Archive for April, 2010

Alongside Night — Chapter XXIII


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XXII

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 23


There were two rooms in the OD’s suite: a front office and a rear one.

The first contained the OD’s monitors — both the cross-monitor to the remote Command Shack and the slave monitors that would reproduce whatever the Alpha monitors were looking at. There was still another monitor that would allow the OD to look in on the Alpha guards themselves.

The second office contained a large freezer and a semiautomatic microwave food-processing system, and was sometimes used by officers and monitor guards as a break room when off shift. Chin dragged Westbrook to this later office, positioned him on a couch, and carefully injected a sleeping serum into his arm. Westbrook would be out of action for at least the next twelve hours and would have a considerable amount of explaining to do, as would his counterparts, when he awakened.

Chin returned to the front office.

On the Alpha-room monitor, Chin could see two men seated in a small booth, themselves facing several rows of video screens. These were the two guards whom Chin soon had to knock out; not only did they control the Sequence Prime destruct mechanism — which they were under orders to implement as soon as prison security was irrevocably threatened — but they also controlled knockout gas, concussion grenades, and remote-control machine guns at frequent points inside and outside the compound. But at the moment, they were out of Chin’s reach, sealed into their booth separated from the vestibule by the vault-like door. The only way into the prisoner compound was through a similar door, also in the guard booth.

On the other monitors, Chin could see views of the prisoner compound, Elliot and Lorimer’s cell, the vestibule, and various points outside. By their nature as repeaters, Chin knew that the guards were not watching the OD’s office. It was obvious that.juniors were not invited — except in an emergency — to oversee the actions of their senior. Even in areas of security, rank had its privileges.

The guards, however, were not Chin’s immediate concern.

Placing his attaché case on the OD’s desk, Chin removed his mini-computer, tools to strip shielded cable, a set of his own cables with alligator clips at one end and receptor plugs at the other, a pair of goggles, and a hand laser torch. Plugging the laser into a wall socket and putting on the goggles, Chin began work cutting into the wall below the monitors.

Five minutes later he had exposed what he had expected to find: shielded cables to the video circuits. Putting the laser aside, Chin placed his computer on a chair next to the wall, stripped cables inside the wall, and attached alligator clips to the cables, plugging the receptors into his computer.

He checked the Alpha monitor: one guard lit a cigarette while the other played solitaire. Nothing happened on any of their screens. Chin could see Elliot and Lorimer, still motionless in their cell.

Typing a short program into the computer, Chin started its disc into motion, as he did, there was a brief flicker on several of the screens. The guards did not notice. Chin sighed. This was the only visible signal that might have given him away.

The computer would now, automatically, decode the digital information taken from the video system, record two minutes from each camera, then replay that signal to the guards’ monitors infinitely with three areas excepted: from those cameras monitoring the prison compound, the inactive camera in the OD’s office, and cameras monitoring the roadside front gate. Chin was now free to operate throughout the vestibule and outside its door, but this was not the only video trick he had to perform.

Returning to his attaché case, Chin removed two microwave transmitters. The first was a short-range job with a small horn antenna; the other — a small dish on telescoping tripod — would pick up the first transmitter’s signal and relay it.

Chin plugged the first transmitter into his computer, aimed the horn to the main door, and flipped the device on; a small red light showed it operating. Stepping into the back office again briefly, Chin fetched keys from the unconscious OD, returning front. He picked up the dish transmitter and continued through to the vestibule where he crossed to Elliot and Lorimer’s cell.

The digital clock now read 6:13.

As he approached the two, Chin placed a finger to his lips and motioned them to the cell door. After he unlocked the cell, they briefly joined him in the vestibule. Chin whispered, “You have seventeen minutes.”

Lorimer nodded. Elliot whispered, “Good luck.” Chin pointed them to the OD’s suite, patted each of them on the shoulder, then departed with his transmitter to the front exit.

Inside the front office, on the Alpha monitor, Elliot and Lorimer glanced at the guards in their booth, still — respectively — smoking and playing solitaire as, on another monitor, a videotaped Elliot and Lorimer still sat motionless in their cell.

As he watched a cycle of various views within the prisoner compound, Elliot reflected that if one could tell an architect by his work, then Lawrence Powers emerged with a cynical sense of humor, for his Utopia — by a purely dictionary definition — met the major qualifications.

Within bedroom accommodations fully up to commercial standards — and those of the Cadre themselves — two hundred anarchists and three babies slept under pale blue lighting. Each room had a full private bath, internal telephone, holosonic cassette machine, and videodisc player. The furnishings were luxurious, to say the least.

With video monitors seeing into all corners, there was no reason to restrict the prisoners’ privacy from each other, nor their access to each other when they tired of privacy. Internal facilities included a library, game rooms, lounges, gymnasium, and medical center. (Several physicians were in residence as prisoners themselves.) The only external restriction was imposed by the timing of meals. The prisoners’ food was commercial frozen dinners, microwave heated by the OD’s food processor and passed in by the officer three times daily through an exchange chute from the front office; empties and refuse were passed out by the prisoners through the same chute. In addition, hot and cold beverages and cold snacks were available twenty-four hours a day in the dining area.

Responsibility for the prisoners’ well-being, beyond the facilities provided, was left totally up to them alone. There was no physical contact between prisoners and keepers, not for punishment or any other reason, but the existence of the guards gave the prisoners an outside enemy on whom they could vent their frustrations with impunity. Neither did the prisoners have any knowledge of Sequence Prime or very much reason to fear for their safety. They knew that if Lawrence Powers had wanted them dead, they would have been dead already.

Internal sanitation, comfort, rules, recreation, and dispute settlement were left to the devices of the prisoners. Within the confines of their world — literally in the middle of “no place” — they were free to live their lives as best they were able, propertyless, with the necessities of living provided free of charge.

Assuming one placed no price on personal liberty.

Elliot tried to locate Phillip on the monitor, but the cycle went by without catching a glimpse of him. But, he reflected, all this meant was that he liked to bury himself among pillow and blankets. Lorimer nudged Elliot silently, pointing to the Alpha monitor where the guard was playing solitaire.

He had just played out.

High above Utopia, Guardian Angel hovered.

Up front was the helicopter pilot, Captain Billis, Jack Guerdon beside him; in the rear were Sergeant Stokowski and the communications technician, Sergeant David Workman. All wore headsets.

It was at 0616 that Sergeant Workman reported he had Judas Goat’s signal on his monitor. “Roger,” Guerdon replied over headset. “Start recording and set up your laser link with Bigmouth.”

On the Mount Greylock summit, outside the abandoned television relay station, a temporary laser antenna had been erected. Inside, a few minutes after Guerdon’s order to Workman, Sergeant Compton reported to his lieutenant that they, too, were now receiving the signal. “Record and put it on monitor, Compton.” Evers replied. “Jones,” she continued, “let Guardian Angel know we have it.”

A few seconds later, the first image appeared on the Greylock monitor. It was the digitized signal from the video cameras in Utopia, showing, when each signal was decoded, various views of the main prisoner compound, the prisoners asleep in a pale, blue light…. “Guardian Angel, a perfect signal,” Sergeant Jones transmitted.

On the helicopter, Workman relayed this information to Guerdon. “Stokowski,” he ordered in response, “let them know downstairs that we’re punching it through.”

Below, in the cold, twilight air, Chin stood just outside the armored front door to the main building, the microwave transmitter — tripod legs extended, dish facing the sky — beside him. Chin blew briefly onto his hands and rubbed them together. Suddenly, three pinpoint flashes appeared above him. Blowing on his hands one last time, Chin returned inside.

It was 6:23.

The monitor guards, themselves monitored, even now sat facing inactive screens as Elliot and Lorimer, quite active in the OD’s rear office, prepared two hundred breakfasts: plastic trays filled with farina, scrambled eggs with bacon strips, a sweet roll, and a sealed container with non-melting straw that held coffee. It was a frozen breakfast sold — when in stock — at any supermarket.

Chin popped into the office, gave his two allies a thumbs-up, then grabbed the laser torch and his attaché case, returning to the vestibule.

Twenty-five at a time, Lorimer removed trays from the deep freeze with the OD’s gloves, inserted them into the processor, and set a two-minute heating cycle. At the other end of the cycle, Elliot removed trays bearable to the touch — but just — with naked hands, quickly stacking them onto a wheeled breakfast cart with multi-leveled shelves.

At 6:30, when Elliot and Lorimer rolled the breakfast cart into the front office, Chin was at work on the door from the vestibule to the monitor booth, using the torch to etch a pattern on one section of the door, and molding plastic explosive into it. Elliot and Lorimer began stacking breakfast trays into the transfer chute, delivering them to the dining area where they would be available — still warm, for the next forty-five minutes — to prisoners who chose to rise for breakfast.

Suddenly, the door to the monitor booth opened, knocking Chin sprawling forward. Elliot and Lorimer froze behind the door. “Hey, Sid,” a voice called out. “How about letting Mike and me get a couple of those breakfast — ” And one of the guards stuck his head out of the door, spotting Chin and his handiwork. “Oh, shit,” he said.

Though both men were startled, each started reaching for his gun. Chin did not quite make it. The FBI man drew his pistol first and fired twice at Chin, hitting him in the abdomen and right arm.

Chin went down. The guard slammed the armored door shut.

Elliot and Lorimer rushed over to Chin. The interoffice telephone began buzzing in the OD’s office. “Try to stall them,” Chin told Elliot hoarsely. “I need just five more minutes. Lorimer, I’ll need your hands.”

“What about your — ” Elliot started.

“Don’t argue,” Chin rasped. “Move. Move!

Elliot ran off to the office. Unknown to him, Chin quickly lapsed into unconsciousness.

Nervously, Elliot picked up the telephone, watching his antagonists on the Alpha monitor. The other monitors still showed the entire complex — including the vestibule — inactive. They had not seen Lorimer or him. The monitor still showed them motionless in their cell. Elliot decided to try a desperate gambit. “Yeah?” he said hoarsely.

“Sid?” the guard asked. “What the hell is going on out there? Are you all right? Who is that I shot?”

“Eh? I’m fine,” Elliot said. “It must be your imagination. The entire board’s quiet. Go back to sleep.”

“But I shot someone out there. He started drawing a gun.”

“You opened up the door? Asleep or not, that’s strictly against orders.”

This last, being of course the guards’ first standing order, was true, but Elliot’s heart sank, as he saw from expressions the two guards exchanged, that they knew something was wrong. “All right, who the hell is this?” the guard asked.

Elliot tried to bluff it through. “This is Westbrook. What is this? If you think you can try pushing this off on me — ”

But the gambit had failed. Queen takes pawn, Mate . . . only this time he was the pawn. Elliot looked to the repeater monitors and saw himself, standing with the telephone, in the OD’s office. The guards could see him now. “I asked who this is,” the guard asked once more.

Elliot took a deep breath and tried to think what to do. He knew that a wrong answer could mean the lives of the prisoners, Lorimer, Phillip, Chin . . . himself. He knew that at any moment knockout gas or a concussion grenade could be used on him by the guards.

He wished his father were here to advise him.

“You’ve got five seconds to answer me,” the guard said. “Five . . . four . . . three — ”

“All right, okay,” Elliot stopped him. “I’m from the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre.”

“How many of you are here? Where are the rest?”

They were still seeing taped replays on their monitors, still blind to what Lorimer was up to in the vestibule. Stall, Chin had said.

“There’s no one else,” Elliot replied. “Only us two.”

“You’re lying.”

The guard waited until it became apparent that Elliot would not answer, then said, “Boy, you just made the worst mistake of your life.” He turned to the other guard. “Implement Sequence Prime.” He started to hang up.

“Wait!” Elliot shouted, panic triggering an idea.

“Make it quick,” the guard said.

“A straight offer,” Elliot said. “You can both walk out of here rich men.” Elliot started spinning out words quickly, extemporizing. “I have twelve Mexican fifty-peso gold pieces for each of you. That’s about forty-six hundred eurofrancs apiece. With the blues not being accepted by EUCOMTO anymore, gold will be the only money around. It’ll be the only thing, practically, that people will accept.”

The guard maintained a cold silence as Elliot wondered whether his on-the-spot economics lesson had-hit home.

“What’s the matter?” Elliot asked. “You don’t believe me? I have the gold right here, in my belt.”

“Yeah,” the guard said. “I suppose I believe you. I know you brownies are loaded.”

“Then you’ll do business?”

“Nah,” said the guard. “The chief wouldn’t like that.”

“The chief?” Elliot said. “Your chief doesn’t care whether you live or die. There’s something about the setup here they never told you. If you kill the prisoners, you’re dead, too. Sequence Prime destroys this entire complex. Powers doesn’t want any witnesses.”

“Don’t you think we already know that?” the FBI man said softly.

“Then why kill yourself? Is Powers holding your families somewhere? Are you serving a life sentence?”

“You still don’t understand, do you?” the guard said. “The chief would be in this booth himself, if he had the choice. Loyalty works both ways, kid. It works both ways.”

The guard named Mike turned to the first guard and said, “We’re cut off. The Command Shack is out, and so is the alarm.”

The guard pondered this a moment, then smiled at Elliot. “Listen, boy, this place is going up in about two minutes, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But you can do me a favor and be a real hero at the same time.”

Perhaps this was the stall he had been looking for, Elliot considered. “What is it?”

“There are three babies inside the compound. Cute little tykes, remind me of my own at that age. I’ll feel a whole lot better if you take them out with you. And don’t try blackmailing me. If you don’t take them out with you, they’ll die too.”

Elliot thought then, and would always think, that this twisted attempt at humanitarianism was the final, logical result of all he had seen in the past few days. A man — trapped in an execution chamber by virtue of loyalty to a false idol — was willing to kill himself and two-hundred others for what he believed. His willingness to protect the future only underscored his ghastly mistake.

But he would have to open the door. “I’ll take them,” Elliot said.

“Okay, I’ll wake the parents.”

“No, don’t do that,” Elliot said. “You’ll panic them.”

He had reached a decision. His own loyalty was demanding a payment.

“You have a prisoner in there named Phillip Gross, right?”

After a moment, the guard replied. “I’ll get him.”

Elliot returned to the Monitor Room door and found Lorimer stroking Chin’s forehead. “He’s unconscious?”

“He’s dead,” Lorimer said.

Elliot knelt down, checking Chin’s neck for a pulse. There was none. Elliot felt cold and sick. He tried pulling himself together. “Did you get anywhere on the door?”

Lorimer shook her head. “It has to be in a certain pattern or it won’t work. He died before he could tell me.”

“Maybe we could try anyway?”

“It’ll explode this whole place if it’s tampered with,” Lorimer said emotionlessly.

Elliot tried slowing down his heart. There went his surprise advantage. He bent down and picked up Chin’s gun. “Okay, Lor, listen to me. That door is going to open in a minute. More than anything else, I’ve got to try getting a friend of mine out. But there are three babies in there, and you’ve got to get them out of here with you. Can you do that for me?”

“But — ”

“Can you do that for me?”

Lorimer stood up and nodded. “I do love you, Ell,” she said.

Elliot stroked her hair. “I love you, too.”

He did not say that he would not expect to live long enough to enjoy it.

Elliot stood, poised for his assault. He stood there well over a minute. Then he realized that he would not get his chance. The door would not have to open.

An alarm on the exchange chute to the compound signaled refuse on its way out. Elliot listened dumbly for a few moments, then understood what it meant.

The first infant was already in it, crying its eyes out. All that’s left is the future, he thought, handing the three-month-old boy to Lorimer. The second was a girl, perhaps only five weeks old. The third, another boy, looked to be six months old.

Elliot carrying two, Lorimer holding the third, they made a dash out to the now day-lit parking lot where Guardian Angel spotted Lorimer’s waving and began alighting to meet them.

Utopia began exploding. No, that wasn’t right, Elliot thought. It had never existed and never would.

They were far enough away not to be hit by the blast; the explosion was efficient, its rubble being contained in the immediate area.

As Stokowski and Workman took them aboard, Guerdon shouted into the radio for Friendly Sky to abort, repeat, abort its landing.

The last survivor in, Guardian Angel mournfully rose into the morning sky.

It was a few minutes later, as Sergeant Workman replayed Utopia’s final transmission on his monitor, that Elliot saw Phillip Gross spelling out “laissez faire” with his ring after he had passed the last infant out.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XXIV.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

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Alongside Night — Chapter XXII


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XXI

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 22


It was ice-cold on Mount Greylock.

A white-satin bedspread covered the mountainside, a star-broken midnight canopy over it. The air was crisp and clear. The snow — powder dry — made soft protests as four snowmobiles, one after another, left their tracks.

Three hours later, in the long-abandoned tourist lodge at the summit of the highest peak in Massachusetts, twenty-six men and women of the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre, and two of their younger allies, were gathered around a roaring fireplace. The windows were opaqued. Next to a map stand — Elliot, Lorimer, and Chin on his other side — General “One-Eyed Jack” Guerdon briefed his Cadre.

It was the fifth and final briefing of a series started with contingency plans months ago that had weathered rehearsals, computer analyses, more rehearsals, and had only been given a final go-ahead hours before. The arrival of Lorimer’s microfilm and the couple made the attempt on Utopia a tactically acceptable risk. Strategically, what had started as Contingency Plan D and was now Operation Bastille Day was considered by human mind and computer fail-operational.

“I know we’ve been through this three times already tonight,” said Guerdon, “but this last time I’m hoping for any damn thing that pops into your head, no matter how silly. It may make the crucial difference for the prisoners.

“Designations again. Infiltration group — Major Chin, Elliot Vreeland, Deanne Powers — is Judas Goat. Hang-glider commandos — Captain Donizetti’s group — is Winged Victory. The command ‘copter — Captain Billis and crew, myself — is Guardian Angel. Transport helioplane — Captain McCarter and crew, Dr. Schiller’s medical team — is Friendly Sky. Laser technician group remaining on Greylock’s summit — Lieutenant Evers in charge — is Bigmouth.

“At 0545 Winged Victory will drop near the relay tower, knock it out, then surround Command Shack Gamma. After receiving confirmation of this, Judas Goat will depart Nobody’s Road, at 0600 breaching Utopia by SOP for entering prisoners. At signal from Judas Goat, Winged Victory will assault Gamma simultaneous to Goat’s taking of Command Suite Beta — neutralizing all officers. Judas Goat will now establish microwave relay with Guardian Angel, then proceed to break into Monitor Booth Alpha. Guardian Angel will laser their video back here to Bigmouth for redundancy taping and relay to major television outlets as soon as the raid is completed.” Guerdon turned to the laser technicians. “You should have their signal by 0615.”

The technicians — Lieutenant Betty Evers, Sergeants Compton and Jones — nodded.

Guerdon spoke at large again. “When Guardian Angel receives video confirmation that Utopia is secure, we will immediately inform Friendly Sky, which will be guided down to Hoosac Lake by Winged Victory. ”

Near the back, the helioplane commander raised his hand. “Captain McCarter?”

“I’m still concerned about landing conditions, General. The tank had a better weight distribution than I do, and I’m worried about that thirty inches of compacted snow on the ice.”

“What’s your fully passengered gross weight and landing estimates?” Guerdon asked.

“It’s still forty tons. With the skis, we’ll need a strip of about a thousand feet to land, twice that for takeoff.”

“All right, don’t risk a landing until you have to. I’ll delay my signal until the last minute.” Guerdon went on to the group: “With Guardian Angel’s assistance, Judas Goat will guide the two-hundred prisoners to the landing strip, where Friendly Sky will treat any shock cases and airlift them out. With luck, we should all be heading home by 0720.”

Guerdon recognized Lieutenant Evers, the twenty-four-year-old chief of the laser technicians. “General, wouldn’t it be simpler to establish line-of-sight microwave relay between Judas Goat and my group? Guardian Angel could monitor on audio only.”

Guerdon flipped back several maps and pointed to the stand. “This is Savage Hill. It’s directly between Greylock and Utopia. To get line-of-sight we need two hundred feet of elevation that Utopia doesn’t have. Guardian Angel will provide that elevation — and then some.”

“Distance of the transmission is about five-and-a-half miles, General,” she said.

“So?”

“We don’t need laser for that distance, sir. Difficult to pinpoint when we could simply track modulated infrared from your engines.”

“No doubt. But if Bigmouth is put out of action, I want the option of relaying my tapes directly through O’Neill One. Remember, from a strategic standpoint, our secondary tactical objective is more important than our primary tactical objective. We need to establish publicly that such prisons exist, and execute a graphic demonstration that we Cadre are not the terrorists and racketeers Lawrence Powers has been accusing us of being.”

Another hand was raised, belonging to one of the commandos. “Lieutenant LaRue?”

“Can we still be damn sure about no ground resistance, sir? None?”

“Unless our data is out of date, we can be sure. The on-call garrison is a good three miles away, and knows nothing except to respond to an alarm. Once you put the relay tower out, we don’t have to worry about reinforcements since Gamma and Beta both use it. Remember the theory behind this lockup. The security system relies almost totally on a few trusted men and electronic control. Mr. Powers wants as few witnesses to his private concentration camp as possible. The very design specifications for his fail-safe verify this. He would rather see all the prisoners — and his own men — in ashes than have proof of this get out. And, ultimately, this provides us with the Achilles’ heel we need. Anything else?”

Hearing no response, Guerdon waited several moments before saying, “Very well. See if you can catch an hour’s sleep. Dismissed.”

At 0545 hours, 27 February, a lone, unmarked police sedan turned right at a red brick church house about six miles north of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, climbed a hill, and turned left onto a desolate country road, snow-plowed into banks on each side. A young Chinese man wearing a gray suit with tie drove the vehicle; behind him, separated by a soundproof glass partition, were a young man and woman handcuffed to each other.

It was while they were standing still at Nobody’s Road that Elliot asked Lorimer if she were scared.

Lorimer nodded. “You?”

“Shitless.”

Lorimer smiled slightly. “I wish I had a cigarette.”

“Listen, Lor,” Elliot went on. “This is probably a crazy time to get into it, this late and everything, but you’re not going to have any — well — problems in there, are you?”

Lorimer regarded him scornfully. “You should know me-better than that by now. I’m not the fainting type. Why, are you?”

“No, you’re not following me.” Elliot adjusted his handcuff to chafe slightly less. “Let me try it from another angle. If I hadn’t stopped you, would you really have shot your father?”

“Oh, yes,” she said simply.

“Because he drove your mother to suicide?”

She shook her head. “Look, you think you can become cold-blooded when you have to. You’re an amateur compared to me, and it’s a trait I inherited from my father. How did he seem to you, in the hotel?”

“Controlled. Cool. Rational.”

“He’s always that way,” Lorimer said, “and he always has been. I can’t ever remember seeing him furious or ecstatic or releasing any strong emotion.”

“Now I’m not following you.”

“Don’t you know any psychology at all? A human being can’t bottle up emotions forever. There has to be an outlet. My father’s is pretty much out of Machiavelli. He likes to give orders. When a man like this gets his hands on a police organization, the only sensible thing to do is kill him before he kills others.”

“And what’s your outlet?” Elliot asked her.

Lorimer did not answer.

Chin received a radio signal that Winged Victory had knocked out the communications relay tower and was now positioned around Gamma.

A few minutes later, the sedan pulled up to the electrified main entrance gate to Utopia.

A quarter-century earlier, in more prosperous times, the property had been a private summer camp where urban children — mostly from New York — escaped their nagging parents for eight weeks of hiking, boating, and ceramic-ashtray making; in winter, it had been a ski camp. And it was on these grounds, over two holiday weekends one fall and one spring, that small groups of libertarian investors had gathered to discuss a then-infant science of countereconomics.

Now, through an eminent domain that had taken the property from later owners for a federal highway that was never built, the property had passed into less innocent hands.

A video camera mounted on a post at the entrance swiveled around to examine the car. Chin flashed headlights twice, then once again. The gate opened for him by remote control.

Chin drove onto the grounds.

Utopia was built upon a sweeping landscape now covered with picture-postcard snowdrifts, here and there illuminated by floodlights. Video cameras followed the sedan’s progress as it drove a snowdozed dirt road that wound, eventually, down to Hoosac Lake. A half-mile short of the lake, close to a large, flat-topped building semi-underground on a hill, Chin pulled into a small parking lot and cut his engine.

Taking an attaché case and a drawn pistol with him, Chin opened the sedan’s rear door, leading his two prisoners out by their handcuffs. He began pulling them toward the fifty-yard-distant building, in their last few seconds of privacy telling them quietly, “Remember, once you’re in the holding cell, you must remain absolutely still — no matter what — until I get you. Don’t even think about moving.”

Elliot and Lorimer nodded.

At the entrance to the main building, an armored door peeking out of the hillside, Chin held his gun to Elliot’s back while a video camera watched them. A few moments later, over an intercom, a voice asked:

“Who sent you?”

“The Old Boys,” Chin replied.

“What did they tell you?”

“To keep my palms dry.”

The armored door slid open, and the three went in.

The vestibule to Utopia comprised a jail cell reminiscent of a small town — two chain-held cots on the wall, a seatless toilet–a door (to the Monitor Booth) that would have looked at home on a vault, and (on the side opposite the cell) the suite belonging to the Officer on Duty. This last was the only part of the prison interior not usually monitored by the Alpha Booth; instead it was cross-monitored with Command Shack Gamma, where five other officers — one on duty, four off — were stationed. The two on-duty monitor guards had a similar relief arrangement, but there was no cross-monitoring with the off-duty guard shack, a half-mile away.

It was precisely 6 A.M. by a digital wall clock when the OD left his office to meet Chin and the two prisoners in the vestibule. He was a stocky man in his forties, well muscled with a slight potbelly, and looked exactly like an accountant, which is how he had started his career. The OD extended his hand to Chin in greeting. “I don’t think we’ve met,” he said. “Sydney Westbrook, late of the Boston office.”

“Special Agent Chin, just out of San Francisco.” Chin tucked his attaché case under his left arm, transferred his pistol left, and with his right took the proffered hand briefly. “Where do you want them?”

“Who are they?”

“This one is Elliot Vreeland and — ”

“Vreeland?” Westbrook interrupted. “Jesus, I wish the chief would make up his mind. They just came for the other two not an hour ago.”

Startled, Elliot involuntarily asked, “My mother and sister aren’t here?”

“Shut up, punk,” Chin cut in, “you’ll speak when you’re spoken to!”

Westbrook shrugged, telling Chin, “Don’t wear yourself out. He’ll find out anyway.” He told Elliot, “That’s right.” Powers had kept his bargain. Westbrook looked over to Lorimer. “Who’s this one?”

“The chief’s little girl.”

“Really? I saw her on the list but didn’t think the chief would have the heart to go through with it. But you know the chief. He won’t allow anyone to imply that he would show favoritism.”

“Yeah. Like I said, where do you want them?”

“Right over here, for a few minutes.”

Westbrook led Chin and his prisoners over to the holding cell and unlocked it. Chin removed Elliot and Lorimer’s handcuffs. Lorimer went in immediately, but Elliot, precued, hesitated a moment. Chin shoved him in roughly — a little too roughly, more than Elliot was expecting. He fell against the cot. Lorimer looked as if she was about to spit at Chin, but held back. Elliot was never entirely sure that she was only acting.

As the OD locked the couple in, Chin asked him, “You wouldn’t have some coffee on, would you? I’m half frozen.”

“Sure,” he replied, “A fresh pot in my office.” Westbrook motioned Chin to follow: Chin holstered his gun and did. “So,” the OD continued, “how’s Frisco this time of year?”

“Please,” said Chin, sounding genuinely annoyed. “That’s SF — if you must shorten it — not Frisco. A hell of a lot warmer than here, I’ll tell you.”

Continuing to make meaningful comments about the weather, Chin followed Westbrook into his office while Elliot and Lorimer took positions on their cots, leaning back against the wall in a relaxed, braced manner, suggesting dead tiredness to anyone watching on video. Neither one moved a muscle.

As soon as Chin and Westbrook were completely inside the OD’s office and monitored only by the other command center, Chin dropped his attaché case onto a chair, triggered a pulse from a small transmitter connected to its spring latches, and removed a plasti-sealed handkerchief from the case. Westbrook was heading to the coffee maker. Chin delayed a few moments until he saw, on the OD’s cross monitor to Command Shack Gamma, that the other officers were swooning from the knockout gas Donizetti and his men were introducing there. Then, breaking the seal with one hand, Chin silently edged up on the OD’s back and grabbed him with the other hand, pressing the chloroform-soaked handkerchief against Westbrook’s mouth and nose. The OD struggled, trying to shout, but Chin outclassed him. After some seconds, Westbrook, unconscious, stopped struggling. Beta was secured.

Donizetti showed his head in the command monitor a half-minute later and gave Chin a thumbs-up; Chin returned the thumb signal with an “Okay” sign. Gamma was neutralized, also. Donizetti and his commandos would now head down to the lake to guide Friendly Sky in.

The most critical stage of Bastille Day had been completed.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XXIII.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

Bookmark and Share

Alongside Night — Chapter XXI


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XX

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 21


Auld Lang Syne smelt of wet plaster and birchwood smoke.

After Moose had bid them good-bye at the West Side Heliport, Elliot and Lorimer were met by the peak-capped, sunglassed pilot of a private helicopter with corporate markings, examined for bugs, blindfolded by helmets as secure as chastity belts, and flown for just under an hour to parts unknown. Elliot, who loved any flying and had never been up in a helicopter, was heartbroken. A stomach-raising descent, the feel of terra firma as rotors slowed to silence, and a brief, sightless walk being pulled along through icy wind brought them inside again.

The odors of plaster and smoke were their first perceptions of this agorist underground, though they appreciated later ones more: the sound of a crackling log fire and its radiant warmth. When their blinders were finally removed, Elliot and Lorimer were inside a furniture-bare terminal, alone facing Chin’s smiling face.

As they warmed chilled ears and fingers by the fireplace, Chin explained that though Auld Lang Syne had been built as a replacement for Aurora — scheduled for abandonment by June in any event — the raid had rushed things a bit. Nothing serious, of course, but damnably inconvenient. Personnel from Aurora were moved in and some final installations were being made, but the facility was not yet operational. Though, Chin added cryptically, it might never be necessary to open Auld Lang Syne at all.

Chin went on to give Elliot and Lorimer their first overview of Cadre activities. The Revolutionary Agorist Cadre, he said, comprised three main operating arms.

TacStrike was agorist guerrilla forces, elite veterans of civil wars, revolutions, and “national liberations” throughout the globe. It was nearly impossible to compare it with other forces except by implication. Cadre never fought openly, never claimed victories, and had no television series extolling their exploits. When they died, they died anonymously. Both the United States government and the Cadre had vested interests in keeping it generally unknown how strong the Cadre actually were and how far was their reach.

IntellSec was the agorist entry into the intelligence community, though without the restrictions that supposedly limited the FBI to domestic affairs, the DIA to military, and the CIA to foreign. Chin admitted that his first Cadre employment had been in Hong Kong for IntellSec.

TransComm, both the earliest and largest division, was responsible for providing Cadre allies with a wide range of transportation, courier, and communications services secure from invasion.

The network of Agorist undergrounds was TransComm-operated.

Normal trading-facility security procedures had not yet been set up. There were merely a few extra Cadre guards — armed with M-21’s — on duty. Hammers and nails were in use only a few feet away from the rough-hewn security room that Chin led Elliot and Lorimer to. Commandant Welch was in charge.

Lorimer stepped forward. “I owe you an apology for Saturday,” she told Welch. “I had no right pulling a gun on you, and was wrong when I called you a statist.”

Elliot glanced over to her, shocked.

Welch seemed embarrassed. “Uh — you don’t have to do that. l guess I had it coming. I haven’t gotten it through my skull yet that I’m not a Chicago cop anymore.”

Chin asked Lorimer, “You have no complaint now about this commandant’s treatment of you?”

“Well,” she said, “I still don’t like being told where I can go and who with. But I suppose that’s what I’d agreed to.”

He faced Elliot. “No complaint.”

“Very well.” Chin turned to the commandant. “Mr. Welch, I’ll withdraw my report and recommend that your fine be retuned. But for pity’s sake let’s not have an incident like this again. There’s an old expression never heard anymore: ‘The customer is always right.’ Public relations demands we act upon it, even though it’s abject nonsense.”

“I understand. And thank you.”

“All right. Let’s bury the matter.”

Chin produced a photo badge, handing it to Welch, who inserted it into a desk console and pressed a button twice. A concealed wall panel slid open, revealing a corridor. After reclaiming his badge, Chin led Elliot and Lorimer several hundred feet to a steel door. He inserted his badge, and it slid open.

Beyond the door was the yet unfurnished anteroom to a suite of offices. Jack Guerdon was kneeling on the floor, installing a carpet.

Chin cleared his throat. Guerdon looked up, noting their presence and Chin’s expression of disapproval. Clapping the dust off his hands, Guerdon stood up. “Now, Major Chin, you know it’s the only relaxation I get.”

“I wasn’t criticizing, sir,” Chin replied. “But there are others who . . .”

Guerdon furrowed his brow slightly.

Chin shrugged resignedly. “Perhaps it’s time for proper introductions?” he offered. Guerdon nodded. “Mr. Vreeland, Ms. Powers, may I present General Jack Guerdon, Supreme Commander of the Cadre’s TacStrike forces.”

For the second time upon meeting Guerdon, Elliot’s eyes widened. “Uh– I thought you ran a construction company . . . sir?”

Guerdon grinned. “I do. The general’s job is only part time.”

“The general is much too modest,” said Chin. “First tour of duty in Vietnam, 1965. Trained for and made the Green Berets, three more tours of Indochinese duty, returning the last time as a major — brevet, later confirmed. After the war, transferred to the Corps of Engineers, retiring as a full colonel. Awarded the Purple Heart with bronze cluster, Bronze Star, Silver Star, Legion of Merit — ”

“That’s quite enough, Major,” Guerdon said in a low voice.

Chin looked sheepish. “Sorry, sir.”

Lorimer dimpled slightly. “I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, General,” she asked, “but do your men ever call you Black Jack?”

Guerdon chuckled resonantly. “Some of them, no doubt . . . but in the original moniker given to Pershing. Major, what am I being called lately?”

“Sir?”

“Not the vulgar version, son.”

Chin smiled slightly. “Well, I have heard one of the men refer to you as One-Eyed Jack, sir.”

Jack Guerdon snorted. “I must be too easy on them.”

The four removed into an inner office that Guerdon had commandeered, the only completely outfitted one in the suite, and settled comfortably around a conference table with computer stations at each place. Before getting down to business, Chin provided mugs of too-hot, too-bitter coffee from a standard-issue military urn.

Chin removed Elliot’s telephone key from a pocket (it had been confiscated by the pilot during the preflight search) and handed it to Guerdon, who examined it briefly, then placed it on the table. Elliot stirred dry creamer into his coffee, looking at the two Cadre officers expectantly. Guerdon asked, “Would you tell us where you got this?”

“Sure,” Elliot said, hooking his thumb toward Lorimer. “From her father.”

Guerdon looked to Lorimer. She nodded.

“You don’t have to worry, though,” Elliot continued. “He didn’t exactly give it to me of his own free will.”

“I wouldn’t have expected so,” said Guerdon. “How did the opportunity arise?”

“It arose when Lor –Deanne, I mean — ”

“I prefer Lor,” said Lorimer.

“. . . when Lor got the drop on her father when he walked into my father’s hotel room.”

Guerdon’s eyebrows rose.

Elliot nodded. “It gets rather involved, but what Lor and I agreed before that we should tell you is that my father is going to rise from the grave in a few days. This time as a friend of the Administration. What the Administration gets out of it is gold-backed money courtesy of a loan from EUCOMTO — with my father as the loan’s cosignatory. What my father gets out of it are the promises of my mother and sister back . . . and the job of U.S. economic czar. What you get out of it is the shaft.”

“When you called us,” Chin asked, “you were calling to tell us where they are so we could intervene?”

Elliot shook his head. “Not that it makes any difference. They’re probably long gone by now.”

“Then what were you calling us about?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“Let’s not fence,” Guerdon said. “I suspect we both want the same thing.” He turned to Chin. “Major?”

Chin punched a series of codes into his computer station for a few moments. A document with FBI imprimatur appeared on each of their displays. “This was on the thirty-second roll of microfilm you gave us,” he told Lorimer. “Examine it carefully, both of you.”

On the display document — titled “For Further Investigation” — were hundreds of names, neatly printed out in alphabetical order. Elliot recognized many as belonging to students and faculty associated with Ansonia Preparatory School and sometimes their families.

Further down on the display was a somewhat shorter list marked “For Immediate Disposition.” Among the names he recognized were his own — and those of his parents and sister — Phillip Gross, and his uncle, Benjamin Harper, and Ansonia’s headmistress, Dr. Maureen Fischer.

“This is a partial list,” Guerdon explained, “of those secretly to be arrested this past weekend and sent to the FBI prison code — named Utopia. Major?” Chin punched a new series in; another document, dated February 24, was displayed. “This one Ms. Powers obviously couldn’t have brought us. We intercepted it through normal channels.”

The document was a top-secret FBI dispatch to all field offices, informing them that Deanne Powers was to be arrested without warrant and transported to Utopia for interrogation. It was signed by Lawrence Powers.

Guerdon looked at Lorimer sympathetically. She shrugged and replied, “I’m not at all surprised.”

“That first arrest list,” Elliot asked. “What happened to them?”

“We managed to notify many . . . and got them safely underground.”

“Phillip Gross and his uncle?”

Guerdon shook his head sadly.

“They’re both in Utopia?”

“Phillip is imprisoned there. Morris Gross is dead.”

His second-worst fears about Phillip confirmed, Elliot was deeply saddened to have his worst confirmed about the vibrantly alive man who had befriended him. “They killed him?”

“He suicided.” Guerdon paused an instant, then added, “As my TacStrike chief of staff, General Gross simply knew too much to allow himself to be captured.”

“I see.” Elliot stared down at his coffee for a few seconds, then looked up at Chin. “Why bring us here, now? The last you told me, you people were claiming a raid on that prison wasn’t possible.”

“‘Removal not now possible,’ I believe that phrase was,” said Chin. “I programmed that myself last Saturday. But that was before we’d had a chance to inspect fully the microfilm Lorimer brought us.”

Chin typed in still new codes. A moving sequence of documents — floor plans, written descriptions, and schematic diagrams — appeared on their displays. “This was on the forty-third roll of FBI microfilm,” he continued. “The complete layout, specifications, codes, and operating procedures of the FBI prison.”

“We are now ready to raid Utopia,” said Guerdon. “We need the two of you to help us.”

Elliot was slightly taken aback. Though he had fantasized the possibility of heroically rescuing his family from that prison, he had never taken the possibility of a chance seriously.

Lorimer took the announcement completely in her stride.

“Us?” asked Elliot. “Sure, I’d love a crack at it, but we’re grass green, both of us. You must have better trained — ”

“If it were merely a military operation,” Guerdon interrupted, “we could have moved against the prison months ago. But a raid-in-force is precisely what Utopia is designed against. We need two people whose names are on the arrest list . . . who are not already captured . . . or dead . . . who are allied with us . . . who are not carrying secrets we can’t afford to lose . . . and who are unlikely to crack under fire.”

“It all sounds great,” Elliot said, “except for that last part.”

“Don’t run yourself down, son. I have seen psychometric profiles for each of you. Do you help us, or not?”

Elliot thought about it. Even if his mother and sister were to be freed anyway a point he did not trust Powers on at all — and his main reason for calling the Cadre — Phillip was in there. Phillip, who, when asked for help, had simply said, “Of course. What do you want me to do?”

The decision took only split seconds. “Sure,” he answered offhandedly.

“Ms. Powers?”

“When do we leave?”

Elliot smiled at her. An eternal yea.

“Get a quick bite to eat,” said Guerdon. “We’ll be out of here the next hour.”

In a private moment in the anteroom, while Chin and Guerdon were still conferring, Elliot asked Lorimer why she had volunteered. “Three reasons,” she explained. “One. If I decide to make a career with the Cadre, this will look good on my application. Two. I can’t think of anything that would make my father burn more. And three. I’m going along to make certain you don’t get your ass shot off.”

The commissary was not completely finished, but the kitchen was operational. While there were no allies other than Elliot and Lorimer in Auld Lang Syne, work crews and Cadre had almost filled the dining area. But at the moment they were not there only for the food.

Almost everyone in Auld Lang Syne at the time, approaching a hundred people — some with dinners, some without — was seated facing six temporary wall screens.

The first screen displayed a computer-generated map of the United States, with almost ten thousand dotted red lights on it, clustering around densely populated areas but covering almost every human habitation in the country. Each dot represented a radio or television station.

The other five wall screens were each carrying the signal of a major American network — television broadcasts (subject to censorship) of normal prime-time programming. Highest rated of the five programs, sandwiched in between a serial drama and a situation comedy, was We, the Jury, a program combining elements of an actual court trial, a game show, and an actual execution. (The rumors that producers had signed convicts willing to be executed for spin-offs were almost completely untrue.)

The commissary was humming with whispered conversations and a sense of rising expectancy as Chin led Elliot and Lorimer in. “What’s going on?” Lorimer asked Chin.

“You’ll see in a few minutes.”

The three were near the end of the food line when a huge cheer went up in the chamber. Dozens of red lights on the electronic map had suddenly turned green, the lights changing like dominoes falling into each other, or as if the map was following the progress of an accelerated hurricane dancing across the country. Within a minute, there was not a single red light on the screen.

A second cheer went up as one of the wall screens interrupted its broadcast — a symphony concert — with a notice reading: “MBS SPECIAL NEWS BULLETIN.”

News? thought Elliot. But no news was being permitted …

A man near the screens turned up the accompanying sound, “–rupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a special news bulletin. Reporting to you from our Mutual News Headquarters in New York is Phyllis Breskin.”

A middle-aged but still-handsome newswoman appeared on the screen. “Good evening,” she said in the industry’s standard Oxonian tones. “Since early this morning, MBS News has been off the air in accordance with the official procedures of the Emergency Broadcast System. Our network, however, was instructed not to broadcast an Emergency Action Notification.

“A few moments ago, our Broadcast Command Center in New York received an official release allowing us to resume our normal news operations. We therefore bring you this special update . . .”

Several of the other wall screens were now carrying the news bulletins of other networks.

A newsman on the Pacifica System was saying, “. . . morning at its trading session in Paris, the EUCOMTO announced that, in a closed session Saturday evening, it was voted to stop accepting the American New Dollar in exchange for eurofrancs. In making the announcement, Chancellor Deak stated that this had been necessary to protect European consumers from the effects of American political instability. He used, as an example, last Thursday’s New York demonstration by Citizens for a Free Society that ended in a riot.”

Elliot, in progress with his food tray to a table, barely managed to avoid spilling minestrone as he heard the results of the riot he had accidentally started. A history lesson from his junior year flashed through his mind, as he remembered the young Gavrilo Princip who, by the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his consort, started the chain of events that had led to the First World War.

Another network newsman: “. . . prompt move to prevent this news from reaching the American public, where it was feared an immediate monetary collapse would trigger financial chaos, at 4:10 A.M. E.T., the President of the United States declared a state of national emergency, ordering all mass communications media to cease . . .”

“The Emergency Broadcast System never sent out a release, did it?” Elliot asked Chin.

Chin shook his head.

“Wasn’t that obvious?” Lorimer asked Elliot. “Everyone here was waiting for this.”

They found an unoccupied table. “Then how did you manage — ?” Elliot asked, setting down his tray.

Chin smiled. “Believe me,” he replied, “you’re not the only person asking that at the moment.”

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XXII.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

Bookmark and Share

I’m Out of Their League


I just sent out an email to a producer in which I took a pass on submitting my materials to potential investors in my next project.

Neil, are you crazy, or just retiring?

Neither one.

Last Friday, when I returned home from a week in California, I played back a message on my home telephone’s voice mail, left three days earlier. It was from someone I didn’t know, but the message said these magic words, “I want to talk to you about a project.”

That was enough for me to open up my subscription to IMDb Pro and look up various spellings of the caller’s last name.

When that didn’t pin it down I Googled the phone number left by the caller. That did the trick: it provided me with the correct name for what turned out to be a line producer whose credits I could look up. It showed him as line producer on a project in pre-production, with a budget of $8 million.

You need to understand at this point how things work.

A film listed as being in “pre-production” means that it’s supposed to be a go project — financed and with a start date for principal photography. IMDb Pro is often enough inaccurate about such things, but if a project is actually in pre-production, the line producer would be the guy who’s hiring the crew.

I have a lot of credits on Lady Magdalene’s beyond the ones I usually front-load — writer, producer, director. I acted in it. I wrote songs for it. I did a lot of post-production work with various job titles. These are all jobs I have experience doing and can do for someone else. So if a line producer is calling me when he’s listed on IMDb Pro as having a multi-million dollar movie in pre-production, that sounds to me like a possible job offer, and it’s a call I’m going to return.

Being Easter weekend, it wasn’t until Monday that I was able to get this line producer on the phone. And it quickly became apparent that the call I was returning wasn’t for a job offer. He was someone who didn’t know me beyond seeing my name in a discussion on film financing on LinkedIn, and he was pitching himself to me as someone who could put me in touch with sales agents for Lady Magdalene’s, or put me in touch with investors for my next project.

The guy has real producing credits listed on IMDb. But he said all the wrong things.

The first thing was that he didn’t know my credits. He wasn’t aware I’d written for The Twilight Zone. He didn’t know I’d written, produced, and directed a completed indie feature film. He didn’t know me as an author. He didn’t know I’d won awards and accolades for my work over the past four decades.

Then he told me that he had gotten distribution for hard-to-sell indie features. I guess Lady Magdalene’s is one of these because it hasn’t sold to a distributor yet. “There probably wouldn’t be money up front,” he told me, “but these guys go to all the film markets — including AFM!”

Er, I’ve been to the American Film Market, myself. Lots of times. I can go through the book and see who’s there and buying indie features as well as anyone else. Someone who does that for a film producer isn’t a distributor — he’s a sales agent. He can no more put my movie into theaters or displayed in Walmart than I can. And if “there’s no money up front” then someone is asking me to tie up the rights to my ready-to-show movie with no money put up to show me that someone is matching my risk in having produced it.

Wrong answer.

Wrong answers again when he started telling me which stars could get a movie financed and which couldn’t. He knew — like everyone in the business knows — the low-end-budget films without any stars that have been huge box-office successes: The Blair Witch Project, Napoleon Dynamite, Juno, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Paranormal Activity. “Those are the exceptions,” he told me. “The investors I know won’t put money into a movie unless there are certain stars attached.”

I know this list. It’s the list of the flavor of the month — whichever actor was in a movie that did well recently. It doesn’t matter if the actor can’t put a coherent sentence together and how hard it would be for a director to get a performance out of him or her. And most important from the investor’s standpoint, the attachment of an A-list star to a movie is not in the slightest an accurate predictor about whether the movie will be successful enough to earn back the investment. The list of A-list-driven box-office flops is endless.

Then the kicker. He wanted me to print out and snail mail him synopses of my scripts, because “My investors won’t read a script without reading a synopsis first.”

And they want to see the movie poster for a film seeking distribution.

I actually agreed to send this guy a DVD of Lady Magdalene’s along with synopses of several of my scripts before I hung up.

Then I woke up today as if from a nightmare, practically screaming.

I don’t want these illiterates getting anywhere near any of my projects.

I don’t want these ignoramuses anywhere near the movie business.

If I was in the Mafia, I’d be putting out contracts on them.

These clowns — and I have no idea who they are — are not qualified to invest in movies. If they want to put money into films, it’s easy to watch movies then pay attention to the credits, to find out whose work it is that they like. It’s easy to attend film festivals to get in on the ground floor of new talent. It’s easy to read books and watch plays and decide which ones would make a good movie.

I’ve spent a lifetime doing work that has got me a reputation, that has built a fan base. If you’re looking to invest with me, I make it exceedingly easy to find out who I am and what I’ve done.

My credits and resume are on IMDb and LinkedIn.

My books are on Amazon.com and linked from my official website, listing reviews and awards.

There’s a Wikipedia article about me.

A Google search on me links to thousands of pages.

It costs all of $2.99 to watch Lady Magdalene’s on Amazon.com Video on Demand.

A fan of the Twilight Zone episode I wrote, “Profile in Silver,” put it on YouTube.

I have serialized one of my novels on my blog, and another of them has been a free download — with over 80,000 downloads already — since last June.

Any film producer can get in touch with my manager or agent — or me, directly — and ask to read any of my scripts. They’ll have a download link for the script’s PDF in their email box within minutes.

And if you’re too lazy to do any of this, kindly go sell cleaning products. It’s philistines like you that are producing unwatchable dreck that’s robbing people like me who love movies and have paid our dues from the opportunity of getting our handmade-with-love movies in front of audiences who might love them.

Pass.

Now let me tell you the right answers.

There’s nothing that I, as a creative artist, like more than someone who “gets” me. Art is communication, and if there’s nobody out there who can receive and understand the communication, it’s a tree falling in a forest … and in this particular case there really is no sound.

Ayn Rand could talk all she liked about how the work itself is everything, but please note that she was fooling nobody except, possibly, herself.

Barbara Branden tells us in The Passion of Ayn Rand that when, upon its first publication, Atlas Shrugged was panned by the book critics — when Ayn Rand felt that no literary figure of major consequence stood up to defend the masterpiece she’d spent a decade sweating bullets to write — she went into a deep depression.

Because she felt she had failed to communicate to an audience that meant something to her, Ayn Rand never wrote another word of original fiction for the remaining quarter century of her life.

We are all so much the poorer for it.

A creative artist — writer, painter, composer — often enough works in solitary, and has to contemplate a future audience to be able to work. That’s what Ayn Rand meant about the work coming first. The artist has to be the first audience for the art. But it’s a tragedy when the audience for art only shows up when the artist can no longer hear the applause.

An investor who appreciates my work enough to finance its distribution is a jewel beyond ordinary price to me.

But that’s a job title to be earned, just like any other.

Speaking for myself, I’ve been in this business long enough to know what I do, and do well. I’m going to hold a damn strict job interview for anyone who wants to invest in one of my projects.

But speaking on behalf of all artists looking for distribution to their audience, finding someone who exists in both the circle of “dedicated fan” and the circle of “investor” is a hell of a Venn diagram to fill out.

Owning a checkbook doesn’t make you a qualified investor any more than owning a guitar makes you Eric Clapton.

Capitalism is also an art. The art of capitalism fails when talent is missing … and all that’s left is stupid money.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Alongside Night — Chapter XX


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XIX

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 20


On Saturday morning, February 24, when the FBI director had finally received from his New York field office the Vreeland “natural causes” affidavit obtained three days earlier, he would have found it quite convenient for Dr. Martin Vreeland and his entire, troublesome family to be out of the country. (He had sent the affidavit by private messenger over to the OPI — better late than never, he reasoned.) The following morning, Sunday, after a blistering twenty minutes in the Oval Office, Lawrence Powers knew that the President of the United States now considered Dr. Vreeland’s goodwill far more valuable than his own.

It was not that the President had been piqued by Powers’ loss of the master subversives file. As a matter of fact, the President was delighted that with loss of the file went any further possibility of Powers blackmailing him with respect to the President’s agorist origins; presidential enemies would have loved the proof of a first congressional race financed with black-market profits and the blood of betrayed business partners. No. Dr. Vreeland himself had been transformed overnight from the President’s second-most-dangerous enemy to his first — ironically, also, to his only chance for political survival. “And the survival of your goddamn Holy Bureau, too,” the President had added.

What had performed such a feat of political alchemy on Dr. Vreeland was a telephone call, Saturday evening, that the Chancellor of EUCOMTO had made to the President of the United States. The Chancellor’s eleven o’clock call from Paris (5 P.M. in Washington) informed the President that in a closed emergency session thirty minutes earlier, EUCOMTO had voted no longer to accept the American New Dollar. The Chancellor explained, as politely as possible under the circumstances, that the council had felt this necessary to protect European interests from the monetary consequences of American political instability.

“Instability?” the President had asked testily. “What do you think, that you’re dealing with some banana republic?”

“Mr. President,” the Chancellor had replied, “even bananas do not decay as quickly as the value of your currency these past few months.”

The vote was final; the announcement would be made in Paris, 10 A.M. Monday, at the opening of EUCOMTO’s trading session.

The President had said, somewhat tentatively, that he assumed it was not merely courtesy that prompted the Chancellor’s call.

The Chancellor had replied that he did not intend to mince words. He knew as well as the President what this action would do to the American economy in its current condition; most of Europe had gone through a nearly identical inflationary crisis fifteen years earlier. It meant an imminent collapse of the New Dollar, wildcat strikes not only in industry and the civil service but in the military as well, almost total financial chaos, and widespread civil insurrection that — without the military behind him — the President might never quell.

The President had said to go on.

Very well. A consortium of EUCOMTO banks was willing to lend the United States government enough gold to float a new hard currency. Obviously, a country as large as the United States still had a wealth of material and industrial resources to call upon. What it currently lacked was a stable atmosphere — political and economic — in which to guarantee the repayment of such a loan. Frankly, after the debacle of the last two American monies, European bankers did not trust the United States government not to pay off its debts in inflated currency — and they doubted that the American people were willing to be trusting again, either.

What the Europeans would require was a person to act as a top-level comptroller of the American government, with full, irrevocable power to guarantee to EUCOMTO American fiscal responsibility. Probably a new Cabinet-level post was called for, combining the functions of Treasury Secretary, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and a number of lesser offices. Secretary of Economic Recovery, call it.

This person would have to be acceptable both to EUCOMTO and to American popular sentiment — a person in the past widely critical of the policies that had brought about the present Administration’s current dilemma. And the only person whom the delegates of EUCOMTO had authorized the Chancellor to suggest was Dr. Martin Vreeland.

The President had paused a very long moment before he had ventured the thought that Dr. Martin Vreeland was dead. The Chancellor replied that if this is what the President had been told, then his own people were lying to him. The Chancellor had said that he himself had been in communication with Dr. Vreeland during the past week, and the latter was perfectly willing to discuss such a proposition with the President — the moment the FBI returned his family to him unharmed. And EUCOMTO was willing to act as go-between for further preliminary negotiations.

The President had said that he would call the Chancellor back the next afternoon, Washington time. After switching off, the President then told his appointments secretary to have Lawrence Powers in his office first thing the next morning.

Powers had not liked the tone in which the President spoke to him that morning. But he also knew that as long as the Administration needed Martin Vreeland’s goodwill, and as long as that goodwill rested on getting Vreeland’s wife and daughter (and his son, too–if he ever got his hands on him) safely out of Utopia, then Lawrence Powers could not be dealt out of the game.

This hand he was dealing.

Normally, it was unthinkable that two seventeen-year-olds would be privy to any piece of this information. When one of those seventeen-year-olds was holding a gun in a manner suggesting that he knew how to use it, the unthinkable was thought.

Elliot learned, during this discussion, that his father and the Administration had already outlined the basics of a deal; all that remained was to work out the bugs.

Point one. The Administration was ready to release Cathryn and Denise Vreeland to Dr. Vreeland. A major bone of contention had just been broken by Elliot’s appearance: Dr. Vreeland had not believed the FBI director when he maintained that he did not have Elliot in custody.

Point two. Dr. Vreeland had agreed never to mention the arrest list, the capture of his wife and daughter, or the real reason for his death charade. Instead, his “death” was to be explained, in a joint statement, as a plan between Dr. Vreeland and the FBI to avoid an assassination plot on Dr. Vreeland by the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre while Dr. Vreeland was working to save the economy. It would be charged that the Cadre — learning of Dr. Vreeland’s reformist solution — planned to kill him to disrupt his counterrevolutionary intentions.

Point three. As soon as Cathryn and Denise Vreeland were free, Dr Vreeland was to accompany the FBI director to the White House. Immediately following detailed agreement on the plan, Dr. Vreeland would appear with the President before a joint session of Congress to announce their emergency restoration of a hard-money, unregulated American economy, and to ask for immediate legislation to approve the EUCOMTO loan and Dr. Vreeland’s appointment to the new Cabinet post.

This plan granted everything that Dr. Vreeland and Citizens for a Free Society had been demanding all along, and was politically feasible — because ruling American interests were pressed — for all parties.

All parties excepting, naturally, those damned revolutionaries of the Cadre. To Lawrence Powers they were just criminals — terrorists and racketeers — to be “dealt with.” He even convinced Elliot that he was sincere in this view. To Dr. Vreeland, the Cadre were not criminals or terrorists but merely anarchists who had bet on revolution and would lose. Under different circumstances — had they advocated minimal rather than no government — Dr. Vreeland said he could even have worked with them, as he had worked with Al.

Lawrence Powers made the connection. “Dr. Vreeland, have you been having dealings with the Cadre?”

“Only one of its allies — clients — who once offered to sponsor me to them. A person of no importance to you whatever.”

The FBI director shrugged.

Elliot asked his father, “You don’t care about what happens to the Cadre?”

“Losers always submit to victors’ justice,” Dr. Vreeland explained. “It is, sadly, a law of history. The best the Cadre can hope for is king’s mercy.”

“Now, son,” Lawrence Powers said to Elliot, “I’m willing to forget this ever happened if you put that gun away and let your father and me proceed with getting your family released. Deanne, you took property of mine. I need it back. We have a lot to discuss when we get home.”

Lorimer lit a cigarette. Elliot could see by Powers’s expression that this was an act of defiance. “Do you really think I’d go back with you?”

Powers remained calm. “Deanne, right now you’re an outlaw. You’ve stolen valuable government property. There is no way that even I can stop the chain of events that will occur if you do not return it, but if you come home with me and give it back, I’ll see that nothing more comes of this.”

Lorimer stood up. “Over your dead body.”

Lawrence Powers winced, his daughter’s words driving home her decision more forcibly even than her pulling a gun had done.

Elliot stood up also. “Dad, the two of us are leaving.”

“You can’t just leave them here,” Lorimer told Elliot. “My father will have both New York police and his agents after us in minutes.”

“Not without his passe-partout,” Elliot answered, holding up the telephone key, “and not without his ammunition.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something, Elliot?” Dr. Vreeland said.

Elliot looked over to his father.

“You gave me your word to accept my orders.”

Elliot took a deep breath. “Don’t hold me to that, now. Please.”

Dr. Vreeland studied his son for a moment. “All right. If you must go, I won’t stop you.”

“But, Vreeland,” Powers started. “Surely — ”

“And you won’t, either,” Dr. Vreeland went on. “Not if you want my cooperation.”

Lawrence Powers lowered his head, then, a moment later, raised it again. “I won’t stop them.”

Suddenly, Elliot remembered. He caught his father’s glance and hitched quickly at his belt. Powers, who was looking at his daughter, did not notice.

Neither did he understand when, just before Elliot and Lorimer left the hotel room, Dr. Vreeland told his son:

“It’s yours now.”

#

Even with cover of nightfall, Elliot and Lorimer wanted some fast distance between that Hilton hotel room and themselves; they settled for a quick march over to the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge at Eighth Avenue. A hand-lettered sign on the booths proclaimed telephone service temporarily interrupted. Elliot claimed a booth anyway, Lorimer standing just outside to block the view of anyone wondering about the use of dead telephones.

As an experimental control, Elliot inserted a vendy, received a call tone, and punched in the Cadre number. A busy signal, as expected.

He retrieved and reinserted the vendy, got another call tone, then punched in the number as before. This time, however, he held the telephone key up to the handset mouthpiece and just after punching the number pressed its red button: the key emitted a series of audible, multifrequency tones. Nonetheless the substantive result was identical — another busy signal. “Try it before the number,” Lorimer suggested.

Vendy, call tone, key tones, number. It worked; the number started ringing. The Cadre relay station answered as before, its tape requesting a recorded message in return. Elliot said, “‘Queen takes pawn, Mate,'” then recorded his pay booth’s number. “If I don’t receive a callback within two minutes,” Elliot continued, “I’ll call again later with another message.” He hung up. “Now we find out how sharp our friends really are.”

They were sharp enough; Elliot broke a fingernail answering in the first instant of ringing.

A familiar voice said, “Joseph Rabinowitz?”

“Right,” said Elliot. “Is this — ?”

“Shut up,” Chin cut in. You do recognize my voice, though? Answer only yes or no.”

“Yes.”

“Good, that saves time. Why didn’t you come in as planned?”

“Come in? I don’t know what you mean.”

“You didn’t get our message? We left it at your home early this afternoon.”

“Lor and I haven’t been there since noon.”

“All right,” said Chin. “Listen carefully. There isn’t much time. I don’t know how you got telephone use — no, don’t tell me now — but you’ve placed yourself in great danger. All permitted calls are relaying through the Federal Telecommunications System. Just stay right where you are. Don’t argue. We know where that is — and we’ll pick you up.”

“How will I know — ?”

“The usual way. Don’t worry.”

Chin hung up.

In under five minutes, a tough-looking giant wearing a pea jacket spotted Elliot and Lorimer near the telephones and flashed a ring banner. Elliot responded, the man approached. “I’ve got a hack in front. C’mon — and hurry.”

The couple grabbed their parcels and followed the man — he said to call him Moose — through the lobby out to a battered wreck of a car standing at the curb, engine running, four-ways flashing. Elliot took one look at it and muttered to Lorimer, “What a piece of junk!”

“She may not look like much,” Moose said, unlocking the doors “but she’s got a million-dollar motor. I don’t have time for old routines, though, so if you please, get in the goddam car.”

Moose had slid into the front seat, Lorimer following Elliot into the back, when a pair of headlights pulled up behind. Lorimer first noticed them when the front passenger door opened the inside light revealing a black sedan with four passengers, one man climbing out. “Bureau,” she advised Moose quietly, shutting her door to cut off their own light. “I recognize that one getting out. SAC — Special Agent in Charge, I mean — New York field office.”

Elliot glanced back into the FBI sedan and turned white. “Get us out of here — fast.”

Moose turned on headlights, easing the car into light uptown traffic. Suddenly, the SAC did an about-face back into his car. The sedan pulled out onto Eighth Avenue just behind them.

“They still might not be sure,” said Moose.

“They’re sure,” Elliot said. “I don’t know all the pieces yet, but they have to know. She saw me.”

“What are you — ”

“See the woman driving that sedan? I don’t know what her real name is, but up until last week I knew her as Mrs. Tobias. She was my current-events teacher at school.

Moose glanced into the rearview mirror, first at the sedan, then at Elliot, and took the microphone from his transceiver, holding it low. “Tau to Omicron. Do you have me?”

“On visual,” the radio responded. “We’re tailing the sedan behind you.”

“You’ve got it, Omicron. Federales, for sure. Lay cover for me at Fifty-fourth. Confirm, please.”

“Copy. Burning at Fifty-fourth. Be ready.”

Moose dropped his microphone, telling his passengers, “Get down when you hear the radio squawk. But not before.”

The car was past Fifty-third Street.

“What are they going to burn?” Lorimer asked.

Moose did not answer; the car was nearing Fifty-fourth.

Suddenly, a green station wagon pulled alongside the FBI sedan. Moose’s radio squawked. Elliot and Lorimer dropped their heads in time to see Eighth Avenue lit to daytime brilliance.

Moose immediately floored the accelerator, fast pulling away from an FBI sedan with a temporarily blinded former schoolteacher trying to pull over without crashing. The station wagon continued up Eighth Avenue at normal speed. Moose turned left onto Fifty-fifth Street.

After a few blocks, Moose slowed up a bit. “Magnesium,” he finally answered Lorimer.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XXI.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

Bookmark and Share

Alongside Night — Chapter XIX


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XVIII

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman



Part Three

I think the most pitiable was a female Ghost…. This one seemed quite unaware of her phantasmal appearance. More than one of the Solid People tried to talk to her, and at first I was quite at a loss to understand her behaviour to them. She appeared to be contorting her all but invisible face and writhing her smokelike body in a quite meaningless fashion. At last I came to the conclusion–incredible as it seemed–that she supposed herself still capable of attracting them and was attempting to do so.

–C.S. LEWIS, The Great Divorce


Chapter 19


Shopping parcels notwithstanding, Elliot and Lorimer strode the three-quarter mile to the Hilton in close to fifteen minutes. They stopped at the hotel telephones, calling up the room number Al had given them, Elliot having decided that his father had a better chance of surviving his sudden appearance if given even momentary preparation. Losing his father a third time–especially from mere lack of social grace–was not a prospect he cared to face.

A tired voice answered on the fifth ring. “Yes?”

“Dad?”

A long silence followed. “What room did you want?”

“Dad, this is Ell. I’m calling from the lobby. Al told me where you were.”

There was no exclamation, only another long pause. “Your mother and Denise — ?”

Elliot hesitated only briefly. “They’re not with me, Dad. Uh — I do have a friend with me, though. Is it okay?”

“Bring your friend up with you.”

“We’ll be right up.”

After hanging up, Elliot told Lorimer, “He doesn’t sound well.”

“Are you sure you want me with you?” she asked.

“Now more than ever. Come on.”

In five minutes they were at the room. Elliot almost did not recognize his father. His eyes had bags under them, making him look years older than his actual forty-eight, and though Dr. Vreeland was wearing a jacket, it needed pressing, as did the rest of his clothes. Elliot thought his father looked like a physician who had been serving in a plague. The hotel room did not look much better, the bed unmade, half a dozen coffee cups strewn around. There had been visitors: ashtrays were filled with cigarette butts.

Elliot and Lorimer went in, Dr. Vreeland closing the door. Father and son looked at each other briefly, then, for the first time since Elliot had been a small boy, they hugged each other. Elliot’s father said, “You look older.”

“You look a little battle-scarred yourself.”

Dr. Vreeland smiled slightly, the tension broken.

Elliot took Lorimer’s hand and guided her forward. “Dad, this is Lor.”

“I’m very honored to meet you, Dr. Vreeland,” she said. “I’ve learned a great deal from your books, Especially Weimar, 1923.”

Elliot looked at her with surprise but said nothing.

Dr. Vreeland’s surprise was equally great. “Your study is economic history? I would have thought you too young to be in graduate school.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t even started college yet.”

“Then it is I who am honored to meet you,” said Dr. Vreeland. “Weimar, 1923 was my doctoral thesis, and I have been repeatedly assured by colleagues even more verbose than myself that it is just about the most thoroughly unreadable piece ever written.”

Dr. Vreeland motioned them to sit around a coffee table in the comer, then apologized for the room’s condition, explaining that he had not allowed a hotel maid in for two days. “When was the last time you slept?” Elliot asked him.

“Oh, I was catching a short nap when you called up. I was awake most of last night, and I’m expecting a visitor shortly — a business associate.”

“Dad, what went wrong? When I got back to the apartment, everyone was gone — the suitcases were gone. I thought you were all waiting at the rendezvous point and was heading there when two cops — FBI, I think — showed up at our apartment looking for me. I gave them the slip, but not before I heard them say they had my family. I thought they’d gotten you all.”

Dr. Vreeland shook his head. “I left the apartment with the luggage, as planned, wearing a disguise Denise had designed. Very naturalistic — even close up — but I looked like Mephistopheles, a silver-gray wig, false beard, and mustache.”

Elliot smiled. “My sister has always been somewhat melodramatic,” he explained to Lorimer.

Dr. Vreeland nodded agreement, continuing, “I then drove to the airlines’ office on Forty-second Street to pick up our tickets and clearances. By the way, as it turned out, your trip wasn’t really necessary. I found time at six to check over with Dave Albaugh.”

“Who?” Elliot asked.

“Ah, that’s right. I never did tell you Al’s name. Dr. Albaugh was one of my brightest graduate students at Columbia. A brilliant thesis on the differences between Austrian and Chicago School approaches to — oh, never mind. I was back at Park Avenue and Seventieth Street at six thirty, waiting there the next hour. How is it you didn’t see me?”

“I got back to our apartment by ten of six and cut over to Lexington after escaping through the fire exit on my way out. Must’ve passed within a block of you.”

Dr. Vreeland shook his head at the irony. “At seven thirty, after none of you had showed up, I returned up to our apartment and encountered two FBI agents. Probably the same two you saw.”

Elliot whistled. “Lucky they didn’t recognize you — disguised or not.”

“I took the offensive,” Elliot’s father said. “I told them I was a neighbor — a friend of the family’s — and wanted to know what exactly they were doing in what was now Cathryn Vreeland’s apartment.”

“And?”

“They said that they had been assigned to obtain an affidavit from your mother assuring the public that I had died naturally. That it was vital for national security that there be no trouble about me at last Thursday’s demonstrations. A good cover story, and essentially true.”

“I saw the article in Sunday’s paper,” Elliot said. He had a sudden, horrid thought. “You don’t think it took the FBI that long to — get — the statement from Mom?”

“I don’t think so. Your mother is a practical woman. She would have given the agents the statement they wanted so we could escape unhindered. Once safely out of the country, we could say what we liked anyway. Nonetheless, I have since learned a few data that explain what happened. The two agents had a second assignment: to take your mother, sister, and you into custody overnight — just long enough to make certain that you did not appear at the rally in my stead, but released in time to attend my funeral that afternoon. What evidently occurred is that sometime early Wednesday evening the Bureau learned that I was, in fact, alive — and decided to keep your mother and Denise to blackmail me with. Either I continued playing dead — or I would never see them again, one way or another.”

“But why wasn’t the statement in Thursday morning’s papers?”

Dr. Vreeland shrugged. “Confusion about how to counter my strategy, I suppose. I think I know why the statement was put in Sunday, though — to let me know that the very proof I had manufactured to convince the world that I was dead was to keep me that way. Again, one way or another.”

“But there’s no way they could do that. All you would have to do is come forward and accuse them of the kidnaping — ”

“To be called an expertly coached impostor, created by the Administration’s enemies.”

“But with fingerprints — ”

“Supplied by the FBI?” Dr. Vreeland asked. “The point is, by the time I had managed to prove my identity — assuming I had managed to keep out of a solitary-confinement cell or a state insane asylum — the best witnesses — my immediate family — would be dead.”

“Not as long as they didn’t have me.”

“But, you see, until a few minutes ago, I was convinced that they did. Though I don’t see how they could have known that on Saturday.”

“Well, anyway. What did you do after you left the agents at our apartment?”

“At about eight I drove back to Dave Albaugh’s bookstore, where I arranged for him to act as my inquiry agent, then at nine I came here and checked in.”

“That’s three times in one night that I managed to miss you by this much,” said Elliot, holding thumb and forefinger half an inch apart.

“What’s this?”

Elliot completed his account of that Wednesday evening — his eight-thirty call to the Rabelais Bookstore and inability to reach Phillip Gross — ending up with his checking into the Hilton no more than ninety minutes after his father. “Next morning,” he continued, “I went back to the Rabelais and was told that Al had ‘gone south for the winter.'”

“Dave left temporary orders to evade questions. By the time you phoned, he had already locked up to begin initial inquiries for me, and he worked at it all night. If I’d had even the slightest inkling that you weren’t also in FBI custody, I could have left messages for you at the Rabelais and a dozen other places.”

“Well, never mind that now,” said Elliot. “What do we — ”

Elliot was interrupted by a knock at the door. “My visitor,” his father said, rising to get it. “If both of you keep silent, I’ll allow you to stay. I’m very near having Cathryn and Denise freed.”

Dr. Vreeland opened the door and, even before his visitor entered, said, “Good news, we can proceed at once. You won’t have to produce my son. He is — ”

“Freeze!”

It was Lorimer’s command. She had pulled her .32 caliber silenced automatic from her shoulder bag and was now in a businesslike, two-handed stance, aiming at the newcomer. The visitor, an erect, roughly handsome middle-aged man in a dark suit, only now saw her, and an expression of surprise — much milder than would be expected — appeared on his face. Dr. Vreeland had also frozen upon seeing the gun; his expression was closer to total fluster.

Elliot remained seated. He had been taken off guard at first but he understood when he recognized the visitor as a man he had just recently seen in the news. It was the director of the FBI, Lorimer’s father.

“Inside,” Lorimer ordered both men. “Keep your hands in the open.”

The FBI director entered the room naturally, preceded by Dr. Vreeland; the room door swung shut. Lawrence Powers looked at his daughter and said, “Left foot farther forward, relax your right arm a bit. Haven’t I taught you anything, Deanne?”

“You know her, Powers?” Dr. Vreeland asked.

“I never have,” he replied, “even though she’s my only child.” Powers turned to his daughter. “If you’re intent on committing patricide, Deanne, then do it. Otherwise, let Dr. Vreeland and me get down to our business.”

Lorimer kept the pistol pointed at her father. Elliot told her sharply, “Don’t.”

She glanced at Elliot sidewise, then answered him tightly, “You wouldn’t tell me that if you knew how lethal he is.”

“Just don’t.”

Lorimer glanced at Elliot briefly again. Then she handed over her gun to him.

The FBI director relaxed slightly. Elliot raised the pistol at him once more. “Not yet,” he said, his voice shrill.

“Elliot,” Dr. Vreeland said, “don’t be a fool! He’s come here to negotiate.”

“I don’t have any choice, Dad. Mr. Powers, please. With two fingers and slowly. Toss them onto the bed.”

The FBI director shrugged and complied; presently, a service .45 and a .32 identical to Lorimer’s lay on the double bed, ammunition for each safely in Elliot’s pocket. As a final precaution, Lorimer held the gun on her father another few moments while Elliot frisked him. He found, in a jacket pocket, a shiny metal device the size and shape of a cigarette lighter, with a tiny red button.

Elliot held it up to Lorimer. “A microtransmitter?”

“A telephone key,” the FBI director answered him, “for those who know how to use it. Which you don’t.”

Elliot considered it. Certainly the federal government would not jam telephone service to trusted employees. A device such as this perhaps could override blocks. “True,” Elliot replied, pocketing the device.

He waved Powers, Lorimer, and his father over to the chairs around the coffee table, then sat himself on the bed with Lorimer’s pistol on his lap. “Now you can talk,” he said.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XX.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

Bookmark and Share

Alongside Night — Chapter XVIII


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XVII

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 18


Police barricades on both the Seventh and Eighth Avenue sides of Forty-third Street blocked all access to the New York Times Building. After a brief discussion, in which she assured Elliot it was unlikely she could be recognized, Lorimer volunteered to ask the police what was happening while Elliot waited across the street.

Upon her return a little later, she told him, “They say there’s been a bomb threat.”

“Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.”

“You think it’s a news blackout.”

Elliot nodded, starting to walk briskly back to Forty-second Street; Lorimer struggled to keep up. “Where are we going?”

“Phones.”

They found one at the comer of Forty-second. Elliot inserted a vendy, punching in the number he had used to call the Cadre. He received a busy signal. “Everybody’s probably calling in,” Lorimer said.

“I wonder.” Elliot redeposited his vendy, punching “O” for the operator. Busy. He called 411. Also busy. He called the telephone in his family’s abandoned apartment. Harsh, repeating squawks. “Tomorrow,” he told Lorimer, “they’ll probably announce the central switching office was captured by terrorists.”

They crossed over to a newsstand not far from the Rabelais Bookstore; the newsdealer–a grizzled old man–had magazines out but no newspapers; his radio played music loudly from the booth. The old man shook his head. “Sold outa last night’s papers, and that was it. Nothin’ delivered today.”

“Have you heard any news on your radio?” Lorimer asked.

“Not even a hockey score. Been switchin’ stations all day. WOR is all music, WCBS is off the air. Can’t even find no call-in shows.”

“The phones are out,” said Elliot.

“That wouldn’t stop none a them ratchetjaws. They can talk ta themselves fer hours. If ya ask me, I tink it’s a war, and they ain’t figured out how ta tell us yet.”

“They’ve always figured out before.”

He answered softly, drawing them close for a revelation. “Yeah, but this time it’s gonna be nukuler, ya know? This time it’s gonna be nukuler. Ya just tell me if I’m right.”

“I’ll be the first one,” said Elliot. He turned to Lorimer. “We’d better figure this out.”

They went into McDonald’s next door, Elliot buying two hot cocoas at the counter, then carting them over to a table at the window. “Okay,” he practically whispered to Lorimer. “Newspapers are stopped. Radio is under tight censorship — I think we can assume the same for TV. Phones are dead, wire services are out — ”

“Wire services?”

“If OPI — the Oracle — is out, then the rest are out.”

“Oh,” said Lorimer. “You forgot public transit.”

“That’s been out for weeks.”

“It’s still a datum.”

“Possibly. This might have been planned weeks — maybe months — ago. But what does it add up to? First off, do you have any ideas who’s behind this?”

“Well, not the New York police alone. They’re probably cooperating with federal and state authorities. Possibly Civil Defense.”

“You’re assuming it’s the government?” She nodded. “Why not our — uh — friends?”

“You can rule them out, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Not capable of it?” Elliot asked.

“Oh, certainly they are — or at least my father thinks so. But it would require a massive amount of property violations — coercion. Our friends are opposed to that sort of thing on principle.”

“Isn’t that a little naive?”

“You can think so if you want. I don’t.”

“Okay, I’ll put that idea on the back burner for the time being. What about a foreign power?” he asked.

“Can you see the New York cops taking orders from Russia?”

“Uh — point granted. If it’s a coup, it’s being run from the top down. Which brings up another point. Military junta?”

“What difference would it make? The effect is the same whether it’s coming from the Joint Chiefs or the Kremlin or the White House. Believe me, they’re all playing the same game; the rules simply change to match the terrain.”

“Okay. Then what you’re saying is that we have a domestic dictatorship on our hands.”

Lorimer considered this for a moment. “Umm — let’s go back to basic theory.”

“I knew I couldn’t avoid the lecture,” said Elliot.

She smiled. “Battleground training,” she said. “We’re told we have a government by popular consent. At least in one sense that’s true. Every government always exercises the maximum amount of power its rulers feel the people will stand for without revolting. If this government — or an element within it — is drastically increasing its use of power, then the leaders either feel they have the popular support — or apathy — to get away with it, or they’re taking desperate chances because they’re being pressed to the wall.”

“According to my father,” said Elliot, “the government has been increasingly ‘pressed to the wall’ for the past quarter century by fiscal realities. And if you can judge by last week’s demonstrations, there’s little popular support. ”

“Then you’ve just answered your own question.”

“I see. You’re telling me that the government at the moment is like a wounded rhino starting to charge anything in its path. Maybe we’d better get out of it.”

“How much more out of it do you want to get?”

“That, my dear, is the sixty-four-million-dollar question. What’s Montreal like this time of year?”

“Cold,” Lorimer said.

“Then maybe we’d better think about buying long underwear. ”

“I thought you had business here?”

“All the advantages of working out of New York have been neutralized. Montreal could work just as well for what I have to do. Besides, I’m beginning to think Durand was right. There’s probably only one outfit that can handle this — when they decide they’re ready — and we can hang out damn near anywhere as far as they’re concerned. ”

“But how would we get there? Even if we had all the papers — which we don’t — we can’t assume there’ll be any means out. If they’ve seized communications, they’re almost certainly controlling commercial transport, too.”

“We can make arrangements through our friends,” Elliot said.

“How? No phones.”

“I can think of several ways even if phones aren’t restored — which they probably will be in a day or two.”

“Yes, but why run away?” Lorimer asked. “What are we, brownies? The minute trouble comes, you head for the hills with your rifle and survival foods?”

“Consider that if the government cut off food to Manhattan it would begin starving in three days. Bread riots on the sixth.”

“One. I don’t believe they could do it; half the food on this island comes in countereconomically as it is. Two, I don’t believe it’s politically tenable. And three, I can’t imagine what the higher circles — the ruling elite — could see themselves gaining by such a plan.”

“All right, let’s keep it on a more personal basis, then. Have you thought about what they’ll do to us if we get picked up even for jaywalking?”

She nodded. “But if anything, the odds just got a lot better for us. Unfortunately, though, worse for some others. ”

“What?”

“Think it through. Yesterday the two of us were singled out by the government as public enemies. Today there are thousands more people on their enemies list. The statists’ resources are just as limited as ever, but they’re spreading them even further. Statistically there’s less of a chance they’ll hit on us.”

“Tell me that again,” said Elliot, “when the tanks start rolling down Broadway.”

Lorimer shrugged. “A show of force, at best. If anything, an occupying army would only increase countereconomic activity. There’s no way a domestic army can be prevented from fraternizing during off hours without rioting themselves.” At that instant, a couple sat down at the empty table next to theirs. Elliot and Lorimer nodded at each other, then got up to leave.

On their way out the door, they ran into a skinny man with a mustache on his way in; Elliot did a double take, then realized it was the clerk from the Rabelais Bookstore who had told him to beat it the previous week. Elliot intended to ignore him, but the man recognized Elliot and said, “You the kid who was in last week?” Elliot nodded. “Well, in case you still wanna see your friend, he got back.”

Elliot froze an instant. All his doubts about Al returned. Still, his father had trusted him, and he was possibly a Cadre ally. Elliot asked. “He’s in the bookstore now?”

The clerk shook his head. “He don’t ever come in before four.”

“Uh — thanks.” The clerk continued in, and Elliot led Lorimer out.

“What was that all about?” she asked.

“A man I have to see. My father was using him as a stash.” Elliot checked his watch; it was one fifty. “We have a bit over two hours. Might as well use the time to good advantage.”

They crossed over to a discount drugstore where Elliot found his hair dye and Lorimer a tube of shampoo. Approaching the cashier, Elliot put the merchandise on the counter with a eurofranc on top. The cashier, a pudgy matron, looked at Elliot like a stern schoolteacher. “Young man, do you know the penalty for offering illegal foreign money? Or accepting it?”

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”

“Five years in federal prison and a one-hundred-thousand-dollar fine.”

“Well, I wouldn’t like the prison term, but the fine sounds like a bargain.”

“Get out of here.”

Elliot reached for his eurofranc. The cashier snatched it away.

“I’m confiscating this for the police,” she said.

Elliot shrugged. “Fair enough,” he replied, taking the shampoo and hair dye. “I’m confiscating this merchandise as evidence of violating the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. Good day.”

Elliot took Lorimer’s arm, and they walked calmly out.

Lorimer asked, “What was that violation?”

“How should I know? It’s a law we discussed in history. But we’d better get out of here in case she decides to phone the cops.”

“The telephones are out, remember?”

Elliot grinned widely. “Who says we live in an unjust universe?”

After brief discussion, Elliot convinced Lorimer that they should risk one more stop. He explained that it might be their last chance for a while: if the government was again switching over to a new currency, there was the possibility they would close all stores temporarily as they had the previous time.

They stepped into a small Forty-second Street clothing shop, Elliot buying two shirts, briefs, socks, and Levis. Lorimer bought another pair of slacks and a turtleneck. There was no difficulty about eurofrancs with the proprietor of this store, an elderly German man who said he was a boy during the Weimar hyperinflation of 1923. Quite the contrary, there was enthusiastic bargaining and a seeming forgetfulness on the man’s part to charge sales tax.

Afterward, to remain off the streets, Elliot and Lorimer slipped into a Forty-second Street movie house (payment by vendies) and watched an action-packed musical drama starring Dharmendra, Lion of the Indian Screen. Dharmendra had evolved, during the past few years, into a cult-film hero.

Elliot never found it necessary to use his hair dye.

At four fifteen, he and Lorimer entered the Rabelais Bookstore; once more it was without customers. Again Al was on the stool behind the counter. He looked up, seeing Elliot, and exclaimed, “You! But I thought — But how — ?”

“Slow down, slow down,” said Elliot. “You seem surprised to see me.”

“Surprised? Kid, you couldn’t’ve flattened me more if you come back from the dead. I thought you’d been busted for sure.”

Al noticed Lorimer for the first time.

“It’s okay,” said Elliot. “She’s with me. But why’d you think I was arrested?”

“That’s what your old man told me, that your old lady, sister, and you — ”

Elliot interrupted, shocked and delighted. “My father’s alive? You’ve seen him? How did he get away from the feds?”

“Eh? I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” said Al. “Your old man was never busted. I just saw him a couple’a hours ago; I been doin’ some legwork for him.”

“But why didn’t you let the Cadre know?”

“What? But how — ”

Elliot twirled his gold ring once forward and once back. Al responded with twice forward and once back on his ring.

“Jesus Christ, I never seen such lousy communications,” said Al. “Your old man didn’t tell me you were an ally. He just said he wanted his business kept private so I didn’t tell them anything.”

“He didn’t know,” said Elliot, “because I’m a brand-new ally. But never mind that now. Where’s my father?”

“He’s been hidin’ out at the New York Hilton all week.”

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XIX.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

Bookmark and Share

Alongside Night — Chapter XVII


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XVI

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 17


He found the advertisement classified in The New York Times under “Services Available.”

It read:

How good is your security system?If we can’t crack it, no one can. Money-back guarantee. Confidential free consultations, no appointment necessary. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, Empire State Building, New York, N.Y. 10001

Lorimer dropped the clipping onto the bed table. “That’s where you’re heading today?”

Elliot, still undressed, sat down on the bed next to her. “There and also to the Times building, where I’ll drop off my reply to another ad. Come with me?”

“Just for company?”

Elliot shook his head. “Whoever is looking for us individually won’t be thinking about a couple. I also get the feeling you’re pretty up on cloak-and-dagger.”

Lorimer shrugged. “Something rubs off, I guess.” She hesitated. “That’s what my appointment today was supposed to be about. I’ve been told Merce Rampart thinks I could make a good operative.”

Elliot looked at her seriously. “Have you met him?” She shook her head. “I would’ve today.”

“I wonder,” said Elliot. “I’m beginning to think that there isn’t any Merce Rampart. That he’s just a bogey invented to throw everyone off the track.”

“You’re a cynic.”

“Not at all. I’m a rational empiricist. And an impatient one. Are you coming with me?”

Lorimer nodded. “I had some shopping to do anyway.”

“Me, too. A change of clothes. And some brown hair dye.”

“Not that easy sometimes. When I dyed my hair last week, I had to pick up colored contact lenses.”

“That’s not your real coloring?”

“My hair’s as blond as yours.”

“Well that explains — Oh, never mind.” He studied her. “You know, blonde you’d look a little like my sister.”

“Thanks. I think. Now come up close.” Elliot slid over; Lorimer looked into his eyes. He could not resist kissing her. After a time she asked, “Is that how you treat your sister?”

“No.” He kissed her again.

“You have a one-track mind.”

“That’s me, all right. The Man with the Monorail Mind.”

Lorimer flipped off the bed covers. “Later. I’m taking a shower.”

Elliot flicked an invisible cigar ash onto the carpet. Imaginary thick eyebrows gyrated up and down behind imaginary glasses.

“Mind if I join you?”

At ten thirty Elliot answered a knock at the door, Lorimer still in the bathroom drying her hair. It was Mr. Ferrer with their delivery from the food cooperative.

Elliot took in the first carton; then, after accompanying Ferrer down to his apartment for two more, returned upstairs with him to pay the ten eurofrancs due. After thanking Ferrer, Elliot asked him if there were anything he could do in return. “Would you be going near a newspaper stand today?” Ferrer asked.

“Going uptown a little later.”

“Would you pick up a newspaper for me? Our newsboy did not show up today. Again.”

“No problem.” Ferrer thanked Elliot and returned downstairs.

Elliot went to the kitchen, turning on the radio — easy-listening music was playing — then began storing the groceries. When half an hour later Lorimer finally emerged, dressed in a tight cashmere sweater and slacks, coffee was on the table, tarts in the toaster, and bacon draining. “So you cook too, huh?” she said.

“Nope. You’re my first victim. How’d you like your eggs?”

“Uh–I’ll cook my own eggs, thank you.”

“Just kidding. I can make them any way you want.”

“I’m crazy about eggs Benedict.”

Elliot gave her a dirty look.

“In that case,” Lorimer said, “once over easy.”

While Elliot dropped food onto their plates, the radio announcer took the opportunity to intone a station break, then continued by cueing what he called “more beautiful music for a beautiful Monday morning, a Boston Pops rendition of ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.'”

The arrangement came on as Elliot carried the plates into the dinette, joining Lorimer at the table. “That’s odd,” he told her.

“What is?”

“The announcer just gave this station’s call letters as WINS.”

“So?”

“So WINS is an all-news station, twenty-four hours. Has been since before I was born.”

Lorimer shrugged. “Probably a new CRC ruling. They’ve been talking about cracking down on balanced-programming rules for years.”

Elliot scowled. “Why can’t the CRC mind its own damn business?”

“When has any government agency ever had its own damn business to mind?”

“Uh — let’s change the subject,” said Elliot.

“Spoilsport.”

Though still overcast, the sun was shining through in spots, and the sky did not again threaten rain. Just after noon, Elliot and Lorimer walked up to Fourteenth Street, deciding against searching for a tzigane and beginning to walk across town.

It was not as windy as the previous week, consequently the freezing temperature was not especially uncomfortable. Had he not had so much on his mind, Elliot could have found this walk with Lorimer as carefree an outing as ever could be hoped for on a February day. As it was, he felt like a student on a half-day field trip, the momentary freedom merely underscoring his sense of being trapped.

As they walked along, past First Avenue, past Second and Third, Elliot began noticing that many of the faces he encountered showed uneasiness as great as his own. Too many stores were closed, hastily drawn signs taped onto plate glass behind drawn steel grilles, saying “NO STOCK TODAY.” Though the subway strike had been thickening street-traffic density, today seemed particularly crowded. A mob at Union Square was standing around a fight, cheering it on. Elliot told Lorimer, “There’s something in the air,” then added silently to himself: And it has nothing to do with meteorology.

At ten to one o’clock, the couple entered United States postal zone 10001, the Empire State Building’s directory informing them that their destination was on its forty-third floor. Taking the elevator up, they found a small office with its door marked “Mission Impossible Security Consultants” and went right in, a buzzer sounding as they entered.

There was a receptionist’s desk but no receptionist. After a moment, a bald man with glasses emerged from an office wiping his nose. “Heddo,” he said. “Cad I he’p jew?”

Elliot suppressed an immediate desire to walk right out again, instead replying, “We’re responding to your classified in Sunday’s Times.”

“Jew bus hab de wrog opus. I dode hab edy ebplobet opedigs.”

“What?”

“Hode od a bobet.”

He took a decongestant from a jacket pocket, tilted his head back, and sprayed both nostrils. “Ah, that’s better. I said you must have the wrong office. I didn’t advertise for any personnel.”

“But you did advertise your firm’s services.Testing security systems? Money-back guarantee if you can’t break them?”

“That’s our ad, all right.But we deal with commercial and industrial systems. Are you sure you’re coming to the right place?”

“I’m not sure at all,” said Elliot. “Do you usually do business in your reception area?”

A surprised expression appeared on the man’s face. “Not at all.” He motioned the two into his office, directing them into plush chairs facing his desk; photographs of security devices decorated the wall. “I’m Benton Durand,” he continued, taking his chair. “I apologize but today’s been impossible — just impossible. First, this cold. Second, my secretary didn’t make it in today — I think she caught my cold. And third, my phones have been out all morning.” He wiped his nose again. “Can I get you anything? Tea, coffee? The coffee will have to be instant; I don’t know how the machine works.”

Elliot hoped this was not an indication of the man’s technical competence. Moreover, he was not about to risk drinking anything within a hundred yards of Durand. He and Lorimer both declined.

“Mr. Durand,” began Elliot, “my problem is rather touchy — legally. You advertise confidentiality. Will it remain confidential if you deem what I ask illegal, or we do not do business?”

“It will remain confidential, Mr…. Mr….”

“Rabinowitz,” said Elliot.

“. . . Mr. Rabinowitz, but if you want me to help you steal or destroy property — ”

“Nothing like that,” Elliot interrupted, waving it away.

“Then if I’m worried, I’ll talk to my lawyer. Go on.”

“You’re sure this office isn’t bugged?”

“I know my business. This is private.”

Elliot nodded. “Two members of my family are confined incommunicado in a federal maximum-security prison in Massachusetts. They have been arrested without due process, charges, or trial. If you can bypass that prison’s security, I am willing to pay handsomely — in gold.”

Durand blew his nose, shaking his head. “Impossible. ”

“Moral objections?” asked Lorimer. “Or is it the risk?”

“Neither one. Mr. Rabinowitz, I fully sympathize with you. But I can’t help. I don’t know anyone in the business who could.”

“Would five hundred grams of gold change your mind any?” Elliot asked. “Five thousand eurofrancs, if you prefer. ”

“Ten times that wouldn’t change my mind. Maybe a hundred times would. Something this size requires a budget of — oh, half a million eurofrancs. At least we’d be in the same league as with the federal intelligence forces.”

Elliot stood, Lorimer following. “I’m afraid I can’t afford government prices.”

Durand extended his hand. “I really do sympathize.”

“Thanks, anyway,” said Elliot, taking it. He and Lorimer started for the door.

Durand cleared his throat loudly, calling them back. “Er … there is one outfit — now that I think of it — that could possibly help you.”

Elliot turned anxiously. “There is?”

“I don’t know how to put you in touch, though. The Revolutionary Agorist Cadre.”

“Uh — I’ll keep that in mind,” said Elliot, he and Lorimer both suppressing shocked smiles.

Durand sneezed. “This damn cold is driving me right up the wall. Do you know of anything for clogged sinuses?”

Elliot got out as fast as possible.

A brisk fifteen-minute walk over to Broadway and eight blocks up through the garment district — business as usual — brought them to Times Square; the New York Times offices were a block farther up on Forty-third Street. Elliot sensed something incongruous but could not quite put his finger on it. Then he knew.

The news on the Oracle was gone.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XVIII.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

Bookmark and Share

Alongside Night — Chapter XVI


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XV

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 16


Sunday it rained.

It began after five, drops of sleet pelting their bedroom window like distant shots ricocheting. Inside the darkened room, a boy and a girl lay next to one another under covers, their body heat irradiating each other against the outer cold.

She reached over, turning on the light. “You still haven’t slept any, have you?”

He stared blankly up at the ceiling. No.

“You think talking about it would help any?”

“It might make me feel better. That’s all.”

“That’s all?”

“I wouldn’t be any closer to solving the problem.

She reached over to the bed table, got a cigarette, and lit it. “How do you know? You don’t have a monopoly on brains.”

“I don’t have the right to lay it on you.

“It would break a confidence?”

“No, that’s not it,” he said.

“Then feel better. Tell me.”

“It’s not your problem.”

“For Christ’s sake, you’re keeping me up, aren’t you. It fucking well is my problem.”

Elliot did not say anything.

“Look,” she said, “I’ll trade you problems.

He smiled slightly. “I have a feeling you’d be making a bum deal.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. As a matter of fact, we still don’t know the first thing about each other.”

She tickled behind his ear. “The first thing?”

“Well, yes, there’s that. But you can’t fuck all the time.”

“Why not?”

He smiled slightly. “Okay, we’ll trade. You start.”

“Don’t you trust me?”

“Sure I trust you. You start.”

“Bastard.” She took a puff. “All right, I guess you won’t turn me in. I ran away from home.”

“Definitely a firing-squad offense,” Elliot said, only slightly sarcastically.

“Quite possible. I took some microfilm with me.”

“Getting more interesting.”

“The FBI file on the Cadre and other subversives. The only complete copy left in existence after the firebombings of Bureau offices.”

Elliot was slightly awed. “And it was just laying around home?”

“Well, not exactly lying around,” she corrected him. “It was in a safe I saw being opened once. By my father. I was hiding at the time.”

“What was this file doing in your father’s safe?”

“My father is Lawrence Powers, director of the FBI.”

Elliot turned over onto his elbow and examined her face closely. “You’re not bullshitting?”

She drew a cross between her breasts.

“Why’d you do it?”

She hesitated a moment. “Why does anyone defect? Ideological reasons.”

“But your own father?”

“I didn’t shoot the motherfucker. I just stole his film. He’ll live.”

Elliot shook his head. “All right, don’t tell me, then. But don’t give me any crap about ‘ideological reasons.'”

Lorimer hesitated a long moment, took a drag on her cigarette, then answered flatly, unemotionally, as if what she was reporting had happened many years before. But Elliot could hear an undertone of great tension and much bitterness. “My father,” she began. “My father committed my mother to a mental institution. My mother was a saint whose only insanity was telling members of the press that she thought my father was a monster– which he is. Last week, after a shock treatment, my mother killed herself. She had been saving up sleeping pills. She knew my father had the connections to keep her in there forever. I stole the film while my father was at her funeral. A political showcase–I wouldn’t have let my face be seen with him there anyway.”

Elliot had listened closely, worried that he had bullied her into relating too-painful events. Lorimer was silent for a moment, then looked up and said, “Your turn,” then added softly, “Prick.”

Elliot answered quietly, “My mother and sister are locked up at a nice little prison in Massachusetts. Code name Utopia.”

“My father’s personal dungeon,” said Lorimer. “Why do they rate?”

“I think it’s because they can prove that my father did not die of natural causes.”

She looked puzzled.

“My father was Dr. Martin Vreeland.”

It was her turn to be shocked.

“Might as well start calling me Romeo, Juliet. By the way, not-Lorimer, what is your name?”

“Deanne Powers.” She pronounced her first name in one syllable.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said. “I’m Elliot Vreeland.”

“Charmed,” she replied.

Elliot extended his hand formally. They shook.

“Listen, Deanne–No, on second thought we’d better not break the habit of using our code names.” She nodded. “Okay, then. Lor, we’re teaming up for a while, right?”

“Right, Joe.”

Elliot winced. “Okay. My problem is this. All I have to do is spring my mother and sister from your father’s personal dungeon. The Cadre says they can’t do it, but on Monday I start checking out other possibilities. There’s also the slightest chance that my father is still alive– although I don’t believe it anymore–but if he is, then the Cadre will give me their best shot at finding him, and if my father is dead . . . well, dead is dead.” He paused. “I know that may sound pretty coldblooded but I can’t afford the luxury of feeling for a while.”

“Feeling is a luxury?”

“When the only thing stopping your ass from getting caught–or shot off–is your being able to think clearly, then feeling is a luxury, yes. It’s been pretty marginal for me lately. And for you, too, judging by what I’ve seen.”

“You mean that bastard commandant?”

“Lor, much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think the commandant was being a bastard. Or at least not much of one. A real bastard would’ve tried getting us locked up for six months–and seeing as how I don’t know the way these arbitration hearings turn out, he might’ve made a good case of it. As it was, all he was going to do was evacuate us separately, and now that we know how Cadre communications work, we probably could’ve gotten in touch on the outside.”

“Maybe not. The computer station in my room said I was going to Montreal.”

“If we’d tried paying for the trouble instead of your silly-ass stunt of pulling a gun, he might’ve been more cooperative.”

“That’s not very complimentary,” said Lorimer. “Actually, I thought it was rather machisma.”

“Great. I could have paid tribute in the morgue. By the way, as long as we’re laying it on the line, why did you proposition me? I may be egotistical but I’m no Don Juan.”

“You may not be Don Juan but you’re not Quasimodo, either.”

“You’re evading again.”

“Okay, I can be blunt, too! I wanted to lose my virginity.”

Elliot remained silent for a half-moment, then said, “But there was no . . .”

“I haven’t had a cherry since I was thirteen. Gymnastics.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you couldn’t manage to get laid before you ran into me? Are the guys in Washington all eunuchs?”

“Not Washington. Alexandria, Virginia. And usually not. But could you get it up with the daughter of the chief pig in the country?”

Elliot smiled. “It seems I did.”

“That doesn’t count. You didn’t have to put up with an FBI agent tailing you on dates.”

“Uh–I’ll take the point under consideration.”

“We’ve gotten way off the point,” said Lorimer. “You were telling me about your problem.”

“No, I finished. Tell me yours.”

“Nothing like yours. All I have to do is remain at large with my picture soon to be in every post office in the country.”

“That’s easy,” said Elliot. “Just put stamps on the posters and mail them. They’ll never be seen again.”

“Mmm. Well, neither of us is going to be in any shape to solve anything if we don’t get some sleep. We have to be up for breakfast in under five hours.” Lorimer reached over, crushed her cigarette into its ashtray, and shut off the light.

They were ten minutes late to breakfast.

Mr. Ferrer met them at the door saying, “Come in, join us.”

“Awfully sorry we’re late,” Elliot said sheepishly.

“We overslept,” Lorimer lied.

Ferrer led them to the table. “Nonsense, you can’t oversleep.”

Elliot’s heart skipped a beat.

“If you slept longer, you needed it. Besides, we’re just sitting down.”

Breakfast was unusually plentiful for a private table: oatmeal, bacon, eggs, orange juice, and coffee, the only exception to standard American cuisine being Mrs. Ferrer’s homemade Spanish churros–rolled flat fritters sprinkled with sugar–which she said she had learned to make from Mr. Ferrer’s mother. Elliot decided that if these were the imitations, the originals would have enslaved him for life. He consumed his fill, washing them down with plenty of dark-roast coffee.

Afterward, Carla left to meet a girl friend while her brother drew kitchen duty. The two senior Ferrers invited the “Rabinowitzes” into their living room.

Mr. Ferrer walked over to the window, pulling aside the drapes, and looked out to the street. “Is it still so dreary out?” Elliot asked him.

“It’s still raining,” Ferrer replied. He paused an instant, then added softly, “It washed the garbage off the street.”

“I didn’t see any garbage on the street,” said Lorimer. “Unless you mean the cans–”

“No, no,” he interrupted, letting go the curtain, “not anymore. This was, oh, six years ago. You must have seen the slums just a few blocks from here. Six years ago this block was also a slum.”

“What happened?” Lorimer asked. “Urban renewal?”

Elliot almost choked.

Ferrer said to him, “I see you understand.” He took a seat on the couch, taking a cigarette out of a silver box on the coffee table and lighting up. “No, not urban renewal as you mean it. That only traded flat slums for higher ones.”

“Why?”

“The way the housing projects were rented. The only people who got in were the unworthy poor. Welfare mothers with children they had only to get a bigger check. Drug addicts who had been cured–now they only took methadone. Friends of the politicians.”

“Emmanuel, is no good to think about this after so long.”

“It will not hurt, Francesca, for me to tell it once more.” Ferrer took another puff on his cigarette. “Mrs. Rabinowitz, six years ago I owned a small printing and copy store near New York University. I was not rich from it but it kept food on the table and paid the tuition for my children’s parochial school. Then one day in March, without any warning or reason, the Internal Revenue Service seized my business, my bank accounts, and everything in my apartment.”

“You don’t have to explain any further,” said Lorimer. “I know exactly how that works.”

“Very well. You know then that no matter how I tried, I could not find out why they did this, and that it would have taken years before I got a day in court. In the meantime, I had no job, no belongings, no money. I applied for unemployment insurance and was turned down. I applied for an apartment in a city housing project and was put on a two-year waiting list. I applied for welfare; it was denied.”

“What did you do?” Lorimer asked.

Ferrer snuffed out his cigarette. “I took a messenger job and moved my family into this building–the one we’re now in. It was abandoned. Every building on this street for three blocks was abandoned. Between inflation, taxes, and rent controls, the landlords–slumlords?—all had gone broke. When we moved in, this building was without electricity, running water, heat–”

“But plenty of rats and roaches,” said Raphael, entering from the kitchen. “Of course there was a balanced ecology between them.”

“The rats ate the roaches?” asked Lorimer.

Raphael shook his head. “The other way around.”

“Pay no attention to him,” Mr; Ferrer said. “He’s heard me tell this so many times that he wishes it was only a story.”

“Is the crossword puzzle around here somewhere?” Raphael asked.

“The magazine section is in the bathroom,” said Mrs. Ferrer.

“To continue,” Mr. Ferrer said, “we were the last family living in this building when a man visited us asking who owned it. I told him as far as I knew nobody did and started pleading with him not to make us leave. I thought he was from the government.”

“He wasn’t?”

Ferrer shook his head. “He told me not to worry, that he was just checking up. He had been to the city hall and the last owner had stopped paying taxes and disappeared two years before. Then he asked us how long we were living here–it was seven months–and said that as far as he was concerned we owned this building by possession and was I interested in making a deal to fix it up?”

“And you took him up on it?”

“Of course,” Ferrer said. “He told me he owned a construction company that would do all the renovation work, and he knew a man that would put up the money, splitting the ownership and profits with me fifty-fifty. All I had to do was remain here and manage the building for another six and a half years to maintain continuous possession.”

“Excuse me,” asked Elliot, “but was this man very tall and black? A glass eye?”

Ferrer nodded; Elliot and Lorimer exchanged pointed glances. Guerdon.

“There’s not much more to tell,” Ferrer continued. “He made the same offer to people left in buildings all along this block. We eventually got together, forming the Community Association to split the costs of garbage collection, police and fire protection, and the food cooperative to buy in bulk–later to buy on the countereconomy to avoid shortages and rationing. We do not receive–or want–any government services, and we pay no taxes.”

“Haven’t you had any problems with tax officials, building inspectors, and the like?”

“Our construction friend said he would handle this and he has. Only one city official–housing, I believe–came by with a court order to make us leave. I told our friend about it and never saw the official or his court order again. Police detectives were around this block asking about the man a few days later, but then they gave up and left. This was three years ago, and we have not been bothered since.”

Before they left, Mr. Ferrer remembered to give Elliot and Lorimer the food cooperative’s order form, telling them to return it by that evening if they wished to catch the Monday morning delivery. Lorimer and he thanked the Ferrers for their hospitality, then returned upstairs.

Shortly after their apartment door closed, Elliot asked Lorimer if she had anything to keep herself busy awhile.

“I suppose I could watch some TV.”

“You said that to make me ill, didn’t you?” Elliot’s face then brightened; he found in his coat pocket the Heinlein paperback he had reread half a week before, tossing it to her. “Try this instead.”

Lorimer stuck out her tongue at him. “Snob. I bet I’ve read more science fiction than you.” She retired to the living room with the book.

For the next hour, Elliot brought himself up to date, the Times spread over the dining table, the kitchen radio tuned to WINS, an all-news station.

What he thought most significant was what was not mentioned. There was no news of an FBI raid on a Cadre base (which should have hit the air by now, though missing his paper’s deadline), there was no news concerning the weekend arrest of any dissidents. Had the dragnet his father had been fleeing never materialized–perhaps aborted by Lorimer’s microfilm theft–or had it proceeded silently to capture the Grosses?

Later, Elliot told Lorimer that he was going out to buy a few items. “Anything you want me to bring back?”

“Something to eat later. I don’t much feel like going out in this weather.”

“Okay. How’s the book so far?”

“Not bad,” she said. “Almost as good as Hello, Joe– Whadd’ya Know?

Elliot shook his head sadly and started for the door.

A very wet ten-minute walk brought him to nonvideo pay phones at the corner of First Avenue and Fourteenth Street. Elliot inserted a vendy and punched in the number Chin had given him to telephone the Cadre. The phone answered on the second ring, a recorded female voice saying, “You have reached 800-326-0996. After the tone, please record your message.”

After the tone Elliot said, ” ‘Queen takes pawn, Mate,'” and read off the pay phone’s number, hanging up immediately. Then he followed the seconds on his watch.

Sixty-seven seconds later the telephone rang; Elliot picked up immediately. Another voice, now male, said, “Joseph Rabinowitz?”

“Yes,” said Elliot. “I can talk freely?”

“We believe this line secure. How can we help you?”

“Would there be any difficulty in putting me through to Chin?”

“Please hold while I try to relay you.”

Elliot turned up his collar uselessly; rain still ran down his neck.

In about another minute, a familiar voice came on and said, “Joseph?”

“Hello, Chin.”

“When did you last see me?”

“Yesterday afternoon,” said Elliot.

“Oh, yes. Our private chat.”

“No, I was with Lorimer.”

“How’s your health?”

Elliot pondered this last query for a moment, then replied, “Not bad. But–do you have anything for clogged sinuses?”

“What can I do for you, Joseph?” Chin asked.

“Information. Are you sure we’re secure?”

“Relax. What’s on your mind?”

“First,” said Elliot, “I need an identity check. Lorimer.”

“I can’t give you her name without her permission. The best I can do is confirm or deny a name you give me.”

“Check this, then. Deanne Powers.”

“It checks,” Chin said.

“She’s really the FBI chief’s daughter?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re sure she’s on your side?”

Elliot could hear Chin’s dry chuckle. “My friend, she has a higher psychometric loyalty rating than you.”

“I don’t recall taking any tests,” said Elliot.

“What do you think your entire visit to Aurora was?”

“Uh–never mind. Next point. I want to find out if the friends–the allies–who arranged my visit to Aurora are okay. I don’t know their Cadre names. Should I give you their real names?”

“No,” Chin said. “They’re listed in your file as your sureties. Wait a moment.” In a little while, Chin said, “Stay away from their apartment. It’s been captured.”

“But are they okay?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you anything over this line.”

Elliot swallowed a lump that had been building since yesterday. The Grosses were dead–they had to be dead.

“All right,” Elliot said slowly. “Okay. Has there been any progress about my–family?”

Chin’s voice was even gentler. “There have been no new entries in your file since you left, Joseph.”

“Okay.”

“Are you staying at the place I recommended?” Chin asked.

“Yes. Very nice people.”

“Fine. I’ll record that in your file so if we lose relay prematurely we can get word to you there. Laissez-faire.”

On the way back, Elliot stopped at a grocery store, picking up a supply of cold cuts, sandwich makings, fruit, soft drinks, and a tube of toothpaste. He paid for them with vendies and the few remaining ration tickets he had in his wallet. A little farther east on Fourteenth Street he stepped into another store for a few minutes, again paying with vendies, walking out with a smaller purchase.

When he got back to the apartment, drenched to the bone, Lorimer was still on the couch, reading. After hanging his overcoat on the showerhead to dry, Elliot brought the second bag into the living room. “Catch,” he said, tossing Lorimer a strange-looking roll.

She caught it. “What’s this?”

“A hot bialy,” he said.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XVII.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

Bookmark and Share

Alongside Night — Chapter XV


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter XIV

1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 15


The headline on The New York Times Sunday edition–just then hitting the street–read: “PRESIDENT URGES DIPLOMATIC RECOGNITION OF TEXAN REPUBLIC.”

Elliot handed the Forty-fifth Street newsdealer two quarter vendies, checking the Times to ensure all sections present. “Well, it’s Saturday night, all right,” he told Lorimer, then checking his watch against the newsdealer’s, determined that it was seven fifteen by all accounts.

“You’re really gonna lug that entire paper around?” Lorimer asked him.

“This, my dear, is for research.”

“You’re carrying it,” said Lorimer. “Okay, where to?”

Elliot thought a moment, then smiled devilishly. “I know just the place,” he said, tucking the paper under his left arm, taking Lorimer’s hand with his right.

Fifth Avenue on a Saturday night was like Fifth Avenue any night–only more so. As they were just entering the enclave, they were brushed aside by a pickpocket being chased by two FAMAS guards. As he ran, the pickpocket scattered a wad of blues into the wind. He kept the wallet, though.

A four-block walk uptown brought the couple to a small club several doors from the Swissair office; the sign on the door said, “Ye Ole Rich Place,” and below it, “Welcome Darwin and Huxley Students.”

The maitre d’ met them at the door, wearing a huge set of eyebrows, wire-rimmed glasses, false nose with mustache, and carrying a banana-sized cigar. “What’s the password?” he asked.

Lorimer gave Elliot a dirty look. “You fink.”

“You better give him the password, or we won’t get in,” said Elliot.

“I’ll give you a clue,” said the maitre d’. “It’s–”

“Swordfish, swordfish!”

“True Marxists,” the maitre d’ said. “Table for two?” Elliot nodded; the man grabbed two menus. “Walk this way,” he said, imitating the Groucho stride all the way to their table. Elliot and Lorimer both did their best, but it was no contest.

While the maitre d’ was leading them to their table, the real Groucho, as Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup, was on the wallscreen singing:

“These are the laws of my administration.
No one’s allowed to smoke
Or tell a dirty joke
And whistling is forbidden.”

Lorimer handed the maitre d’ a one-eurofranc note and whispered. “Do you take this credit card?” He looked at the bill, holding it up close in the dim light, then with sleight-of-hand made it disappear. He himself then disappeared with the menus. Before Elliot could say anything, Lorimer told him, “You bought me lunch, I’ll buy you dinner.”

“If any form of pleasure is exhibited,
Report to me and it will be prohibited.”

The maitre d’ returned with new menus; the prices were in eurofrancs. Elliot nodded to Lorimer admiringly.

“I’ll put my foot down,
So shall it be.
This is the land of the free!”

After studying the menu and deciding on the “Zeppo,” Elliot asked Lorimer to order for him, telling her he wanted to phone the rooming house and the friends he had mentioned.

He walked to the telephone in the rear next to the rest rooms, closing the booth and punching in the first of the numbers Chin had given him. On the fourth ring a female voice said hello. “Mrs. Ferrer?” Elliot asked.

“No, hold on a second.” There was a muffled shout of “Mama, it’s for you,” and in a moment another voice took over–just the barest trace of an Italian accent:

“Yes, who is speaking?”

“Mrs. Ferrer, my name is Joseph Rabinowitz–you don’t know me. I just came into New York and was told you might have rooms available.”

“Who tells you to call me?”

Elliot hesitated the slightest moment. Chin had not said to use his name. But either she knew the name or she did not; it would not hurt Chin in either case. Any risk was his and Lorimer’s. “Mr. Chin.”

“I have rooms for friends of Mr. Chin. We go to bed here at ten thirty: I expect you before then. Good-bye.”

She hung up.

Elliot inserted another vendy, punching in Phillip’s number from memory. A strange male voice said hello on the second ring; Elliot considered the thought that voices change over the telephone. “Mr. Gross?”

“No, Morris stepped out for a moment. This is his brother Abe. Who’s calling?”

Elliot hung up, then sat in the booth a moment, shaking.

Was it a Cadre recognition signal he had not been given? Was there the slightest possibility that one of Mr. Gross’s brothers had somehow survived–to appear after locating his brother so many years later? Or was it what it sounded like: Mr. Gross and Phillip had been arrested– possibly killed– and their apartment turned into a trap?

Chin’s words suddenly surfaced in his mind. Elliot held his breath, picking up the receiver again as silently as possible. He listened a moment.

The telephone had not disconnected.

Elliot noiselessly cradled the receiver and left the booth.

In a moment he was back to the table, whispering into Lorimer’s ear, “We’re leaving. Now.”

“But I already ordered.”

“Emergency. I walked into a trap.”

She nodded. Elliot helped her with her Genghis Khan, then donned his own overcoat. “Don’t forget the Times,” she reminded him, lifting her travel bag. He slipped on his gloves and took it.

At the door Lorimer stopped to cancel their order. “Is anything wrong?” the maitre d’ asked.

“We were never here, eh, comrade?” she said softly.

He nodded. “Good luck, tovarishchi.

Lorimer stuffed a bill into his hand. “For the workers . . .”

Elliot and Lorimer pushed out onto the crowded street, starting downtown at a moderate clip. “How did you know he was red?” Elliot asked.

“I have a sixth sense about it,” she said. “I get it from my father. Well, where to now?”

“If you don’t mind, to the rooming house. I seem to have lost my appetite.”

“The rooming house? Wasn’t that the trap?”

Elliot shook his head. “My friends.”

“Oh! I’m sorry.”

“Let’s not even think about it,” he said.

After a few minutes’ conversation, Lorimer convinced him that starving would not do either of them any good. Elliot was forced to agree with her logic. In ten minutes they were in front of Grand Central Station, where almost two dozen cars were lined up — some undistinguished, others carrying the insignia of telephone taxi services unlicensed for street pickups. Removing his gloves, Elliot handed Lorimer the Times, approaching the first driver seated at the wheel of a red Nissan electric compact. “How much to West Eleventh Street?” Elliot asked while giving him the ring banner, the Morse Code letter A.

Though he wore a gold wedding band, the driver did not touch it. “Seven thousand blues, buddy. Hop in.”

“No thanks.”

They bypassed the second car entirely; the driver was wearing gloves.

A full-sized Checker, black and unmarked, was in the third position; the driver was female and ringed. Elliot twirled his ring once forward and once back, repeating his question. The driver twirled twice toward Elliot and once back — the correct response, U — and said, “That depends on what you’re payin’ with.”

Elliot and Lorimer climbed into the car, shutting the door. “Do you take euros?” Elliot asked.

“Sure do. One’ll cover it. What’s the street number?”

“I’m not certain,” said Elliot. “A restaurant — Manrico and Pagliacci.”

“Got it.” She stuck her hand out the window, flooring the accelerator, then picked up the microphone to her transceiver and in code gave her coordinates and destination to a base station known as Egotripper.

While they held on for dear life, the Checker turned left onto Fifth Avenue, hit green lights all the way down, turned right on Eleventh Street, and within a scant five minutes deposited them in front of the restaurant.

Manrico and Pagliacci’s specialized in Italian cuisine set to operatic videodiscs — though not exclusively Italian opera. After they had again ordered — once more from eurofranc menus — Elliot directed his attention to the screen, in a moment recognizing it as the Metropolitan Opera recording of the modern masterpiece Die Achselnzucken des Atlas. It was the final act of the seven-hour-long opera, in which Johann, the unseen hero, was singing his fifty-eight-minute Radiorede aria.

After two orders of antipasto, manicotti, cappuccino, and pastry — the last two accompanied by the grande finale — the couple started walking east to the rooming house.

Elliot’s left arm held both the newspaper and Lorimer’s arm, his right was in his coat pocket holding his revolver. Though they were passing through slum and semislum neighborhoods — their obviously affluent appearance drawing a hostile stare or two — they were unmolested. Elliot wondered if perhaps the local predators had moved uptown or west in search of choicer game.

The buildings on Eleventh Street east of First Avenue were old but not dilapidated; most were sandblast-clean, the street in front of them unlittered, garbage tightly in cans. They passed several armed private guards patrolling the street and an open storefront with a sign, repeated in four other languages, that said, “TOMPKINS SQUARE PARK COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION–Security Officer on Duty.” If Elliot had not known better, he could have mistaken the block for one in the West Eighties off Riverside Drive.

Between Avenues B and C was a building numbered 635 East Eleventh Street, several steps up to a door with another sign, reading, “ROOMS FOR RENT — No Dogs or Welfare Parasites.” Elliot pressed the door buzzer; in a short while a man’s voice asked over an intercom who was there.

“Rabinowitz,” Elliot said. “I called earlier about a room.”

In a few moments, a man opened a peephole. “I’m Emmanuel Ferrer. You spoke to my son?”

“No, sir. To Mrs. Ferrer.”

He opened the door and let them in.

The building’s interior was not luxurious but was well appointed with wood-paneled walls and carpeted floors. Ferrer, a thin-haired man with a small paunch, led them up a twisting staircase to his second-floor apartment; a delicious mixture of cooking odors floated out the door.

Inside his living room, in front of a video wall screen, were a thin woman about forty, a boy about Elliot’s age, and a girl whom Elliot guessed thirteen. Mrs. Ferrer turned to her son and said, “Turn off the record, Raphael. Company.” Raphael got up and disengaged the videodisc.

“This is my wife, Francesca,” said Ferrer, “my daughter Carla, and — as you heard — my son Raphael. Please sit down.” Elliot and Lorimer took seats near the couch, where the family was sitting. “Did you have a nice dinner?”

“Very nice,” said Lorimer.

“Good, good. Would you like some coffee?”

“No, thank you. I’m still pretty full.” Elliot shook his head also.

“My wife tells me that you were sent to us by Mr. Chin?”

“That’s correct, sir,” Elliot answered.

“Please forgive me if I sound suspicious but these are terrible times. Could you describe what Mr. Chin looks like to me?”

Elliot considered it a moment, then replied, “Yes, sir, but I don’t think it would be discreet for me to do so.”

Ferrer nodded; Elliot had evaded his trap. “How long were you planning to stay with us?”

“Well, that’s sort of up in the air. We’d be interested in a weekly rate — starting off with one week.”

“You’d want to do your own cooking?”

Elliot looked over to Lorimer. She nodded.

“And I should mention before we get too far along,” Elliot continued, “that all I have to pay with is gold or eurofrancs.”

Mr. Ferrer’s attitude shifted visibly from cautious to respectful. “Let me show you the apartment we have available. If you like it, we can discuss price. Raphael, the key to 3A.”

Ferrer led Elliot and Lorimer up another flight, taking them into a front apartment. Elliot decided at first glance that he liked it. Light and airy — as much as any apartment could be at night — it was decorated with Spanish modern furnishings. A good-sized living room with a picture window facing the street, a dinette off a small kitchen, and a bedroom with queen-size bed — full bath adjoining — were all spotlessly clean and carpeted throughout. All appliances, with the exception of a ten-year-old Sony portable television, were fairly new; the kitchen was fully equipped with cooking gear, utensils, and dishes.

Elliot caught Lorimer’s eyes, receiving nonverbal confirmation that she liked the apartment as much as he did, and he asked Ferrer how much he had in mind.

“The price on this apartment is three grams of gold a week, or thirty eurofrancs.”

Elliot nodded.

“Come downstairs again while my daughter brings up towels and makes up the bed.”

“She doesn’t have to go to all that trouble. I can take

“I wouldn’t hear of it,” said Ferrer. “It’s how she earns her allowance.”

After they had returned downstairs, Ferrer directed Carla to her preparations, Elliot then paying him thirty eurofrancs cash. Mrs. Ferrer wrote out a receipt for one week’s rent, a fabricated price in New Dollars written in.

“Is there anyone around here who sells ration books?” Elliot asked. “Or a grocery store not too fussy about regulations?”

“We have a food cooperative here that doesn’t bother with such nonsense,” said Ferrer. “If you like, we can have groceries delivered while you’re here. I’ll give you the order form.”

They chatted about nothing in particular until Carla returned, then Mrs. Ferrer mentioned to her husband that it was ten thirty. “Yes,” said Mr. Ferrer, rising, “early Mass tomorrow.”

“Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Rabinowitz would like to join us?” chimed in Raphael. His sister directed a dirty look at him.

Elliot was pondering Lorimer’s religious orientation — his own was militant solipsism — when Lorimer saved him by cutting in, “Thank you, but we’re Jewish.”

“Would you eat breakfast with us?” Mrs. Ferrer asked. “There is nothing to eat in your refrigerator and there are no food deliveries until Monday.”

“Unless your dietary laws–” began Mr. Ferrer.

“We don’t observe them,” said Lorimer. “We’d be delighted to join you.”

“Good. We usually eat when we get back — ten o’clock.”

After good nights were said, Elliot and Lorimer were given keys and returned upstairs, Elliot removing overcoat, jacket, and shoes, then collapsing on the living-room couch. Lorimer got her travel bag and took out a purse, presenting fifteen eurofrancs to Elliot. “What’s this for?” he asked.

“My half of the rent.”

“I didn’t ask you to split it.”

“I’d be paying one way or another. This limits my obligation.” Elliot shrugged, a difficult motion while supine, and took the bills, returning several to Lorimer. “I don’t understand,” she said.

“You paid for dinner. The least I can do is pick up the bribes.”

She shrugged and took the bills.

“You know,” said Elliot, “you have a lot of chutzpah for a goy.”

She grinned. “If you’re going to play a role, you might as well play it to the hilt.”

“Maybe you can. But ‘to the hilt’ is exactly how I can’t play it.”

“Why not? You speak the idiom better than I do.”

Elliot paused for a moment. Interesting, he thought. “Uh — never mind. Let’s just hope Mr. Ferrer doesn’t invite me to a steam bath.”

She shrugged again. “Coming to bed?”

“Soon,” he said. “I just want to scan the paper for a few minutes.”

“Okay.”

Elliot remained on the couch for another moment then dragged himself over to the dining table, pulling off the first section of the Times. After reading the article on the Texas-secession issue up to the continuation notice, he flipped to the bottom half of the front page for the first time.

There was a story headlined:

“VREELAND WIDOW ASSURES PUBLIC
HUSBAND DIED NATURALLY.”

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XVI.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

Bookmark and Share