off, will you?”
AT MAIL TIME Justin got to wondering if the Fourth of July was a national holiday in the North American People’s Democratic Republic of which he was a citizen. The morning was shot anyway, lie strolled up to the mailbox. It was an easier trip than it used to be. As a citizen of the North American People’s Democratic Republic he had lost a comfortable layer of fat at the waist.
Betsy Cardew was waiting at the mailbox looking tired.
He said: “Cultural greetings, comrade-citizeness-post woman. ”
“Cultural greetings to you, comrade-citizen-milk-farmer. What the heck kept you.”
“July fourth. I dithered around a couple of minutes wondering if you’d be here.”
“Oh, the mail must go through,” she said vaguely.
“Then where’s mine?”
“As a matter of fact you haven’t got anything today. I wanted to talk to you.”
“You got one of those quota increases?”
“Yes. Fifty pounds more per week. I don’t know how I’m going to make it. They can’t really expect it from me, can they?”
“They expect it. It went through two weeks ago in Pennsylvania. They’ve been picking up families who didn’t make the norm. Families with the biggest and best farms. They go south in trucks, men, women and kids. Nobody seems to know where. Then they turn the acreage over to families from marginal farms that couldn’t possibly raise a cash crop. Billy, could you make your new norm with a farmhand?”
“You know I can’t support a "
“This farmhand would have his board paid by the SMGU.”
“That’s different. And what’s the catch?”
“He’d be a little nuts. Wait a minute, Billy! Don’t let panic make up your mind until I tell you about him.
“You know I’m a nurse’s aide three nights a week at Chiunga General. I was in surgery a week ago when they brought this guy in. His name’s Gribble. He was in shock and he’d lost plenty of blood. His hands were lacerated and there was a gash along his right forearm that cut the big superficial veins. But somebody, a cop I think, slapped a tourniquet on him and got him to the hospital. We sewed him up and gave him plasma and whole blood—he got a pint of mine—and smugly waited for him to wake up. He did, and he was nuts. Incoherent, disoriented. At that point I tottered off to home and bed.
“When I came in on Wednesday afternoon they had him transferred from surgery to psycho. Lieutenant Borovsky’s in charge of psycho, but I don’t think you have to know very much to handle a psycho ward Russian style. They have something they call ‘sleep therapy.’ This means you give the patient a twenty-four-hour shot of barbiturate. If he’s still nuts when he wakes up you give him another one, and so on. Maybe there are angles to it that I don’t understand, but Borovsky’s English isn’t any better than my Russian.
“I’d asked around during the day and found out what happened to Gribble. He was a stranger in town and he turned up at Clapp’s department store. He bought a pair of socks and a salesgirl noticed him standing around for maybe ten minutes inside, hanging back from the revolving door. The side doors were locked, and nuts to the fire laws. Clapp’s doesn’t aim to air-condition the whole town. Well, she’s seen eighty-year-old farmwomen do exactly the same thing, but she thought it was awfully funny for a middle-aged man. Finally Gribble made the plunge into the revolving door, and naturally it stuck halfway. The wooden tip from somebody’s umbrella jammed it. Gribble began screaming and pounding, and in no time at all he bad the glass smashed and his arm cut up. So they toted him away and the salesgirl said Mr. Clapp was livid because his plate-glass insurance is all whacked up by this new insurance-company consolidation that nobody seems to be able to collect from and also be had to open the side doors and turn off his precious air conditioning.
“So much for that. I looked at Gribble’s papers in the hospital office. He’s a machine-shop setup man from Scranton. He was released as surplus last week by the Erie. He got a travel permit good to Corning to look for a job there. His hobbies are baseball, bowling and fishing. He belongs to the American Federation of Machinists, the Red Cross and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Normal?”
“Normal,” Justin said.
“Phony. Because I went to see him in psycho. He was just coming out of his first twenty-four-hour sleep, mumbling and stirring. Then the mumbling got clearer. Gribble the normal machinist was reciting Moliere in the original. As far as I could judge, his accent was very good. It was Act II of Le Misanthrope. He seemed to be enjoying himself.”
“Come on,” Justin said. “It happens every day. He heard the Molière once, maybe when he was a child, and it stayed in his subconscious. Under drugs—”
“Naturally,” Betsy said, very cool and composed. “And tell me, doctor: when and where in his childhood did he hear the order of battle of the Red Armies as of April 17, 1965?”
“No,” Justin said defensively.
‘‘Yes. I don’t remember it all, but after the Molière his face changed and he began to mutter the date. Then he began to rattle off the armies, the corps, the divisions. With commanders’ names and locations around Edmonton. Map-grid locations. He was just swinging into ‘Appreciation and Development of Combat Situation, For Eyes of Combined Chiefs of Staff Only’ when Borovsky came strutting down the ward.
“He beamed down at Gribble, the normal machinist, who by then was massing a Canadian Army Group, the 17th, I think, for a spoiling attack on the left flank of the Red bulge. ‘Patient motch batter,’ Borovsky said, and on he went. His English is ninety-nine percent bluff, thank the Lord. But the night duty officer was Major Lange and I had to shut Gribble up before his inspection. He really talks it. I finally slapped Gribble awake and he began to cry.
“ ‘Pull yourself together,’ I told him. ‘You’ve been talking about the wrong things in your sleep. They’ll give you another shot if they don’t think you’re better. You’re in the Chiunga General Hospital. Tell ’em you’re just nervous and tired. They want to get minor cases out of here if they can. Play along with them. Fit into the routine and you’ll he out of here fast.’
“He understood me, the scared little guy. I don’t know what kind of personal hell he was going through, but I could see him pushing it away, hard, with every muscle. ‘Fit into the routine,’ he said at last. ‘This is the Chiunga General Hospital. I’m Gribble. I just got panicky stuck in the—that place. I’m better now. Just tired and nervous.’ Hysteria kept trying to break in between the words. And he wouldn’t let it.
“ ‘Great,’ I told him. ‘Stay on the rails. Here they come.’ Borovsky was leading Lange through the ward. When they stopped at Cribble’s bed Lange asked me what the devil I was doing there. Told him I might be able to expedite the discharge of Mr. Gribble.
“ ‘Discharge? What are you talking about? This man is seriously ill.’
“Gribble spoke up then, bless him. 'I don’t think I am, sir,’ he said apologetically. ‘I know I blanked out, but I feel all right now. Just a little nervous and tired.’ They didn’t notice that he had his eyes on me through it—I think that helped him.
“ ‘Patient motch batter,’ that pompous ass Borovsky said.
“Lange put him through the questioning. Gribble knew who he; was and where he was and why he was there. Then there was a good deal of Russian between Lange and Borovsky and then the major said to me: ‘It seems you were correct. He should not be in one of our beds. Have the clerical section arrange for outpatient status and board with some responsible family.’
“That wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but then I thought of you.” She came to a dead stop.
Billy Justin said slowly: “How long would he be on my neck?”
“Until he’s discharged. Comparable cases have been discharged after two checkup visits—call it a month.”
“Who do you suppose he is, Betsy?
“I don’t know. I can’t imagine. He wasn’t any government official up top; I know most of the faces. He couldn't possibly be a field commander. Our Mr. Gribble would never rise; to corporal in the field army. He’s some kind of planner, maybe a Pentagon colonel though that doesn’t seem right either. Whoever he is, he’s had a shock that almost broke him. He’s a brave little man. And they’ll shoot him if they find out that he isn’t who he claims to he.” “He isn’t the only one they’ll shoot,” Justin said. She made some kind of reply and he shouted at her: “All right. I’ll be the responsible family. I’ll be his mother and his father and his damned old Aunt Tissie.” She raised one hand feebly as he spewed his rage at her. “Send him along. Dump him here. You knew I couldn’t turn you down. Even if I thought I closed the books in Korea. Even if I’ve been shot. You never lay in a field hospital with an infected wound eating your leg off; you never screamed when you saw them coming with the needle for your fifteenth penicillin shot in two days. You think it’s a game. So send your brave little man along, I’ll take care of him. But after what you’ve done, don’t ever speak to me again.”
He turned from her stunned white face and limped down the hill.
TWO RUSSIAN medics delivered Gribble the next afternoon. They looked about in a puzzled way and kept asking: “Sooproogah? Seen? Donkh?” Justin supposed they were wondering about the rest of the responsible family. “I don’t understand,” he told them, dead pan. Finally there was the receipt to sign and they drove away, still with the puzzled air.
“You’re Gribble,” Justin said to the little man. He was trembling under the hot sun. He nodded and gave a frightened glance at the house.
Justin, through an almost sleepless night, had decided on his approach. If the man wanted to be Gribble the machinist, then Gribble the machinist he would be. Justin wanted no confidences. Justin wanted Gribble to be a nervous - breakdown outpatient and nothing more. He also wanted the two medics to report that Farmer Yoostin had no family and that Patient Gribble should therefore be placed somewhere else, but he doubted that they would go so far.
“Ever done any farming?”
“Ever have a little vegetable garden?”
“Yes. Oh, yes. I’ve done that.” “Good. Well, I’ll show you your room.” He started for the house, Gribble lagging behind. When Justin entered the kitchen he was climbing the two steps to the porch. And there he stood, before the screen door, with the look on his face of a man who has seen a cobra.
“Come on in,” Justin said through the door.
“I’d rather not unless I have to, Mr. Justin,” came from that mask of terror.
Justin remembered that his blowup had occurred when he was trapped in a revolving door. And he was also wearily conscious of the endless petty inconveniences that would nag him if Gribble balked at every doorway.
“Nothing’s going to happen to you, Gribble,” he said with an edge on his voice. “It’s a perfectly ordinary flyblown slummy bachelor’s kitchen.” The man smiled meagerly. Justin held the door open and waited; Gribble stepped convulsively over the threshold closing his eyes for a moment. Justin closed the door quietly on Gribble’s rigid back; instinct told him that to let it slam in its normal violent fashion would immediately involve him in a pack of trouble.
“Sit down and have some coffee,” he told the little man. Coffee was not casually drunk these days. If you had it you saved it for a good jolt in the morning. But he had to make this man relax; otherwise life would be an unbearable round of walking on eggs.
Gribble sat and said “Thank you” into his steaming cup.
“It isn’t such a bad life here,” Justin said tentatively. “I think you’ll eat a little better than you would in town. You can hold back eggs and hide your chickens when they come around. And the work won’t be too hard with the two of us. Hell, wherever you are you have to work—it might as well be here.”
“That’s right,” said Gribble eagerly. The conversation then petered out. They finished their coffee and Justin led the way to the porch. “The barn needs cleaning out,” he said. “I’ll show you where the—” He stopped. Gribble stood inside the kitchen and he outside, the screen door between them.
Justin sighed and held the door open for the little man. With an apologetic smile Gribble lunged through the doorway, eyes shut for a moment.
So it went through the afternoon. Gribble walked willingly into the barn and worked hard, but when Justin sent him to the toolshed built on the house for a trenching spade he was gone ten minutes. Justin went after him, swearing. It was, of course, the toolshed door. Gribble was reaching for the handle, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to touch it.
Justin opened the door grimly, yanked out the spade, handed it to Gribble and closed the door. His resolution to let Gribble be Gribble cracked wide open. “What is all this?” he demanded.
The little man said faintly: “I had a very disagreeable experience once. Very disagreeable.” He leaned against the toolshed wall, his face white. “I’d rather not discuss it.”
Justin, alarmed, said: “All right. We won’t. Let’s get back to the barn — if you think you can make it?” Gribble could make it. He worked through to dinnertime hard and well. Justin cooked a wretched bachelor’s meal big enough for two and held the door for Gribble to come in and eat. He didn’t eat much; something was on his mind. He finally asked if he could have a cot on the porch instead of a bedroom.
“Sure,” said Justin. “I’ll get a cot from the attic.” And to himself: I might have expected it.
AFTER dinner they had three hours of light and used it to haul water from the spring up the road to the tank in the cow barn. When he did the job himself he could use nothing but a pair of galvanized pails. Gribble’s help meant that between them they could fill a hundred-pound milk can on each trip. Justin began to feel a little more optimistic about meeting the brutal new milk norm. Each of his cows would, for the first time since the pasture spring went dry in June, get all the water she wanted that night, in his cheerfulness he scarcely noticed Gribble except as the hand on the other handle of the hundred-pound can. But when they topped off the tank with their twenty-fourth load an exhausted voice asked him: “Is there more to do?” Gribble was on the verge of collapse. “My God,” Justin said, “I’m sorry. You’re out of the hospital didn’t think. Cows come first,” he added bitterly. “Sure, we can knock off. I'll get that cot.”
The little man slumped on the porch steps while he set it up in the gathering darkness and then without a word fell onto the dusty canvas. He was asleep in seconds. Justin thought, went for a cotton blanket and spread it over Gribble to keep the flies off his face and hands and went to the road for a final smoke before turning in. There was a sawed-off tree stump he usually sat on where you could watch the sunset . . .
Rawson was waiting there. “Hi, Billy,” the legless man said easily.
“Hello.” Justin had his pouch out. Grudgingly he held it to Rawson. “Smoke?”
“Thanks.” Rawson whisked a single cigarette paper from his breast pocket, dipped thumb and finger in the pouch. In a twirl and a lick he had a cigarette made. A tramp, Justin thought. A drifting bum with all the skills of a drifting bum. How easily he takes it! What's it to him that, he's a drifter under the Reds or the United States? A perennial outlaw—and God, how I envy his peace of mind! Heavily he stuffed his pipe with dry tobacco. Rawson had lit his cigarette and politely passed him the burning match. He puffed the pipe alight. It tasted vile, but it was tobacco.
Rawson was inhaling luxuriously. “Not bad,” he commented. “Your own stuff?”
“About half. The rest is from Croley. There was a tax stamp on it, but I think it’s local stuff too. He probably refilled a pack with some junk he bought from a farmer.”
“My, such goings-on from the virtuous storekeeper. Well, I brought that package. A man’ll be by tonight or tomorrow.”
“Well, let’s see it.”
Rawson reached deep into the boot of his gocart, a space where his legs would have fitted if he had any. The package was small and dim in the fading light.
The set of his muscles, the leverage of his arm should have warned Justin to brace himself when the package was handed over, but he was disarmed by the smallness of the thing. He took the package, found it amazingly heavy, fumbled it for a moment and dropped it, almost on his toe. It sank an inch into the not-particularly-soft ground.
“Oops!” Rawson said apologetically. “I should have warned you it was heavy.”
“Yes,” Justin said. “And maybe you should have warned me it was an atomic bomb.”
“Just part of one,” Rawson said.
“You know Betsy Cardew?” Justin asked, looking at the package by his toe, wondering vaguely about radioactivity, wondering whether he ought to move his toe.
“Of course. Mailwoman.”
“Are you and she in this together?”
“In what?” Rawson asked blandly.
“We are not amused, Rawson. This thing—” He choked. “I got beautifully mad at her. I’m still sore. I think she’s a silly kid who had no right to get me involved. You—you know the score. So—why me, Rawson? Why me!"
The legless man said brutally: “If you think I’m going to flatter you, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s you, Justin, because we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. Our best and bravest are in Siberian labor camps now, or mining uranium in the Antarctic. Why you, indeed! Have I got any business scooting around after dark with a suitcase bomb in my lap?”
“But what’s it all for?” Justin almost begged. “What can we do? Suitcase bombs, yes, but then what?”
“That,” Rawson said, “is none of your business, as a moment of thought will convince you. Will you handle the transfer or won’t you?”
“I will,” Justin said bitterly. “Thanks for your confidence in me. I hope it’s well placed.”
“So do I, Justin. So do I. Will you push me off?”
He went creaking down the road.
Justin relit his pipe and studied the dying sunset. Then he picked up the heavy little package, walked to the barn and hid it behind a bale of hay. It was not very well hidden. He wanted to be able to get it fast and get it off his hands fast. Furthermore, he knew very well that no amount of energy spent in hiding unshielded uranium or plutonium would safeguard it against search with a scintillation counter.
He stepped quietly past Gribble, sleeping on the porch and went upstairs to his bedroom. He did not intend to sleep that night not while waiting for an unknown person to pick up an atomic bomb subassembly for use in some insane foredoomed scheme of sabotage.
He tried to read, but could not. He smoked the last of his tobacco in two unwanted pipefuls.
Insane, the whole business! There were supposed to be five million occupation troops east of the Mississippi alone. Their own third-rate shopping place, Chiunga Center, was garrisoned by the 449th Soviet Military Government Unit which, when administrative transport and medical frills were ripped off, turned out to be a reinforced infantry regiment; about a thousand fighting men armed to the teeth.
And what could you do?
Well, you could denounce Rawson and turn his bomb over to the 449th SMGU. You could denounce Betsy Curdew nitwitted rich girl who used sex and your vestigial pride to unload a deadly menace on you. You could get written up as a patriotic citizen of the North American People’s Democratic Republic, get a life pension as a Hero of Socialist Labor. And then there would be nothing for you to do but cut your throat in self-loathing.
In spite of himself he fell asleep at 3 a.m. with the 40-watt bulb shining on his face and the unread book open across his chest.
HE WOKE with a panicky start at eight-thirty. What was wrong? Something was terribly wrong.
At the window he saw the cows turned out to pasture. But they should have been bellowing, unmilked, for an hour or more . . .
But the milk cans were stacked on the loading platform for the pickup truck. Gribble had milked them! With only a few' words from yesterday afternoon to go on he had worked the milking machine and turned the cows out.
And that meant he had been in the barn where . . .
Justin dashed downstairs, his heart thudding, and then slowed deliberately to a walk. He found the little man in the yard before the barn scouring the milker and pails. “Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning, Mr. Justin. I don’t know if I did the right thing, but the cow's were stamping around and I remembered what you told me—it wasn’t hard.”
“You did exactly the right thing. I couldn’t get to sleep last night. And when I did I guess I couldn't wake up. I’m sorry I left it all to you. Have you been in the—kitchen?”
Gribble smiled nervously and shook his head.
“I’ll fix breakfast.”
Justin kept himself, by an effort of will, from walking into the barn, in plain sight of Gribble, and looking to see whether that bale of hay had been disturbed. He turned to the house, started the stove and cooked oatmeal. Half a pint of withheld butterfat made oatmeal breakfast enough for a morning’s hard work. When it was cooked he called Gribble, who stopped on the porch apologetically until the door was held open for him.
They ate silently.
“Mind washing up?” Justin asked at last. “I’ll be working in the kitchen garden.” As he left he latched back the screen door, feeling like a fool.
He was heading not for the garden but for the barn when the chug of a worn-out truck sounded along his road. It was Milkshed arriving ahead of time, he absently supposed, and went over to the loading deck to give a hand with the cans. But it wasn’t the milkshed truck that rounded the turn. It was a worn blue panel job throbbing and groaning out of all proportion to its size. On the near panel was lettered: Bee-Jay Farm Supplies and Machinery, Washington, Penna.
It stopped by the milk cans and a nondescript driver leaned out. “This the Justin place?”
“Yes. I’m Justin. You have anything for sale, mister?”
“Might let you have some plastic pipe.”
“Got an electric pump to go with it? My spring’s downhill from the barn.”
“Yes, I guess I passed it. Sorry about the pump, but we don’t have them yet. Maybe by next spring, the way things are going.”
“That’s good to hear. You know, you’re the first salesman I’ve seen here in three years?”
“That’s what they all say. Bee-Jay’s an enterprising outfit. We got the first A-440 passes in the state. Say, are you by any chance a friend of Rawson’s?”
Justin knew then who he was. “I know him,” he said. “I guess I shouldn’t take the pipe if I can’t use it right away. Seen Rawson lately?”
“I heard he was somewhere around here. He didn’t happen to leave anything for me, did he?”
“Just a minute.” He went to the barn aware that this was the moment of decision. There was no reason why Rawson and Betsy couldn’t be framing him. There was no reason why Gribble couldn’t be a planted witness for corroboration. The heavy package was behind the bale of hay where he had put it in darkness. He couldn’t possibly know whether Gribble had found it and replaced it or not. And now, picking it up, carrying it, handing it silently to the man in the truck, he had completed his treason to the North American People’s Democratic Republic. He had received, harbored and transmitted fissionable material. His head was in the noose from that moment on.
He felt all the better for it.
“Good old Rawson,” the Bee-Jay man chuckled, hefting the package. “Well, Mr. Justin, I'll try to pass by again—with a pump.”
“Do that,” Justin said steadily. “And if you ever feel any need to call on me, do it. I'm available.”
The man smiled blandly. The starting motor cranked and strained for fifteen seconds before the engine caught and the little truck lurched off down the road. Justin followed it with his eyes until it was over the next crest and out of sight.
HE TURNED to find Gribble staring at him from the corner of the barn. Justin wasn't frightened; the time for that was past. He realized that he would feel physical fear before long while he waited in some schoolhouse cellar for the NKVD to come clumping in with truncheons and methodically reduce him to a blob of pain, shrieking confessions on demand. But he did not fear the fear to come.
He told Gribble easily: “The first salesman in three years. He had some pipe but he didn’t have a pump. Maybe by spring, he said. I guess things are picking up all around.”
“Yes," Gribble said vaguely, his eyes full of tears.
They worked steadily through the morning and afternoon. Gribble spent two hours on the milk cooler, which had been grunting, gurgling and creaking for a month, on the verge of a breakdown. Whatever else he was besides—; a quoter of Moliere, Pentagon colonel he was unquestionably an able refrigeration mechanic and bench hand.
He serviced the motor and coils, disassembled the pump, cut new gaskets from a discarded inner tube, filed a new cam from scrap metal and installed it. The cooler whispered happily and the red line of the thermometer dropped well below the danger mark for the first time that summer. He showed Justin his work, dimly proud, and then joined him in cultivating the knee-high field corn until it was time to haul water from the spring again. They had a late supper at three-thirty; a dubious piece of boiled salt pork, potatoes from the barrel in the cellar, milk. It was then that Gribble asked whether Justin happened to have anything to drink.
“Some local brandy," Justin said, wondering. The little man was tightening up again. If you were an artist you saw him as taut cords vibrating in the shape of a human body. He had seemed almost happy and slack when he showed Justin the cooler . . .
“Could I please . . . ?”
Justin got the carelessly hidden bottle of Mr. Konreid’s popskull. Gribble methodically poured himself half a tumblerful, not bothering to rinse his glass of its skim of rich milk. Methodically he drank it down, his Adam’s apple working. “Rotten stuff,” he said after a long pause. Justin was about to be offended when he somehow realized that Gribble didn’t mean his liquor in particular. “I was partly tanked when I I had that trouble in the—department store.” The taut strings were relaxing a little. “But sometimes you haven’t got anything else and you have to get to sleep.”
Uninvited, he refilled his tumbler to the halfway mark. Justin protested: “Man, what’s the good of getting drunk in the afternoon? We have another milking and the corner fence post is sagging. Both of us will have to fix it. Pour that back in the bottle, will you? You can have it after supper if I you can’t sleep ...”
Gribble methodically drank it down, “No point in fooling around,” the little man said gravely. “You pretend you’re somebody else, fine. But you know you aren’t, especially when you’re trying to sleep. You’re still the fellow who closed the door. But that was only half the job, Justin. Funny part is, if you do the first half—that is, if you’re a fellow like me—then you can’t do the second half. They never thought of that. I must have looked pretty good on the profile. Hard-bitten, waspish executive and all that. But I didn’t fool the combat boys. I went right out of Prudential—you should have seen my office, Justin! —and right into the Pentagon. I told them—what do you say?—I told them: ‘Alert, capable executive desires connection with first-class fighting force. Feels his abilities are not being used to the utmost capacity in present employment.’ I went through the lieutenants and captains like a hot knife through butter. I’ve handled kids like that all my life. G-l checked me through. You know why? Because G-l’s just office management in uniform. We talked the same language. I was exactly like them so they thought I was good. So I got my appointment with Clardy. Three stars. Colonel Hagen—imagine having a chicken colonel for a secretary—Hagen briefed him first, told him I was talent, hard-boiled talent, kind of talent they needed fast for a battalion, then a regiment, then maybe a division. You go up fast in wartime if you’ve got the stuff. So Clardy talked to me for a few minutes and then he turned to Hagen. As if I wasn’t there. Cussed Hagen out for wasting his time. ‘Good Lord, colonel, get him something in G-l or G-4, but don’t ever give him a combat command. Look at him! Can you imagine him committing troops?’
“You see, Justin? He was onto me in two minutes. They never say it, even among themselves, but they know combat command doesn’t take brains. They talk about brilliant field generals, but when you try to find out what the brilliance was it’s always this: G-l gets the brilliant general his men; G-2 gets the brilliant general his information; G-3 trains the men and plans the attack; G-4 gets the supplies. Then the brilliant general says ‘Attack!’ and it’s another victory.
“You know, you don’t need brains to say ‘Attack!’ Plenty of them have brains and they don’t seem to do them any damage, but brains aren’t essential. What you need’s character. When you’ve got character you say ‘Attack!’ at the right time. And Clardy saw in two minutes that I didn’t have it. That I’d wait and hang back and try to think of ways around when there aren’t any ways around at all. That when G-3 told me it was time to attack I wouldn’t take his word for it, I’d hem and haw and wonder if he really believed what he was telling me. Clardy saw clean through me, Justin. I’m a man who can cheerfully commit a battery of IBM card punches to the fray and that’s all.”
The little man lurched to his feet and stared, red-eyed, at Justin. Waiting.
Slowly and unwillingly Justin said: “What do you want, Gribble? What am I supposed to do about all this?”
Staring, Gribble said: “Very cagey, Justin. But you’ve got to help me. I know you’re committed. I milked the cows this morning. I’m a picture straightener; I always have been. So I started to straighten that bale of hay. Package behind it—heavy package. So heavy it’s got to be gold or lead or plutonium. And I know it isn’t gold or lead.
“The farm salesman came by. I looked in the barn—no package. You’re in it, Justin. You’ve got to help me. I can’t help myself. Five thousand of them! And then, of course, I couldn’t pull the second half of the job. Clardy was right ...”
He stood up, swaying a little. “Come along, Justin. You’ve got to do something for me.”
Gribble lurched through the doorway, past the latched-back screen door, down the cement walk to the road.
Justin followed slowly. “It’s about fifteen miles,” Gribble said over his shoulder.
I’ve got to go along, Justin told himself. The little man’s guessed—and he’s right—that I’m a traitor to the People’s Democratic Republic. He might tell anybody if it takes his fancy. Perhaps, he bleakly thought, I’ll have to kill him. Meanwhile, he doesn’t get out of my sight.
“What do you want me to do, exactly?” he asked Gribble in a calm, reasonable voice.
The little man said abruptly: “Open a door.”
THEY walked for two hours, Gribble in the lead and mumbling.
Justin tried at first to get him to make sense, then to at least accept a cover story. “We're going to Bert Loughlin’s about a calf, Gribble. Okay? Will you tell them that if we get stopped? Bert Loughlin’s about a calf...”
“Cobalt,” Gribble said, preoccupied. Six miles along the road they were overtaken by a wagon, Eino Baaras at the reins. He was returning from Clayboro to Glencairn—“Little Finland”—with locust poles. He scowled at them and offered a ride.
“Thanks,” Gribble said. “We’re going to see Bert Loughlin about a calf.”
Baaras shrugged and waited for them to get up before he said: “Loughlin ain’t got no calf.” He touched up the team and the wagon rolled.
“Selling, not buying,” Justin said.
“Loughlin ain’t got no money,” Baaras said unconcernedly.
“Maybe something to swap,” Justin said. He was clenching his fists. What came next? Loughlin ain’t got nothing to swap. Where you really headed, Yustin? But Baaras just dipped some snuff, spat into the dust and said nothing.
Silent Finns, Justin thought, suddenly drowsy with the afternoon heat. Worse for them than for us. They’ve been followed halfway around the world by the neighbors they fled while we sat and waited and perhaps were happy in our blindness . . .
He dozed for a while; Gribble shook him awake. “We get off here, Mr. Justin.” The wagon had stopped and Baaras was sardonically waiting.
“Thanks,” he said to the Finn, and looked uncertainly at Gribble for a lead. The little man started up a rutted and inconsiderable wagon track that angled from the black top. Justin followed him, disoriented for a moment. Then he realized that they were on the west side of Prospect Hill and heading up it.
Baaras looked at them, shrugged and drove on. Justin thought flatly: a total botch. I said the wrong thing, we got off at the wrong place. I couldn’t have botched it worse if I’d been waving a flag with TRAITOR embroidered on it. The only thing to do now is wait and hope. Baaras is going to talk about my peculiar goings-on, and the people he talks to will talk. Eventually it’ll get to somebody like Croley and that means I’m dead.
Meanwhile, you keep climbing Prospect Hill.
THE HILL was about twenty-five hundred feet high and heavily wooded. It was supposed to be owned by one of the great New York real estate fortunes. Farmers who tried to buy small pieces adjoining their fields for wood lots were rebuffed. A fair-sized local mutual insurance company that tried once to buy a big piece for development got an interview in New York City and a courteous explanation that the Hill was being held against the possibility that the area would experience major growth. The president of the company considered that interview one of the high points of his life, and Justin had heard all about it. So had practically everybody who spent ten minutes with the president.
The Hill was posted against hunting and fishing, but not fenced in. Farmers around it had more or less fenced it out with their own wire, but there were gaps like the one Gribble had found. Kids and hunters stayed clear of the Hill for the most part. Among the kids there was a legend that the Vanderbilts — or was it the Astors? — would jail you for twenty years if you got caught trespassing. And the hunters knew that the Hill had no springs and only one intermittent stream. It was against local custom to carry a canteen for a day’s hunting; you were heavily joshed for dressing up like a Boy Scout. So you pretty much stayed away.. .
But what wheels had worn the twin ruts up the Hill?
Justin kicked at an angle of crushed rock. It should have flown up and away from the loose gravel it was embedded in and Justin should have strode on feeling infinitesimally better for the release of tension. It didn’t happen that way at all. The rock stayed where it was and blinding pain shot through Justin’s foot. While he stopped and swore Gribble turned. “Wasting time,” he said mildly.
“In a minute,” Justin said. The pain was dying down, but he wasn’t ready to go on walking. He stooped and tried to wiggle the fang of rock protruding from the gravel, work it loose and throw it away. It had wounded him and it must surely die.
The rock wouldn’t wiggle. Evidently it was a protruding corner of a really big chunk. He pawed at the loose gravel to investigate. It wasn’t loose gravel. His fingers skidded over the surface without disordering a single one of the round and oval glacier-ground stones.
“Come on,” Gribble said impatiently, and resumed climbing. Justin followed thoughtfully. The rutted worn secondary road, this road that was clearly on the very verge of breaking up, was a very remarkable road indeed. It looked bad. It was bad. It would give the springs of a truck a very hard time.
But it would never get worse. It would never break up. It was a good road disguised as a bad one. Reinforced concrete a yard down, no doubt. On top of that the crushed rock and gravel mortared into position. A heavy-duty highway that would pass air reconnaissance and even a ground patrol.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Gribble was muttering ahead of him.
A heavy-duty highway to where?
“Gribble,” he said.
The small man turned on him in fury. His voice was an almost womanish screech. “Leave me alone, Justin! Don’t distract me. This thing’s hard enough without you yammering and yipping at my heels. I’m fighting with myself to keep from turning around and running down the hill. I could break down right now if I Iet go. I could have a fine time crying and kicking and screaming and letting the clouds close in on what I have to do. But—I—won’t. Shut up and follow me!”
Justin followed, confused and burning with resentment. He had been in contact with psychopaths before and, as now, it was never pleasant. A girl in the ad agency, years ago, at the next drawing table to his, took six months to go thoroughly insane, a little more each day. Toward the end there were worried conferences behind her back, long wrangles about when eccentricity slips over into mania, and always the stolid unimaginative confrere who spoke what was in everybody’s mind: all she has to do is get hold of herself; she doesn’t have to act like a nut. Naturally in the age of Freud no really informed person spoke those words; naturally you were shocked to hear them. Hut, oh, the resentment that filled you when you had to humor and defer to and make your life miserable because of a crackpot!
A FADED sign nailed to a tree pointed up the peculiar road: PROSPECT VISTA, it said, which made no sense at all. A prospect is a vista and a vista is a prospect. Justin could have said something about it but dared not, bullied into silence by the little man who wouldn’t control himself.
The road shot suddenly upward and ended at a big, littered clearing. The litter was the debris of a housing development that had never come to pass. Justin never knew it was there. This was Prospect Vista, a big rain-dimmed sign said. Below, in smaller letters, the sign announced split-level homes, no down payment, seventy dollars a month, pay like rent.
Bulldozers had been at work tearing out trees and piling them like jackstraws. Dirt streaks had been hoed out of the forest duff long ago—long enough for underbrush and scrub to spring up again in barbed-wire tangles. The bulldozed roads-to-be were now more impassable than they had been before the bulldozers came. But hopeful signs marked them: Onondaga Avenue intersected Seneca Street where they stood on the clearing’s edge.
Sewer trenches were dug clear down to hardpan, an elephantine checker-board converging on the principal landmark of Prospect Vista, which was a huge hole, obviously the excavation for a treatment plant. And that was as far as things had got. Here and there was a load of rusty pipe, or pencil rod to reinforce concrete that had never been poured. Gravel and sand stood in low cones dotted through the clearing. In the years that passed they had found their angle of repose and would slump no lower. It occurred to Justin that one pile of gravel may be alive and another dead. These were dead.
Gribble was saying suddenly in a tone of sweet reasonableness: “Of course, I wasn’t in on the planning end. I came in fairly late, after Clardy turned me down for a command. But you can guess how they put it together.
The techniques the Scandinavians developed, plus the brute-force Manhattan District idea plus a security plan borrowed from the Japanese and improved on by the supply system of the Czarist Army. The one that kept losing them all their wars.”
As he spoke he moved up and down a few yards of the steeply inclined end of the road, like a hound trying to pick up a scent. Now and then he knelt and fingered a stone.
“All that planning,” he chattered, “and then in a weak moment they turned it over to me. A fuzzy-faced West Point second classman would have been better, of course. I was supposed to be a hard guy. Once I signed orders for a twenty-percent firing effective Christmas Eve. Deliberately, to make the surviving eighty percent cringe a little. But there’s a difference ...”
He had found whatever he was looking for. “Lift here,” he told Justin, indicating two shards of concrete that projected from the good-bad road. His face was deathly pale.
Justin hadn’t been listening. He had been thinking: A total breakdown. He's completely irresponsible, in a dreamworld. He's likely to say anything to anybody. Perhaps I ought to pick up one of these reinforcing rods over there and . . .
“What’s that?” he asked the little man.
Gribble patiently repeated: “Lift here,” and showed him the hunks of concrete.
Murder was on Justin’s mind. “Stand over there,” he said sharply. He wasn’t to be caught bending over with the lunatic behind him and reinforcing rods conveniently near. Gribble, pale and exhausted, stood where he pointed, yards away, and nevertheless Justin watched him as he heaved on the shards. Because of that he missed seeing the miracle, but he felt its weight through his back and shoulder muscles and heard its creak and hum.
A great slab of the good-bad road came up like a door, twelve feet wide, easily twenty feet long. He crazily thought at first that he had pried it up with his fingers, and then he heard a motor and the whine of a gearbox.
Justin leaped back and the hinged slab continued to rise. It was a yard thick, supported on I-beams.
The good-bad road ended at the gateway to a tunnel angling sharply down. At the gateway the masquerade ended. The tunnel flooring was plain concrete. Lights had gone on, one every couple of yards along the ceiling. He had a confused impression of huge counterweights moving down as the slab moved up, and then motion stopped; the tunnel lay open.
Gribble’s voice penetrated his stupor. “Come on, Justin. Inside.” He stepped in and let Gribble show him a lever which he pulled, and which lowered the ponderous slab down on them again. He let Gribble, stammering and sweating, lead him a hundred feet down the inclined tunnel to a huge door, to Justin’s eyes exactly like that of a bank vault.
“That’s it,” Gribble said, his voice charged with poisonous self-hatred. “Open it, Justin.”
The artist stammered a question about the combination. Gribble whispered: “No combination. Just that lever ...”
No—it wasn’t like a bank vault’s door after all. There was just the one lever. This door was meant to open easily. From the outside.
Justin turned the lever and pulled. The door glided open and starved concentration-camp corpses tumbled out into the tunnel. Justin leaped back; his own scream of horror yelled back at him, reverberating along the tunnel’s smooth walls.
He was turning to run blindly back when Gribble took his arm. “Look at them,” Gribble said softly. There was no pain. I was never sure of that. Naturally I was told it would be painless, but they’d tell me that anyway. But it was true. They never knew what bit them, Justin. I feel just a little better now.”
Justin finally forced himself to look. There was no distortion of agony on the faces; they were people who had gone to sleep and never wakened. He became conscious of a cool, dry, gentle draft from the open doorway. “Pseudomummies,” Gribble said. “You find them in high dry places. The Andes, the Iranian upland.” He looked earnestly into one of the calm faces. “Dr. Swenson. A very good man. I suppose be guessed what had happened, got a few people together and went to work on the door. Quietly—no panic.”
The dry, brown hand of the man he looked down at was cramped around the twin pipe of an oxyacetylene torch. Another pair of dry brown arms held cylinders of gas. Another had been straightening a kinked tube when time became eternity.
“No panic,” Gribble mused. “His watchword used to be ‘step back and take a long, calm look.’ He kept us together after the polio epidemic. I for one was ready to yell for help. ‘Step back . . .' he said, and I did and we decided we could swing it as we were. That Swenson. He felt the air go cold and dry, he figured it out, he got his men together, they got to work on the door. And then the gas came. Without pain.”
All Justin could make of it was that Gribble had killed—or thought he had killed --some people beyond the door.
“Tell me about it,” he said calmly.
“I’ll show you,” said the little man. “After all, it’s your baby now. I couldn’t be expected to go on with it now, could I?” His eyes were wild.
“Of course not,” Justin said very steadily. “You just show me what you have to and don’t worry. I’ll see that the right thing’s done.”
“Come on,” Gribble said.
THEY stepped around the bodies and through the door into a garage. The little man absently went from wall to wall turning on lights. It was quite a place, and it was crowded with servicing equipment and trucks. No two trucks were built alike, painted alike or marked alike. Some of them Justin vaguely recognized. There was the two-ton stake-bed job, very battered, marked P. DiPumpo & Sons, Contractors. He had absent-mindedly registered the odd name a few times during the past few years. The battered truck of P. DiPumpo and Sons had intersected his orbit on the highway, or in town, or perhaps during the early months of the war passing his farm. Trucks came and went.
A half - ton cab - over - engine job: Hornell Florists.
A huge, ordinary, bright-red gas truck: Supeco Refining Company.
A tractor-trailer job, special trailer with the bed sunk between the axles: U. S. Bridge Building Corporation. He had seen that one, noticing the odd profile of a bulky load covered with roped tarpaulins.
Thirty more of them, reefers, pickups, vans, dumpers, tow cars—you name it and it was there. Two hundred feet under Prospect Hill was a haunted garage with dry, brown people sprawled here and there, as they would fall from timing an engine, cleaning spark plugs, turning down brake drums, and—in one small corner—stamping out counterfeit license plates for 1966.
In the rock was a rocket to circle the earth and wipe out whole sinful cities
“Come on,” Gribble said again.
He led Justin from the garage into a bewildering underground industrial complex. There were drafting rooms, with dry brown draftsmen slumped forward on their tables. Offices, foundries, machine shops, welding bays, sheet-metal shops, laboratories, and desiccated corpses everywhere. Gribble kept pausing to look into faces. Sometimes he would name a name; usually he would turn to Justin and ask shrilly whether it wasn’t obvious that they had died painlessly and in peace. Justin reassured him over and over again.
The living quarters, below the working level, were the same. Spartan cubicles tunneling deep into the hill— Justin guessed dazedly that there might be five thousand of them strung along twenty corridors radiating from a plaza. The library, the cafeterias, the gymnasium. Sun lamps there, of course. And brown figures sprawled on the board track that circled it.
“What was it?” he had been asking for some time now of the unhearing little man. “I can’t help if I don’t know what it was, Gribble.”
The little man led the way up from the living quarters to a freight elevator on the manufacturing level. He jerked the starting cable and the platform rose slowly with them to a square of blackness in the roof . . . “The satellite,” Gribble said. “The super-gadget, the ultimate doohickey that was going to win the war and keep it won.”
“The satellite’s lost, Gribble,” Justin said evenly. “They overran it in the sweep south. Betsy Cardew told me about it.”
Gribble looked at him scornfully. “Not that one, you bloody fool,” he said. “This one. The real one.”
The freight elevator passed through the square of blackness and lights went on in a huge domed chamber of rock. In the centre of the chamber stood a towering, spidery structure. Even Justin’s untrained eye could see that it was a three-step rocket. Even he could see that the third step was designed to circle the earth as an artificial satellite. And that it was heavily armed with bomb-launching racks.
YOU’RE a well-read average man, thought Billy Justin, so you’re aware that the human race is about to take its next giant step. It’s a pity that it takes a war to do it, hut that seems to be the way people are. British imperial greed long ago caused a Mr. John Harrison to fuse metallurgy, physics and genius into the first marine chronometer, by means of which the captains of His Britannic Majesty’s Navy were able to find a not-yet-plundered island twice in succession. Before that Signor Tartaglia, under the necessity of battering down medieval walls sheltering medieval thugs for the benefit of Renaissance thugs with Renaissance cannon, stole sine cosine and tangent from the philosopher’s toy chest and gave them to the world for tools. You know it was war that put jigs and fixtures on our machine tools, which is to say mass production : muskets to sewing machines, washers, kitchenware, Grand Rapids furniture and the American standard of living. And another put planes in the air. And another avalanched radar, atomic bombs and the first crude spaceships on us. You knew, therefore, like everybody else, that the current war was going to bring space flight., particularly the bombardment satellite Yankee Doodle a building in the northwest somewhere in Alaska. The marvellous satellite would circle the earth like the eye of God, but improved by American ingenuity; its more-than-Jovian thunderbolts were to strike down not one sinner at a time but whole sinful cities and —if they didn’t disperse into ineffectiveness—sinful army groups. It was going to be a harsh, just world for sinners when the satellite Yankee Doodle roared up to begin its swift circling of the heavens, troubled though the progress of its construction was by sabotage. Troubled though it was by paratroopers. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the radio told you how Yankee Doodle was steamrollered by the fifty thousand death-or-glory Chinese fanatics, hopped up to the eyebrows, of Task Force Tsing. The announcer brokenly announced: “Our men and women fought to the end against the human sea that engulfed them. The last weak radio communication from the site announced that thermite and demolition bombs had been fired to utterly destroy all components of Yankee Doodle so that the fanatical barbarian invaders ...”
“Not that one, you bloody fool. This one. The real one.”
BILLY JUSTIN craned his neck to study the monster. Its nose was lost in the upper gloom of the chamber. He emitted a sound like a nervous giggle. “I never thought we were that smart,” he breathed.
Gribble was very happy. This was the ultimate in the pleasurable game of giving away confidences. “It’s nothing new,” he said with elaborate casualness. “We suckered the Germans this way when we invaded Europe the last time. There was this Army Group, see, waiting in England to make the real attack on the Pas de Calais. The Germans knew it; they knew Patton was in command, they intercepted the radio traffic of the Army Group every day. Orders, acknowledgments, rations, troop movements, supplies, personnel transfers. So they almost ignored the feint by Bradley on the Cotentin Peninsula; they held forty divisions ready to meet the real thrust by Pattern’s Army Group. When it was too late they found out that Patton’s Army Group consisted of Patton and a couple of hundred radio operators. By then Bradley had broken out and was chewing his way across France.”
“It is—ready?” asked Justin.
“No.” The little man squatted on the concrete. “I’ll begin at the beginning. You’ve got to know it all anyway.”
“Why?” Justin asked sharply.
Gribble screwed up his face and his eyes began to leak tears. “I thought you agreed,” he said miserably. “Didn’t you say you’d handle it? I’m shot, Justin! I can’t take any more ...” His voice was soaring into childish shrillness.
“All right,” Justin said hastily. “All right. Don’t worry about a thing. If I’ve got to, I’ve got to. Just tell me.”
Gribble blew his nose and shuddered. Shrilly at first, then more easily, he said: “It hasn’t got any name. It’s a three-step hydrazine-fueled bombardment satellite. It has a fishbowl reactor for housekeeping current. It has a hydroponics room in action now under sun lamps. It’s built for two. The TV-tape and film library includes fifty thousand movies and books. An all-transistor radio sending and receiving set will function for an estimated seventy-five years without requiring servicing. Efficient waste and water regenerators are patterned after those aboard our long-cruise atomic submarines. Up there you can see the bomb deck, which accounts for half the weight of the third stage, neglecting fuel. A radar-computer bomb sight is capable of directing missiles to any point on the earth’s surface; delivery within five square miles is guaranteed. The satellite is armed with thirty-six hydrogen bombs and two special cobalt-jacketed bombs. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. You must have been reading about it since 1950.”
Justin nodded. He had. Sandwiched between do-it-yourself pieces in the mechanics magazines, sandwiched between boy-and-girl stories in the slicks. He had. Everybody had. And here it was . . .
“Well, 1950’s when it began. 1950’s when I went to Clardy and offered my services. 1950’s when all those ads appeared everywhere for engineers, ; scientists, technicians, toolmakers, mechanics. Remember the deluge?”
He did. Suddenly the United States seemed to have been gripped by a terrible hunger for trained men. It was as if—as if they were being drained off the normal labor supply. He said as much.
“That’s right. And we’re the ones who drained them off. We recruited for a year. Half the ads you saw during that time might have been genuine; the rest were ours. From ’51 on they were all genuine, and believe me, the aircraft and electronics industries were desperate. We’d drained off five thousand of the best people in the country.
I sat in hotel rooms—Mr. Simpson of Aero Research, Mr. Blair of Pasadena Electronics—and interviewed around the clock. So did fifty others. We boiled down two hundred thousand people to five thousand.
“All the final selections knew was, ‘hard, interesting, remunerative work, draft-proof hut with a spice of danger.’ When our table of organizations was filled we had the darndest collection of specialists ever assembled, and practically every one of them could double in construction work and the rest could learn. We trucked them in April ’51 to Prospect Hill. The construction and excavating machinery was here. I made my little speech telling ’em they were dead for the duration to the outside world. No passes, no furloughs, no anything. You see, Justin, there were spies among them. Had to be. But what’s wrong with a spy if he’s a good worker and can’t get word outside the project? My security boys shot four people who tried to sneak out in the first month and after that nobody tried. Were they spies? I don’t know. Or care. They’d been warned . . .
“Nobody brought supplies to us; we went for our own. With my boys riding along in the cabs of the trucks. There’d be a freight car at an abandoned factory siding, we’d transfer the load and that was that. We were under canvas through the first winter, but the Hill was beginning to take shape. It was the best cave in the northeast. We enlarged it, braced it, squared it up.
“They were wonderful boys and girls, Justin. I don’t know how to tell you. You know what a count means in prison? That’s how we treated them. Work gangs of twenty, always, and my security people roving around with whistles and guns. Blow the whistle at a gang, everybody drops everything and comes to attention and then you count them. If it’s nineteen or twenty-one you check. Immediately. Well, somehow they managed not to mind it. Maybe they were thinking of the pay cheques piling up against their accounts, maybe they were worked too hard to care, but maybe they knew they were shock troops too.
“The last of them was underground by October of’52. It was still primitive in here—camp cots, no privacy, lousy food. Three good men went violently insane. What could we do? We locked ’em up and our medics cared for them and one of them recovered. We started stockpiling structural members for the satellite that winter. By then they knew what they were working on. Terrific lift. And by then—well, it was a good thing we had a computer man who also happened to be an ordained minister. Yes, Justin, I didn’t show you the nursery. I think I’m behaving very well, but the nursery would be just a little more than I could take ...”
HE BEGAN to cry silently. Justin got up and walked the circuit of the huge ship’s base. When he returned Gribble was dry-eyed. “We acquired more trucks at that point,” the little man said precisely. “For one year we did very little but warehouse supplies. Between times we improved our living quarters and recreational facilities. The monotony of the work had a bad effect. There were fads for painting, sculpture and intramural competitive sports. I had to crack down on the waste of time and became utterly unpopular, which I was used to. The little stenos back in my insurance days called me ‘The Monster,’ you know. Things took an upturn when actual construction of the satellite began.
“The next year something unusual happened. There was somebody in one of those freight cars at one of those sidings. They brought him to me. He was a CIA man, and he knew he’d never be able to leave until the operation was over one way or another. He had a message that was a little too hot for our code room, since it involved code-room personnel as well as the rest of us. Luckily — or by design — he was a former cafeteria manager, and was responsible for a great improvement in our mess. But the message, the message . . . when I decoded it in my own quarters I laughed and said, ‘Melodrama.’ And I went ahead and obeyed it. It was to install, under the guise of an air-conditioning device, masked tanks of lethal gas. And I was placed under standing orders to release the gas if certain circumstances should arise. Melodrama.
“The war came, of course. They worked like demons; our medics had very little to do except circulate and snarl at sick people to lie down for a half hour if they didn’t want to drop in their tracks. Our supplies chief broke down from frustration when supplies became a trickle, an erratic one. Our sponsors in the defense department could hardly tell a desperate major general whose division was headed for Yellowknife without anti-tank guns that rail space was needed for something nebulous but infinitely more important. Or the navy that a carrier launching must be postponed two months because control-system components had to be shoveled down a hole in Prospect Hill.
“Many, many times our trucks went to the appointed places at the appointed times and found only half a dozen crates in the freight car—or no freight car at all. Thank God, the bombs came through. AEG must have interlocked with our operation somehow; they never shorted us, ever.
“We had a polio epidemic last year, Justin! And no vaccine! It swept through our electronics department like a prairie fire. We lost a dozen of our best men. Scores of them were crippled to the point where they could work only at benches, assembling. Only three men who really knew what they were doing were left to climb around the girders installing and testing. Volunteers made a lot of mistakes which the specialists had to undo. But things were drawing to a close. Our pilot and bombardier arrived and trained on the controls. They were good boys, just right for the job.
“It’s an awesome thing. Justin. That roof up there—it’s skilfully undermined. Push the button and it blasts away the crest of the hill and we stand open to the sky. One bright young man does the right things with the controls and the satellite soars and circles. The other young man does the right things with his controls and she spits hydrogen bombs one thousand miles straight down at speed far beyond detection or interception. That was to end the war, Justin. Thirty-six hell bombs. And to keep it ended, to prove to the enemy the final insanity of continuing, there are the two specials with their cobalt jackets. Drop one special somewhere over Finland. It blows, generating lethal radioactive dust. Southwesterly winds drift the dust across most of Russia, wiping out all plant and animal life in its path. The other cobalt job’s for China, even though the dust would kill as far as California. Last-chance weapons, Justin. Almost-but-not-quite bluffs. Break glass only in case of insane continued resistance after thirty-six H-bombs destroy thirty-six Russian and Chinese population centres.
“Very close, Justin. Very close. A few hundred man-hours of electronics installation remaining, a few hundred components to procure. But then there was the surrender broadcast and my orders were clear. This was what the spies in the operation had been waiting for. Come hell or high water they’d get out and turn us in. My orders were— One, to release the gas in case of military defeat and capitulation. And —Two, to contact responsible parties, could wipe out Russia and China assuming leadership of a project to complete and launch the satellite.
“I carried out the first half, Justin. You’ll help me, won’t you? They really can’t expect a person who’s been through so much to keep on going, can they? Is it reasonable? Is it fair?” His eyes were leaking again.
“If you only knew,” he groaned, surrounded by his five thousand dead, immured in his guilt.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Justin said quietly. “We’ve got a long walk. Those cows’ll be bellowing to be milked. Somebody might notice.”
A last look at the towering satellite and they started home to milk the cows.
THE SHELVES at Croley’s store were filling up. Farm supplies were coming back. For the first time in three years neat tubes of aureomycin ointment for udder sores were neatly stacked in the old space on the shelf. Under the familiar red trademark was something new in small type about the State Antibiotics Trust. That was perfectly all right with Justin; they could call it anything they wanted as long as they were pitching in to keep his milk production up.
And then he sneered at himself for the thought. It was exactly the thought they wanted him to have, and they wanted him to chop it off right there. Not to go on and reflect: milk production for whom, where?
Half a dozen farmers were waiting for Croley. The old man came out of his miniature office, looked blankly at them and went back in again. They sighed, studied the salt pork in his meat case, the sacks of rice from Louisiana— back after two years—and the comic books. Billy Spencer, Northeast Farmboy, True Life Heroes, the Story of Klaus Fuchs. Justin flipped through them, waiting. Billy Spencer was a clean-cut kid who lived only to make his milk norm and thereby build peace and the North American People’s Democratic Republic. Disaster threatened when his butterfat production slumped fifty percent and all the other kids jeered at him. But one night he saw a sinister figure skulking around his barn and who should it be but Benny Repler, the loudest of the jeerers. Benny, caught in the act of administering an unspecified slow poison to Billy’s cows, broke down and confessed he was a tool of unreconstructed capitalist traitor-saboteurs, and was marched off, head high, to expiate his sins by hard labor for the NAPDR. Billy, in a final blazing double spread, was awarded a Hero of Agricultural Labor medal by the President himself, and took the occasion to emit a hundred-word dialogue balloon pledging himself anew to the cause of peace and the people’s democracy under its great protector the Soviet Union.
And as for Fuchs, the saintly worker scientist in his long martyrdom at Wormwood Scrubs Prison . . . Justin carefully closed the comic book and replaced it in its wire rack. Croley had emerged from his office again with a wrapped parcel. You could tell from the size and the neck that it was a quart bottle. “One of you call Perce,” he said to the farmers. His half-witted helper was lounging in the sun on the bench outside. Justin was nearest the door. “Mr. Croley wants you,” he told the boy.
The storekeeper handed Perce the wrapped bottle and told him; “Like yesterday. For the soldiers up at the truck station.”
Perce giggled slyly: “Soup for lunch. Like yesterday.” He glanced at the farmers to see that they got his joke. They were as stone-faced as Croley and he went on his way. Croley stared sullenly at the first man in line—his way of asking: “May I help you, sir?” A haggle began about tobacco. Croley was an industrialist now; he had started a small sweatshop business in Norton. Somehow he had located a bale of prewar king-size cigarette papers; the widows and orphans of Norton worked at home turning them into Russian-style cigarettes with cardboard mouthpieces at a cent a dozen. With dependency allotments from the army discontinued, it fended off starvation.
“Last batch stunk,” Croley said flatly. “Dime a pound and that’s that. Should be glad to make a payment on your bill, Hunzicker.”
Hunzicker looked half around, shame on his face; everybody studiously avoided his eye. Justin wished the conventional wish that he could sink into the earth rather than see Hunzicker’s shame and Croley’s gloomy arrogance.
“Right,” the farmer muttered. “Dime a pound. But it’s better than last time. You’ll see.” Croley stared, impassive. He sold the cigarettes to the garrison at Chiunga Center. The 449th Soviet Military Government Unit winked at such rampant capitalism when it was practiced by handy, steady, centrally located Mr. Croley.
Bomb him, Justin thought vacantly. Bombardment satellite’s ready and waiting, short a few hundred man-hours and a crew. Find yourself the engineers and the crewmen, send ’em up and then they drop an H-bomb on Mr. Croley and all’s well.
Thirty-six lousy bombs and two specials.
He remembered a story by H. G. Wells in which the world had been threatened by nothing worse than intelligent, three-inch ants. A gunboat captain—what else could he do?— fired the big gun at the ants and steamed away knowing that he had accomplished nothing and furthermore would catch hell for shooting off the expensive ammunition.
Let’s see, then. One H-bomb for Croley left thirty-five. One H-bomb for the 449th SMGU left thirty-four. If they weren’t skipping numbers, that left at least 448 SMGUs to be H-bombed, leaving a deficit of 414 bombs if you didn’t count the cobalt-jacketed specials, and what were they good for?
Well, you could wipe out Russia and China, including the slave laborers who used to be the North American Armies. This would leave the occupying troops here cut off from their home bases but still top dogs with their weapons, armor and aviation. There was no reason to believe that their political bosses at home did not exert a moderating influence on the military commanders here.
And of course you couldn’t even find anybody who could locate the electronics men and crewmen you needed to fire the big gun at the ants. Rawson? A hard-boiled ex-sergeant, ex-hobo, probably ex-petty criminal, somehow involved in a bomb-smuggling ring of unknown potentialities. He had not dared tell Rawson; the thing was too big for the legless man, too big for anybody who thought only in rough-and-ready action terms.
THE battered, unpainted Keoka bus stopped outside the store with a scream of brakes and sizzling radiator. Justin glanced at the schedule and the clock. It was thirty-five minutes late — about average for the service.
He recognized the man who swung down from the bus and came in. The salesman. The bomb-runner. Bee-Jay Farm Supplies and Machinery, Washington, Penna. The man pleasantly elbowed his way through the crowd, explaining to one and all: “I don’t want to break in on the line, gentlemen, but you’ll thank me for it in the long run. The driver tells me—How are you Mr. Croley?—the driver says we’re stopping for ten minutes to let the engine cool down so I thought I’d let Mr. C. in on the big news. Gentlemen, we have milk cans again, ready for delivery and I’m sure you’re all glad to hear it. Mr. Croley, would you be interested in six dozen hundred-pound tin-lined steel milk cans of the famous Bee-Jay quality for your customers?” He had his order book out.
“C’m into the office,” Croley grunted, and they disappeared.
“Things are picking up all over,” a little old man said hopefully to Justin. “If the price’s right I could use a dozen myself. Sick of scouring and patching the old cans. Don’t you think things are picking up?”
Somebody else snapped: “For Croley they are. Crooked skunk.” The little man looked alarmed and started to move away. The dangerous talker— Justin thought he was one of the Eldridge brothers from Four Corners took the little man’s arm and began pouring into his ears a tale of how Croley paid off every week to a SMGU major who pretended to inspect his freezer room . . .
“Mebbe, mebbe,” the little man kept saying as he tried to get away.
Justin told himself: there’s my man; in Croley’s office. I wait for him to come out, I walk along as he heads for the bus, we whisper an appointment and I meet him somewhere. And then, thank God, it’ll be over. No more bombardment satellite for me. A smooth conspiratorial group somewhere will take it over, do what has to be done. I’ll have done my share, I'll watch and secretly know that some day I'll be in the history hooks as the daring civilian who contacted the organization at the risk of his life . . .
It didn’t work out that way at all.
The bus driver called: “Board!” and the salesman appeared at the door of the little office, still talking to Croley and shaking hands. He talked Croley out through the door of the shop with him, swung up the steps of the bus still talking and collapsed comfortably into a dirty oilcloth-covered seat while Justin gaped and the bus chugged off down the road.
Justin found himself swearing, almost frenzied, as he stumped along the dirt track to the Shiptons’ wood lot. The flies were bad in the summer heat; he slapped viciously at them missing oftener than not, knowing that frustration was making him behave like an idiot. But he had to dump this load !
Rawson came into sight about where they told him he’d he. The crippled veteran was strapped into his gocart, leaning far out to bore a hole with a post auger. The Shipton milk quota had been stepped up again. To meet it they’d have to breed their heifers early; to feed the calf's that would come they needed more pasture. So here was Rawson boring post holes to enclose land supposed to be set aside as wood lot for the future.
Justin hailed the legless man abruptly. Rawson gave the pipe handle of the auger a final turn and hauled it up, loaded with sandy clay, his huge shoulder muscles bulging. “Good day’s work,” he said proudly. “What brings you here, Billy?”
“I know where the bombardment satellite is,” Justin said flatly.
Rawson grinned. “Why, so do I. Poor old Yankee Doodle's a few miles south of Yellowknife, what’s left of her. Too bad they didn’t get her up in time ...”
“I mean the real one,” Justin said. “Yankee Doodle was deception. I know where the real one is. Rawson, you’ve got to put me in touch with your higher-ups. Don’t act dumb, Rawson! You’ve got something to do with the suitcase A-bombs. I saw that salesman who picked up the assembly from me that time. He was in Croley’s store but he was gone before I had a chance to talk to him.”
“Nearby?” Rawson asked thoughtfully.
“Skip that. Just let me know who’s your boss and how to get in touch. I want to dump this business. I don’t know what to do with it, where to begin. I’ve got to turn it over to somebody.”
“You’re nuts,” Rawson said. “I don’t know about any A-bombs and you don’t know about any bombardment satellites lying around. What A-bomb was this —that liquor you helped me out with?”
“Liquor be damned! Who’s your boss?”
“Convince me, Billy. You haven’t yet. And if it’ll help you talk, you might as well know I used to be, in my time, the youngest general officer in the Corps of Engineers.”
“You’re in command?”
“Of what? I’m not giving information, Billy. I’m only taking today.”
So, Justin thought bitterly, I don’t get to lay it down. Instead I get involved deeper. Now I have the burden of Rawson’s identity on me— unless he’s lying or crazy. He began to talk.
Gribble, the psychosis, the satellite.
When there was no more to tell, the legless man said: “Very circumstantial. Maybe even true.”
“You’ll take it from here?” Justin demanded.
“Go home and wait, Billy. Just go home and wait.” Rawson shoved his gocart five feet farther down the line and stabbed his auger into the sod for the next post hole.
Justin started down the dirt path, the burden still on his back. He thought of blood-spattered cellar walls against which men exactly like him, but with less than a millionth of the guilty knowledge he possessed, were beaten and killed. When would they let Billy Justin be Billy Justin again? It went far back into childhood, his involvement. Were the old wars like this rolling, continuous thing of which he had been a part for as long as he could remember, this thing that would not end even now that it was ended? Item: childhood games. Item: high-school ROTC. Item: propaganda poster contests. Item: Korea (and an infected leg wound from a dirty, nameless little patrol). Item: War Three (and cows). Item: defeat and occupation. And still he was entangled in spite of his fatigue, his hundred-times-earned honorable discharge.
JUSTIN waited through two weeks of summer drought and flies, having the minimum of talk with Gribble, collapsing every night in exhaustion. They came very close to meeting their milk norm.
The signal was a long blast of the mailwoman’s horn—it meant registered mail, an insured package or something of the sort. Justin climbed the steep short hill to the mailbox suspecting nothing more. But Betsy Cardew told him: “Think up a good reason. You’re going to Chiunga Center with me.”
“Rawson?” he asked. She nodded. “Can you wait while I throw a bucket of water over myself and change my shirt?”
“I can’t. Please get in.”
They chugged the long mail route almost without conversing. She had nothing to say except that he would meet some people. He tried to tell her that she shouldn’t be mixed up in anything like this and she said she had to be. They had to have the mail carriers. And, after reflecting, he realized that they did. Mail carriers were daily travelers who met everybody and carried packages as part of the job. Mail carriers were essential, and if one of them happened to be a slim, clear-eyed girl entirely unsuited for torture and death in a cellar, so much the worse for her.
She showed no fear at the check points. The Red Army men who stopped her and signed her through on their registers were friendly. She said to them: “ Prohsteetye, chtoh behspohkohyoo ras," while Justin stared and the soldiers grinned.
“Very difficult language,” she told Justin as they drove on. “I’m making slow progress.”
“Those soldiers looked pretty sloppy to me.”
“Colonel Platoff’s got a girl. Mrs. Grauer.”
Justin whistled. The Grauers were Chiunga Center aristocracy. Young Mr. Grauer was president by primogeniture of the feed mill, Mrs. Grauer was an imported Wellesley girl and very slim and lovely. The husband, of course, was whereabouts unknown after surrendering his National Guard regiment in the debacle at Edmonton. “Goes right to the house?” he asked.
“Right to the big red-brick Georgian showplace,” she said, concentrating on her driving. “I don’t know if they’re in love or not. There’s an awful lot of it going on.”
So Colonel Platoff had a girl and the soldiers at the check points had murky brass and had skipped shaving. The soldierly virtue was running fast out of SMGU 449. Justin was suddenly more conscious than ever that he smelled like what he was: a farmer in a midsummer drought.
Justin got out when they reached the post office by late afternoon. Betsy Cardew said she had two hours of sorting ahead of her, and would he meet her at her house on Chiunga Hill.
He wandered through the town unmolested. Mr. Parish, the bald, asthmatic young pharmacist, called to him from behind his prescription counter as he strolled down High Street. Mr. Parish and he had been fellow members of Rotary in the old days before the Farm-or-Fight laws; the membership of a free-lance commercial artist made Chiunga Center Rotary more broadminded and cultured than the other chapters down the valley. They valued him for it, especially Mr. Parish who daydreamed of escaping from pharmacy via a long historical novel he was writing.
Justin stepped into the store and nervously blurted out his cover story, an unconvincing bit about buying seedcake from the local feed store, Croley’s price being too high for comfort.
Mr. Farish, completely uninterested, waved the yarn aside and set him up a root beer. “Red Army boys are crazy about root beer,” he said. “Nothing like it where they come from.”
“How’re they behaving?”
“Pretty fair. Say, did you hear about Colonel Platoff and Mrs.--?”
“I heard. Customer, Harry.”
It was a Red soldier with a roll of film. “Sredah?" he asked, grinning.
“Pyatnectsah,” Mr. Parish told him. “Okay?”
“Hokay,” said the soldier. He contorted his face and brought out from the depths: “Soap?” And grinned with relief.
Mr. Farish sold him the soap and put away the film. “He wanted it on Wednesday and I told him Friday,” he said casually. “You saw how he took it, Billy. There’s no harm in them. Of course you farmers are eating a lot better than we are here but after they get food distribution squared away—”
Justin gulped his root beer and thanked Farish. He had to find out about that seedcake, he said, and hurried out. The bald young man looked hurt by his abruptness.
The bald young idiot!
He headed for one of the elm-shaded residential streets and paced its length, his hands rammed into the pockets of his jeans. Parish didn’t know; Parish knew only that farmers were always griping. He didn’t realize that the problem facing the Reds in the valley was to squeeze the maximum amount of milk from it and any time spent batting the mercantile population around would be wasted. After the pattern was set, after the dairy farmers were automatic serfs, then they would move on the shopkeepers. Currently they were being used, and skilfully, to supply the garrison and the farms.
And still there was a nagging thought that these Red GIs were just human, and that their bosses were just human, that things seemed to be easing into a friendlier pattern of live-and-let-live.
And beneath that one there was the darker thought that it was too good to last, that somehow the gigantic self-regulating system would respond to the fact that Red GIs were treating the conquered population like friends and that Colonel Platoff had a girl.
An off-duty soldier and his girl were strolling the elm-shaded street with him, he noticed. The girl he vaguely recognized: one of those town drifters who serves your coffee at the diner one morning and the next day, to your surprise;, is selling you crockery at the five-and-ten. Margaret something-or-other—
A sergeant bore down on the couple, and the soldier popped to attention, saluting. Without understanding a word Justin knew that he was witnessing a memorable chewing-out. The spitting, snarling Russian language was well suited to the purpose. When it ended at last the chastened soldier saluted, about-faced and marched down the street at attention, with Margaret something-or-other left standing flatfooted. The sergeant relaxed and smiled at her: "Kahhoy,preeyatnyi syoorpreez ƒ”
Margaret had her bearings again. She smiled back: "Da, big boy. Let’s go,” and off they went arm in arm.
Justin walked back to High Street, deeply disturbed. He liked what he had seen. It was too good, too warmly human, to be true.
MR. SPARHAWK was established on a crate at the corner of High and Onondaga outside the bank preaching to a thin crowd, none of whom stayed for more than a minute. The pinched British voice and the bony British face had not changed in the months since Justin last saw him. Neither had his line:
“My dear friends, we have peace at last. Some of you doubtless believe that it would be a better peace if it had been won by the victory of the North American Governments than by their adversaries, but this is vain thinking. Peace is indivisible, however attained. It is not what it has come out of but what we make of it. Reforming ourselves from within is the way in which we shall reform society. In the lonely individual heart begins what you are pleased to call progress. I rejoice that there is a diminished supply of meat and pray that this condition will reveal to you all the untruthfulness of the propaganda that meat is essential to health, and that from this realization many of you will progress to vegetarianism, the first great ascetic step toward universal life-reverence ...” Justin could not stand more than a minute of it himself. He headed north along Onondaga Street toward Chiunga Hill and the big white house where Betsy lived. He knew why it hadn’t yet been requisitioned, even after the guilty flight of her father, the National Committeeman. The Russians were supposed to live like Spartans in their barracks, officers faring not much better than the troops. But he thought he scented a trend in town that would end only with the expropriation of every decent dwelling in the Center.
The second and third floors of the house were closed off. There was still plenty of room for Betsy and a Mrs. Norse, the last of the servants. She was tottery and deaf; actually the two women waited on each other. Betsy matter-of-factly offered Justin a bath, which he eagerly accepted. When he emerged from the tub she called to him: “I’ve found some of my father’s gardening things for you to put on. I don’t suppose you want me to save your clothes?”
“No,” he called back, embarrassed. “You caught me by surprise today, you know. I was wearing them just to clean the barn —”
“Of course,” she said politely. "I'll have Mrs. Norse burn them, shall I?”
Clean socks, underwear, and clean, faded denims—he had to take up six inches of slack with his belt—left Justin feeling better than he had in months. Mrs. Norse was noisy about the improvement. She remembered the day when a man wouldn’t dream of setting foot outside his bedroom unless he was decently clothed in stiff collar, white shirt, tie and jacket. She told Justin about it and Betsy cooked dinner.
A panel truck pulled into the driveway while they were eating Spanish rice, the main dish. It proceeded to the back of the house, but Justin had time to read the lettering on it as it passed the window.
“Department of Agriculture,” he said to Betsy. “And in smaller letters. Fish and Wildlife Survey.”
She was blank-faced. “Go into the library when you’ve finished,” she said. “Mrs. Norse and I will clear things up.”
He found he was gobbling his Spanish rice and deliberately slowed down. Then the stuff balled in his mouth so he couldn’t swallow.
“Excuse me,” he said, gulping coffee and standing. He went into the library.
There were three men, all strangers, all middle-aged. One was the lean-little-gnome Jewish type, one was heavy and spectacularly bald, one was a placid ox.
Mr. Ox said, “Put up your hands,” and searched him. Mr. Egg said: “I hope you don’t mind. We have to ask you some questions,” and Justin knew at once who he was—the Hon. James Buchanan Wagner, junior senator from Michigan, nicknamed “Curly.” He had shaved his head, and for safety’s sake really ought to do something about his superb voice. Though perhaps, Justin thought, he as a commercial artist was a lot quicker than most to fill in the outlines of that bushy head.
Mr. Gnome said: “Sit down, please,” and opened a brief case. He laid a light tray and variously colored tiles before Justin and said: “Put them in the tray any way you like.” Justin built up a nice design for the man in about a minute and sat back.
Mr. Gnome said: “Look at this picture and tell me what it’s about.” The picture was very confusing, but after a moment Justin realized that it was a drawing of one man telling another man something, apparently a secret from their furtive expressions. He said so.
“Now what about this one?”
“Two men fighting. The big one s losing the fight.”
“A horse—just a horse.”
There were about fifty pictures. When they were run through Mr. Gnome switched to ink-blot cards which Justin identified as spiders, women, mirrors and whatever else they looked like to him.
Every, now and then Justin heard Senator Wagner distinctly mutter “fiddle-faddle,” which did not surprise him. The senator, known as a man who saw his duty to the United States and did it, was nevertheless not distinguished for broad-gauged liberal leadership.
There followed word-association lists. Not only did the gnome hold a stop watch, but Mr. Ox calmly donned a stethoscope and put the button on Justin’s wrist.
Then they seemed to be finished. The gnome told the senator: "I guess he’s all right. Yes—he’s either smarter than I am or he’s all right. Sincere, not too neurotic, a reasonably effective person. For what it’s worth, senator, I vouch for—”
The senator said angrily: "No names!”
Mr. Gnome shrugged. "His reaction time on ‘Congress,’ ‘hair,’ ‘wagon’—he recognized you all right.”
"Very well, doctor,” rumbled the celebrated voice. “Mr. Justin, I wish to show you something.” The senator turned down his collar on the right. He was still bitterly hostile—fundamentally scared, Justin realized, with two kinds of fear. There was the built-in animal fear of pain, mutilation, death. There was the abstract fear that one wrong decision at any stage of this dangerous game would blow sky-high any hope that America would rise again.
The senator was showing Justin a razor blade taped inside his collar. "You can seem merely to be easing your collar, Mr. Justin. With one swift move, however—so—you can slash your carotid artery beyond repair. Within seconds you will be dead. Your orders are not to be taken alive, the senator said. And he added grimly: "My psychologist friend indicates that you have sufficient moral fibre to carry them out.” He tossed a blade and an inch of tape at Justin. "Put them on. Then tell your story. General Hollerith assures us through Miss Cardew that it is of the utmost importance.”
“Is Hollerith Rawson?” Justin demanded.
“I don’t recall his cover name. No legs,” said the psychologist.
HIS FRIEND Rawson a general after all. Then what might not be true? The psychologist slipped out while Justin told Senator Wagner and Mr. Ox—of the FBI?—about his bombardment satellite.
The senator was apoplectic. He fizzed for minutes about abuse of the executive power; apparently Congress had been told as little about the bombardment satellite as an earlier Congress had been told about the atomic bomb. Well—sigh—what’s done is done. Now the problem is to integrate the windfall into existing plans.
Mr. Gnome returned and said: “Miss Cardew will brief you, Mr. Justin. We have to be on our way now.”
They left and Justin heard the Fish and Wildlife Survey panel truck move out of the driveway and down the road.
Back in the dining room Mrs. Norse was dozing in a corner.
“Well?” asked Betsy Cardew.
He turned down his collar and showed her the blade.
“The man said you were in and I was to brief you. What do you want to know about us?”
"What’s there to know? How many. What you plan. Whether you think you can get away with it. Who’s the boss.”
“I don’t know how many there are. I don’t really know whether there s anybody in it except a couple of local people and those three. They came around a month ago—I used to know the senator. I don’t know who’s in charge, if anybody.
“They told me it’s a war plan, one of those things that lies in the files until it’s needed. Well, it was needed when the collapse came at Edmonton. The orders were for as many atomic-service officers as possible to grab all the fissionable material they could lay their hands on and go underground. The same for psychological-warfare personnel. Then start recruiting civilians into the organization.”
“And what do we do?”
“They’ve mentioned a winter uprising. They hope by then to have a large part of the civilian population alerted. There should be food caches, caches of winter clothing, weapons and ammunition stolen from Red supply dumps. Then you wait for real socked-in, no-see flying weather and fire your suitcase A-bombs. Washington, of course, to behead the administration. Ports to prevent reinforcement, lank parks. Roads and railways. Simultaneously a scorched-earth guerrilla war against the garrisons while they’re cut off.
“Oh, and you asked me whether I think we can get away with it, didn’t you? The answer is no. I don’t think so. I don’t see anything coming out of it except defeat and retaliation. But is there anything else to do?”
“No,” he said gravely. Nor was there.
“What did you tell General Hollerith, anyway?” she asked. “Something to do with Gribble, wasn’t it?”
“Sorry. They asked me not to say.” He fished fora change of subject. “How did you arrange the meeting, get in touch with them? If it’s all right for me to know.”
“I suppose so. Believe it or not, our conspiracy has a complete secret telegraphic network covering most of the United States. I didn’t believe them when they told me, but it’s true. Like finding out that you don’t have to dig a tunnel under the English Channel; there’s one already dug. The senator found out about the wires when he was on the crime commission. They call them dry wires. They’re the old Postal Telegraph network from before your time and mine. Public clocks in all sorts of places used to beget correcting pulses over the wires. When Western Union absorbed Postal Telegraph they just blanked off their clock wires because radio had come along by then and any disk jockey could give you Naval Observatory time. I located one of the painted-over terminals in the Lackawanna station. Ticket clerk there’s in with us. All you need to activate a link of the circuit is a battery, a key and a buzzer. He covers the wire for us. A brave man, Billy . . .”
“We’re all heroes,” he said bitterly.
“Yes, I suppose we are. Would you like a drink?”
“I ought to start for home. Maybe I can hitch a ride.”
“Nonsense. Stay the night and take the Keoka bus. If you stay for breakfast it’ll improve your cover story. I think I told you—there’s a lot of it going on.”
“I think what you said was, ‘It isn’t love, but there’s a lot of it going on.’ ”
“Something like that. There isn’t much love around these days. A lot of loneliness, a lot of monotony, a lot of shattered pride.”
“I’ll take that drink, please,” he said.
THEY walked together down Chiunga Hill toward the town, savoring the still cool morning. The reservoir off to the north was a sheet of blue glass and the pumping station a toy fort in the clear air.
“I’m glad they never bombed us,”
Betsy said, “I really like this place.”
He thought of reminding her what a scorched - earth guerrilla campaign meant, but did not speak.
“Convoy,” Betsy said, pointing down at the highway. The buglike trucks must be hauling supplies—but the tanks? “Manoeuvres,” she said.
They walked on in silence, and Chiunga Hill Road became Elm Street and they joined other morning walkers to work. A letter carrier in grey said: “Morning, Miss Cardew. What do you suppose those trucks are up to?”
He meant the convoy. Instead of bypassing the town they had turned off the highway and were rolling down High Street, three blocks farther on.
“Maybe they’re going across the bridge to the Tunkhannock road, Mr. Selwin. Mr. Selwin, do you know Mr. Justin?”
“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” the old man said. “You a farmer, Mr. Justin?”
“You’re a lucky man, then, I can tell you that. At least you get all you want to eat. Say, Mr. Justin, I hear that sometimes you people up in the hills have a few eggs or maybe a chicken or some butter left over and I happen to know a family with a little girl that’s real sick with anaemia. Blood needs building up. Now if I could fix it up with you —”
Justin shook his head. “I can’t get away with it, Mr. Selwin. I’m very sorry. And by the way, the farmers may be eating better than the city people, but they’re sweating it, you know. Soon as you catch up it jumps again.”
“He’s telling the truth, Mr. Selwin,” Betsy said. “Ask any of the rural carriers. Surely those trucks aren’t stopping for our little traffic light, are they?”
“They never have before,” Mr. Selwin said. They were now only a block from High Street. The postman peered over his glasses at the standing trucks. “But then,” he said, “they don’t seem to be regular Red Army trucks. Instead of the red star they have—let’s see—MBA. What’s MBA mean?”
“In the first place,” Betsy said slowly, “it’s MVD.”
“Beats me, Miss Cardew. I don’t know how you and the other young people do it.” He winked at Justin privately.
“They’re the border guards. And the political police,” Betsy said.
Two trucks turned out of line on High Street and came roaring down their way along Elm. Justin got only a glimpse of young faces and special uniforms. Green, with polished leather.
They can't have come for us, thought Justin incredulously. There’s a regiment of them. Fifty personnel-carrier trucks, command cars, half a dozen medium tanks. They can’t have come for Betsy and me!
Walking in frozen silence they reached High Street. The main body of the convoy was parked there, the young men in their special uniforms impassive under the eyes and whispers of five hundred work-bound men and women. At the far end of High Street, the old bridge across the Susquehanna, stood two of the tanks. The other four tanks were crawling northeast from High along Seneca. Nothing was in that direction except the high school— the 449th SMGU garrison.
A fat man in a high-slung command car got up, looked at his watch and blew a whistle three times. The convoy erupted into action. People laughed shrilly; it was comical to see almost one thousand young men who had been stock-still a moment ago begin to climb out of their trucks, hand down equipment, consult maps and lists, snap salutes and pass low-toned commands and acknowledgments.
A pattern appeared. Justin knew it from Korea. There are only so many ways to occupy a town. This outfit was doing it the expensive, foolproof sledgehammer way. The strings of sixteen burdened men in double column were machine-gun sections streaming out to the perimeter of the area; they would set up a pair of cross-firing guns at each main road into the Center. The squads double-timing ahead of them would be pickets linking the machine-gun points. And there was a mortar section, sagging under its bed-plates and barrels and canvas vests stuffed with bombs; they were on their way to the Susquehanna bridge embankment to reinforce the pair of tanks. A cheap little mortar bomb would sink a rowboat unworthy of a 155-millimetre shell from the tank; a white phosphorus bomb would be more effective against forbidden swimmers than machine-gun fire.
And the specialist squads moved down to the railroad station to hold all trains, and into the small A.T.&T. Building to take charge of communications, and into the Western Union office with its yellow-and-black hanging sign and varnished golden-oak counter and scared nineteen-year-old girl clerk.
And riflemen consulted maps and went and stood like traffic cops, a pair at every intersection, sweeping the crowded sidewalks with stony eyes.
Beside Justin Mr. Selwin gibbered: “It must be some kind of drill, don’t you think? Just what you call a dry run, don’t it look like?”
A vast relief was blossoming inside Justin. “I think so,” he said. “I can’t imagine what else it could be. Just practice in case.” In case of me—but not yet.
A SOUND truck rolled down the street, stopping at each corner to make an announcement in Russian and one in English. They saw the crowds melt from the sidewalk and into shops as it approached; from three blocks away they caught the English: “All persons off the streets at once and await inspections. Persons on the street in three minutes will be shot—” They dived for a store the instant it sank in. The store happened to be Mr. Parish’s pharmacy. “Thank God,” said Betsy. “A place with coffee.” Her voice shook.
The sound truck stopped only a couple of yards away at the intersection and bellowed in Russian and English. The score or so of people crowded into the store debated on the Russian announcement. They more or less agreed at last that the announcement had been orders for all SMGU troops to report at once to the high school athletic field.
Bald young Mr. Farish was behind his soda fountain making and serving coffee mechanically. When he got to Justin, Betsy and Mr. Selwin he twinkled: “Little break in the monotony, eh?”
Mr. Selwin said: “I ought to be in th3 sorting room. I’ve been late before this year, no fault of my own. It’s going to look awfully bad.”
The coffee was some terrible synthetic or other.
Betsy said from the window: “They're arresting the SMGU men—I think. Everybody crowded up to see a couple of regular-detachment people being marched along by MVD troops. The green-uniformed young men had taken the regulars’ tommy guns.
“It’s something like a visit from the Inspector General,” said a man who actually took a short step through the door onto the sidewalk to see better. “Only—Russian.” One of the MVD men posted like traffic cops yelled at him and brandished his rifle. He grinned and ducked back into the store.
“Russians don’t scare me any more,” he announced. “You know what I mean. I thought it was the end of the world when they came, but I learned. They’re GIs, and so what?”
A woman looked around, scowled and said: “Speak for yourself.”
It precipitated a ten-minute debate in the crowded little store. Chiunga Center had not yet decided on the relationship between itself and the Russians. We might be across the Mississippi, said somebody. How’d you like to have a bunch of Chinks swaggering around? Yeah, the Russians aren’t so different from Americans. It says in the Times they both have characters shaped by frontiers -A Toynbeean’s view was that the occupiers would be softened and democratized by their contact with the occupied.
Through it all Justin and Betsy stood in a rear corner, their hands nervously entwined. Mr. Selwin left them long enough for a worried glance through the window. While the old man was gone Justin had time to mutter: “Have you got a blade? I could buy one for you.”
“I have one,” she said, barely moving her lips.
Mr. Selwin came back. “I believe it’s all over,” he said. “The streets are clear and those soldiers are just standing there and I ought to get to the sorting room.”
“Better not, Mr. Selwin,” Betsy said.
“You don’t understand, Miss Cardew. You just took a mail job because you had to work at something. I’ve got thirty-two years in and absences don’t look good when a man’s my age. They start to say you’re slipping. Young people don’t understand that. I believe I’m going to ask that soldier standing over there if I can go now.”
“I wouldn’t, Mr. Selwin,” Justin told him.
Selwin went anyway. He shouted from the doorway at the pair of riflemen: “Is it all right now? We go? Free?” They stared at him.
Some of the other Americans stranded in the store called out hopefully in Russian. The faces of the young men in green didn’t change. “Better not,” a man told Mr. Selwin.
Mr. Selwin said: “I’ll try a few steps out. It all seems to be over anyway.”
He stepped out tentatively, keeping his eye on the Russians. They simply watched incuriously. The postman turned and grinned for a moment at the people in the store and took a couple of cautious steps down the street, then a couple more.
One of the Russians raised his rifle and shot Mr. Selwin in the chest. The big bullet blasted a grunt out of the old man, but after he fell he was silent. Apparently the sentry had been waiting for Mr. Selwin to step past the glass window of the drugstore to brick wall that would provide a backstop.
The man who wasn’t scared any more said slowly: “I think this is a different kind of Russian we have here.”
A middle-aged woman began to shake; and sob with hysteria. Mr. Farish yelled: “Don’t let her knock those bottles over, please! I’ll get some ammonia spirits—”
He fed them to her from a glass, nervously stroking his bald head. She calmed down, took the glass in her own hands and gulped it, coughing.
They heard the boom of the sound truck in the distance again, and another sound: machine guns, a pair of them firing short carefully spaced bursts. “It isn’t combat firing,” Justin said in bewilderment. “It sounds as if they’re shooting for badges on a range.”
Then a spattering of rifle shots confused the sound and then the truck rolled down High Street and drowned out the small arms with its yammer.
“All persons registered with the 449th Soviet Military Government Unit are ordered to report at once to the athletic field. Stragglers will be fired on. All persons registered—
AFTER THE case of Mr. Selwin they did not hesitate. The shops along High Street erupted civilians who streamed towards the field, some of them running.
The field was clear on the other side of town from High Street. The congestion as they neared it was worse than it had ever been for a Saturday football game, even the traditional rivalry of Chiunga Catamounts versus Keoka Cougars. The bellowing sound truck dimmed behind them. The queer and prissy bursts-of-four machine gunning became louder, with the occasional spatter of rifles still occurring now and then.
Green-uniformed MVD men were posted around the field, gesturing the crowd through. One man was going the wrong way; he charged out of the gate beneath the stands, stumbling and caroming off the incoming civilians. Justin dodged and yanked Betsy aside as the man leaned over and was sick. Then the crowd swept them on through the narrow gate. They popped out inside on the cinder track that circled the field; MVD men gestured them along. The small bleachers across the field from them and the small stands sloping back behind them were full; these late arrivals were to be standees.
The field itself was crowded with something Justin at first—idiotically— took to be a dress parade. As he and Betsy shuffled sideways along the cinder track under the pressure of more arrivals his eye gradually sorted out the two thousand-odd soldiers on the field.
First there were the disarmed men of the 449th rigidly at attention behind their officers. They were drawn up in a solid block of companies that stretched from the north goal line to the thirty-yard line. Everybody was there, down to the medics in their hospital coats and the cooks and bakers in their whites.
Then he saw the tanks, one at each corner of the field, their machine guns and cannon depressed to fire point blank into the 449th. Then he saw the green-uniformed MVD men with rifles and tommy guns and a pile of new dead directly before them on the fifty-yard line.
Machine guns roared above his head. Betsy screamed and clapped her hands to her head. The muzzle blast was terrific—
He turned and saw where they were coming from. A pair of them were mounted in the little press box hung from the roof of the stands, the box where the Valley News used to cover the games and WVC-TV used to broadcast the traditional rivalry each year. The guns hammered with that firing-range artificiality for a while and then stopped. Justin noticed that directly in front of them in midfield five soldiers of the 449th lay butchered.
Somebody in the field bawled: “Roytah—gay!”
MVD men began to hustle officers and men from one of the company blocks. All the officers, one enlisted man in four. The uneven rifle shots were explained while the selection was going on. One of the enlisted men broke loose and ran, screaming, when a green-uniformed youth tapped his chest. He was shot down as he sprinted sweatily towards the bleachers. The rest moved like zombies to the killing ground. In a few seconds they too were sprawling and screaming while the plunging fire from the press box hacked up the carefully tended sod of the stadium.
THE WORD was traveling from early arrivals in the stands to those who had come late and were jammed onto the track. “They made a big speech in Russian and English first,” a man next to Justin reported, after whispers with his neighbor. He spoke to Justin, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the charnel heap in the infield. His face and voice were just a little insane. “Fella says they called the 449th traitors to international socialism. Stuff about sloth, negligence, corruption, disgrace to the army. Then they shot all the top brass starting with Platoff. Say did you hear about Platoff and Mrs. —?”'
“I heard,” Justin said. He turned away.
“Rohtah gay,” Betsy whispered. “Company G. That’s only the fourth in their alphabet. They’ll be busy all morning.”
At noon the last of the job was done. The weeping, or blank-faced, or madly grinning survivors of the 449th were loaded onto trucks and the field PA system cleared its throat .
“Proclamation. To the indigenous population of the area formerly under control of the 449th Soviet Military Government Unit. You are ordered to inform all persons unable to attend the foregoing demonstration of what has happened. You are advised that this the treatment that will be accorded to all such betrayers of international socialist morality as the late Platoff and his gang of bourgeois-spirited lackeys. You are advised that henceforth this area will be under the direction of the Meeneestyerstvoh Vnootronikh Dyehl, the Ministry of Internal Affairs. You are advised that all laws and rules of the Occupation will be rigidly enforced from this moment on. You are ordered to disperse within ten minutes. Troops will fire on stragglers.”
This might have been intended to precipitate a panic and an excuse for slaughter. It did not. Justin, sated with the horror of the morning’s work, still had some room for pride in him when the people in stands and bleachers rose and slowly filed from the stadium, turned their backs on the green-uniformed young monsters and their pile of carrion without cringing.
Justin walked with Betsy to the post office and left her there with a silent squeeze of the hand.
At the restaurant that doubled as bus station an old woman told him: “No buses been along all morning, mister. Should of been the Keoka bus at eight, ten and twelve. And this fella in the green with the fancy belt, he walked in and he ripped down the bus schedule right off the wall. I guess he didn’t speak English, but then I guess he didn’t have to, did he?”
“I guess not,” Justin said.
He went out and started the fifteen mile walk home under the broiling midsummer sun.
NEXT ISSUE : PART TWO
THE SURVIVAL of freedom in the world lies in the weakened hands of two ordinary men. Can they pierce the conquering Russians’ roadblocks and get their vital news to the leaders of the Underground?