With all the world enslaved after this war of the future, the tortured Justin and the saintly Sparhawk struggled to reach the Underground with the secret that might still win back freedomC. M. KORNBLUTH May 28 1955
With all the world enslaved after this war of the future, the tortured Justin and the saintly Sparhawk struggled to reach the Underground with the secret that might still win back freedomC. M. KORNBLUTH May 28 1955
“ANYONE ON THIS STREET in three minutes will be shot,” the voice from the Russian sound truck commanded. Billy Justin and Betsy Cardew dived for cover while a Russian bullet felled a less cautious spectator.
With the arrival of MVD troops, the occupation of Chiunga Center, N.Y., entered its most severe phase since the capitulation of the West on April 17, 1965—that terrible day when the United States, the last nation to hold out against the combined forces of Russia and Communist China, had surrendered at Edmonton.
Chiunga citizens like Farish, the timid druggist, and Gus Feinblatt, the fatalistic Jewish farmer, dreaded the new Red regime. Even collaborationist storekeeper Croley was uneasy. Only Mr. Sparhawk, an eccentric itinerant preacher, seemed to find consolation in his own doctrines of asceticism and non-resistance.
Billy Justin, thirty-seven-year-old commercial artist turned dairy farmer, had extra reason for evading the hail of Russian bullets. He knew that the West’s last hope would die with him if he were killed.
At first Justin had resented the fact that pretty Betsy Cardew and General Hollerith, the legless veteran who posed as a hobo, had implicated him in the early stages of a resistance movement. But he knew he was irrevocably committed to their side when Gribble, an ex-Pentagon general whose nerve had cracked when he was forced to order the extinction of five thousand of his own scientists for security reasons, entrusted to him the secret that represented democracy’s last desperate chance of retaliation. Hidden in an underground factory was the most powerful weapon ever devised by man, a satellite capable of encircling the earth and annihilating city after city with hydrogen bombs.
“I carried out the first half, Justin. You’ll help me, won’t you,” Gribble pleaded. “You and I are the only people in the world who know that the satellite exists. It’s up to you to smuggle the secret into the hands of the resistance leaders—and to see that they use it.”
JUSTIN was scything down the dry grass of autumn for winter feeding to the cows. Behind him Gribble followed with a rake and a hoarded ball of twine ends, making bundles they could carry to the barn.
It was October.
In the monotony of scything, the hypnotic step — swing—slice—step-swing slice, Justin could almost believe in the role he was playing. Of all the roles he had played, it was the queerest.
Successively he had impersonated a grownup, a soldier, a businessman-artist, a Farm Front Fighter. Now what he had to tell himself was: “You’re a peasant. This is what it’s like to be a peasant.”
And he was. Dirty, coarsened, tired and underfed, Justin who had supposed himself a democrat all his life found himself at last a member of the eternal overwhelming majority, brother at last in space and time to the stone-age grubbers of roots, the Chinese toiling with an aching back and thighs over rice shoots in the dynasty of Han or Comrade Mao, potato-eaters of the Andes or the Netherlands, all those who in time past, time present and perhaps for all time to come must dig in stubborn ground while the knees shake with fatigue. The emblems of the brotherhood were hunger and fatigue.
Three months under the Meeneestyerstvoh Vnootrenikh Dyehl had left him a clear choice. He could be a debased animal or he could die.
He knew of people by the dozen who had chosen to be people. They had died. There was the case of the Wehrweins, of Straw Hill. The Wehrweins refused to understand that things were different now. They refused to make their quota, trusting to the farmer’s old technique of the blank stare, the “Who me mister?” and the sullen “Tain’t no business of mine.” A polite search would have shown them nothing, but the MVD searched with crowbars and found a hoard of grain.
The Wehrweins were shot for sabotage. Their children were shot for failing to report their sabotage.
The Elekinnens, of Little Finland, one of those big close-knit European family complexes, were wiped out to the last man, woman and child. Papa Guilder, their patriarch, cursed and struck an MVD Agro Section inspector: unlawful violence against the occupying authority.
Mr. Konreid made no more popskull brandy from his sprawling, slovenly vineyard. Mr. Konreid had been shot for failure to obey agricultural crop acreage regulations. His fifty-year-old son and the son’s fifty-year-old wife, workers in the feed mill, town dwellers who had not seen the old man since a bitter estrangement three decades ago, died with him in the centre of the athletic field: failure to report contravention of agricultural regulation.
There was a new whispered phrase: “shipped south.” Mr. and Mrs. Lacey, of Four Corners, had been “shipped south.” They were back in two weeks, cringing away from questions, seemingly half insane. All their teeth had been pulled and they worked their fields with lunatic zeal. The four nearest neighbors of the Laceys were arrested soon afterward by MVD teams who knew exactly where to find their hoards of grain, the eggs laid down in water glass, the secret smokehouse in the wood where hams and bacon slowly turned on strings over smoldering hickory chips. The neighbors were shot.
There were never audible complaints any more, through two milk-norm increases and two ration reductions. Everybody had taken to frantic weeding in every spare second; leisure did not exist. The smallest children were pressed into work. A three-year-old who carelessly tore out a turnip fop instead of parasitic wild mustard was beaten and did not eat that night. Possibly a generation of permissive-discipline pediatricians were whirling in their graves, but the pediatricians had not expected that American parents, comfortable in mortgaged homes, secure in union contracts, nourished at glittering supermarkets, neat in their twelve ninety-eight dresses and forty-dollar suits would soon rejoin the eternal majority of hunger and fatigue.
Even the great American bathroom was a mockery. Nobody talked about it but everybody was squeezing the utmost from his land by manuring with human excrement, an Oriental practice from which the fortunate North Americans had been excused by virtue of the Haber process, Peruvian guano and Mexican phosphate rock. But there was no fertilizer compounded of nitrates, guano and phosphorus to be had at Croley’s store these days. Presumably it was being shipped direct to Russia and China.
Justin, shorter, darker and dirtier than he had been two short months ago, stooped and swung his scythe. Gribble absolutely couldn’t get the hang of it, not after days of hand-blistering practice. The co-ordination wasn’t there. The little man and his shattered nervous system were good for nothing but gleaning with a sickle behind Justin, raking and bundling.
Had there once been one-man balers? Had there really? Had one man, proudly astride a snorting red tractor, chugged down a field, importantly leaning far out and peering behind him as the scoop swept up mowed windrows, the plunging tamper arm compacted the hay, the binder twirled cord around and lied, and the machine bumpingly ejected bale after perfect bale?
Justin now was a citizen of the North American People’s Democratic Republic, at last in formal existence months after its currency had gone into circulation. Everybody had been ordered to report to the Center for ceremonies and a spontaneous demonstration. Betsy Cardew was prominent in the demonstration. She had joined the Party of the People and worked at it with shrill fanaticism. Condescendingly mentioned in one speech as a tireless worker for the cause of peace and democracy, she looked, when Justin met her occasionally at the mailbox, very tired indeed. She sometimes passed him a note, because now there was a tape recorder behind the dashboard of her car.
When one of the notes said something like: “Still heard nothing. Must hv been picked up. Prsme used bides in time snce we’re still at lrge. Billy, Billy, how I wish . . . wht’s use” he would start to recall that he belonged to a conspiracy of the oppressed, that he was the trigger man of the bombardment satellite. And that one step outside the narrow lines would mean his death.
It was easier to go on mowing than to stop and let his muscles knot up in the first cutting winds from the north. They had to get in the hay. They had to fell trees in the wood lot and buck them up with a Swedish saw and split them for the stove. Dry autumn was going to be followed by cold winter. There would be no coal; coal was for Russia and China these days.
The North American People’s Democratic Republic was born, puppet of Asia, and the United States of America —obstinately the consciousness of it would not die—was a puppet’s slave. Chiunga County produced a “surplus” of food, while its inhabitants were verging on starvation, that went to New York for shipment to Russia in a steady flow with shipments from thousands of other rural counties.
But whispered tales said the factory cities were worse! It was easy to imagine how, once self-pity admitted the possibility. Barracks. Two twelve-hour shifts. Starvation rations at a patrolled mess hall. A beltline whose speed could be pushed up imperceptibly until you dropped at your job --and were flogged or shot for dropping.
And whispered tales said the young men and women of the North American armies were toiling half at reclamation projects in the Soviet Arctic, the rest in the arid Chinese interior.
Of course they would never come back.
Even to the peasant that Billy Justin had turned into the brutal audacity of the over-all plan was slowly becoming clear. It was attrition of the U. S. population. The oldsters were to die off gradually of scanty food and pneumonia—the coming winter without coal would sweep like his scythe through the population. The youngsters who would normally make up the loss were safely in the Arctic and the Gobi.
Within a couple of years more Russians and Chinese would begin to arrive—-colonists this time instead of soldiers.
The senator, the psychologist and the FBI man were dust by now.
The Postal Telegraph “dry wire,” still guarded at fantastic risk by the ticket seller in the railroad station, was silent and had been for two months.
Rawson—but he was a general named Hollerith, wasn’t he?—could only say he knew nothing, he had heard nothing, they must wait.
Betsy Cardew was dying by inches of fatigue and strain, impersonating a fanatical convert, waiting for the hand on her shoulder, praying there would be time for her first to open her carotid artery.
There was nothing he could do. There was absolutely nothing he could do. All he could do was scythe down the dry grass, stop every dozen paces and sweep the whetstone twice along ; the worn steel blade. It was important to keep the blade keen; a dull scythe crushed down the grass instead of slicing it. Grass crushed to the ground was wasted and he would need every blade of it to see t he small herd through the winter.
He woke from his daze to find himself at the end of the field of redtop. Beyond was the stubble of his cornland, which had been reaped for silage a month ago. He looked around and saw Gribble far behind him, doggedly raking. And behind Gribble an approaching figure, tall and gaunt as a scarecrow.
“Hello there, William,” called Mr. Sparhawk. “I’ve come for a bit of dinner and a pallet for the night. Don’t mind, old boy, do you?”
IT WAS the hour after dinner. These days that meant the hour when quarrels flared between Justin and the feeble whining Gribble. There was something about a meal utterly without pleasure that your temper couldn’t take. No coffee, not even synthetic, no pepper or spices, no dessert, no meat. They dined on baked mashed potatoes, with an unsuccessful experiment at cheese making sprinkled over the top. Boiled greens on the side. They lay like stones in the stomach.
It was the hour for Justin to curse Gribble for his laziness and Gribble to cower and complain.
Mr. Sparhawk was there that night, however. He had said a heathen grace, eaten sparingly of the potatoes —apologetically scraping off the unsuccessful cheese topping—and finally excused , himself to sit on the floor cross-legged. He looked about the same as ever. His rucksack was worn, he had a new peeled branch for a staff and he wore jeans instead of Red Army pants and shirt. He talked less than usual, perhaps judging that Justin would welcome an excuse to throw him out.
Justin studied the old man morosely. There was something awfully peculiar about his presence, something he couldn’t put his finger on.
“Where’ve you been lately?” he asked.
“South to Maryland. North to Vermont. Where the Ground that is the Oversoul bade me . . .”
“I didn’t ask you that, damn you!”
Mr. Sparhawk shrugged apologetically, but he couldn’t resist preaching. “I forgive your curse,” he said. “I know that in your present incarnation you’re still earth - and - appetite-bound . . ."
“Maryland and Vermont,” Justin slowly ruminated. “How?”
Mr. Sparhawk looked politely baffled. “I’m sorry, William,” he said. “Your question conveys nothing to me.”
“I mean how? How do you travel? How do you get through the check points? Why aren’t you picked up?”
“Oh,” Mr. Sparhawk said, surprised. “But I am. Often.”
“And what happens?”
Modesty and pride struggled visibly on the old man’s face. At last he said: “When it’s a case of the other ranks —privates and noncoms, you’d say —I reluctantly put on an outworn garment ...” He stood to attention and his mild face hardened. The jaw thrust out and the very nose seemed to turn into a predator’s beak. “Damn you,” Sparhawk rasped, “what’s the meaning of this? How dare you obstruct a loyal citizen and a minister of the gospel? By God, you popinjays stand aside or your superiors shall hear of it and so much the worse for you!”
The windowpanes rattled. Justin and Gribble quailed before his raucous, righteous anger and authority. Mr. Sparhawk smiled apologetically and folded into a cross-legged squat again. “It usually works,” he said mildly. “When it doesn’t, I’m brought in for questioning. Officers tend to bring one in no matter what one does, so when confronted with a commission I spare myself the necessity of reverting to my evil old ways.
“Once I’m in the local choky I politely but firmly invoke the North American People’s Democratic Republic guarantee of freedom of worship, and quite a good guarantee it is too. My particular way of worship, I explain politely, is to wander and preach. To make a long story short, William, I’m usually released after a couple of days, though once I was held as long as a week. Our custodians take the stand that I’m free to wander and preach as long as I wander and preach outside their particular jurisdiction. They escort me to the border, quite often kick me in the seat, and tell me not to come back.”
Justin moistened his lips. “Haven’t you ever been on the—Conveyor?”
“Conveyor, William? Oh, yes. You mean that strange new sacrament of theirs.”
Sacrament? Well, that was one thing you could call it with its element of penance and confession. Another was sadistic lunacy, systematic starvation, drugging and torture designed to exact a meaningless confession which everybody knew was worthless. Perhaps it was a dark sacrament after all, intelligible only to faith.
Mr. Sparhawk was saying: “Yes, I’ve been on the Conveyor. But what did I have to confess? They gave up after three days.”
“They won’t give up in MVD territory,” Justin said grimly. “You were a fool to move in here. Did you think they were gone by now?”
“My dear fellow*, of course I didn’t. It was a Test.”
A TEST. Justin went silently to the corner and pried up a floor board. Under it was the last of the Konreid brandy, a pint in a former cleaning fluid bottle. A Test, he thought. A Test of manhood, patriotism, sanity . . .
“Do you drink?” he asked Mr. Sparhawk.
“Only natural wine,” the old man apologized. “It is a clear contravention of the intended mission of alcohol to drink fortified wines or distilled liquors. But please don’t let my presence stop you from indulging.”
“It won’t,” Justin said flatly. He knew Gribble’s eyes were on the bottle in his hand, hungrily hoping. He poured a glassful for the little man and shoved it at him. He himself drank from the bottle, carefully, and put it in his pocket. The raw liquor cut like a file and he felt the dizziness of intoxication almost at once. Careful, he said sharply to himself. Get brave if you have to but don’t become a drunken fool. He asked Mr. Sparhawk: “What do you mean by Test?”
“Why, William, a Test is a Test. A trial, an assay—I don’t really know how to answer. But every once in a while one must prove that he isn’t relapsing into sloth and merely mumbling words. One must do something, deliberately and knowing it will be difficult, dangerous, disagreeable. Surely you understand. That’s why I entered territory under the direction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It’s quite a good Test, too. Not nasty, like Saint What’s-her-name swallowing tubercular sputum. When people do that sort of thing there’s always the possibility that some confounded Freudian is going to call them lunatics. Oh, a good Test is hard to find, William! I flatter myself that I’ve found one in our green-clothed friends’ rigorous enforcement of the occupation statutes . .
While the old man rambled on it suddenly became crystal-clear to Justin that he had all along been able to re-establish communications with the bomb plot.
All he had to do now, all he’d needed to do all along was walk out and do it.
First try walking to Washington, Pennsylvania, to find the Bee-Jay salesman.
If that failed, as it might, he should walk to the senator’s home town in Michigan and enquire around.
If that didn’t work, he should walk to Washington, D.C., and find out what was going on in the Fish and Wildlife Survey.
If none of these worked he would have to try some of the more tenuous clues.
There were certain objections to the scheme, he realized. One was that he’d probably be arrested before he got a mile beyond Norton, New York. This would probably lead to his torture, confession and execution unless he used his razor blade in time. But he smiled incredulously at himself for once having thought that this objection overruled the need to walk out and re-establish contact so that the satellite could be sent up.
If Mr. Sparhawk could take the beatings and the uncertainty in exchange for his urge to wander and preach. what shouldn’t he be able to accept and risk with nothing less at stake than the nation?
It was as simple as that. If you have to walk out and do it, the way to do it is to walk out and do it.
And the first thing to do was disobey his first, command: not to be taken alive.
MB. SPARHAWK,” he said abruptly. “Your time on the Conveyor - is there anything you did so you kept from breaking down? Have you got sedatives or anything like that?”
The old man said: “I must confess I used yoga—abused it, rather, for to use it is to abuse it. Yoga is of course a set of philosophical systems intended to put one beyond identity and desire, but the Conveyor is peculiarly persuasive that one has an identity and desires to retain it.” He chuckled complacently. “Asana postures are effective while confined in a cell waiting. It is part of their scheme to break one down by waiting. The soul which does not seek release from the Wheel is prey to terrors and fancies during such an interlude. However, I would assume the siddhasana, thus . . .” Mr. Sparhawk squirmed into a Buddha-like posture which outraged Justin’s training as an artist in that it went far beyond the bounds of what his anatomy textbooks regarded as possible to a human being.
“And I would vary it with the padmasana, thus . . .” Mr. Sparhawk squirmed again, and this time settled down into a position which looked possible but exquisitely uncomfortable. “The postures,” said Mr. Sparhawk, “have carried me through a bit of solitary confinement. They use dark cells, you know, and that’s the sort of thing that drives most chaps absolutely crackers. And there’s pranayama, of course.” He seemed to have finished.
“Pranayama?” Justin urged gently.
“Oh, you don’t know about it, do you?” asked the old man disapprovingly. “It’s the yoga of breathing, and quite important. I used it when they were beating me a bit. You see, one breathes in through the left nostril seven and a half seconds and holds it for thirty and a half seconds. One then expels through the right nostril in fifteen and a half seconds, then inhales through the same nostril for the same period, then one . . .”
“How could it fail to, William? During pranayama one is sometimes so freed of distractions that one floats about the room, though I admit I’ve not done that yet or seen it. Surely a truncheon across the shins could be only a minor nuisance to one deeply engaged in pranayama, don’t you think?”
“As long as it works.”
Sparhawk sighed regretfully: “William, old man, I can see you’re struggling with it as a difficult idea. If only you were a bit along in Zen how simple it would be! I’d merely kick you in the bum by surprise or unexpectedly shout ‘Fiddle-dee-dee!’ in your ear and it would all come to you. What a mess you’ve made of your life, William. No Zen at all. The time you’ve wasted!”
Justin clenched his fists and said: “I’m not going to waste any more time, Mr. Sparhawk. Take me with you.”
The old man asked coldly, suddenly alert: “Is this what you call a rib, William?”
“I'm perfectly sincere. I want to go with you. To Washington. Pennsylvania.”
“My dear boy, it doesn’t matter where one goes. But I’m afraid a vestigial attachment to worldly vanities keeps me from enjoying this joke of yours. If you’ll excuse me, I must say my prayers and turn in.”
“He means it!” Gribble suddenly squalled, terrified. “Don’t leave me, Justin, don’t leave me alone here, they’ll beat me up to find out where you went and they’ll shoot me in the cellar . . .”
“Work it out for yourself, Gribble,” Justin said gently. “I’m going. I’ve got to. Tell them any lies you like and if they don’t work, die like a man. Before you tell the truth."
Sparhawk rose from his padmasana posture, excitement in his eves. “You I do mean it, William?” he asked tremulously. “This isn’t a joke?”
Justin said: “I’m not joking. Not about risking my life. I want to go with you.”
And, he said to himself, by this token you cease to be a peasant, an animal. It's important that you set out on your military mission, of course. But it's more important that you set out on any mission at all and by that token become I once more a man.
“Mr. Sparhawk,” he said diffidently. The old man was silently praying, but turned to smile beatifically at him. “Mr. Sparhawk, I know you make a point of early departure, but could we stay here until mail time tomorrow? I want to say good-by.”
“I understand,” the old man beamed at his convert. “I think we can permit it.”
Good-by, Betsy Cardew. What might have been will never be.
THEY had been five days on the road and covered twenty miles as the crow flies, eighty on the back roads chosen from an old Texaco map, when they met their first Reds.
Sparhawk was drilling Justin when it happened; they were in a quiet clearing outside Leona, Pennsylvania, which the old man thought suitable for contemplation.
Justin under his direction contorted himself into the joint-wrenching padmasana and was trying not to snicker at the order that followed. It was to look at the space between his eyebrows and meditate upon the syllable “Om.” The soldiers, a ten-man squad, came out of the woods at that point.
The soldiers looked at them and roared with laughter. Their sergeant and Mr. Sparhawk were able to converse after a fashion in mixed English and Russian. Justin did not. succeed in looking at the space between his eyebrows or in meditating upon the syllable “Om.” Locked in the padmasana, he watched the parley between the two men and meditated on the Conveyor. From time to time one of the soldiers would poke him curiously and grin: “Galyootsinahlsya.”
The parley ended; the soldiers left. The tremendous fact, was that they had been intercepted, had been unable to show documents justifying their presence, and yet had not been arrested.
“How did you do it, Mr. Sparhawk?” he gasped.
“Satagraha,” Mr. Sparhawk said absently. “Soul force. It works, you know. Most of the time, that is. Their tendency is to assume that one’s probably all right and that anyway it’s no business of theirs. Marked contrast with the MVDs, whose assumption is that one probably isn’t all right and that everything’s business of theirs. Rut let’s not chatter, William. You’re supposed to be in the padmasana. Supposed to be, I say with reason. What is the padmasana? It is the right foot on the left thigh, the left foot on the right thigh, holding the right great toe with the right hand, the left great toe with the left hand, the hands coming from behind the back and crossing, the chin resting on the interclavicular space, the sight fixed on the space between the eyebrows—failing that, the tip of the nose. In one respect you succeed, William; you have managed to look at the tip of your nose. You must try harder . .
Justin, his eyes aching from being crossed on his nose, his neck aching, his thighs and arms and back aching, tried harder. Mr. Sparhawk slid easily into the posture and went on: “When the command of padmasana has been attained you will find there is no longer suffering from cold, heat, hunger, thirst, fatigue or similar afflictions . . .”
It was nice that the old man believed it all, Just in thought as he ached. His belief, even expressed in pidgin Russian, shone transcendently through the words and had got the pair of them tacitly certified as harmless lunatics.
THEIR second week on the road. trending generally southwest into the Allegheny Valley, found them one night approaching a rundown farmhouse. There was no light to be seen. A starving mongrel dog snapped at them when they climbed to the littered, unswept porch; Justin drove him off with a stick while Mr. Sparhawk rapped politely on the door. There was no answer. Mr. Sparhawk rapped again and the unlatched door swung open creaking. By moonlight through a window they saw an old man sprawled on the floor.
Mr. Sparhawk took over with crisp efficiency. Pulse, skin and a hoarse rattle in the chest told him, he said, that the man was suffering from pneumonia and starvation. They brought the cot from his bedroom into the kitchen and built a roaring fire in the stove. They made gruel and spooned some down the sick man’s throat and for a couple of hours while they watched he seemed to rally. He died at midnight, though, and they buried him in the morning in his dooryard. Justin had to keep driving off the dog and was careful to put a layer of heavy stones on the grave.
The weather was hardly brisk yet —at least to men who had been through the war years on scant fuel rations. The old man must have been ready to go from the first bug that got into his system. But it was a foretaste of the coming winter, which would do the Reds’ work thoroughly and well. It would kill Americans by the million, and would leave open to settlement new acres by the million.
Who said there were no continents left to discover? A dozen winters would come and go, and finally the Russians would come and find a land almost as bare of humanity as Columbus had.
While Mr. Sparhawk whispered a meditation of St. John of the Cross by the graveside Justin methodically searched the farmhouse and struck gold. A hard lump in the old man’s pillow turned out to be a tin box crammed with sewing needles, thread, razor blades and a can of black pepper. He distributed the treasures among his pockets and returned to the grave, where he joined in the meditation.
THE SIGNPOST said they were three miles from Clarion and the map said this was a town of some size lying astride a national highway. It was to be avoided. They had lost a week’s traveling by a stop to get m the corn crop of a sick old couple. They worked from sunrise to sunset for seven days and when the golden ears were neatly stored in the cribs were told they were a pair of heathen and had better git before they got the law put on them.
“Rub of the green, William,” MrSparhawk said philosophically as they headed in the direction of Clarion.
Justin was glad to get away on any terms. The work had been nothing to him; he was inured to fatigue and hunger The lost week had been agony, every hour of it. Finally Mr. Sparhawk was forced to say gently: “Washington, Pennsylvania, won’t run away, William. Surely we are doing as much good here as we could do there?”
And that meant shut up. There Justin had to leave it. It was barely possible that the old man might continue to tolerate his presence, might even act as a cover story if he knew that Justin was using him to establish communications with a revolutionary army. It was certain that he could not do it without losing his appearance of blissful sincerity and gentle mania which had carried them through every brush with the occupation.
It was three miles out of Clarion, perhaps halfway on the road to Washington Pennsylvania, that they met the kid gang. They leaped on Justin and Mr. Sparhawk from the roadside; perhaps some of them swung down cinematically from tree limbs. There may lave been two dozen of them, between eight and fifteen years of age. They pave the two travelers the treatment they gave all travelers whom they surprised and outnumbered; they beat and kicked them viciously, robbed them, stripped them to their underwear and moved on, laughing and shoving.
Mr. Sparhawk, after moving his jaw tentatively, mumbled between bruised lips: “You did well not to resist. William. Such groups have been known to kill.”
“I couldn’t resist, damn it!” Justin snorted. “The little demons were all over us. I’d like to meet just four of them in a dark alley some time. I think I’ve got a couple of broken ribs . . .”
He and Mr. Sparhawk helped each other to get up; they hobbled down the road.
“Look,” Justin said, alarmed. “This’ll take us to Clarion. Township seat, ten thousand people, U. S. 322, a Red garrison for sure. Let’s figure a detour.”
“We must find a garrison of the occupying forces,” Mr. Sparhawk said serenely. “We must report this incident. We owe it to those boys; we must stop them before they do irreparable damage to their souls. I have, thank God, been privileged to report five such wandering bands and each one was rounded up within a day or two. Whatever penalties were exacted from them, they were at least stopped in their careers.”
The mad reasoning on alien values would work. Justin knew it. They would be two lunatics wandering into town half-naked in late October, gently and without acrimony urging that the authorities pick up the kid gang without ado—for the good of their souls.
On to Clarion, Pennsylvania.
EARLY November brought a cold snap and wet heavy snow. They were floundering, calf-deep, by afternoon along a black top between Leechburg and North Vandegrift, about two hundred miles beeline from Norton, about fifty miles from Washington, Pennsylvania. It was clear that the journey would soon be over. Justin had lost twenty pounds and gained an impatient respect for Mr. Sparhawk’s innocent tenacity.
He had seen a countryside under lock and key, assuming sullenly the ancient peasant status never known before on the continent. They had bypassed manufacturing towns—Mr. Sparhawk believed in reasonable caution until his disciple’s spiritual qualities were more highly developed—and so had not seen the worst happening to the people.
A woman in an ancient Model-A sedan stopped and called them: “Want a lift, boys?” It was the first time this had happened in their month on the road. She had a gas ration sticker on her windshield and the trunk of the car, which was a trunk, and not a streamlined cavern, stood half open. It was crammed with canned goods.
The woman was fat, red-faced and smiling. Strangely, her fat was not the waxy loosely attached potato fat of an all-starch diet; it was firm plumpness. In the fall of 1965 it meant villainy.
“No thank you, madam,” Justin said.
Beside him Mr. Sparhawk looked mulish. “I think we ought to, William,” he said gently. “Madam, we’ll be pleased to ride with you.” Resignedly Justin got in.
She out-talked Mr. Sparhawk for ten miles. She was the widowed Mrs. Elphinstone. She had a farm worked by six good-for-nothing orphans she boarded for the county out of the goodness of her heart. She didn’t believe in saying anything about a person if you couldn’t say anything good, but . . .
It was common knowledge about the Baptist preacher and Miss Lesh.
But that shouldn’t surprise you because Mister Lesh had died in a madhouse even if they called it a rest home. When it’s in the blood there’s nothing you can do.
Mr. Tebbets the lawyer was drunk again when she was in town.
Everybody knew he bought it from Mrs. Grassman whose husband drank himself to death on home-brew and somebody should tell The Authorities before more damage was done.
But it was probably Mr. Tebbets’ conscience that drove him to drink, the way he swindled the Murdocks out of their insurance money.
Not that Tebbets was the worst of the gang; she wasn’t a prude, dear no, but the way his crony Dr. Reeves carried on before right-minded people ran him out of town, why she herself knew a girl who had been given gas by Dr. Reeves for an extraction and woke to find her brassiere unhooked.
Though it was hard to see why the little slut—it was Margie Endicott —should care, since every boy in the Senior High had done at least as much.
And if the truth were known . . .
She saw a couple walking along the road and stopped the car. They were a farmer and his wife; each carried a sack. “Hello, Elsie,” the man said nervously. His wife looked murder and said nothing.
“Why, Ralph and Kate, imagine running into you here! Where you going?”
“Little walk,” the man muttered.
Mrs. Elphinstone was staring at their sacks, licking her lips. “The Ladies,” she said, “are getting up a little luncheon, I meant to tell you. Times being what they are, we’re all chipping in on the eatables. You’re invited of course. Kate.” Her voice became shrill and childish. “Now I was just wondering if you’d like to save a trip by handing over any little thing you have with you—for the Ladies.”
“We haven’t got anything,” the farmer’s wife said sharply.
“My goodness, isn’t that too bad? I heard somebody around your way butchered a hog and I thought you might have some old scraps of it. For the Ladies.”
The farmer rummaged in his sack and pulled out a four-pound flitch of bacon. Naked hatred was in his eyes. He chucked it into the car beside the woman. “Come on,” he said to his wife flatly. She shouldered her sack and they walked on through the swirling snow.
Justin knew he was riding with a woman who one of these days would be murdered.
She started the car. “The Perkinsons,” she said. “Worthless, lawless trash. I’ve got half a mind to tell Lieutenant Sokoloff they’ve been butchering without a permit—but forevermore, who doesn’t?” She turned around as she drove to smile at her passengers. “What I say is, the important thing is not to get caught at it.” The car eased into the right-hand roadside ditch before she turned back to her driving; she squawked, spun the wheels and killed the motor.
“Isn’t that awful? I wonder if you boys’d try what you can do. I’ll just stay here in case you need help from the engine . . .”
They got out. in the snow and heaved and looked for rocks to lay as a tread under the spinning wheels and from time to time asked her to try driving out. They got snow spun into their faces and bruised their fingers on frozen rocks. They talked in whispers. The woman’s ruddy face was hanging out the window; she was watching with interest.
“Blackmailing old . . .”
“Steady on, William.”
“We shouldn’t have got in the car.”
“Is her salvation unimportant for some reason known to you? We must give each person we meet his or her chance.”
“The only way you can save that type is with a firing squad. The neighborhood gossip, the village terror, hand in hand with the Reds. She’ll get hers the way Croley’s going to.”
“Mr. Croley has been charitable to me.”
“Sure. Croley’s smart enough to play all the sides—not like her.” Justin pounded a rock under the wheel with another rock. “Give her a try, ma’am,” he said aloud.
“I certainly hope it works, boys,” she said. “I’m getting awfully chilly.” She roared the motor, let in her clutch and was off in a shower of slush and small stones.
Justin waited for her to stop on the road for them but she chugged on. When the Ford vanished around a distant curve he did some swearing and wound up: “At least we don’t have to listen to her any more.”
“No,” Mr. Sparhawk said, and for a moment Justin thought the look he gave him was compassionate.
The woman must have hurried home and put in a phone call. Half an hour later a pair of Red jeeps overtook them. An hour later they were being booked for sabotage, counter-revolutionary wrecking and sedition in what had once been the principal’s office of the Leechburg Consolidated School.
The next day they were on the Conveyor.
JUSTIN sat in the dark and absently rubbed his aching neck. The session had lasted for six hours, and Lieutenant Sokoloff had been yawning at the end of it. It was not surprising; Sokoloff was merely a cop and he himself was merely a vagrant against whom a routine accusation had been brought. Sokoloff would sleep now for eight hours; Justin would be kept awake and presumably irritated just below the threshold of pain by irregular switching on and off of the lights, peering guards with raucous orders, the steel-pipe bunk without bedding to corrugate his back.
Then, rested and refreshed, Sokoloff would plump himself into a padded swivel chair, Justin would sit bolt upright on a too-low stool, the dazzling light would be switched on and the interrogation would proceed.
The bright cell lights flashed on and a soldier’s heavy face peered through the bars. He pounded on them with a nightstick and growled: “Prisoner hobey hord-eras,” and stood waiting. Justin obediently went and laid down on the steel-pipe cot, face up, hands at his side, and closed his eyes. The light beat through his eyelids. The transverse pipes bit into his heel tendons, his calf's, thighs, buttocks, back, neck and skull. Orders were being obeyed. He was not being physically tortured. He was merely lying on a bunk, and if the bunk were somewhat uncomfortable, what in heaven’s name could you expect to find in a detention cell? Their strange passion for legality again—a sort of legality, at least.
It showed up strongly in the questions during interrogation. Justin was at sea several times until he inferred the hypothesis behind such a question as: “Did the prisoner ever take part in the workers’ struggle before organized assistance to the clandestine NAPDR began to arrive?” What Sokoloff wanted to know was, had Justin been a Communist before the war. Justin had not been a Communist before the war, and if he answered “no” to the question as Sokoloff phrased it he was saying a great deal more than that lie had not been a Communist before the war. He was admitting Sokoloff’s premise about “organized assistance to the clandestine NAPDR.” He was agreeing with Sokoloff that the war was not a war of aggression at all but an internal revolution by the Communist Party with some assistance from the Soviet Union and the Chinese People’s Republic. Therefore he could not answer such questions yes or no, and therefore Sokoloff became very angry and turned the light that glared in his eyes brighter. But that wasn’t torture, of course. Could one expect an interrogation room to function without a light by which notes could be jotted and the expression of the prisoner observed?
Justin didn’t know where Mr. Sparhawk was except that he was in some place exactly like this, or what he was doing except that it was exactly what Justin was doing: hanging on.
A sacrament, Mr. Sparhawk trailed it, innocently blasphemous.
“Is the prisoner aware that to absent oneself from one’s assigned agricultural holdings is sabotage of food production?”
“Spreading the Word of God comes first, Lieut. Sokoloff. Under the guarantee of religious freedom of the North American People’s Democratic Republic no functionary is empowered to interfere with the private or public worship of a religious body.”
The passion for legality cut both ways.
“The prisoner is not a religious body!”
“I consider myself the disciple of Mr. Sparhawk, Lieut. Sokoloff, and I consider Mr. Sparhawk a lay preacher.”
“What is the name of your religion?”
“It has no name. It incorporates what Mr. Sparhawk finds inspired in all religions.”
“There are no such religions. The prisoner is a poseur, is the prisoner aware that he has been denounced as a counter-revolutionary wrecker by a loyal adherent of the NAPDR to whom he made inflammatory and seditious speeches?”
“If you please, lieutenant, I made no speeches to the lady you mean. I would have spoken to her about God —but I never got the chance.”
Sokoloff's face, dim on the fringes of the dazzling interrogation light, wrinkled into a brief grin. He knew the lady, then.
And so it went for six hours, the two of them pounding each other with stuffed clubs labeled respectively SABOTAGE and FREEDOM OF WORSHIP.
JUSTIN shifted on the bunk, acutely uncomfortable. That was supposed to be Lieut. Sokoloff’s margin of victory. The lieutenant would rest well; he would rest not at all. The next session he would swing his padded club with less vigor while Sokoloff’s blows would be as strong as ever. At last, after a week or so of interrupted sleep, scanty meals, inflamed eyelids and backache, Lieut. Sokoloff would be flailing away as hard as ever and he would sit apathetically, without the strength or spirit to strike a blow. He would sign anything, admit anything, to sleep on a cement floor instead of the steel-pipe hunk.
He tried one of Mr. Sparhawk’s heathen tricks which had served him on rainy nights before. He willed his muscles to relax one by one, from his toes up. He sent out his will to gather up his aches into a ball twelve inches in diameter and he floated the ball twelve inches above his forehead where he could inspect it impersonally. The distractions kept trying to crowd in, but he succeeded in keeping them out by not giving a damn about them. When the ball slowly began to sag down and threatened to re-enter his body he thought relaxedly that to do so would result in the discovery of the bombardment satellite and that therefore the ball should continue to float. It did, and he slept. Much better than young Lieut. Sokoloff who was tossing and turning and worrying about what to do with these lunatics he had been saddled with by that horrible woman.
THE private ceremoniously kicked Mr. Sparhawk in the seat, booting him over the township line. Justin, moving fast, stepped across without assistance. They started down the road.
Behind them Lieut. Sokoloff, dark bags under his eyes, yelled, “. . . and don’t you ever come back into this area again, do you hear me?”
Mr. Sparhawk turned and waved. “Yes, lieutenant. God bless you.” They heard the jeep start up and roar away.
They had been five days on the Conveyor. They were skin and bones; their backs and buttocks were covered with bruises from all the hours spent rigid on the pipe bunks and hard interrogation light and the lights in their cells. They were filthy; it was part of the system to allow no water for washing and thereby further break down the morale of the prisoner. Mr. Sparhavk’s left thumb and index finger were broken and splinted; a guard, strictly against orders, had whacked him with his nightstick. Six of Justin’s molars had been pulled; the unit dentist had examined them, decided fillings were needed and done considerable drilling before further deciding they could not be saved after all. She had done her work without anaesthetic and Lieut. Sokoloff had stood by to distract the prisoner by chatting about the pleasures the pre-trial cells, which were furnished with regular army cots. These pre-trial cells were only for prisoners who had cleared all preliminary hurdles, such as the signing of confessions.
His jaws ached horribly, he had ridden the Conveyor for five days and they were walking into the town of Washington, Pennsylvania.
THEY signed in first thing in the Transients book of the local SMGIJ. They explained to a puzzled English-speaking sergeant that they were ministers of the gospel, and that he might check with his neighboring SMGIJ where, through a misunderstanding, they had been detained, interrogated and cleared. Then—it was about noon —they made their pitch on a busy corner of the main shopping street.
Mr. Sparhawk lectured on Conscience and Submission; Justin borrowed a hat and passed it. One of the people who dropped in coins was the salesman from Bee-Jay. “Meet me later,” Justin muttered. The man gave him a brief appraising stare and walked away.
After the lecture they almost quarrelled. Justin was for finding a rooming house with a bath and taking a week’s lodgings. Mr. Sparhawk, now that Justin’s irrational desire to see Washington, Pennsylvania, had been gratified, was for a one-day stay mostly devoted to preaching.
They had dinner in a tavern, Mr. Sparhawk relenting to the point of taking a glass of watery beer and allowing Justin one. But no matter how longingly the disciple eyed the steam table of sausages and roast horsemeat they ate the vegetable plate.
The dispute was still unresolved when they checked in at a rooming house down near the railroad tracks. Justin’s jaws were aching badly but he didn’t care. The Bee-Jay salesman had passed by the tavern and glanced in while they were eating. The contact had not been broken. Surely they were being followed and marked . . .
They bathed in turn, very gratefully, and turned in. Mr. Sparhawk slept on the floor and laughed when Justin offered him the bed. Justin understood the laughter an hour later while he tossed and turned and angrily commanded his muscles to relax. He had made up his mind at last to spread a blanket on the floor and sleep there himself when he heard a scratching on the door.
The long ordeal was ended.
He opened up. It was the Bee-Jay salesman, of course, and two other men. They all wore coveralls and carried telephone linemen’s gear in broad leather belts.
“Come along,” the salesman said softly. “We have a truck. And guns.”
He assumed they would have guns. “We don’t have to wake up the old man,” he whispered to one of them who was stooping over Mr. Sparhawk.
“He’s coming,” the man said, and shook him.
“Friends of mine. Mr. Sparhawk,” Justin whispered. “We're taking a short trip.”
“Yeah,” said the salesman. He raised his hand. “No arguments. Explain everything later.”
“I never argue,” Mr. Sparhawk whispered loftily, and they dressed and went quietly down the stairs, the salesman in front of them and the two strangers behind. The truck was an olive-green A.T.&T. cab-over-engine repair job, the kind of truck that can appear anywhere in the continent without a word of comment or stir of interest as long as there is a telephone within fifty miles. Justin was struck by the brilliant simplicity of the idea. When they were settled in the dark body of the truck with the two strangers he started to say as much. They told him to be quiet. He didn’t like their manner, but set it down to the strain they were feeling on a risky mission.
Mr. Sparhawk settled down on the floor in the padmasana posture while the truck bumped over a lot of railroad tracks and made a lot of left and right turns and a couple of U turns that could only have been meant to confuse their sense of direction. In half an hour the truck stopped definitely, the hand brake rasped along its ratchets and the motor stopped.
They hustled Justin and Mr. Sparhawk out of the truck onto a dimly lit loading deck of concrete. Down a concrete corridor where fork hoists and stacks of pallets stood. Past a thousand stacked new milk cans shining dully. Past crates of pitcher pumps and a thousand cream separators. Into a concrete room where a dozen men awaited them. When the door rolled shut behind them Justin weakly said: “I’m glad to see you.” But he already knew that it was no joyful reunion but a trial.
“Now we can talk,” the Bee-Jay salesman said grimly.
“Yes,” said Justin between his teeth. Then he yelled at them: “Why was Chiunga County deserted?”
Their faces were shocked. The trapped mouse had turned and bitten them on the finger.
“Not that you give a damn,” Justin said, “but Chiunga happens to be the key to the whole situation, as you’d know if your organization were conducted sensibly. Why haven’t we had any couriers? Why don’t you answer us on the dry wire? Why were we left to rot?”
“While we’re asking questions, William,” Mr. Sparhawk said mildly, “what on earth are you talking about?”
They ignored him. The Bee-Jay salesman said slowly: “You might as well know my name, Justin. Sam Lowenthal. I used to be a civilian consultant to the Psychological Warfare Branch. You don’t have to know who all these people are. It’s enough to say that they constitute a court martial of the United States Army. You’re on trial for treason. We suspect you of being a stool pigeon, Justin. We thought so when we got a dry-wire message that somebody named Justin had important information for a top contact team. We sent in the team —and never heard from it again.
“Now we find you here in a fairly important sub-headquarters town after a 250-mile journey. People don’t make such journeys nowadays—not unless they’re helped either by us or their friends the Reds. And we know we didn’t help you. And with you is an unexplained person.”
That was with a jerk of the thumb at Mr. Sparhawk, who had indignantly withdrawn into the padmasana. Justin could see from the shape of his mouth that he was meditating on the syllable “Om.”
“And once you’re here you brazenly try to make contact with us. Our idea, Justin, is that this is a naïve attempt —motivated by Marxist fanaticism, perhaps—to infiltrate our group and put the finger on us for the Reds. If you have anything to say, speak up —but I suspect you’re going to wind up tonight in the Bee-Jay fertilizer division.”
The first thing Justin did was take off his shirt. They gasped at the bruises and sores. He told them: “They also drilled my teeth for six hours the other day. Can any of you comfortable masterminds say as much? No, I didn’t break. That’s because I’ve learned a great many things from the eccentric gentleman sitting in the corner there. One of them was patience and another was recklessness. You people could use some of both.
“I believe you when you tell me the senator and his two friends disappeared after they interviewed me. People are disappearing all the time in this year of grace. I presume they used their razor blades before they were questioned, so my information died with them. Now listen to it this time.
“Yankee Doodle was a diversionary dummy. The real bombardment satellite, about ninety-nine percent completed, is under Prospect Hill in Chiunga County, in a limestone cavern. It needs electronics men and electronics parts. It needs an ace rocket-interceptor pilot. It needs a bombardier with plenty of VHB time and a background in math. Of course, if you people would rather spend your time holed up comfortably worrying about stool pigeons, that’s your business; I’m not running your campaign for you.”
LOWENTHAL was stunned by the outburst. He said shakily: “I used to hear a rumor when I was attached to the AEC—listen, Justin. We’ll guarantee you and pass the matter up higher for a decision as soon as possible.” Justin put on his shirt and turned to the door.
“Justin!” Lowenthal snapped, pulling out a .45 pistol.
“Yes?” Justin asked mildly.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’ll kill you if you take another step toward the door.”
“I suppose you will. Why should that stop me. Don’t you realize I was supposed to be shot for walking two hundred and fifty miles to listen to your drivel about passing it up for a decision? Hell, man, I wasn’t supposed to get past one township line, let alone fifty! I was supposed to be shot for storing that hunk of A-bomb you picked up at my place. I was supposed to be shot for not reporting the top contact crew you sent. I was supposed to be shot for not turning over the bombardment satellite to the Reds as fast as my scared little legs could carry me.
“Go ahead and shoot, man. But if you don’t, if by some chance I get out of here, I’m going to rustle up some electronics men, some parts and a crew while you good people are waiting for a decision from higher up. Good-by.”
He started for the door again. Lowenthal’s pistol slide went back with a click and forward with a thud. “Wait,” the psychologist said when Justin put his hand on the door.
“What do you want?” Justin demanded.
“I think,” Lowenthal said slowly, “you may have a valid point. Perhaps we do sometimes display a little less divine madness than we ought to —suppose, Justin, I send you off to Chiunga County in a sealed freight car tomorrow with our Dr. Dace. He’s the head of research and development for Bee-Jay. We can arrange a breakdown from overwork for him.”
Justin snapped: “Is your Dr. Dace a satellite crew, a team of electronics men and half a ton of equipment?” Dace, himself, small, peppery, white-haired and mean-eyed, got up and snarled: “You arrogant pup, who the hell do you think you are to survey a bombardment satellite? ‘Half a ton of equipment’—do you think that’s the same as half a ton of candy bars? Now sit down and shut up while we plan this thing through.” He suddenly looked conscience-stricken and added lamely: “Er, naturally, we all appreciate, the, uh, heroism you displayed in making the very arduous trip you did to re-establish contact with us . . .” He trailed off and sat down.
The discussion became general and complicated. After a while Lowenthal dismissed four men who seemed to have nothing to contribute on the technical side. Justin suspected they were to have been the firing squad.
Dace relentlessly probed Justin’s every recollection of the satellite’s appearance and scribbled notes. Lowenthal tsk-tsk’d because Justin had left Gribble on his own.
“What should I have done?” Justin demanded.
Lowenthal hesitated. “Maybe parked him in the cave. Or killed him.”
Justin found himself on his feet raving: “God help the human race if you thugs are its fighters for liberty. If we kill a man like Gribble in the name of security how are we different from the Reds or the Chinese? We don’t even have the excuses they have of ignorance and expression and hunger. What kind of cowards are you that you’d kill a sick man so you won’t have to worry about betrayal?”
“Take it easy,” Lowenthal said. “You’ll kill before this is over.” Justin sat down, shaking. He knew he would. He also knew the psychologist was deliberately missing the point.
A LITTLE information about the rebellion as a whole seeped out of the general discussion. Justin could gather that there were many areas that had been quarantined like Chiunga County as too dangerous to work into the scheme. Elsewhere they had the dry wires, postmen and traveling salesmen for communication. They had seeded professional soldiers across the country --Rawson was Chiunga County’s leader-to-be.
The situation in the great cities was, either they were very strong at a given time or they were wiped out. The cities offered countless hiding places where arms could be stored and food cached and plans made. They offered countless volunteers --among whom were traitors. There were many people in the cities who had responded to the relentless psychological pressure of Red propaganda and thought they were sincere idealistic Marxists. It was impossible to say without the latest word from the wires whether they had a working organization or a demoralized corporal’s guard in, for instance, New York. The organization in New York City had collapsed five times and risen six. Thousands had been shot in roundups; there were always thousands more to recruit.
“We don’t think,” Lowenthal said slowly, “the Reds realize the magnitude of it. They’re hypnotized by their fable of ‘counter-revolutionary wrecking.’ This handicaps them in dealing with the real situation. That’s how the Nazis were handicapped in dealing with underground organizations throughout Europe during World War Two. They were thunderstruck when the French underground recaptured Paris before the Allied troops arrived.”
“But the Allied troops were on their way,” Justin said pointedly.
“You’re right. Perhaps I should have cited the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto where the remnants of the original population organized and supplied an army that held the Nazis at bay for ten days. I had uncles and I cousins in Warsaw; I’ve often wondered since I got into this thing whether they fought in the uprising or whether they were shipped to an extermination camp before it happened.”
Justin had been in high school during that war. “How did the uprising come out?” he asked.
“They were killed to the last man, woman and child,” Lowenthal said, surprised. “The ghetto was pounded into gravel by artillery.”
Dr. Dace snapped: “I’m sick and tired of your Warsaw Concerto, Sam. Let’s get on with the work.”
But after a while they were talking again. Justin learned that nobody there knew where Headquarters were, that the Russian railroad inspectors were free - wheeling, happy - go - lucky types whom it was easy to hoodwink and possible to bribe, that so far nobody had succeeded in corrupting an MVD man.
THE SITUATION across the Mississippi, under the Chinese, was more urgent than it was in the east under the Russians. The ancient Chinese contempt for human life led to executions for such things as smoking in public. There was some sort of decree posted everywhere in which every American was placed under suspended sentence of death for banditry and terrorism; any non-commissioned officer could execute the sentence for reasons that seemed sufficient to him. However, the language difference made organization and communication much easier. If the American cringed to the color-conscious invader the invader was happy enough about that gratifying fact to neglect training sufficient officers in the difficult English language to police the mails and wires.
Somebody had a watch and announced that it was 4.30 and he for one wanted some sleep.
“One last item,” said Dace. “What about him?” That was Mr. Sparhawk, sleeping soundly on the concrete floor. The old man woke up at once and asked mildly: “What about me?”
“I’d like him to come along with us in the freight car,” Justin said. “We can keep him in the cave.”
“Freight car?” said Mr. Sparhawk disdainfully. “William, how am I supposed to preach and teach in a freight car? You’re acting awfully strange, I must say. I had no particular objections about coming to this town, because after all one must go somewhere. But now a freight car and a cave? Too foolish.”
Dr. Dace said: “I’ve heard about this egg. He preaches submission. Furthermore, he’s nuts. I say, rub him out.”
“What a savage little man you are,” Mr. Sparhawk said wonderingly. “You know, it’s all very well to talk, but violence won’t do. I was a colonel in the Brigade of Guards, gentlemen; I know what I’m saying.”
“What are you saying?’’ Dace bristled.
“Why, that I saw the Guards break under the Russian armored attack on Salisbury Plain. I saw the capture of the Royal Family with my own eyes. Her Majesty, of course, was superb. But it was defeat, you know. That was when I discovered there was a basic mistake. If the Guards could be broken and Her Majesty captured, obviously we’d been mistaken all along with our guns and rockets and bombs and the answer lay elsewhere. Since then, I’ve been seeking it, gentlemen . . .”
“Mr. Sparhawk,” Justin said, “I wish you’d come along. I couldn’t have got this far without you. I don’t know whether I can finish it without you.”
“You want me for a mascot?” the old man asked wryly.
“Not a mascot. As—as a chaplain, I suppose,” Justin said.
“Well I’ll come along,” Mr. Sparhawk said. “As a chaplain. You bloody-minded individuals can use some spiritual ministration in any case.”
Justin, without knowing why, felt immensely relieved. More, he had the impression that everybody in the concrete storeroom was too.
W HERE the hell have you been?” demanded Gus Feinblatt in an angry whisper.
They were in front of Croley’s store in Norton; Justin had walked down for sign-in day. The MVD starsheey syerjahnt was presiding inside the store over the book. Men and women apathetically walked in from time to time, found their place on the page and signed. Then they stood around, or bought something, or just walked out.
“Where the hell were you last sign-in? For that matter, where the hell have you been all month?” whispered Feinblatt. “We had Stan Potocki sign in for you. When we found you were gone and that nut Gribble of yours couldn’t tell us anything we had Stan practice for a week and then come in with a bunch of us early to sign for himself and another bunch late to sign for you. We could have been shot! You just shouldn’t have done it, Billy !”
“I had to,” Justin said. “Thanks. Gus.” He reached into his pocket and found a penny, a steel disc with a wreathed star on one side and the head of Tom Paine on the other. “Here,” he said. “Christmas Eve.” Gus took the penny automatically, looked bewildered, and Justin went into the store.
“Vot name?” the sergeant scowled.
“Moyoh eemyah Yoostin,” Billy said. “Fermer.”
The sergeant put his finger on the rectangle. He glanced at Justin and looked a little puzzled. Justin took the pen and looked at the signature above. It was a pretty bad imitation Potocki had done. With his trained fingers he imitated the imitation, trying not to draw the letters too obviously. It passed the sergeant’s comparison. Whether it would pass the later, leisurely comparison of a headquarters officer who was at least a part-time handwriting expert, he did not know. He picked up a comic book —Joe Hill, Hero of Labor—and read for half an hour.
At twelve noon a jeep came by for the sergeant; he closed his book grimly and drove off with it to the next hamlet down the line.
The store came to life then. Mr. Croley emerged from his cubbyhole to wait, dead-pan, for customers to speak up. He sold some binder twine, fence staples, seed cake, cheese, imitation candy and dark-grey bread in a little flurry of business activity and then the store was empty again. Justin went to the counter.
“I’d like to talk in your office,” he said. The storekeeper lifted the counter flap and went in first. “I hear you have some surplus stuff.”
Croley sat at his small roll-top desk with the stuffed pigeonholes and waited. Justin knew for what. He took out a bundle of money, big bills from Lowenthal’s safe.
“Don’t have any,” Croley said. “Know where there is some, maybe. Big difference.”
“Yeah. Big difference. Well, do you know where there might he some sacks of flour, dried peas and beans? And case lots of canned horsemeat, sugar, dried eggs and tea?”
Justin spread out the bills in a fan.
Croley took them and said ritually: “I dunno for sure but I think maybe Mrs. Sprenger down past the gravel pit might be able to help you. I'll just write her a note about it.”
He wrote a note to Mrs. Sprenger on the back of an old sales slip and sealed it with a blob of flour paste. Justin got a glimpse, unavoidable in the tiny place unless he had turned his back, and saw that it seemed to be about flower seeds.
Croley handed him the note and Justin started to leave. Transaction over. End of incident. But Croley detained him. “Imagine you’re getting around.” the storekeeper said with a wintry little smile.
“Maybe,” Justin said cautiously. So the old skunk was adding up his absence —he had noticed it, of course; Croley noticed everything—and the big bills. Justin counted on Croley’s own illegal part in the black-market transaction to keep his mouth shut. Counted too far?
But Croley said; “Anything I can do for you, let me know.” And shook his hand!
In a daze, Justin said: “Christmas Eve,” and gave him a penny. Croley was looking at it in bewilderment as he left.
JUSTIN thought he had Croley figured. The old man was now firmly poised on the fence. Without being committed in any way whatsoever he was now ready to jump to either side. Never underestimate the adaptability of a Croley, Justin told himself.
Gus had loaded his feed on the wagon. It was a pitifully small load, and his horses were gaunt.
“Business proposition, Gus,” Justin called up to him. “Short trip down Cannon Road, light work, big pay.”
“Okay,” Gus said disconsolately. Justin climbed up and Gus flapped his reins on the horses’ backs. The wagon creaked down Cannon Road toward the gravel pit.
“I should have warned you,” Gus said bitterly. “You’re taking a chance being seen with me. I’m under suspicion as a dangerous conspirator—to be exact, a rootless Zionist cosmopolitan. The MVD came around last week. They searched the house. They took our Menorah, the Sabbath candlestick I haven’t lit since Pop died. And in the attic they found the real evidence. A bunch of mildewed haggadahs, passover prayer books I haven’t used for twenty years. And Granpa’s Talmud in forty little volumes of Hebrew and Aramaic which I can’t read. That makes me a rootless-internationalist-cosmopolitan-cryptofascist-Zionist conspirator. They warned me to keep my nose clean. I guess they’ll be back one of these days when they haven’t got anything better to do and haul us away.” He lapsed into silence.
“Stop at Mrs. Sprenger’s,” Justin said.
The birdlike old lady read the note in terror, whispered to herself: “I wish I didn’t have to—and showed them to the cistern in the back yard. The two of them levered its concrete slab cover aside. There was a ladder and the cistern was stacked with provisions.
“Please,” Mrs. Sprenger begged them, “please don’t take more than the note says. He thinks I take the things myself but I wouldn’t do anything like that. Please don’t make a mistake in counting.”
They carried up the food and loaded the wagon, hiding it under the original load of fodder.
“Christmas Eve,” Justin said to Mrs. Sprenger. And gave her a penny.
“Thank you,” she said faintly. Driving away Feinblatt asked; “What’s this Christmas-Eve-and-penny routine, Billy?”
“Just a habit I have.”
“You didn’t have it a month ago. Where’ve you been? You look different. You lost some weight, but your whole face looks different.”
“I had some teeth pulled.”
“I see; that would do it. Billy, stop me if I’m going offside, but did you have your teeth pulled like, say, the Laceys down at Four Corners?”
“That’s the way.”
They were heading up Oak Hill Road by then and Justin was debating furiously with himself. He had to start somewhere, he had to start with someone. There’d never he a better starting place than strong, steady, bitter Gus Feinblatt. But he didn’t want to; he didn’t dare. He was learning the difference between trusting only yourself and trusting others. It was an agonizing difference.
Stalling deliberately he asked: “What’ll you have for your share of the loot?”
“I don’t care. Some of the beans and flour, I suppose. We’re sick of potatoes. Lord, what a winter this is going to be! I’m lucky to have Tony and Phony here; they can haul wood so I can spend my time bucking and splitting. I guess we'll make out if we close off most of the house and if we can get another grate for the stove. The old one’s about burned through. They aren’t supposed to go fifteen years without a replacement.”
“Turn right,” Justin said when they reached the fork that led on the left to his place and on the right to Prospect Hill.
“What for Billy?”
“There’s something I want to show you. And something I want to ask you. Look, you rootless Zionist, how’d you like to join a real conspiracy?” The horribly risky job of local recruiting had begun.
NEXT ISSUE: CONCLUSION
WITH THEIR pitifully few weapons, the patriots of Chiunga Center face Christmas Eve and the uprising. Can they hold off the vengeful Russians long enough to launch the satellite and redeem their freedom?