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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover

Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 3

Perhaps the single most important element guiding Martin Vreeland was a meticulous study of history.

He had learned the lessons of politics well, therefore harboring few illusions regarding to what extent those with power would go to maintain it — and fewer illusions respecting by whom and for whose gain political power was always exercised.

Had he not believed the incorruptible were statistically insignificant, he would have been an anarchist.

His latest bestseller, Not Worth a Continental, stated his views on the current crisis clearly:

The true cause of the general rise in prices that is usually called inflation is one of history’s best-kept secrets: it is known to almost everybody but its victims. To listen to most political debates on the phenomenon, one would think that it was some malarious fever — still incurable — which is to be treated with the quinines of joint sacrifice, Maoist self-criticism, and liberal doses of governmental controls. Yet, even today, one can look up “inflation” in most dictionaries and find in its definition a proper diagnosis of the disease and by that diagnosis an implied cure.

Inflation is the process whereby central bankers in collusion with politicians — to mutual benefit — have counterfeited warehouse receipts for a commodity the public have chosen as a medium of exchange, and traded those counterfeits to those they have defrauded and forced them into accepting them.

By doing this they gain something for nothing.

Those who accepted the counterfeits, on the other hand, have taken nothing for something, but not realizing this, they calculate their own future spending as if they had received more something.

The primary effect of all this nothing being passed around is a discounting of the medium of exchange — seen by everybody as a rise in prices of everything else — as people lose the ability to distinguish between something and nothing.

The most important secondary effect is mass-scale malinvestment caused by the general false sense of prosperity.

By the point at which there is more nothing being traded than something — our current situation — a hedonistic inversion is so rampant that even the bankers and politicians are losing.

But by then it is much too late for them to save themselves — and they see little profit in saving us.

The cure for inflation is to stop inflating.

Elliot had known his father was under fire from high places for incessant — and widely reported — attacks on government economic policies, but Dr. Vreeland had told him that direct reprisals were relatively unlikely. A Nobel prize afforded some protection; the high public profile of a bestselling author, more; popularity among the million members of the radical Citizens for a Free Society, still more; and perhaps most important was his wide repute among the fiscally conservative delegates — and personal friendship with the current chancellor — of EUCOMTO, the European Common Market Treaty Organization.

What Dr. Vreeland now told Elliot was that while he had considered reprisals unlikely, he had not considered them out of the question — especially as a prelude to a major political upheaval of some sort — thus he had taken various precautionary measures. Among these were preparing secret caches and asylums for emergency retreat, with extensive contingency plans for each. He had also found it advisable to cultivate, through timely gifts to “underpaid officials,” loyalties that might be useful during uncomfortable periods.

Earlier that day this last had paid off: one of his friends in the Federal Bureau of Investigation had transmitted him a message that the Vreeland name had been found on a list of persons to be secretly arrested that coming weekend. “We leave tonight,” said Dr. Vreeland. “All of us. And probably from a country now a dictatorship.”

This simple proclamation shook Elliot’s sense of security almost as much as the earlier one declaring his father dead. While he had been aware of current political-economic developments — been steeped in them — he had never accepted emotionally that they might have personal consequences. Mr. Harper’s classroom warning was driven home as Elliot’s father explained what his sudden “death” was all about.

“We have little time and a lot to accomplish,” said Dr. Vreeland to Elliot and Denise. The three were at the dining table while Cathryn Vreeland prepared a long overdue lunch for herself and her husband. “Each of us has necessary tasks to perform with no room for error. One slip — even one you might think insignificant — may prove our downfall.”

“Any choice about what we have to do?”

Dr. Vreeland looked at Elliot seriously. “Certainly,” he replied, then paused several extended moments. “Listen, you two. You’re both old enough to make any crucial decisions about your lives. It’s much too late for me to impart values to you; but if you don’t have them, then I’m not much of a father. Ell, there are only two choices my situation allows me to offer you: either you leave now before you hear my plans — in which case you’re completely on your own as of now — or you accept my authority without reservations until we’re safely out of the country.”

Ten seconds passed. No one spoke. Finally, Denise broke the silence: “Where are we going, Daddy?”

“Everything in due time, honey. Just let me proceed at my own pace.” Dr. Vreeland faced Elliot again. “You didn’t answer me.” Elliot answered slowly, deliberately. “You know what my answer is, Dad.”

Dr. Vreeland nodded. “Denise?”

“I’m in,” she said cheerfully. “Give my regards to Broadway.”

“Good. For the official record, then …”

Martin Vreeland, Ph.D (so the story would go), had died of a heart attack brought on by overwork and the tensions of his public position. The official death certificate would confirm this, and his personal physician’s records would document a nonexistent previous attack. Preceded by an immediate-family-only funeral service the next afternoon, the body was to be immediately cremated. The neighbors had been told that Cathryn Vreeland and her children would be staying that night with her sister-in-law; since she did not have a sister-in-law, this could not be swiftly followed up.

“If you find yourselves unable to avoid the press,” said Dr. Vreeland, “then say nothing factual. Make only generalized, emotional statements about me” — he smiled — “preferably laudatory. I will be leaving the apartment in disguise as soon after five as possible.”

Denise asked, “Won’t Jim think it unusual that a stranger he didn’t let in is leaving the building?”

“No. First, Dominic will be on by the time I leave, and if he sees me, will simply assume that this ‘stranger’ came in before his shift. Second, I don’t intend leaving through the lobby. I’ll use the fire exit out to Seventy-fourth Street.”

Cathryn Vreeland brought a plate of sandwiches from the kitchen, joining her family at the table. “Spam,” she said. “It was all the Shopwell had left yesterday that I had ration tickets for.”

Dr. Vreeland picked up a sandwich, bit into it with a grimace, then continued to talk and to eat intermittently: “The three of you will leave this apartment at 7 p.m., and will rendezvous with me on the west side of Park at Seventieth Street, where I’ll be waiting with a rental car — and to anticipate any questions, all arrangements have already been made. From the moment we get in that car, we will no longer be in the Vreeland family. We will all be carrying full identification, including passports, exit permits, and visas — each with our new names — and we’ll continue using them until we legally identify ourselves in our country of final destination.”

“You still haven’t said where that is,” said Denise.

“To be perfectly candid, I don’t know yet. We will be driving to International Airport, taking, at 10:05 tonight, Air Quebec Flight 757 to Montreal — on of the cities in which I have emergency assets and a number of friends. We might be there just a few days, but if much longer, you’ll have a chance to practice your French.”

Et ensuite?” asked Elliot.

Trop compliqué,” replied Dr. Vreeland, referring both to variables involved in choosing their next destination and to his inability to say all that in French. Dr. Vreeland paused several seconds, then managed to regain his original train of thought. “In packing your belongings, anything with our real names on it — or any pictures of me — must be left behind, no matter how treasured, no matter how valuable.”

“We’re going to have to leave almost everything behind, aren’t we?” Denise asked wistfully.

“I’m afraid so. There’s very little here that can’t be replaced, nor would I, in any case, consider personal possessions to be worth risking my family’s imprisonment. Even if your mother considers me excessively paranoid.”

“I’ll say,” Mrs. Vreeland confirmed.

Everyone turned to her. Cathryn Vreeland rarely ventured unsolicited opinions; when she did, they commanded full attention. She would have commanded it anyway: the flame-haired woman could easily have been a top commercial model, and though she was thirty-nine, bartenders still demanded her proof-of-age. “When Marty first told me his plan, I suggested that he leave alone, while we three stay behind long enough to close out affairs here normally. He wouldn’t hear of it.”

“And still won’t,” Dr. Vreeland said. “I am not about to flee the country, leaving my family behind to answer FBI questions. There will be too many discrepancies in my story within twenty-four hours. If we were leaving the country under normal circumstances, we’d be selling and giving away most of our belongings anyway.”

“One set of items we will risk taking,” continued Dr. Vreeland, “is twenty-five Mexican fifty-peso gold pieces — at today’s European exchange worth about eleven-and-a-half-million New Dollars.” Elliot whistled. “Don’t be too impressed. When I bought them back in 1979, I only paid nine thousand old dollars for them, and they’ll buy about four times that in real goods today. But, Ell — this concerns you personally — I don’t want its value to cloud your thinking. If by ‘losing’ it or paying it as a bribe I can improve our escape chances one iota, I won’t hesitate to do so for one second.”

“Are they here?” Elliot asked.

“No, that’s just where you come in. You’re going downtown for me to get them.”

Elliot’s eyes widened.

A few minutes later, Dr. Vreeland drew Elliot alone into the master bedroom. “You’ll be going to an — uh — ‘exotic’ bookstore off Times Square,” said Dr. Vreeland. He wrote the address on a piece of paper.

Elliot took the paper, studied it a moment, then crumpled it up. “Do I have to eat this?”

“Not necessary,” said his father. “Your contact is a bald, bearded man — somewhat overweight — called ‘Al.’ As a sign you’re to ask him for a copy of Not Worth a Continental — be sure to mention my name as author. His countersign is, ‘I may sell dirty books but I don’t carry trash like that.’ Your counter-countersign is, ‘What do you recommend instead?’ He will invite you into a back room and give you a package. The coins will be inside. Got all that?” Elliot nodded.

Dr. Vreeland went to his dresser, returning with a small box, which he opened. Inside was a .38 caliber Peking revolver that he and Elliot had practiced with in New Hampshire. “Can you use it?” Dr. Vreeland asked.

Elliot picked up the pistol, swung out the cylinder — noting all six chambers loaded — and swung the cylinder back. “I can use it.”

“Good. Only, don’t.”

“What if I’m stopped by a cop?”

Dr. Vreeland took a deep breath. “Under our present situation, a police officer must be regarded in the same manner as any other potential attacker. You can’t afford to be caught with either a firearm or gold bullion. If you can talk your way free, do so: New York police must pass periodic shooting exams. But if your only chance of making rendezvous is using this gun, so be it.”

“Terrific chance I’d have.”

“The Keynesian Cops are understaffed at the moment” — Elliot winced at the pun — consider themselves underpaid and overworked, and are on the verge of striking again. If they’re seen making an arrest openly, they’re as likely as not to start a riot. They are not looking for trouble. Anything else?”

Elliot made a wry face. “Do you have any more ammunition?”


Next in Alongside Night is Chapter IV.

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

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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