Archive for March, 2010
The wall opposite the corridor — the wall with the “laissez-faire” modified Gadsden flag — slid several feet to the left, revealing a portable staircase five steps high, enclosed by an awning that concealed what lay beyond. The somewhat muted whine of turbines filled the Terminal.
Chin jumped off the bar, walking over to the staircase. “Okay, folks, let’s get going. Pick any seats and strap yourselves in.”
With the sole exception of Jack Guerdon, who was fixing another drink, everyone began lifting belongings and lining up near the staircase. “You’re coming, Mr. Guerdon?” Lorimer asked.
“Isn’t it customary for captains to go down with their ships? Why not shipbuilders, too?” Guerdon noticed that the two youngsters did not know whether to take him seriously, so he added, “Just some last-minute business. I’ll be out of here in time enough.”
“Well, glad to have met you, sir,” said Elliot. They all shook hands and with a “Take care, now” Elliot and Lorimer joined the departing passengers.
The steps led into what appeared from the inside to be the cabin of an executive jetliner — eight rows of seats, four across with a center aisle — allowing for a somewhat cramped ceiling and no windows. Chin had been joking — there was no stewardess taking passes — so Elliot and Lorimer found two seats, the last two together, and strapped themselves in. Lorimer immediately lit a cigarette.
Chin shut the cabin door, saying, “No smoking, friends”; then, a few moments later, the turbine whine increased in volume and pitch, and Elliot felt the craft moving.
Chin came over and glared at Lorimer. She snuffed out the cigarette and muttered to Elliot, “Damned prohibitionists.”
Elliot clasped Lorimer’s hand and smiled. She smiled back. Elliot was thinking that she had the most radiant smile he had ever seen when she was no longer there and, like the Cheshire Cat, only her smile remained. For some time after that, there was nothing at all.
Someone was shaking him, only he wanted to sleep some more. He tried saying, “Leave me alone — it’s Saturday,” but he found it hard to move his mouth.
“C’mon, now, up we come.”
His mouth was now free, and he tried focusing. There was a long haired girl a little in front of him. “Denise?” he asked.
“Are you okay?” she replied.
Elliot realized he was standing, braced against a seat in front of him. He took a deep breath and felt his mind clearing, then looked up. Chin was packing up a portable oxygen kit, with Lorimer a few feet behind him. “You know, you have us quite a scare, just now,” Chin said.
“What happened?” Elliot asked.
“They gassed us,” said Lorimer.
“Who? The FBI?”
“No, the Cadre.”
Elliot looked over to Chin.
“There was a spy on board,” Chin began explaining. “A real Mata Hari. Transmitter in a cigarette lighter. There was no real danger — we’re shielded, of course — but the pilot knocked out everyone in the passenger cabin, including me, to avoid possible gun play.”
Elliot took another deep breath, then exhaled. “I’d find that much easier to swallow if I hadn’t fallen asleep in the trunk to Aurora.”
“It happens,” said Chin. “Drink anything before the trip? Anti-nausea pills?”
“Both,” Elliot admitted. “But they were given to me by a loyal Cadre ally.” He turned to Lorimer. “When you came in, did you fall asleep?”
She shook her head. “At least I don’t think so. In sensory deprivation, how can you be sure?”
Elliot scowled. “Tell your friends I didn’t like it,” he told Chin. “Next time I’ll go to the arbiters.”
Chin shrugged. “What would you sue for? This gas leaves no permanent aftereffects. No damages to demand.”
“I’ll sue for arbitrary recompense for violation of my civil liberties.”
Chin grinned widely. “Good for you. I’d be interested in the outcome myself.”
Grabbing an attache case stashed under his seat, Chin led the two into a waiting room with the other passengers already inside; it was empty except for a table and some folding chairs. There were no windows, of course. Some of the passengers were expressing, loudly, indignation equal to Elliot’s. One man with Beacon Hill written all over him was wondering “whether this ghastly gassing is usual or not.”
“I’m getting hungry again,” said Lorimer. “What time do you have?”
“Eh?” Elliot checked his watch. “Ten to six,” he replied absentmindedly — then a thought took hold, and he felt as if he should hit himself. “Lor, what time did we leave Aurora?”
“Don’t know,” she answered, tapping her bare wrist.
Elliot began calculating time lapses. “We returned to the Cadre complex just before two — I checked — and … how long would you say we made love?”
“I wasn’t watching the clock,” she said drolly.
“Be serious. Forty-five minutes? An hour?”
“If you must measure,” Lorimer said, “then closer to an hour and a half.
“That brings us somewhere close to three thirty. How long was I out, just now?”
“No more than five minutes after everyone else?”
“Right. Then maximum possible travel time was about forty-five minutes — assuming my watch wasn’t tampered with, which I can check as soon as we hit the streets.”
“Fine,” said Lorimer. “What does all this have to do with the price of congressmen?”
“It puts Aurora within four hundred miles of New York, assuming we were knocked out to prevent us from feeling the unmistakable accelerations of a jet. Far closer if we were in a hydroplane, a submarine, or the intermodal containers they switch from trucks to trains to freighters.”
“Thank you, ‘Joe.’ Care for a banana?”
Elliot groaned, regretting his alias: Hello, Joe — Whadd’ya Know? “Television,” he muttered.
A few minutes later, Elliot and Lorimer were seated facing Chin, whose attache case was open on the table in front of him with a minicomputer inside. “You’re returning to Manhattan?” Chin asked Elliot.
Elliot looked to Lorimer. “It doesn’t matter where I am,” she said, “as long as I’m not caught.”
“Manhattan,” Elliot agreed.
“Got a safe house?”
“A place to hide out,” Lorimer explained.
“Oh,” said Elliot. “I have a standing invitation with allies but I doubt if it extends to two. I figured we’d take a room somewhere — probably in the Village.”
Chin took out a pad of paper and began to scribble. “Check this place out first. Not fancy, but comfortable. Weekly rates. The owners aren’t formal allies, but they’re countereconomic. They won’t ask nosy questions.”
“Will they take gold or eurofrancs?”
“If you approach it right. You don’t look like goldfingers.”
“I’ll be needing to make some other countereconomic contacts.”
“I was coming to that.” Chin wrote on a second piece of paper. “Here’s a phone number to call the Cadre — good for another week. Call only from a nonvideo pay phone. A recorder will answer. Give your identification code, the pay phone’s number, then hang up. If you don’t get a callback within two minutes, get lost — fast. If the callback comes but the person at the other end doesn’t address you by name, then it’s a trap, and there’ll be a police wagon along as soon as they’ve located your phone.”
“Why the restriction to calling from a pay phone?”
“If police capture our relay station, they can hold on to the connection from the other end whether you hang up or not — then trace it. Got all that?”
Elliot repeated it back with one minor error, and was corrected. “What if I have to contact the Cadre after the week is up?”
“Use this number at least once before it is up,” replied Chin. “Once you’re identified, you’ll be cleared for monthly phone numbers, contact points, mail drops, bannering codes –”
“Hold up,” Elliot interrupted. “Bannering codes?”
“You don’t know?” Chin asked.
Elliot shook his head, mystified.
“I thought you already knew because you’re wearing the ring.”
Tumblers clicked. The engine turned over. Queen takes pawn, Mate. “A Christmas present.”
“Oh,” said Chin. “A banner is an inconspicuous signal that allies use to flag one another during face-to-face contact. It’s useful only at street level where the sheer number of transactions makes heavy police infiltration improbable. If you want further confirmation, the two of you can head off to a pay phone for a conference call to the Cadre, call in each of your identification codes, and have the Cadre return your confirmed names.”
“I take it the current banner is a ring-twirling code?”
“That’s right, based on Morse Code. But I thought you didn’t –”
Elliot interrupted: “I saw it used twice in the same day. Once by a tzigane driver and once by . . . someone else.”
After pulling a hologram data cartridge out of his computer, sticking it into a pocket for safekeeping, Chin led Elliot, Lorimer, and two other couples out to a windowless garage in which were parked half a dozen panel trucks painted like commercial delivery vans. The van to which they were taken read “Hot Bialys” on the side. “A gambling joint or a nightclub?” Lorimer asked Elliot.
“You aren’t a New Yorker, are you?”
She shrugged. “Sounds like someone in a Damon Runyon story.”
Inside the van were two side couches facing across, seatbelts for three on each side. There was a steel partition between the rear and the driver’s compartment — in the back, again, no windows.
After a last “laissez-faire” to Chin, the six climbed into the truck and fastened their belts. Elliot found himself with Lorimer on his left and a plump, fiftyish woman with frosted hair on his right. With his coat on — for it was chilly — he felt like a slice of turkey sandwiched between two slices of bread — one wheat, the other rye.
It did not help that after Chin had slammed the doors — a heavy, metallic whoomph making ears pop — it now sounded as if they were in a recording studio. Elliot tried knocking on the sides to produce an echo; all he got for his troubles was sore knuckles: the space was absolutely dead. The situation did not improve when the van started moving; he felt changes in momentum but little vibration and no road noise — not even the comforting whine of turbines.
The bleached-blonde woman across from Elliot — middle twenties — tried starting a conversation with her male companion, an emaciated chain smoker whom Eliot thought tubercular, but the acoustics inhibited not only sound but conversation as well. Lorimer also lit up immediately. The hour in transit was spent in smoky, but silent, meditation — transcendental or otherwise.
When the van came to a halt, a gravely voice came back through an intercom: “Last stop. Get ready to leave when I give you the word.” Everyone unstrapped, lifting luggage onto their knees; Lorimer slung her travel bag over her shoulder. Elliot noticed a wire — running from the door forward to the driver compartment — suddenly tighten. “Ready … ready … go!”
With a muffled crack, the van’s double doors swung open into the frosty night air. They were behind the Pan Am Building and Grand Central Station; Forty-fifth Street was deserted. Lorimer jumped out, followed immediately by Elliot and the Smokers Anonymous advertisement, the two young men helping the remaining three passengers out while Lorimer kept watch.
As soon as the Grande Dame’s feet were on solid ground, the van sped off around the corner, its double doors swinging shut as it turned. None of the passengers had even glimpsed the driver.
Leaving Elliot and Lorimer with only another “laissez-faire,” the two other couples started post-haste to the front of Grand Central Station; Chin had mentioned that tzigane cabs were lining up during the strike without police interference. “Think we ought to phone the rooming house?” Elliot asked Lorimer.
“Probably a good idea, but I wouldn’t mind eating first. Anyplace good around here?”
“Best choices are over on Fifth Avenue or down in the Village. Which way?”
“Fifth Avenue,” Lorimer said. “I’ve never been there on Saturday night. I hear it’s a real witches’ Sabbath.”
Elliot pondered this a moment.
“That’s almost adequate,” he said.
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XV.
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!
“G-raid alert! G-raid alert! This is not a drill.”
The room television had been centrally activated, an authoritative gray-haired man in Cadre uniform appearing on the wall screen. Elliot slid Lorimer’s hand off his behind, then his leg out from between hers, abruptly sitting up.
“Commence evacuation sequence,” said the gray-haired man. “Cadre are to implement Procedure Five immediately. All allies will please identify themselves to the nearest computer station for further instructions.”
Elliot and Lorimer were out of bed quickly, pulling on their clothes.
“Remain calm,” the man continued. “There is no danger if you follow our procedures. Repeat: G-raid alert. This is not a . . . ”
The message repeated itself in the background as Elliot and Lorimer dressed. Elliot struggled with a shoe. “Any idea what a G-raid is?” he asked Lorimer.
She shook her head. “Gas attack? Ground assault?”
“Maybe the government. G-men. Yeah, that’s probably it.”
“Too corny.” Lorimer tossed her hair forward. “Zip me.”
After fastening the dress, Elliot slipped an arm around Lorimer’s waist, spinning her around. “Listen, whoever-the-hell-you-are, what say we shack up somewhere for the next few catastrophes?”
Lorimer tickled the back of Elliot’s neck. “When do we leave, stranger?”
“Get your stuff, meet me back here in three minutes. I’ll see what the computer says.”
Lorimer gave him a grace kiss on the mouth. “Be right back.” Elliot propelled her out the door with a pat on the rump.
As the door shut, Elliot unclipped his photo badge from his jacket, inserting the card into his computer station. The video display lit up at once:
ELLIOT VREELAND ALIAS JOSEPH RABINOWITZ
PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION MADE VREELAND FAMILY WHEREABOUTS: TWO WOMEN TENTATIVELY IDENTIFIED AS CATHRYN AND DENISE VREELAND CONFINED INCOMMUNICADO, 23 FEBRUARY, FBI MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON CODE NAME “UTOPIA,” CHESHIRE, MASSACHUSETTS. REMOVAL NOW NOT POSSIBLE.
ALL INVESTIGATIONS TO DATE DR. MARTIN VREELAND REPORT NEGATIVE. SEARCH TO PROCEED. WILL NOTIFY YOU RESULTS WHEN AVAILABLE.
They’ve killed him, thought Elliot.
ACCOUNT TO DATE:
TRANSPORTATION …………………….. AU 2.500 GRAMS
REGISTRATION ………………………. AU 1.000
ROOM (ONE NIGHTS)…………………… AU 2.000
COMMISSARY ………………………… AU 0.174
INQUIRY …………………………… AU 20.000
TOTAL CHARGES ……………………… AU 25.674 GRAMS
PAYMENT ON ACCOUNT DEFERRED.
PLEASE REPORT AT ONCE TO SECURITY DESK, TERMINAL FLOOR, FOR EVACUATION TO NEW YORK.
All but the last sentence winked off. Elliot pulled out his photo badge, and the display went blank.
For a long moment, Elliot sat in front of the lifeless console, arching forward over it to brace himself. That his father was not confined with his mother and sister meant almost surely that he had been murdered. Images of words he had just seen lingered: CONFINED INCOMMUNICADO . . . UTOPIA . . . REMOVAL NOT NOW POSSIBLE . . .
The unspeakable emptiness felt when Denise had told him their father was dead returned, thricefold, multiplied also by the suffocating frustration of feeling impotent to do anything about it.
There was a knock at the door; Elliot got up and let Lorimer in. One arm held a Genghis Khan coat and a small travel bag; her other held a cigarette. “All set . . . Hey, what’s wrong?”
Elliot made an effort to control his voice, after a moment replying evenly, “My problem. I’ll have to handle it.”
Lorimer nodded solemnly. “I checked with the station in my room. I’m supposed to go to the security desk.”
“Same here.” Elliot violently yanked his overcoat from its hanger. “C’mon, we’d better get the hell moving.”
As they rode the elevator down, stopping at the second floor for more passengers, Elliot was surprised at the tranquility pervading the complex. Were the agorists all on barbiturates? No one pushed frantically to get onto the elevator; those for whom there was no room seemed willing to wait in line for its next trip. Nobody ran panic-stricken down the halls. There were no sirens. It just did not seem as if a major emergency was taking place.
Upon disembarking on the Terminal floor, Elliot and Lorimer found themselves at the tail end of a long line to the security alcove; there were perhaps seventy persons stretched ahead of them, carrying a wide variety of luggage and apparel. Still, the atmosphere was cheery and matter-of-fact — not at all what he had expected. Elliot gained some small understanding by eavesdropping on two men in front of him — one of the few public dialogues he had overheard, in fact, among the necessarily taciturn countereconomic traders. “It’s a goddam nuisance,” grumbled the younger to the two. “At these prices you would think they could avoid this sort of problem.”
“Two hours’ warning of a raid is not what I would call unreasonable,” his friend said.
“It might as well have been two minutes, for all the good it does me. I have a half-quintal commodities account downstairs. Now what am I supposed to do?”
“Stop acting like an ass, Red.”
That ended the discussion.
In forty-five minutes they were at the security desk, the line now stretching behind. Commandant Welch was again on duty, saying to Lorimer, “Badge, please.” She handed it over, the commandant inserting it into the console built onto his desk. “You’re in Group Eight. Claim any property checked here, then wait for your number to be called.” A guard led Lorimer over to the lockers, where she retrieved a small leather pouch, while the commandant took Elliot’s badge. “Group Five,” the commandant told him, “leaving Terminal in eleven minutes.”
“But we’re together,” Elliot protested.
“Sorry,” the commandant replied. “The computer makes the assignments, not me.”
Lorimer walked over to the commandant. “I’m going with him.”
“Nothing I can do about it. The next thing Elliot knew, a voice from behind said sharply, “Don’t try it, girl. I’m using an M-21, not a Taser.” Elliot heard the metallic click of a machine pistol being switched from semi- to automatic.
Elliot saw Lorimer’s hand, halfway into her pouch, freeze, and he glanced slowly over his shoulder. The man leveling the weapon at her back was the guard they had experienced the run-in with that morning in the elevator. Commandant Welch stood, taking Lorimer’s pouch and removing a .32 automatic pistol-with- silencer. “Your group leader will return this to you before he lets you off.”
Elliot said, “I thought we were guests here, not prisoners.”
“Your choice,” the commandant replied. “We’re authorized to protect this property, and we do it.”
“Whose authority?” Elliot inquired.
“Why, yours,” Welch answered. “You signed a contract agreeing to abide by our requirements, remember?”
“I never agreed to be pushed around like this.”
“I’m afraid that’s a matter of discretion. Mine at the moment. You’re free to file any suits you want with the arbiters — after you leave.”
The commandant nodded to the guard with the M-21, who lowered it from his shoulder, motioning Lorimer aside. “Statist swine!” she snapped.
It may have been at this moment that Elliot decided he was in love with this crazy female.
There was a rumbling murmur along the line behind her. Commandant Welch turned purple. “Wait!” he ordered Lorimer’s guard. He turned to Lorimer again, speaking loudly enough for half the line to hear also: “Young lady, if you were my daughter I’d put you over my knee right now and strap the daylights out of you. Unfortunately, you’re not, and I’m more concerned with making sure this evacuation proceeds with no further delay.” He turned to the guard. “Put them both in Five. I’ll reprogram when I get the chance.”
“I have property in the locker,” Elliot said.
“Get it and get out.”
Elliot retrieved his pistol, holster, and ammunition, again putting on his holster, then the guard with the M-21 personally escorted the couple down the corridor to the Terminal.
Inside, about thirty people were standing around, waiting. Luggage and apparel lay throughout the room, with the video wal lscreen adding meaningless noise to the already high decibel level. Bar was being tended; many had drinks in their hands.
The guard brought Elliot and Lorimer over to a young Chinese man standing near the bar. “She’s an extra,” the guard told him. “Transfer from Eight. Troublemakers, both of them.” The guard handed the Chinese man Lorimer’s automatic. “Hold on to this until the last possible minute.”
The Oriental nodded, and the guard left.
“My name’s Chin,” the man said in accentless English. “I’m your group conductor. What was the trouble, back there?”
“The commandant tried to split us up,” said Elliot. “The computer –”
“Enough,” Chin said with a sigh. He extended the pistol; Lorimer took it back. “I sometimes wonder how some of the Cadre ever became anarchists. They would make splendid bureaucrats.”
“Pardon me,” said Lorimer, “but am I going to be stuffed back into a trunk?”
“No, you’ll be traveling First Class this time,” Chin replied. “Have a drink and relax. We’ll be leaving in just a few minutes.” The group leader turned to the bartender — king size, black, mid-fiftyish — saying, “Jack would you set up my two friends here?” The bartender nodded. Chin excused himself, disappearing out to the corridor.
Elliot and Lorimer both decided on soft drinks and upon receiving them moved over to one side of the bar. “You know,” Elliot told Lorimer, almost shouting, “I can’t figure this out. These people act like they were at a cocktail party.”
She looked around and then nodded. “Spooky.”
“Not really,” a basso profondo voice answered, “once you understand the economics involved.”
The voice belonged to the bartender, who was meanwhile pouring vodka and orange juice into a plastic cup. Elliot looked at the man closely, noting that his left eye was glass. “Uh — economics is sort of a hobby of mine,” Elliot told him. “How’s that again?”
The bartender poured the remaining juice into the cup, holding up the used carton. “You wouldn’t get upset if you lost an empty container, would you? Same with this place. Within an hour there won’t be anything here worth capturing.” He crushed the carton, discarding it. “Squeezed dry.”
“But it’s not equivalent, is it?” asked Elliot. “This place must be worth a fortune.”
The bartender shook his head. “Built for under a quintal and was paid for within a year of completion. Rental space on the trading floor went for twelve grams per centare year — you savvy ‘centare’?”
“One square meter. But what’s a quintal?”
“Defined metrically as one hundred kilograms. As I was saying, Aurora Proper had eighty-five hundred rentable centares. Fully subscribed before a gram was spent. Operated thirty-three months after earning back her investment. Cleared about two-and-a-half times her original capital expenditure.” The bartender took a sip of his screwdriver and added, “The Cadre hotel operation was even more profitable.”
Lorimer asked, “What about all the stuff on sale downstairs?”
He shrugged. “Anything crucial is being evacuated. The rest — risk of loss calculated into operating overhead.”
“You seem to know a lot about all this,” said Elliot.
“I should. I built Aurora, and several of her sister undergrounds.” He wiped his right hand on a towel, extending the former. “Jack Guerdon, Guerdon Construction.”
Elliot took the hand, wide-eyed. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
Lorimer also shook hands, then asked, “Mr. Guerdon, how could so huge a complex — with hundreds of people coming and going — be kept secret for four years? Longer, if you count construction time.”
Guerdon grinned. “Well, I’m not about to reveal any trade secrets, but I can answer abstractly; countereconomic theory is freely available. To keep any secret, you divide it into data segments — perhaps ‘modules’ would be closer — and spread these modules among a few trusted persons — the fewer the better. An underground agora is a machine — a social structure — based on that principle. Access to the machine is freely available to many; knowledge of its location is its most closely guarded secret, in this operation known to almost no one except those directly involved in transporting goods and people — a few Cadre.”
“But what about your construction workers?” Elliot asked.
“They were recruited from construction sites all over the world, were transported here secretly, worked only inside, and never knew where they were. If you think security is tight now, you should have been here during construction; a mosquito couldn’t have gotten in or out.”
“But spies must get inside, no?”
“Probably dozens — maybe hundreds,” said Guerdon, “but what difference does it make? The Cadre make sure that anyone coming in isn’t being traced from the outside — and you can be certain that they are technologically quite sophisticated in their methods — then once inside, you play by the Cadre’s rules, which are set up to make sure nobody finds out anything they shouldn’t or interferes with operations. But it’s not a major problem; even the security guards don’t know all the gimmicks built into this place — much less visitors — and this puts any potential spy at a tremendous disadvantage. If he causes any trouble, where can he go? The Cadre are controlling access, and nobody leaves until they say it’s okay.”
“Pretty totalitarian,” Lorimer said.
“That’s precisely why nobody gets in here until they’ve signed a contract agreeing to security procedures; nobody is forced to come here, but if they do, it’s according to the Cadre’s rules. However, the Cadre are not free agents, either; they are even more restricted by contract than are the visitors: a visitor here can do anything except disrupt operations or violate security; the Cadre are not permitted to do anything except maintain those freedoms. It’s not just in theory, either; social structures created on paper are translated into balances of power in practice. The original agreements by which the agoras were set up dictated the forms used to enforce them.”
“But still,” said Elliot, “all this sounds tremendously expensive.”
“Expense is a relative term. The initial capitalization and overhead were high-priced — and so are they with any office building, for that matter — but it was cost-effective to the Cadre’s clients compared to the costs of doing business in the State-controlled economy.”
“Won’t the loss of Aurora hamper their business seriously?”
“For a little while. But things will be looking up in a few days.”
Chin reentered the Terminal at that moment, saying loudly, “Attention, please.”
There was no response.
Chin walked over to the wall screen, switching it off, then vaulted on top of the bar. “Quiet!”
The assorted conversations died out.
“Group Five departure time,” said Chin. “Show your boarding passes to the stewardess, please.”
One of the walls began to move.
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XIV.
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!
The Picturephone was ringing.
Elliot reached over to answer it, knocking over Illuminatus!, the book he had been reading the night before. About the fourth or fifth ring, he managed to find the answer button; Mr. Harper appeared on the screen. “Good morning, Joseph,” he said.
“Huh? Oh, right. G’morning.” Elliot picked his watch up from the night table. It was just after eight. “I thought our breakfast appointment wasn’t until nine thirty?”
“Change of plans,” Harper said seriously. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make our breakfast date. Something important’s come up.”
“I don’t know yet. But I’m afraid I’ll have to abandon you here awhile. I apologize but it can’t be helped.”
Elliot stifled a yawn. “Anything in particular I ought to know?”
“Check with the security desk sometime this afternoon. The commandant will tell you if I’ve left any messages for you.”
“Okay. And thanks a lot.”
Elliot successfully remained awake by swinging his legs off the bed as soon as the screen cleared. He sat motionless for a full minute, then found enough energy to walk into the bathroom. Somewhat more awake after splashing water on his face, Elliot got back into his still slightly damp clothes. It was then he realized that he had forgotten to ask Harper whether he could afford to buy breakfast.
Though crowded, the commissary did not present any particular problems. Elliot selected grapefruit juice, pancakes, eggs, bacon, and coffee, handing his photo badge to the bursar, who said, “That comes to seventeen cents four mils,” and charged the breakfast without further comment.
After carrying his tray to a small table on the far side, Elliot took his juice and resumed reading the library book.
Two eggs, a pancake, and a chapter later, a pleasant voice interrupted him: “Can I join you?”
Elliot looked up to find his mermaid of the pool, now clothed in a summery dress he found even more enticing than nudity. The same glance noted peripherally that his table was not the only one still partly unoccupied. “Go right ahead,” he said, then, summoning every last watt of willpower, he turned back to the book.
His intentions were shattered about a minute later when he risked peering over the book and caught both her eyes again. “Any good?” she asked.
“I haven’t gotten very far yet. I seem to be having trouble concentrating lately.”
“Not from this side.
Elliot tucked the jacket in as a place mark and closed the book.
“Honestly,” he said. “I didn’t intend spying on you last night.”
“Forget it,” she replied. “An acute case of culture shock. We’re both victims of it, you know.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Elliot. “What are you talking about?”
“Each of us thought the other was representative of the culture here, when actually both of us arrived yesterday for the first time.”
Elliot went on guard. “How do you know that?”
“Because both of us reacted defensively to a situation that anyone who’d been her even one extra day would’ve accepted as normal.”
Elliot bit into a strip of bacon, then, chewing, said, “If you got here yesterday, how do you know what’s normal?”
“Because after I left you at the pool I walked back to the sauna and found an orgy in progress . . . What’s the matter?”
Elliot reached for his coffee, a few sips managing to stop the chokes caused by remembering what Mr. Harper had told him about the sauna last night. “A piece of bacon went down the wrong pipe,” he lied.
“So anyway,” she continued, “if that sort of thing goes on, no one who’s been here any time at all is going to get upset over a little midnight skinny-dipping. Are you just going to leave that other bacon strip?”
The price of the lie, he thought. “Help yourself.” She took it. “By the way, I’m Joseph Rabinowitz.”
She looked Elliot over carefully. “Highly unlikely.”
“All right, I’m not Joseph Rabinowitz. Who aren’t you?”
She lit a cigarette, nervously. “I’m not Lorimer.”
“How do you do,” said Elliot. “Is that not your Christian name, or not your surname?”
“Neither. Or both.”
Elliot wiped his mouth. “Lor, have you done any exploring around this place?”
“Nothing above the fourth floor, the health spa — Joe.”
“Same here. How about us seeing what we can stick our noses into before somebody tells us to stop?”
As soon as Elliot had finished breakfast, he dropped his book back at the library, and the two strolled to the elevator, encountering buttons for half a dozen upper floors they had not seen. “Your badge or mine?” Elliot asked.
“Try yours first. If it doesn’t work, try mine.”
Elliot inserted his photo badge into the control panel, pushing five. The elevator doors closed, then, without its having moved, they immediately opened again. He repeated the procedure with the sixth through tenth floors, getting the same result. He was about to try the entire sequence again with Lorimer’s badge, when the elevator doors closed of their own accord, the elevator descending.
“I think somebody is about to tell us to stop,” he said. Lorimer nodded.
A few moments later the doors opened to reveal a muscular security guard, Cadre uniformed, pointing a Taser at them. Elliot smiled weakly. “Uh — hello, there,” he said. Lorimer smiled, too.
The guard did not smile. “Just what are you two up to?” he asked sternly, motioning them out of the elevator.
“Just exploring,” said Elliot.
Lorimer started fluttering her lashes, doing an adequate impression of Scarlett O’Hara. “Honestly,” she said. Her accent had moved south.
The guard was not seduced; he must have been made of stone. “I think I just caught a couple of statist spies.”
“Do we look like spies?” Lorimer asked. Her accent moved still farther south — any farther and she would have been speaking Spanish.
The guard gave her a look suggesting that she, in any event, would pass the physical.
“What makes you think we’re spies?” Elliot asked.
“Why were you trying to get up to the maximum security floors? If you wanted to explore, why didn’t you look through the trading floor?”
“Maximum security floors?” said Elliot. “Trading floor?”
The guard looked them over, and saw they were genuinely confused. He motioned with the Taser. “Come on.”
He led Elliot and Lorimer to the security alcove, and told the commandant — a different one from the previous night, “Two for Aurora Proper.”
The commandant then asked them, “Anything you want from the lockers?”
“I have a pistol,” said Elliot. “Do you think I need it?”
“I couldn’t say,” he replied. “Cadre are not allowed on the trading floor.”
“Why not?” Lorimer asked.
“Privacy,” the commandant explained. “The allied businesses in Aurora have delegated to the Cadre the right to monitor incoming and outgoing goods and communications, to ensure that the location is kept secret. To make sure that the Cadre can’t try to use this authority against them, they forbid us to enter into their domain and maintain their own security force to keep us out. Their guards are armed; except during emergencies we are not allowed to be.”
“Well,” said Elliot, “if I’m allowed to, I guess I will take my revolver.”
“Right. Surrender your badges, please.”
Taking their badges and feeding them into a collection slot, the commandant then got Elliot his revolver. After Elliot had put on his holster, the guard led the couple down the same corridor through which they had entered the Cadre complex initially, retracing the 45-degree bend around which was the steel door defended by still another guard. The door was opened for them, and they were instructed to walk to the Terminal corridor’s end and wait at the large portal opposite the Terminal. They did — Elliot meanwhile noting the Terminal door locked — and a few minutes later the portal slid open.
They were facing a freight elevator.
After they had got on, the door automatically slid shut, the elevator creeping down. When the door opened again, they were looking down the main promenade of what looked to be a small village.
Elliot and Lorimer faced a carpeted mall — daylight simulated by sunlight fluorescent panels in a low acoustic ceiling — twenty-feet wide and stretching ahead over twice the length of a football field. On each side of the promenade was an array of storefronts and offices the likes of which Elliot had never seen, and shopping in the mall were over a hundred persons obviously of widely varying nationality, creed, and custom.
“This is clearly impossible,” said Elliot. Lorimer did not disagree.
They began down the promenade, on the left passing the Black Supermarket (it looked like a supermarket); next to it, offices of the First Anarchist Bank and Trust Company — AnarchoBank for short; farther down, NoState Insurance; and beyond that, a post office: The American Letter Mail Company, Lysander Spooner, founder.
On the opposite side of the promenade were The Contraband Exchange (jewelry, novelties, duty-free merchandise), Identities by Charles (makeup and disguises), and a restaurant, The TANSTAAFL Café. There were several dozen more shops and offices that looked even more intriguing.
“Well, what do you think?”
Lorimer paused a moment before answering. “I think it might be easier to hide the Lincoln Memorial.”
“We might be under it.”
They walked farther, passing The Gun Nut and an office for Guerdon Construction, coming to a door marked “The G. Gerald Rhoames Border Guard and Ketchup Company.” Elliot and Lorimer took one look at it — then at each other — and decided to go in.
A bell of the door tinkled as they entered; the shop was old-fashioned, almost Dickensian in style, with a small, well- dressed man seated behind a glass counter. He stood as they came in. “Yes?”
He bowed slightly.
“We were wondering what you sell here,” Lorimer asked.
“My sign does not convince you?” He spoke with a British accent contaminated by overexposure to Americans.
“Surely not. Gentlemen should deal neither in frontier guards nor ketchup. I am a cannabist.”
“You eat human flesh?”
“Good heavens, no, dear lady. I am a cannabist, not a cannibal. A cannabist deals in Cannabis sativa, the most select parts from the female hemp plant. I am a seller of the finest hybrids from Colombia, Acapulco, Bangladesh.”
“Wholesale or retail?” Elliot asked.
“Both,” said Mr. Rhoames, “though naturally my store here is quite limited. Over three kilograms entails outside delivery.”
“What would an ounce of Acapulco go for?”
“Very well, then. Thirty-three.”
Elliot pulled out his wallet, extending a blue. “Do you have change of a hundred?”
Mr. Rhoames looked at it with disdain. “Surely you do not think I was pricing in fiat? The price is thirty-three cents aurum.”
“Well, how much is that in dollars?”
Mr. Rhoames shrugged. “I’m not a clerk.” He pronounced the word clark. “I suggest you utilize a bank here and exchange them.”
“Thanks,” said Elliot. “Come on, Lor.” They started to the door.
“I say — on the subject of dollars . . .”
They turned back to him.
He reached behind the counter, his hand returning with a small box. Inside were five manufactured cigarettes with gold dollar signs engraved on the paper. “A house blend, grown hydroponically in my own tanks.”
“I’m sure they’re excellent, but I can’t do anything until I get my currency exchanged.”
“No, no, no,” said Mr. Rhoames. “On the house.”
“Why, thank you,” said Lorimer. “That’s very kind.”
“Nothing at all. Come back anytime.”
When they were fully out the door, Lorimer turned to Elliot and just said, “Well.”
“I’ll reserve my opinion until I see how these others are,” Elliot replied.
A two-minute walk returned them to the AnarchoBank, inside three tellers’ windows with a half-dozen customers in line, and a sign on the wall: “Offices in AURORA, AUTONOMY, AUCTION, AURIGA, AUDACITY, AUBERGE, AUSTRIAN SCHOOL, AUNTIE, and AUM.”
Elliot and Lorimer bypassed the line, instead walking over to a good-looking black woman behind a desk marked “New Accounts.” “Excuse me, but who do I see to exchange New Dollars?”
“Do you have an account with us?” she asked pleasantly; Elliot shook his head. “Then I’ll take care of it. Won’t you sit down?” After Elliot and Lorimer had been seated, she asked, “How much would you like exchanged?” Elliot took out his remaining currency, counting out twenty-seven hundred in blues. “You’d like gold or eurofrancs?”
“Uh — gold, I guess.”
She made use of a desktop computer console, then said, “We’ll have to buy your New Dollars at what we estimate is Monday’s rate.” She explained, “That’s the earliest we can sell it. And at 28.165 New Dollars per milligram gold, we can offer you ninety-six mils.”
“How much will that buy around here?”
“Not very much. A carton of cigarettes at Black Supermarket or a light lunch at TANSTAAFL Café. As a reference point, a dime vendy trades at par with four mils, a quarter vendy at ten mils — that is, one cent.”
Elliot thought a moment, then said, “My money will buy me two dozen phone calls?”
“If there were pay phones in Aurora — which there aren’t — yes.”
“In that case,” said Elliot, “I’m interested in another transaction.”
Concealing his motions from both the woman and Lorimer, he unzipped his belt slightly and pulled out a 50-peso piece. He placed it on the desk.
“For eurofrancs,” said Elliot.
Ten minutes later, Elliot had exchanged his blues for a handful of vendies and had been given 405 eurofrancs for his gold piece — ten eurofrancs per gram gold and an 8 percent premium for the coin. The New Accounts officer also showed them AnarchoBank gold coins of various weights, including a one-gram wafer so thin it was sealed into plastic.
“Listen,” said Elliot, after he had been given a thorough sales pitch for minimum-balance checking accounts, interest-bearing time deposits, and a small pamphlet called “The Wonderful World of 100% Gold Reserve Banking.” “I don’t mean this to sound nasty — honestly — but how can I be sure this isn’t a fly-by-night outfit?”
“That’s a fair question,” she replied, though I’m afraid the best way we can prove ourselves to you requires that you simply do business with us long enough to be assured of our honesty. Short of that, you can receive a copy of the auditor’s report from the Independent Arbitration Group, or check with any of our overseas correspondent banks. AnarchoBank is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Union Commerce Bank in Zurich, and does business through it with aboveground banks throughout the world.”
Elliot and Lorimer got up. “Well, thank you,” said Elliot.
The New Accounts officer extended another pamphlet to him. “Your application for a Bank AnarchoCard,” she said.
For the next hour, Elliot and Lorimer window-shopped, looking at duty-free Swiss watches in the Contraband Exchange, picking up a prospectus for Project Harriman, a countereconomic lunar mining venture, and scrutinizing the wide range of illegal chemicals on sale in Jameson Pharmaceuticals, displayed as in the patent-medicine counters of a discount drugstore. A sign on the wall announced: “NO PRESCRIPTIONS REQUIRED ON ANY PURCHASE — Consult Your Physician for Indications.” And past rows of morphine, paregoric, methadone, and heroin was another smaller sign on the wall, but reproduced on each package: “WARNING: Narcotics Use is Habit-Forming.”
Another counter displayed LSD 25 . . . THC . . . Mescaline . . . cocaine . . . Sweet & Low . . .
In Nalevo Personnel Lorimer was told by a placement manager that they could guarantee her employment at twenty grams gold a week in one of the finer bordellos.
The Black Supermarket impressed them not for what it had — aside from tax-free liquor and cigarettes its merchandise was the kind any supermarket would sell — but for what it did not have: no shortages, no rationing, no listings of “lawful” ceiling prices. Elliot felt a momentary twinge when he saw a shelf stocked with Spam; he had pushed his family to the back of his mind and felt guilty for enjoying himself.
It became evident that the trading floor was primarily a convenience for wholesale countereconomic traders, who shook hands on huge deals here, and made their deliveries outside. It was only slightly unusual to see a person walking around with face masked, though Elliot suspected that most of the people shopping on this floor were “expendable” agents of the actual buyers, whose faces would never risk being seen.
After a five-minute wait for a table, Elliot and Lorimer were seated in the TANSTAAFL Café, a sign on the wall translating the word as There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, and rightly crediting the acronym to E. “Doc” Pournelle. The special luncheon for Saturday offered split-pea soup, sandwich, french fries, and beverage, all for seven cents. After brief discussion, Elliot ordered it for both of them.
While waiting for the food, they paid a visit to the restaurant’s old Wurlitzer jukebox, finding it stocked only with classical music. Elliot inserted a quarter vendy and pushed I-23; the machine responded by playing the Heifetz recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.
Elliot and Lorimer spent another ninety minutes drifting around the floor — talking with document forgers, electronics technicians, and arbitration agents — and visiting, at Elliot’s urging, The Gun Nut. On display was a weapon fancier’s dream, everything from pistols, bazookas, and M-21 automatic machine pistols, to grenade launchers, subsonic generators, and lasers. Its real attraction for Elliot was a fifty-foot-deep shooting range behind a soundproof glass panel. After donning ear protectors, Elliot fast-drew into a Weaver stance at a paper target in the shape of an armed assailant. Afterward, he brought his target up to the front counter.
“The proprietor said, “That’ll be ten cents. How’d you do?”
Elliot showed the man his target. He had shot a number of bull’s-eyes, fewer holes farther out, none out of killing range.
The proprietor nodded respectfully.
“Lor,” said Elliot as they exited to the promenade, “after this place I’d believe you if you told me someone was here hawking nukes.”
The display mock-up had a sign underneath labeling it: “100 KILOTON ATOMIC FISSION DEVICE.”
The salesman in Lowell-Pierre Engineering was telling them, “. . . but of course much smaller than the megaton capabilities of the hydrogen fusion devices.”
“You provide the plutonium?” Elliot asked him.
“No, of course not,” said the salesman. “You’d have to find your own source. But even if you did, you’d have to accept one of our supervisors to ensure that the device would be used only for excavation or drilling, before we would sell you one. We don’t hand over nuclear weapons to fools who want to blow up the world.”
“But you’ve sold these things?” asked Lorimer. “Really?”
“Of course,” said the salesman. “Do you think we’re in business for our health.”"
The freight elevator arrived for them without being summoned; Lorimer conjectured that they were being monitored from a remote security location. After returning to the Terminal floor, they again approached the steel door protecting the Cadre complex; it also opened, the same guard who had let them out pointing a Taser at them. “Password,” he said.
“‘A is A,’” Elliot replied.
“That’s yesterday’s password.”
“But I wasn’t given a new one.”
“Give me the password, or you don’t get in.”
Elliot looked helplessly to Lorimer, who paused for a moment, then replied, “‘Swordfish’?”
“Go on through,” the guard said.
Elliot glanced at her suspiciously. “The commandant gave it to you while I was getting my gun, right?”
“Horsefeathers,” she declared.
After each had registered, Elliot checked with the security desk as Harper had told him. There was no message, and Elliot began wondering why he had been brought to Aurora, whether the Cadre were doing anything to help him, and where the hell Mr. Harper was anyway. As they walked to the elevator, Elliot told Lorimer that he was still free. “What about you?”
“I don’t have anything until an appointment on Monday.”
“Well, how about a swim?”
“I don’t have a suit,” said Elliot.
“Neither do I,” said Lorimer unblushingly.
Elliot did blush.
“Or,” she continued, “we can try out some of that grass.”
“Uh — I’d better keep my head clear for a while.”
“Oh. Okay. Why don’t we go back to your room and fuck?”
They entered the elevator, Elliot unclipping his badge and inserting it into the control panel. He studied Lorimer’s expression, then punched for the third floor. “Am I really that dense?” he asked.
They were resting naked in each other’s arms when the alarm was sounded.
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XIII.
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!
“Wait a second, wait a second,” Elliot said as soon as his mouth was unplugged. “Not you, too?”
“Eh?” said Mr. Harper.
There was a somewhat elderly man with him — heavy-set, wearing a rumpled gray suit — but he did not say anything.
“Isn’t there anyone I know who isn’t mixed up in this conspiracy?”
“The boy seems to be fine,” the elder man said. “I’ll see you later, Ben. Laissez-faire.”
“One moment, Doctor. I’m not certain he did not receive a concussion. He seems confused.” Mr. Harper turned back to Elliot. “Now, what’s this about a conspiracy?”
“The Cadre, I mean,” answered Elliot. “It just seems that everyone I know or meet is mixed up with it in some way.” He paused. “Now that I think about it, Al and the tzigane are probably members, too.”
“Slow down,” said Mr. Harper, releasing Elliot from the harness. “I don’t know who you’re talking about, but if they’re Cadre allies, I don’t want to know.”
The two men helped Elliot out of the trunk. He stood dizzily for a moment, then examined his surroundings. He was not sure what he had expected — perhaps a rat-invested warehouse or a dimly lit cellar — but this was certainly not it. Instead, he found himself in a larger-than-living-room-sized hall that looked like a cross between an airport VIP lounge and a hospital emergency room.
On the wall behind the trunk hung a white first-aid cabinet with a red cross painted on, near it a green oxygen tank with face mask, an examining table, a stand with an empty hook — used to hold blood — and emergency heart resuscitation equipment. Against the opposite wall were a liquor bar, tables and comfortable chairs, and facing the bar a video wall screen. Though the room was carpeted, a Plexiglas runway was overlaid between the trunk and the room’s only door. There were no windows.
The room’s only decoration was a modified Gadsden flag draped on the wall adjoining the bar and medical areas (opposite the door), a golden field with “LAISSEZ-FAIRE!” in an upper left corner, a coiled rattlesnake facing left with its tongue out, and in the lower right, “DONT TREAD ON ME!”
Elliot decided this hall was quite used to receiving visitors.
The doctor told Elliot to get onto the examining table and there examined him for concussion — testing his pupillary responses, checking his reflexes, asking Elliot if he had a stiff neck; Elliot answered that his neck was fine.
Then he told Elliot, “Open your coat, jacket, and shirt.” Elliot did, pushing his holstered gun over to the side, and the doctor listened to his heart, removing the stethoscope to tell him, “You’ll live to be much older than me.” He turned back to Harper. “And now, Ben, I’ll leave this youngster in your capable hands.”
With a “Good night, all,” he left.
“Seems in a hurry,” Elliot said as soon as the door closed.
“Dr. Taylor is probably anxious to return to his poker game,” Harper replied.
Elliot buttoned up his shirt. “Sorry to take him away from it.”
“You did him a favor. He was losing.”
After jumping off the table, Elliot asked, “Mr. Harper, what are you doing here?”
Harper guided Elliot over to the bar. “Forget that name. Around here I’m Ben Goldman. Call me Ben.”
“All right . . . Ben. But what –”
“And it would be a good idea,” Harper interrupted, “for you to use another name around here. Vreeland is far too sensitive at the moment.” Harper went behind the bar. “I’m drinking Jack Daniels on ice. What will you have?”
“You’re offering a student a drink?”
“Why not? Are you an alcoholic? Or a teetotaler?”
Elliot shook his head, sitting at the bar. “I just can’t imagine what Dr. Fischer would say. Jack Daniels will be fine — water, please.”
“You’re giving Dr. Fischer less credit than she deserves. She’s highly intelligent.” Harper handed Elliot his drink. “Skoal.”
For the next forty-five minutes, “Ben Goldman” gave Elliot a basic rundown of what was expected of him if he were to receive aid from the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre. “This room is Aurora Terminal,” Harper explained, “and is the only part of Aurora that anyone but an ally pledged to keep our secrets is permitted to see. The Cadre’s goal — a laissez-faire society — precludes our use of what would be traditional revolutionary tactics; we are forced to rely mainly on stealth. And, as such, the main precondition for anyone to deal with us is a good deal of discretion. You must refrain from learning more about Cadre business than the part that directly concerns you, and never discuss Cadre business with anyone but another ally. The rest will follow easily enough if you keep just one rule: mind your own business.”
“I get you.”
“Fine. Now finish your drink and you’ll get the Grand Tour.”
Past the Terminal door was a long corridor, fluorescently lit, with a large sliding portal opposite the Terminal and a single door at the corridor’s far end; Mr. Harper led Elliot to the latter. The door was constructed of steel — without any visible doorknobs, hinges, or buzzer — however, Elliot noticed a small mirror above the door, correctly deducing that it concealed a video camera.
When the door slid open, Elliot found himself facing a burly-looking man pointing a weapon he recognized as a Taser, a nonlethal electrical-dart paralyzer. The guard wore black turtleneck sweater and black slacks, a photo-identification badge with his picture on it but no name or other markings, and a red “SECURITY” brassard on his arm. Nonregulation hair and beard.
“Identity,” said the guard, pointing the Taser directly at Harper.
“‘A is A,’” Mr. Harper replied, obviously bored with the procedure.
The guard lowered the weapon. “Go on through.”
They turned a 45-degree right bend in the corridor, ending up at an alcove with a security commandant behind a desk that housed another Taser. Both men were uniformed like the first guard — though the commandant’s arm brassard identified him as such — with photo badges clipped to their turtlenecks. The alcove also housed folding chairs, a row of lockers, and several machines Elliot recognized from preflight security checks; he spotted a metal detector and a fluoroscope.
“Still clean,” the commandant said. The guard with the Taser nodded.
Mr. Harper and Elliot passed through the metal detector, then were fluoroscoped. Harper was passed without comment, but Elliot was asked to surrender his pistol and ammunition case. The guard placed them in a locker, handing Elliot the key. The nature of Elliot’s belt was also discovered; the commandant asked what was inside. Elliot hesitated momentarily, then answered honestly, “Gold coins.”
“Will you give us permission to inspect?”
“Do you have to?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Commandant Welch can’t pass you otherwise,” Harper explained.
Elliot agreed reluctantly, opening the belt, then watching the inspection closely. Inasmuch as the belt turned out not to be concealing any weapons, cameras, recorders, transmitters, or radioactive materials, it was immediately returned intact.
“You’re cleared,” the commandant said. “Proceed to registration.”
Elliot picked up his jacket and overcoat, then followed Harper farther down the corridor. “Do you have to go through this every time you come in?” he asked.
Harper nodded. “Even if it’s only walking down to Aurora Terminal.”
“Poor Dr. Taylor.”
“Registration” turned out to be a small office not far from the security alcove, empty but for five cubicles that looked like voting booths except for a chair inside; curtains on each booth could be drawn across to assure privacy. Inside each cubicle was a computer station. There were no computers present, of course; Elliot knew enough not even to wonder where they might be.
Each station had a video display, a modified typing keyboard, an instant-photo camera aimed at the chair, a facsimile printout unit, an optical scanner, and a light pen; the cubicle also housed a dispenser for the photo badges.
While Elliot watched, Harper went into a cubicle an without sitting down or drawing the curtain immediately typed in a bypass program. After placing his palm on the optical scanner, he was automatically reissued his photo badge.
Harper told Elliot that he would meet him when he was finished, then left, clipping the badge to his jacket.
Elliot sat in the cubicle, the video display activating as he sat down.
LAISSEZ-FAIRE, NEW ALLY. WELCOME TO AURORA. WE HOPE YOUR STAY WITH US IS PLEASANT AND PROFITABLE.
THE ELECTRONIC DOCUMENT RESULTING FROM THIS INTERVIEW WILL CONSTITUTE YOUR BASIC CONTRACT WITH THE REVOLUTIONARY AGORIST CADRE AND WILL BE FULLY ENFORCEABLE AFTER ARBITRATION AS PER MUTUAL SUBMISSION AGREEMENTS.
PLEASE ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS FULLY AND HONESTLY, IN THE UNDERSTANDING AND BONDED ASSURANCE THAT ALL INFORMATION YOU GIVE WILL REMAIN FULLY CONFIDENTIAL AND IS PROTECTED AGAINST ACCESS FROM ANY NONAUTHORIZED SOURCE.
The computer display proceeded to give Elliot instructions on how to use the keyboard, scanner, and light pen to supply answers, to correct errors, and to ask questions relating to the contract or further instructions.
About an hour later, Elliot was certain that the computer now knew more about him than he did, and using the light pen on the optical scanner, he had signed a contract with it. The computer asked Elliot if he wanted a hard copy of his contract, to be issued to him at his own risk; Elliot decided that he did want one and in about a minute one slid out of the facsimile printer.
Elliot’s contract did not discuss what services Elliot was to receive from the Cadre; it was concerned with procedural matters, Cadre security requirements, and limits on liabilities relating to damages Elliot might do the Cadre and vice versa. In essence, Elliot had agreed to “rules of the establishment” and granted them the right to lock him up for certain specified periods (never over six months) to give them time to reroute should he endanger any Cadre secrets. In return, the Cadre were betting him that he had a fat chance of ever getting his hands on such information in the first place; if he had learned the information unintentionally, they agreed to pay him for the time.
After the contract signing, Elliot’s palm print was recorded, his picture taken, and both were duplicated onto the photo-identification badge he was issued, the palm print as significant data on a magnetic strip embedded inside the card. Then certain signals were recorded by which Elliot could identify himself to the Cadre and other allies from remote locations; he chose QUEEN TAKES PAWN, MATE and DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING FOR CLOGGED SINUSES?
Finally, he clipped the badge to his jacket and emerged from registration. Mr. Harper was chatting with the two security men in the security alcove when Elliot came out; since Elliot had last seen him, Harper had changed into more casual attire, and his hair was damp. “Ah, there you are.”
“Have I kept you waiting?”
“Not a bit. I was just up to the sauna awhile. Cleansed out the poisons of modern living.
“There’s a sauna here?”
“On the fourth floor,” said Harper. “Also a steam bath — though I find them uncomfortable — a sun room, swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, and gymnasium.”
“Well. A regular YMCA.”
Harper smiled as if Elliot’s remark had sparked a hilarious memory. “You look tired,” he said. “Come on, I’ll show you to your room.”
They walked past more offices, soon reaching an elevator; the control panel showed ten floors. Harper told Elliot to observe as he unclipped his photo badge, inserting it into a slot on the control panel; Harper then pressed three.
After the doors closed, Elliot asked him, “When will I be meeting Merce Rampart?”
Harper looked at Elliot quizzically. “You won’t.”
Elliot started to protest, then changed his mind.
“Any other hoops I have to jump through?” he asked.
“Just enjoy yourself and keep out of mischief. You’ll find this complex well designed to both ends.”
After the elevator doors opened, Harper reclaimed his badge, leading Elliot down a hall to a door marked “316.” He explained that his door had been preset for Elliot’s photo badge only. Harper demonstrated by inserting his own photo badge into the door’s slot; the doorknob was frozen. Elliot inserted his badge, and the knob turned easily. “Very clever,” Elliot said, pushing open the door.
The room looked like any commercial lodging: double bed, dresser, desk, Picturephone, video wall screen, and full bath. Its only unusual features, so far as Elliot could see, were its lack of windows and the addition of a stripped-down computer station otherwise identical to the ones in registration. Mr. Harper explained that the station could provide everything from a commodities report to Aurora’s commissary menu, and would be activated by the insertion of a badge. Elliot would be charged for any computer time, of course.
“You mentioned something about a Grand Tour?” Elliot asked.
Harper smiled. “Oh, that was just my little joke. In any proper utopia you’re always given the Grand Tour. You know: ‘Here is the food-production facility. It produces three times the food of the old, reactionary system, with just one third the effort!”
“I take it this isn’t a proper utopia?”
“I’m afraid not. You’ll have to muddle along on your own. But it’s close to midnight. Aren’t you tired?”
Elliot shook his head. “I’ve been pretty keyed up lately.”
“Well, I am,” said Harper. “Suppose we get together for breakfast. Say nine thirty?”
“Good. If you need me, the commandant will know where to find Ben Goldman.” He paused a moment. “By the way, what alias have you chosen?”
“Joseph Rabinowitz,” Elliot answered puckishly.
Harper was amused. “In that case,” he said, leaving, “shalom.”
After Harper had gone, Elliot waited a few moments, then tried his door from the inside. It opened. Well, he thought, for the time being I’m a guest, not a prisoner. He decided to find out how far that went, punching Operator on his Picturephone and asking for an outside line.
The commandant informed him that he was not cleared for outside communication.
Well, mostly a guest.
Elliot decided to take the Grand Tour on his own, starting at the bottom and working his way up.
As Grand Tours went, this one began slowly . . .
The second floor had the elevator at one end, the commissary at the other, and a number of function rooms in between on each side.
The commissary was a combination cafeteria-bar with about a dozen middle-aged man and women eating, drinking, and socializing, with empty tables for another hundred or so. At one end of the commissary was a selection of food and a bursar (not a cashier; payment was by photo-badge credit), with pricing in terms he did not recognize. This caused Elliot to wonder how much of a bill his visit to Aurora was already running up; the place had the look of an expensive private club, and the high security no doubt shot up costs even further. He also speculated that the main reason Mr. Gross had not accompanied him was that Aurora was too expensive to visit except on major business.
The recreation rooms were slightly more lively, though Elliot’s first impression was that the inhabitants of Aurora looked more like a Chamber of Commerce convention — well, maybe Jaycees — than a revolutionary cabal.
In Recreation Room One were several table-tennis matches in progress, a number of bystanders watching and waiting to play off the winners. Also in use here were pool and billiard tables, a dart game, and several electronic playmates.
Elliot spotted Dr. Taylor and his poker game in Two, a room devoted to gambling — betting also on the roulette wheel, blackjack, one-arm bandits, and even contract bridge.
Recreation Room Four was simulation gaming, everything from simple games such as Diplomacy and Stratego, to full-scale interstellar war-gaming and Dungeons and Dragons, requiring much computer time. In one corner, a couple had the audacity to play checkers.
Several rows of slightly younger Aurorans were watching a videodisc on a communal wall screen; the film they were watching was Fahrenheit 451, a scene showing the old librarian and her books being consumed by flames . . .
Aurora’s library had a fair collection of books, videodiscs, and holosonic music cassettes. Book titles included Human Action by Ludwig von Mises, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, CounterEconomics by Samuel Edward Konkin III, The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith, Power and Market by Murray N. Rothbard, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne, Kings of The High Frontier by Victor Koman, and Wiemar, 1923 by Martin Vreeland. Videodiscs ran the gamut from Horsefeathers, Bananas, and The Great Dictator, to Animal Farm, The Prisoner, and The Rainbow Cadenza.
Musical recordings followed no detectable pattern.
A poetry reading was in session in Recreation Room Three, a lounge. A man in his late forties — brown-haired, mustached, with a golden “Sons of Liberty” medallion around his neck — was sitting on the carpet with half a dozen lovely young women in a circle around him. “It was twenty-five years ago,” the poet said, “when this was a fantasy. Nobody really believed it would happen. But I knew.”
He closed his eyes and recited from memory:
By fearful flight
In garish gray
Will dawn alight
And not decay
The fourth floor seemed deserted. Elliot found no one in the gymnasium, sun room, or Jacuzzi whirlpool, and was about to leave when he stepped for a second into the swimming pool area and saw a woman swimming underwater.
She was slender and lithe, long black hair flowing behind her, and was nude.
Elliot decided that this called for some of the discretion Mr. Harper had mentioned, but he could not take his eyes from her, then it was too late. She broke water and spotted him.
Looking at her as she stood still — arms akimbo, bare breasts above water level — Elliot could see that she was much closer to his own age then he at first had thought, though her development could have indicated elsewise a woman in her twenties. She was the only person of his age he had seen in the complex. They stared at each other for several heartbeats, then she spoke.
“You’re staring at me,” she said. She spoke with a mildly Southern accent.
Elliot blushed. “Uh — sorry. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be up here.”
She did not make any attempt to move or otherwise to conceal herself. “Nobody’s stopping you from swimming,” she said. “It’s just that it’s rude to stare.”
“You caught me by surprise. But I’d better leave if I’m making you uncomfortable.” Elliot turned to go.
“No, don’t –”
Elliot turned back, his pulse skipping a beat.
“I was finished anyway. The pool’s all yours.”
She climbed out of the water, grabbed a towel from a deck chair, and without draping it over herself calmly walked through a door into what Elliot presumed was a locker room.
Elliot considered stripping down for a swim himself, war-gamed the idea of waiting for her to try apologizing again, then decided against both. Instead, taking the elevator back down to the second floor, he picked a book almost entirely at random out of the library’s science-fiction section and returned to his room. After washing out his clothes, hanging them in the bathroom to dry, he began reading in bed.
Somehow, he had trouble keeping his mind on the book.
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XII.
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!
A sleeper met in his dreams the Prince of Darkness, finding him to be erect of figure and fair in countenance. He addressed him, “O handsome Prince! Men know nothing of your beauty, but always depict you as fearful-looking and hideous!” Lucifer smiled, replying, “Those figures have been drawn by my enemies, who blame me for their eviction from Paradise. It is in malice that they portray me so.” – SHEIKH MUSHARIFF-UD-DIN SA’DI, 1184-1291
Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter IX
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
(best known as Sa’di of Shiraz),
translated from Bustan (“Garden”)
A sleeper met in his dreams the Prince of Darkness, finding him to be erect of figure and fair in countenance. He addressed him, “O handsome Prince! Men know nothing of your beauty, but always depict you as fearful-looking and hideous!”
Lucifer smiled, replying, “Those figures have been drawn by my enemies, who blame me for their eviction from Paradise. It is in malice that they portray me so.”
– SHEIKH MUSHARIFF-UD-DIN SA’DI, 1184-1291
Mr. Gross gestured to the document he had just placed on the coffee table, extending Elliot a pen. Phillip was in the kitchen preparing dinner.
“I knew there was a catch somewhere,” Elliot said. “What is it?”
“A skeptic, eh?” replied Mr. Gross. “Well, I can’t say I blame you. Read it for yourself, then, if you have any more questions, I’ll answer them if I can.”
Elliot picked up the paper and began reading it aloud:
“GENERAL SUBMISSION TO ARBITRATION
“Agreement, among the undersigned Submittor, the Independent Arbitration Group [there was an address], hereafter IAG, and all other persons who have made or may make General Submissions to Arbitration . . .
“In consideration of the mutual promises herein . . . and other good and valuable consideration, the Submittor agrees that any disputes arising, or which have arisen, between Submittor and any other person(s) who has made or makes a General Submission to Arbitration shall be arbitrated by IAG under its Rules then in effect. Submittor acknowledges receipt of a copy of the Rules.”
“Which I just happen to have a spare copy of,” said Mr. Gross, handing Elliot a booklet.
“Mmmmm,” Elliot acknowledged. He then skimmed over a technical passage about filings, notices, and such, then concluded:
“Arbitration shall enforce the law of the contract to effectuate its purposes, and shall decide the issues by the application of reason to the facts under the guidance of the Law of Equal Liberty (each has the right to do with his/her own what he/she wishes so long as he/she does not forcibly interfere with the equal right of another).”
“Okay I get the point,” said Elliot. “But what does this have to do with me?”
“Everything,” Mr. Gross said. “Every single person who works with — or does business with — the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre has signed just such an agreement as this, either with this group or another with which they have swapped reciprocal jurisdiction. The Cadre will not do business with — will not even talk to — anyone who has not signed a Submission to Arbitrate.”
“A number of reasons,” Mr. Gross said. “Being an underground organization, the Cadre cannot sue in a government court if someone breaks a contract or otherwise damages them. Also, the Cadre do not care to use gangster tactics to enforce their contracts. Broken arms, setting fires, murder — this is all that’s left when one is deprived of a peaceful method of settling disputes. And such methods are — in any case — against agoric principles. The Cadre cannot set up their own court — dragging people into it the way the government does — because such a court would be — and would be called — a kangaroo court. It would not have the mystique of having a State behind it, and nobody would respect its decisions.”
“Wait a second, wait a second,” Elliot interrupted. “You’re telling me that this Independent Arbitration Group, that they’re not part of the Cadre?”
“Of course not. How could they be? It’s a perfectly legitimate arbitration organization. Check with the Better Business Bureau, if you don’t believe me.”
“Then how can a ‘perfectly legitimate’ organization have an illegal organization as a client?”
“It would be easy enough for the Cadre to get around this by simply having board members file Submissions in their own names — leaving the Cadre as an organization out of such matters — but, as it happens, the government wants the Cadre to have a Submission on file.”
“Muhammad hasn’t come to the Mountain,” continued Mr. Gross, “so occasionally the Mountain goes to Muhammad — meaning that the government has been notably unsuccessful in dragging the Cadre into statist courts and prefers having channels available for claims the government itself wants to file against them. I would be surprised if the federal government hasn’t already demanded arbitration over the firebombing of its FBI offices.”
“Oh, I’m quite serious.”
“But that’s crazy,” Elliot said. “First off, if the Cadre people are anarchists, why would they ever agree to meet peacefully with their enemies in the government?”
“The Cadre have no choice in the matter. The Submission clearly reads that the Submittor agrees to arbitrate any dispute with anyone else who has filed one. If they did not, their Submission would likely be revoked.”
“But why don’t their prosecutors involved simply arrange to have their police arrest any Cadre people who show up for the trial?”
“‘Hearing,’” corrected Mr. Gross. “There are no formal charges; only litigation of damages. But to answer, the Cadre take no chances; all such hearings are conducted in countries that don’t have extradition treaties with the United States.”
“Wait a second, wait a second,” Elliot interrupted. “If the government can sue the Cadre this way, why can’t the Cadre sue the government? They’re revolutionaries; they must have complaints against it.”
“They have sued, but there are practical limits. For one thing, the Cadre cannot sue the government as a corporate entity, only certain individuals in the government. More importantly, an arbitral decree is only as binding as the parties to it can be compelled to make it. On the countereconomy, an arbitral decree is the basis for a boycott and ostracism against anyone who doesn’t comply with it — a ‘casting out’ that is virtually equivalent to being turned naked over to one’s enemies. In this case, all the Cadre can ever win — practically speaking — is the small fee the arbiter requires both parties to put up as a compliance bond — and if the Cadre force the ante higher, the government will refuse to play. The federal State is not about to stand for any private arbitral decree that would do real damage to any of its employees; they would be protected by invoking ‘sovereign immunity.’ And the Cadre have no way of forcing the government to pay up: in all-out war the Cadre would lose hands down.”
“Then how does the Cadre expect to win?”
“They hope to starve the government to death.”
“Nobody’s going to starve here,” said Phillip, entering the living room. “Dinner is served.” He disappeared back into the kitchen.
Elliot picked up the pen and signed the General Submission to Arbitration.
“You must leave for Aurora. Tonight.”
The Grosses and Elliot were at the dining table, finishing off Swedish meatballs with rice and a good German Liebfraumilch.
“A code name, of course,” Mr. Gross continued. “I can tell you that it’s somewhere on the Eastern seaboard. Anything more than that is on a need-to-know basis restricted to the Cadre.”
“But what is it? Does it have to do with the northern lights?”
“It’s symbolic, mostly,” Phillip said. “Aurora was the goddess of dawn in Roman mythology and represents hope; the Cadre also used the name because the first two letters –AU– are the chemical symbol for gold.”
“More literally,” said Phillip’s uncle, “AU is also the abbreviation for ‘Agorist Underground’ — which is precisely what Aurora is. It’s the seat of a chain of secret agorae — marketplaces — where countereconomic traders meet to do business.”
“How do you get there if you don’t know where it is?”
“The Cadre handle that. In your case, you’ll be sealed into a baggage trunk with an air tank as companion, and will be shipped there. And if you want to enjoy the trip, I suggest you pass up a second helping of Phillip’s meatballs.”
Elliot pushed his plate away, but his concern was not with motion sickness. “You’re not coming?”
“No. Neither Phillip nor I is under suspicion right now, and my taking you to Aurora this weekend would have its risks, if for not other reason than my being missed by friends. But don’t worry, you’re welcome back here at any time, for as long as you think necessary.”
“Thank you, sir.”
After Elliot had helped Phillip clear away the dishes, they set up the chessboard again, this time Phillip — undistracted — gaining the advantage. By seven thirty, down by a bishop and a pawn, Elliot resigned. Mr. Gross suggested at this point that Elliot take a Dramamine. Elliot took it.
At eight, halfway through the play-off game, the doorman announced a delivery on its way up; Mr. Gross ruled a draw by fiat, ordering the boys into Phillip’s bedroom. They chatted aimlessly there until Mr. Gross called them to the living room ten minutes later. “They’re waiting in my bedroom,” Mr. Gross explained, anticipating Elliot’s question.
In the middle of the living room, next to the couch, was a trunk with its lid open; it was large enough to hold a man — and had to. There was a thick layer of foam padding on bottom and side interiors, a safety harness, and four FerroFoam air tanks built into the lid.
Elliot regarded the trunk dubiously. “Small, isn’t it?”
“Nonsense,” said Mr. Gross. “It’s one of the largest on the market; they use them over at the Met Opera. You’d better get right in.” Elliot looked hesitantly at the trunk another moment. “What’s the matter? Claustrophobic?”
Mr. Gross smiled. “You’ll get over it.”
After Elliot was properly bundled, he said warm goodbyes, then was strapped into the harness. His arms and legs were immobilized, a mouthpiece adapted from SCUBA equipment was inserted, and the lid was closed. It became pitch dark, and Elliot heard a lock click.
Someone knocked on the trunk and seemed to whisper (shout?), “Take it easy. You won’t be in there long.” Elliot declined answering for fear of losing his mouthpiece.
The trunk was pushed upright, Elliot being suspended by the harness — sitting on it — as if he had been attached to a parachute. As the trunk leaned forward, then tilted back, Elliot deduced that a hand truck had been slid under. A forward lurch, a bump — he was moving.
Soon after the journey began, the trunk stopped for what seemed a substantial pause, Elliot overhearing discussion that he could not understand. He thought he caught the words “wrong apartment,” then the voices ceased, and the trunk started moving again.
He was on his back again shortly thereafter, feeling and hearing vibrations, endless changes in momentum, ups and downs, sideways movements . . .
Elliot awakened with a jolt. The trunk was at rest. Must have fallen asleep, he thought. No doubt the Dramamine. He heard the lock click again, and the top opened; still groggy, he was blinded by a flood of light. A hearty male voice boomed, “Playing hooky, my boy? Well, your essay was due today, and you’re not getting out of it that easily!” The man bent over the trunk, smiling widely. Elliot squinted, nearly choking on his mouthpiece.
It was Mr. Harper.
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XI.
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!
Phillip was every bit as good a chef as he declared.
Elliot was treated royally to a dinner that started with grapefruit halves and tossed green salad, proceeded through filets of coconut-orange chicken, green beans with almonds, and candied yams, then was topped off by Southern pecan pie served with chickoried café au lait. Elliot complimented Phillip, among other things, on his abilities in matching up ration points.
After dinner, over cognac and cigars (Elliot accepted the former only), Elliot repeated his story for Mr. Gross: how his father’s name had been on a secret arrest list, the plan to leave the country, his trip to find the gold and what he had learned upon his arrival home — even his theory about the possible link between Al and the tzigane cabdriver. He retold the events after his escape from the apartment, finishing up this time by including what he had learned about his part in precipitating a riot. Several times Mr. Gross asked for clarification of a point or for additional information.
Mr. Gross puffed on his cigar one last time, then snuffed it into his ashtray. Elliot noticed himself holding his breath and consciously took in air. Finally, Mr. Gross said, “Have you considered the possibility that your family may already be dead? I don’t ask this to be cruel. When I was your age, I lost my entire family except for one brother — Phillip’s father, whom we lost later — to the Nazis.”
Elliot swallowed, about to answer in the affirmative, then suddenly changed his mind. “I’ve thought about it, Mr. Gross, but I find it inconceivable that the authorities would just kill three private citizens in cold blood.”
“It was inconceivable in 1943, too. But it happened.” Mr. Gross allowed Elliot to digest the thought for several seconds, then added, “But, to be honest, I think it is likely that all three are still alive at the moment. This is not wishful thinking; there are a number of sound reasons why this should be true. Even so, while we must proceed on the assumption that your family can still be helped, I want you to face the possibility that it may be too late.”
“Maybe,” said Elliot, “it would be best to try forcing the authorities into the open. Possibly hire a lawyer to get a writ of habeas corpus. Or maybe I should just march into the offices of The New York Times and tell them the entire story.”
“I can see your point, and if that’s what you decide to do, I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. But I advise against it.”
“Call it intuition if you like,” said Mr. Gross, “but it is my belief that, if your family is still alive, you’d be running the risk that exposing their kidnaping — and I use the term advisedly — might make certain you would never see them alive again.”
“Then what are you saying? That I should sit tight and not do anything?”
“No, action must be taken — quietly.”
“Are you telling me to hire a detective?”
“This would be beyond any normal investigators. They would have their licenses revoked if they stepped on any political toes.”
“Then what are you suggesting?”
Mr. Gross took a sip of cognac and paused a moment. “In the jewelry business one meets many people. Some of them tell me that almost anything can be obtained — for a price. You told me that you have the means. The question remains how much you are willing to spend.”
“All of it,” said Elliot firmly. “All the gold I’ve got. I figured that out yesterday.”
“Then, if you like,” Mr. Gross continued, “I’ll ask some of my associates what is possible. I can’t do anything until tomorrow, so you’ll spend the night here. Phillip will make up the couch.”
“Mr. Gross, you’re a real lifesaver.”
“I hope to be.”
At that instant, the grandfather clock in the dining room began striking eight o’clock. Mr. Gross rose. “Five minutes slow, Phillip. Your turn to wind.”
Mr. Gross retired to his bedroom to read, and Phillip, having finished his kitchen duties, asked Elliot if he were up to a game of chess. Elliot was, and Phillip set up on the dining table.
After picking the white pawn out of Phillip’s clenched fists, Elliot opened with pawn to king’s fourth. Phillip responded king’s pawn to fourth rank also. Elliot played king’s bishop to queen’s bishop fourth, then said, “By the way, how did you know that Mrs. Tobias was being fired?”
Phillip grinned. “Let’s leave it that the ventilation shaft between the second floor men’s room and the headmaster’s office directly below is a useful source of information. And she wasn’t fired.” He moved his king’s bishop likewise.
White queen moved to king’s bishop third. “Why did she quit?”
“A power play,” said Phillip. Black queen’s knight’s pawn to fourth, threatening white bishop. “Mrs. Tobias wanted to teach her political views, Dr. Fischer said she was hired to teach, not to propagandize.”
Elliot’s queen took the pawn at king’s bishop seventh. “Don’t you think that’s a rather nasty violation of her academic freedom? She was a bitch — granted — but fair is fair.”
“Nonsense,” said Phillip, taking Elliot’s bishop with the knight’s pawn. “It’s no more a violation of her freedom than refusing to charter a plane to Los Angeles when you want to go to Miami. What she did on her own time was her own business.”
“You can’t take that bishop, Phil.”
“Huh? Why the hell not?”
“Because I mated you last move.”
Phillip stared at the board, then said softly, “Shit.”
Elliot grinned fiendishly.
Bright sunlight awakened him. After a few minutes trying to keep it out, he gave up, pulling himself into a sitting-up position. A few moments rubbing his eyes, several seconds to remember where he was. He rubbed his calves, removing the kinks — the couch had been too short for him — then came wide awake, hearing that the apartment was absolutely silent except for the ticking from the grandfather clock was a note on the dining table impaled on the white king, the night’s battlefield still displaying his victory. He padded over.
We didn’t want to wake you because you seemed to need the sleep. There’s hot coffee in the percolator and you can feel free to rustle up anything you want to eat. Suggest you stay put. My uncle and I will return by mid-afternoon.
Keep your powder dry,
It seemed to Elliot, after he had performed the usual morning rituals, that no day had ever passed so slowly. He felt that there was an immense pressure compelling him to action . . . but he could not move. He felt as if some great achievement was demanded of him . . . but that he did not have the strength to perform it.
He tried reading a novel chosen from Phillip’s shelves: he was unable to read more than a few pages before his mind began to wander. He turned on the television. The games seemed impossibly insipid, and he turned the set off angrily.
Finally, he selected a holosonic cassette and put it on Phillip’s music system; it was the Reiner-Chicago Symphony recording of Brahms’ Third Symphony. Finding it soothing, he was able to sit for the first time in hours. Elliot sank into Phillip’s recliner, and when the second movement began, he closed his eyes.
The Grosses returned home together at about four o’clock. “It’s all set,” Phillip’s uncle said as soon as the door closed. “The chairman doesn’t like to take this sort of case, but — knowing your father was at stake — decided to help.”
“The chairman?” Elliot asked anxiously.
“Merce Rampart,” said Mr. Gross. “Chairman of the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre.”
“Elliot stood stunned, as if again hit by the tire wrench. His mind was a jumble of conflicting imagery. All in the same instant he felt betrayed, vulnerable. “These are your ‘associates’?”
“Yes,” Mr. Gross said.
“You approve of what they do?”
“Phil? How do you feel about all this?”
“I don’t know much more than you do, Ell.”
Elliot stood there a moment, weighing the lives of his family against political considerations he was not yet fully competent to weigh. At present the government was on one side, and he — along with his family and an “unholy alliance between the Mafia and anarchist-terrorists” — was on the other. But what if loyalty to his family required him to choose the wrong side?
His father’s words came back to him: “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.”
“All right,” said Elliot. “I’ll see this Rampart. What do I have to do?”
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter X.
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.
“I can’t serve you without proof-of-age,” the bartender said, not without kindness. “Sorry.”
Elliot placed a thousand blues on the counter. “Just coffee. In the back, please.” The bartender took the bills, nodding.
Rick’s Café Américain was now on Columbus Avenue near Seventy-first Street.
The proliferation of videodiscs and wall screens — combined with an ever-increasing nostalgia mania — had caused a revolution in nightlife. Gone were most stand-up comics, mimes, dance bands, and dinner theatres; they had been replaced by cinema cabarets. On weekends the cafe was the domain of Ansonia students, who came to watch continuously run Humphrey Bogart films. Elliot had been there with Marilyn and Phillip on several occasions; a few minutes ago he had remembered it as an intimate place with secluded rear booths where a person could be undisturbed a long while.
Not very much after Elliot had settled himself in, the bartender brought Elliot his cup. Elliot took a sip, suppressing a choke. “There’s whiskey in here,” he said hoarsely.
The barkeep looked surprised. “Irish coffee. Isn’t that what you ordered?”
Elliot was about to tell him that when he said coffee he just meant coffee, but cut himself off. “Not exactly, but this will do fine. Thanks.” The bartender left, shaking his head slowly, leaving Elliot with the thought that this might just give the man incentive to divert any nosy police.
Soon Elliot felt more collected than he had been in a day. Even his shoulder did not hurt quite as much. He got down to some serious thinking.
One. Each time he was now seen in public would be at the risk of impromptu arrest. As inefficient as the police were, the long-term odds were stacked in their favor.
Two. It seemed to Elliot that the possibility of proceeding through legal channels was, if not closed entirely, at least sharply restricted. Especially since he did not even know what charge he was being sought on. What if it were for his father’s murder? In any event, he knew no lawyer he was willing to trust at the moment.
Three. Unless he could make trustworthy countereconomic contacts, the gold would remain of no use to him. And he was running out of blues frightfully fast.
Finally, four. Even if his resources were unlimited, he still had no idea of how to proceed with getting his family free. He did not even know of anyone who did.
Conclusions. He had to hide out with someone who could be trusted — someone who could act as a business agent for him. Hobson’s choice: the only person whom he was at all inclined to trust was Phillip Gross. Elliot checked his watch; it was coming up on noon. Phillip and he were both scheduled for first lunch; he decided to walk over to Ansonia and catch him before Contemporary Civilization.
He never made it to Ansonia’s second floor. Elliot had just climbed the stairs past the first floor when he ran into Dr. Fischer on her way down. They both stopped, staring at each other for several heartbeats. Then Dr. Fischer said softly, “Come into my office, please.”
He thought about running. He knew that if he ran, nobody could catch him. But there was something about the way Dr. Fischer seemed to be looking right through him that made him decide not to run. He followed her past the reception area into her office.
Dr. Fischer closed the inner door. “There were police here this morning asking about you,” she said, “asking if anyone knew where you were. They said they were making inquiries for your mother, that you had gone on a rampage when you learned your father was dead.” She paused a moment. “They mentioned that you had taken one of your father’s guns.”
Elliot nodded. “I was wondering what story they’d come up with.”
“It’s true? The Administration has murdered your father?”
Elliot turned white. “How much have you heard? What’s your source?”
“Only rumors,” Dr. Fischer said quickly, calming him. “It is being said in many places that your father did not die of natural causes.”
Elliot took a deep breath. “As far as I know, ma’am, my father is still alive. At least he was yesterday afternoon when –”
“Afternoon?” she interrupted. “But your sister said –”
He waved it away. “My sister was acting. My mother’s orders.”
“But she was so convincing,” Dr. Fischer said.
“She’s a drama student at Juilliard.”
Dr. Fischer went to her desk, pulled out a cigarette which she inserted into a holder, and lighted it. After taking a deep drag, she said, “It’s dangerous for you here, Elliot. The police will return — next time, I fear, with a search warrant.”
“I was planning to see if maybe Phillip Gross could put me up.”
She looked as if the idea surprised her, then smiled slightly. “Yes. Very good. But you should not be seen together, even here. You may stay here until shortly before Phillip’s class is out, then walk to his apartment. I’ll tell him that you’ll be waiting for him nearby.” Elliot nodded. Dr. Fischer relaxed slightly, took another drag on her cigarette, and smiled again. “Have you eaten lunch?”
After two cheeseburgers, apple brown Betty, and milk, which Dr. Fischer brought down to him from the cafeteria, Elliot resigned himself to a wait while Dr. Fischer sat at her desk doing paperwork. He got out his Paris Match and began struggling through an article questioning whether EUCOMTO should sell its new hypersonic transports to the People’s Republic of Taiwan.
At two thirty, Dr. Fischer told Elliot that the coast was clear, and he left Ansonia. It was set up that he would meet Phillip on the approach to his Lincoln Towers apartment. Elliot walked west on Seventieth Street to the junction of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, then, after checking for police, he crossed over to Amsterdam. He walked down a block to the Lincoln Towers driveway, leaned against he wall of the now-empty public library — out of sight of the Lincoln Towers guardhouse — and covered his face with the Paris Match. Periodically, he glanced over the top.
At a quarter past three, Phillip showed up. Elliot lowered the magazine, allowing Phillip to spot him, then waited for the traffic light to change. Several moments later Phillip crossed Amsterdam and joined him. “Fancy meeting you here,” Elliot said dryly from behind the magazine.
Phillip assumed an habitual sardonic expression. “Come on,” he said tapping Elliot on the shoulder. “We’re exposed out here.”
They started into the complex, Phillip nodding to the security guard as they passed, and to the German doorman as 180 West End Avenue when they entered the building. A few minutes later they entered his seventh-floor apartment, furnished in the eternal New-York-Jewish-Upper-West-Side mode. Phillip told Elliot to wait, then disappeared a few moments into one of the bedrooms. “I had to reset the burglar alarm,” he explained when he returned.
They took off their outer coats, Phillip hanging them up, then he suggested Elliot make himself more comfortable by removing his jacket as well. Elliot hesitated a moment, then took it off, revealing his holstered revolver. Philip looked at Elliot queerly. “You know how to use that thing?” he asked.
“It saved my life yesterday. Twice.”
“Did you shoot anybody?”
“No. I missed.”
“Accidentally or on purpose?”
Phillip never received an answer to the question for at that moment his uncle walked into the apartment.
Morris Gross was a thin, Semitic-looking man in his early seventies with sparse white hair and wire-rimmed spectacles. Still standing in the entrance alcove, he removed an overcoat, scarf, and a Russian fur hat. Elliot started wondering how he could explain his gun when Phillip, noticing his friend’s expression, leaned over, whispering, “Easy, you’re among friends.”
“Hello, hello,” said Mr. Gross as he entered the living room. He spoke with a Yiddish accent.
Elliot stood up along with Phillip. “Uncle Morris,” Phillip said, “you remember Elliot Vreeland.”
“Yes, of course.” Mr. Gross approached Elliot, and they shook hands. “I’m deeply sorry to hear of your father’s passing. He was a man of rare courage.”
Elliot felt mixed emotions — embarrassment about the cover story, worried hope that his father’s death was only a cover story. “Uh, thank you, Mr. Gross.” Elliot glanced over to Phillip for guidance; his friend nodded reassurance. “I’d like to explain about the gun.”
“No need,” said Mr. Gross. “I’ve had to carry them on occasion myself. I manufacture jewelry, you know.”
“You’re home early,” Phillip said. “Your stomach acting up again?”
Mr. Gross nodded. “Gold went up another 31 percent today. I can’t stockpile it fast enough. I left Nikki to close the office.” He turned to Elliot. “Will you join us for dinner tonight? Or do you have family responsibilities?”
“Of course you will,” said Phillip, taking Elliot off the spot. “We won’t take no for an answer, Ell.”
“Thank you,” said Elliot. “But do you have someplace where I can hang my holster, first?”
A few minutes later, the boys were alone in Phillip’s bedroom, Elliot settled into a leather recliner, Phillip prone on his bed. Over the next hour Elliot gave a chronological and fairly complete account of the events leading up to his current dilemma. Phillip listened attentively, without interrupting. When finished, Elliot asked his friend whether he would help. “Of course,” Phillip said simply. “What do you want me to do?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. I suppose I should get a lawyer, eh?”
“I’m not a legal expert, Ell. I don’t know, either.”
“Well, the two of us can’t go up against the entire U.S. government single-handedly, can we?”
Phillip barely cracked a smile. “I don’t think so.”
“Then what do you think I should do?”
“You’re asking my advice?”
Elliot cocked a brow. “You’re getting at something.”
Phillip remained silent.
“Yes, I’m asking your advice.”
“Then,” said Phillip, “I think you should repeat your story for my uncle and ask his advice.”
Elliot considered this for a long moment. “Phil, I don’t know your uncle. Do you really think he’d help me?”
“He might. You can ask.”
“But how will he take this? There are a lot of legal and political overtones he might not like.”
“I guarantee you a safe conduct out of here whether he likes them or not.”
“But does he know anything about this sort of business?”
Phillip smiled again. “I think so. When he was fourteen, he fought for the Irgun in the founding of Israel.”
Elliot shut up.
Phillip glanced over at the wall clock, then got up. “I’d better start on dinner.”
“Why not? I’m quite a chef.”
Elliot grinned widely. “Can I watch?”
“Absolutely not.” Phillip switched his television wall screen from disc playback to live reception and touched it on. “Rot your mind a bit,” he said, then left.
Elliot caught most of a drama called Presidential Healer, a series about a United States President who cured his subjects by laying on of hands, then Dr. Witch, a comedy about an African witch doctor who had attended medical school and was now practicing in Long Beach, California. After being chased out of the kitchen by Phillip, he turned to Hello, Joe — Whadd’ya Know? It concerned the adventures of an intellectual gorilla named Joe — the product of primate educational research — who was a philosophy professor and resident sage at Gazpacho College. This episode concerned the problems that arose when Joe found himself scheduled for both a cello recital and the finals of an international chess competition on the same night.
There were no commercials. There were, however, a number of public-service announcements, leading into the six o’clock news.
A man and a woman — two well-known TV-series actors — were sitting in a shooting set on canvas chairs. “Remember,” said the male actor, talking sincerely to the cameras, “That just one little ounce of gold bullion can put you away in a federal penitentiary for up to twenty years.”
This made Elliot’s day.
“And the FBI,” said the actress, “now has a twenty-four-hour free hotline to report anyone engaging in black-market speculation. Black-marketeers steal from all of us, and prolong this economic crisis. Don’t help a brownie. If you know of any, remember your patriotic duty and call now.”
An 800 series inward-WATS telephone number was superimposed on the screen; in disgust, Elliot changed channels in time to hear the promo for another station’s evening news: “–tape of a mass demonstration on Broadway that ended with violence. This story and others in one minute!”
“Dinner is on!” Phillip called from the dining room. At that moment, however, Elliot would not have budged if the gods had personally offered him ambrosia and nectar.
A teletype machine soloed in an overture, then: “Good evening,” said a sandy-haired newsman. “I’m Monahan Scott with the news.”
“This morning’s anti-wage/price control march down Broadway by an estimated sixty thousand members of Citizens for a Free Society ended in violence soon after it began when a New York City policeman — apparently without provocation — attacked one of the marchers. Neither the identity of the officer nor that of the demonstrator is known. Frieda Sandwell was there and spoke to one of the demonstrators.”
The picture zoomed in to Columbus Circle with clouds of tear gas chasing demonstrators, one of them retching on the street. Another marcher was seen being clubbed by two policemen. There was a shot of a policeman being kicked in the groin by a woman marcher. The screen then cut to a teen-age boy with a bloody gash over his black head-kerchief, being interviewed by the flawlessly groomed Frieda Sandwell. “Well, we was just goin’ along peacefully,” the boy said, “when this crazy pig yells somethin’, charges into the march, and grabs one of our people.”
“Did you hear what the officer shouted?” asked Frieda Sandwell, shoving a microphone in his mouth.
“It sounded like, ‘Let’s tear the freedom boys!’”
“Hey,” said Phillip, entering the bedroom. “Your dinner’s getting cold.”
Elliot switched off the television and without saying a word followed his friend to supper.
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter IX.
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.
Elliot was back in the classroom. Mrs. Tobias stood at the front of the room wearing a police uniform. Marilyn Danforth walked up to Elliot and said, “Pardon me, but do you mind awfully if I defecate here? I have to go so badly.” This embarrassed him greatly because his parents and Denise were at the back of the room watching him. Mrs. Tobias started talking: “And now I’d like to introduce the boys in the band. First, we have Mason Langley on chains.” Langley stood up, rattled his chains a bit while bowing, then sat down again. “Next is Bernard Rothman. What are you playing, Mr. Rothman?” “I have no idea, Mrs. Tobias.” “Well it doesn’t really matter,” she said. “And last, but not least, we have Cal Ackerman on the tire wrench. For our first selection …” At this cue, Mason Langley started rattling his chains again while Cal Ackerman walked calmly over to Elliot and rammed the tire wrench into his left shoulder.
As the blow hit, Elliot awoke. The rattling of the chains transmuted into the ringing of a Picturephone. The pain from Ackerman’s blow to his shoulder was intensely real, though, which he realized reaching over to answer the phone. Elliot punched the switch allowing him to see without being seen, then answered. It was his 8 a.m. wake-up call. Elliot thanked the operator and switched off.
As his mind cleared, Elliot quickly realized that the pain was not from Ackerman’s phantasmal blow, but from the real one in his encounter with the gang. Tenderly, he tried moving his shoulder. He found he had full mobility — nothing seemed to be broken or sprained — but it did hurt like the devil. He resolved to ignore it as best he could.
Elliot decided to breakfast in his room rather than risk half an hour in a public restaurant again; he had no wish to be a sitting duck. Calling room service, he ordered papaya-mango juice, oatmeal, a cheese omelet, hash browns, muffins with jam, and a pot of coffee. Elliot had heard often — and believed — that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Oh, yes. Could they provide a toothbrush with paste?
While awaiting delivery, Elliot used the toilet, washed, dressed — again donning his belt and shoulder holster — and had just reloaded his revolver with two bullets from a cigarette-case-sized holder when there was a knock at his door. Elliot looked up. “Yes?”
“Room service,” said a male voice behind the door. “Your breakfast, sir.”
Elliot swung his revolver’s cylinder shut, holstered the pistol, then started to the door; halfway there, he stopped short, realizing his holster was in the open. He swore under his breath, told the door he would be right there, and headed back to the bed where he picked up his jacket and put it on. As an afterthought, Elliot picked up the ammunition case, hiding it in his jacket pocket.
A moment later, he opened the door; it was indeed room service. The waiter — a Slavic-looking man in hotel uniform — rolled in a wheeled breakfast cart. “G’morning, sir.”
“Morning,” Elliot replied. “Over by the screen will be fine.”
The waiter set up the breakfast cart in front of the room’s television wall screen, then handed Elliot the chit to sign. He signed it — the waiter looking on closely — and when Elliot began writing his tip onto the bill, the waiter interrupted immediately: “That won’t be necessary, sir.”
Elliot stopped writing. “Eh?” Then he understood. “Oh, of course.” He reached into his pocket, removed his wallet, and counted out blue cash — almost endlessly. “Don’t spend them all in one place.”
The waiter smiled, taking the cash. “I don’t spend them at all. My wife meets me at my lunch break, takes all my tips, and goes shopping while the blues are still worth something.” He pocketed the money. “Thank you very much, sir. Enjoy your breakfast.”
A few minutes later Elliot ate breakfast while watching a television newscast. On the wall screen was a news announcer sitting in a studio: blown up behind him was a handsome, military-looking man in his fifties, wearing a stylish business suit. Titles under the blowup identified the man as Lawrence Powers, director of the FBI.
The news announcer was saying, “. . . the FBI director’s address to the National Association of Law Enforcement Officers at their convention last night.”
Film of Lawrence Powers addressing a police banquet was inserted onscreen. “These firebombings of our FBI offices,” Powers said in his distinctive, deep-Southern voice, “are only the latest example. The Revolutionary Agorist Cadre can be viewed as no less a threat than as an unholy alliance between the Mafia and anarchist-terrorists.”
The news announcer returned to the screen, continuing: “The FBI chief’s appearance at the convention last night was a surprise to many. It was not expected that Mr. Powers would wish to appear in public so soon after the suicide of his wife.”
The blowup of Powers was replaced by one of an equally handsome man in his late forties, blond, blue-eyed, and clean-shaven. The news announcer flipped to his next story, during which Elliot stopped eating and gave the screen his full attention.
“Private memorial services will be held today,” said the newsman, “for Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. Martin Vreeland, who died yesterday morning of a heart attack at forty-eight. Dr. Vreeland, often called the father of EUCOMTO’s New Economic Miracle of fifteen years ago, became well known as an intransigent advocate of a limited-government, laissez-faire enterprise system. He was to have addressed the New York rally of Citizens for a Free Society this morning. Dr. Vreeland is survived by a wife and two children.”
Elliot now knew that the police had decided to let the world believe — for the time being — that his father was dead.
On second thought, he hoped it was only for the time being.
Nonetheless, by the time he had brushed his teeth, the world did not seem as frightening as it had the night before. If things went well, he might even have his family free by that evening. He had a firm conviction that Al would know exactly to whom he should go. Elliot decided shortly that it was time he got a move on.
Not long after nine, Elliot settled his tab, starting to walk to Times Square. It was one of those bitterly cold, windy — though cheerfully bright — mornings to which even lifelong New Yorkers seldom grow accustomed. He pulled sunglasses and a scarf (he had no hat) from his overcoat pocket, then turned up his collar. Elliot had gloves, also, but resisted putting them on to keep his hands free for possible shooting. Within minutes, though, his fingers were numb enough that he could hardly pull a trigger anyway, and he donned the gloves as well. His ears became numb, too, and his shoulder ached, but there was nothing he could do for them.
When Elliot arrived at the Rabelais Bookstore, there was a sign inside the door, which he read through an iron grill, that said, “CLOSED.” He panicked a moment, then read further to find a listing of hours: on weekdays the store was open from ten to ten. It was only nine-thirty, so Elliot walked back to Hotalings and perused foreign magazines for half an hour, finally buying a Paris Match to avoid being murdered by the manager. He read French well enough to understand a cover story entitled “La Mort des Etats-Unis?” A cover photograph — a still taken from the film Planet of the Apes — showed the Statue of Liberty half-buried in mud.
For reasons he could not fully identify, Elliot greatly resented the story, finding it strikingly presumptuous. Surely the country was in trouble, but it had been far worse during the Civil War, and the United States had survived that. Where did these foreigners get off already writing an obituary?
Elliot rolled up the magazine, shoving it into a coat pocket, and again walked to the bookstore. This time it was open. On the stool behind the counter was a man Elliot did not recognize, as thin as Al had been obese, with a pencil mustache and greasy black hair. He looked up from a tabloid headline “TEEN VAGINA!” and stared at Elliot. He pointed to the notice back of the counter saying, “BE 21 OR BE GONE.”
“Uh — I’m not trying to buy anything,” Elliot said quickly. “I just want to talk to Al.”
“Ain’t nobody here by that name.”
“But he was here yesterday — I talked to him. A bald man with a beard. Overweight.”
“Oh, him,” the skinny clerk said. “Goddam brownie. He quit last night. Said he was sick of this goddam New York winter and was headin’ south.”
“Did he leave a forwarding address?”
“Nope. Now beat it before a cop catches you in here.”
Elliot beat it.
Soon he stood at Times Square, cursing himself methodically. You fuckhead, you prick, you numbskull! . . . What are you a brownie? . . . If you’d walked back here last night instead of phoning, you might have caught him in time . . . You were carrying a fucking revolver and still you were afraid. . . . What chance would there’ve been of two attacks in the same night? . . . Now you’ve missed the one person you know to be on Dad’s team . . . . You’ve probably blown the entire game. . . .
Elliot vowed never again to allow fear to control his mind. Then he took a deep breath and walked on.
He had only walked a few steps, though, when he realized he was not walking to any place in particular. He was lost. He knew the names of the streets, all right, and where they went, but he did not know where they would lead him. Where to, kid? he asked himself silently, where to? There was no answer.
He stood, gazing up at the Oracle’s news marching across the top of One Times Square:
TEAMSTER PRESIDENT WARNS POSSIBILITY OF ARMED FORCES WILDCAT STRIKES IF PENTAGON DOES NOT MEET DEMANDS . . .
Are you just going to stand here forever?
NEW DOLLAR AGAIN DROPS SHARPLY AGAINST EUROFRANC IN HEAVY TRADING . . .
C’mon, c’mon, Elliot told himself, we haven’t got all day.
SENATE DEBATE ON WAGE-PRICE CONTROLS STALLED PENDING CFS PROTEST MARCHES IN SIX CITIES TODAY . . .
A helluva lot of good you are! Elliot told himself. An echo in his mind agreed.
In despair, he decided to choose a direction — any direction — and start walking. He hesitated another moment, then began marching up Broadway.
He had hardly started when a wiry, short man with curly black hair rushed up to him and said intensely, “If Thou art God, I offer myself and, in exchange, ask proof!”
Elliot kept walking. Not another Gloaminger.
“I said, ‘If Thou art God –’”
“I heard you the first time,” Elliot told him.
“Oh, hell,” said the Gloaminger. “You’re not Him, either.”
“Don’t you people ever give up looking?” Elliot asked.
“No time to talk,” the Gloaminger said. He handed Elliot a tract and walked up to a little girl nearby. “If Thou art God, I offer –”
Elliot looked the pamphlet over. It was called God Here and Now? — An Introduction to Gloamingerism, and was published by the Church of the Human God. The Septagram — symbol of the Gloaminger’s “Seven Paths to One God” — embellished the front of the tract.
The Gloamingers believed that God was a human, on earth “at this very moment,” but that He did not know Who He was. The question was supposed to trigger His memory in time for the Apocalypse. “Ask the question of the next person you meet!” the pamphlet said. “GOD WALKS ON EARTH TODAY. Now! He may reveal Himself to you!”
Elliot tossed the pamphlet into the nearest trash container. He was not about to start looking for God. He had enough trouble just finding his family.
Ten blocks farther up Broadway Elliot noticed wooden NYPD barricades along each sidewalk, and began to see an unusually large number of city police distributed around him — some sitting in police cars, some mounted on horseback, some on foot directing traffic or talking into headset transceivers. Elliot wondered what they were all there for, then remembered. The march and rally, of course! Broadway would be the parade route.
The first impulse he had was to put as much distance between himself and all those police as possible, but they did not seem to be interested in anything other than assuring an orderly demonstration, paying him no attention. His caution gave way for a moment to an even greater curiosity to see the demonstration his father was to have addressed, Elliot deciding that in the anonymous throng of bystanders he would be as unnoticed as the musicians in a striptease club.
Elliot first spotted the marchers as he approached Columbus Circle. He had no idea how many there were, but it seemed to be thousands, stretching uptown as far as he could see. He could hear from the distance that they seemed to be chanting repeatedly, but he could not yet make out the words. They were still too far off for him to read picket signs or banners. Finding himself a relatively uncrowded spot near the barricades at Columbus Circle, he waited.
Soon the march was upon him, led by a huge linen banner stretched across the first rank that read, “NO MORE CONTROLS!” with “Citizens for a Free Society” written in smaller letters underneath. Behind the banner were hundreds of smaller, handmade signs mounted on rolled cardboard (wooden picket signs were illegal), with slogans such as “CONTROL POLITICIANS, NOT PRICES! . . . SMASH RATIONING! . . .IN GOLD WE TRUST! . . .NO MORE BLUES!” and dozens that read “WAS VREELAND MURDERED?” This last shook Elliot.
Other signs had a distinct left-wing tinge. “THE FED IS SAPPING OUR SURPLUS LABOR VALUE!” and “MISES OVER MARX!”
A number of demonstrators carried black flags.
Now he concentrated on listening to the chanting, difficult to understand immediately but clearer with each repetition. A voice on a bullhorn asked, “WHAT DO WE WANT?” The marchers answered, “FREEDOM!” The bullhorn asked, “WHEN DO WE WANT IT?” The marchers responded, “NOW!” Elliot noticed as many middle-aged demonstrators as he did students, though the latter distinguished themselves by wearing black scarves wrapped around their foreheads.
The bullhorn stopped, the chanting quieted, but soon there started a new voice. It began chanting softly, and soon the marchers joined in, raggedly at first, then unifying and building up to a crescendo, “LAISSEZ-FAIRE! . . . LAISSEZ-FAIRE! . . . LAISSEZ-FAIRE!”
“Hey, Vreeland! Elliot Vreeland!” a voice cut through the chanting.
Elliot froze, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible in the hope that whoever had called him would believe he had experienced a case of mistaken identity. It was not to be.
“Hey, Vreeland! Elliot!”
Elliot saw that the voice belonged to his classmate, Mason Langley. Asshole, Elliot thought. He doesn’t even understand what this march is about. Elliot started praying that no one else would pay any attention in the midst of all the chanting, but it was already too late. He saw a New York policeman start looking around at mention of the name “Vreeland.” His only hope would be of Langley would just continue marching. . .
No such luck. Langley started pushing his way through the marchers trying to get to him. Elliot saw the policeman speaking into his helmet transceiver and knew he only had seconds; he slid under the barricades, and nonchalantly slipped into step with Langley and the marchers.
“I thought it was you,” Langley said. “Why didn’t you –”
“Shut up,” Elliot whispered savagely, “or you might get us both killed. Quick — give me your picket sign.”
Langley did so, somewhat confused, but it was already too late. The policeman shouted, “There! It’s the Vreeland boy!” and started running toward him. Elliot thought quickly, knew his one remaining chance and kept marching.
As the policeman caught up to Elliot and grabbed him, Elliot looked up innocently, shouting, “Hey, what the hell d’ja think you’re doing?”
The reaction was as expected. The policeman realized his mistake too late to prevent several marchers from clobbering him with their picket signs. The cardboard did not do him very much damage, but it did cause him to release Elliot, who took the opportunity to push through the marchers in the confusion and emerge on the east side of Columbus Circle. Then, picket sign and all, Elliot bolted into a full run up Central Park West.
When he felt he had run as far as he could without bursting his lungs, he slipped into the outside front basement of a brownstone building and sat on the steps, catching his breath.
Then he examined the picket sign he had been carrying.
It read, “FREE THE AGORA!”
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter VIII.
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.
I’ve been looking more closely at H.R.3200 – “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009,” now that it’s heading to President Obama’s desk today for signature, as well as the possible reconciliation that may or may not follow.
My bottom line:
The Fed Giveth, and the Fed Taketh Away, Messed be the Name of the Fed.
The new law is such a patchwork quilt of new or revised taxes, subsidies, mandates to states, benefits and penalties to and from businesses and individuals of varying income, age, and other status that it’s far too complex for anyone to predict the unintended consequences with any accuracy.
Will it enrich the giant health-insurance companies or bankrupt them, triggering a government takeover like we saw last year with General Motors? I’m not sure anyone can say for sure — not even the health-insurance actuaries or the politicians they lobby.
Will tax subsidies and new premiums from millions of younger and healthier people being mandated by federal law to purchase health insurance policies act to counter the increased costs to insurers from being required to pay the medical costs of already seriously sick people — not being able to drop their policies, no yearly or lifetime caps, and federal price-controls on health-insurance premiums?
For someone like me — too young for Medicare, but obese and Type-II Diabetic, classic “pre-existing conditions” — will I be able to buy affordable health-insurance? Or will the few insurers available to me in Nevada stop selling health-insurance entirely in a state where casino-subsidized all-you-can-eat buffets are the most popular eateries?
I can’t figure that out; there are too many imponderables. But my first thought was to outline a new movie script in which health-insurance executives are behind a new miracle weight-loss drug that — like Fen Phen, but even more deadly — ends up killing off millions of fat Diabetics like me, saving the health-insurance companies billions.
Anyone who thinks the argument that a federal mandate on individuals to purchase private health-insurance policies will be struck down as unconstitutional because refusing to buy something isn’t an act of interstate commerce doesn’t understand how small a legalistic change this is when compared to tax policies that have been in effects for generations.
If the IRS tax code can tax you at a higher rate if you’re single rather than married, or at a different rate if you have “passive” sources of income rather than “earned” income, why would anyone think the Supreme Court is going to find unconstitutional a provision in the IRS code taxing you at a higher rate if you don’t purchase a health-insurance policy?
Don’t count on the high-court conservatives. In Scalia’s and Roberts’ McDonald v. Chicago grilling of plaintiff’s attorney Alan Gura about the “privileges and immunities” clause in the 14th amendment, it was apparent how little they want to rock the boat. You think they’re going to put the first serious dent in the Federal Income Tax?
The problem goes deeper than most conservatives think.
It’s taken from the onset of the federal income tax in 1913 to 2010 — 97 years — for the American people to get a clue that the federal government’s ability to reward or punish individual behavior by taxing you at higher and lower rates has totalitarian consequences.
Make no mistake. Any revolt against the new federal mandate to purchase health insurance — a policy enforced by the IRS — will in the end be a revolt against the power of the federal government to control your behavior through income-tax rates and exemptions. If you’re not ready for that eventuality, don’t even start.
What else aside from taxing you more if you don’t buy government-mandated health insurance can the tax code make you do? And when will the American people say, “That’s enough”?
The original Boston Tea Party was a tax protest. Guess what? The new federal mandate to purchase health insurance is an income tax penalty if you don’t buy it — and will be enforced by the IRS.
For most of my lifetime any opposition to the federal income tax has been a fringe movement — sometimes on the left, as a war protest, sometimes on the right, by objectors like Irwin Schiff who make various constitutional arguments against the income tax that federal courts have regularly dismissed as not only frivolous, but a trial on the court’s patience. But I can’t remember a time when opposition to the federal income tax has been widespread enough to constitute a popular movement.
The Tea Party won’t prove anything by supporting Republican candidates who would raise your taxes in a heartbeat if it gave them power to punish abortions — or keep out illegal Mexicans, or put more cops on the street.
The proof would be protests and resistance against the tyrannical power of the federal government to control your behavior through its power to tax you.
September 12, 2009 Taxpayer March on Washington, D.C. / Nathaniel Currier 1846 Lithograph “The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor”
Only if this actually develops will we know whether the new “Tea Party” movement has anything in common with those who conspired to stage the multiple-felony — and not entirely non-violent — anti-tax action of December 16, 1773, in which anti-government extremists painted themselves like native warriors and destroyed three ships’ entire cargos of tea.
My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!
Elliot had not run more than a few blocks before shortness of breath forced him into an alleyway. There he just leaned against a concrete wall, allowing the day’s events to bear down upon him. After a few minutes, though, when the shakes had stopped, when his fears for his family had tripped out from overload, when he realized how cold it was, the improbabilities of his situation began to take on melodramatic — even comic — overtones. Echoing the punch line of a classic television sitcom he had seen on videodisc, he silently exclaimed, What a revoltin’ development this is!
He faced several problems, each of which seemed insurmountable. First, to survive. Second, to escape the combined forces of city, state, and federal government. Third, to devise some plan to rescue his family. Until today, his most pressing problem had been how to get a passing grade from a stupidly dogmatic teacher.
Elliot still had no idea what the authorities intended for his family or why they now wanted him. He considered that they might have known, when they first came to the apartment, that his father was still alive. Or that they had come on a totally unrelated mission and upon finding his father alive were now holding his family for conspiracy to evade arrest.
He wondered if his father’s FBI informant had been mistaken or treacherous, and the Bureau wanted them for a totally different — perhaps harmless — reason. Maybe they simply wanted to place them in some kind of protective custody.
Perhaps he was taking all this in entirely the wrong way. Maybe the best thing he could do would be to retain a lawyer to find out what was going on. Conceivably –
He stopped short, realizing that shivering in an alley was not the best condition in which to think things through. He had to go some place warm and quiet where he could take stock of what had happened.
Elliot decided that, for the moment at least, he could risk the streets. The chance of being recognized at night in mid-Manhattan was rather slim. Nonetheless, by morning the situation might be changed drastically. Who might be questioned on his whereabouts: Mrs. Allen? Dr. Fischer? Phillip Gross?
He moved out into the street. He was on Seventy-third, just off Lexington Avenue. Almost instinctively, he turned downtown, not having any specific destination in mind, but moving just to keep warm.
A question started gnawing at his mind: To whom could he turn? He was not foolish enough to believe for a moment that he could single-handedly bring about his family’s release. He was going to need potent help — and quickly. All right, who?
Neighbors were out, for obvious reasons. Family? The only relative within half a continent was an uncle in Chicago, but Elliot doubted this uncle had either the resources or the inclination to be of any use. Martin Vreeland had given his brother the same investment advice he himself was following; Georg Vreeland had ignored his brother’s insight, and by some unfathomable logic now blamed Martin for his own resulting financial collapse.
Friends or university associates of his parents? Elliot had never paid them any attention, thus he knew nothing useful about them. Ansonia? Elliot did not have anything in particular against Dr. Fischer or Mr. Harper — or any of his still employed teachers, for that matter — but he did not have anything favoring them, either. They might very easily help him, but they might turn him over to the police. Classmates or friends? Aside from Marilyn Danforth, whom he had occasionally slept with, Elliot’s only real friend was Phillip. Marilyn was apt to be unreliable, and while he trusted Phillip completely, Elliot did not see how his friend could be of any real help in a rescue attempt.
The bookstore proprietor he knew as Al? His father had obviously trusted him, but Elliot was by no means certain that it had not been Al who had tipped off the police. That business with the rings made him uneasy. Could it have been some kind of signal? Had his own movements been monitored all that day?
Was the tzigane a police agent?
Elliot decided to contemplate a possible link between Al and the tzigane on the theory that it might illuminate any obvious treachery.
First, each man had been wearing a plain gold ring on his right hand. Well, nothing unusual here. Jewelry, being the only legal form in which the public could own gold since it had been renationalized, was presently quite popular as an inflation hedge. Elliot himself was wearing a plain gold band Denise had given him that past Christmas. Two particular men wearing undistinguished rings was no more of a coincidence than if they had been wearing the same style of shoes.
Second, both men had been twirling their rings back and forth, repeatedly. How many ways were there to play with a ring, anyway? Elliot managed to generate four categories: twirling, up and down the finger, a screwing action combining the first two motions, and a final category involving removal of the ring entirely from the finger. As an afterthought, he added two more categories: a null set of ring wearers who did not play with their rings, and a set comprising combinations within and permutations among the four primary categories — a likely possibility for any code requiring more than a minimal vocabulary.
Elliot turned west onto Fifty-ninth Street.
Then he thought of behavioral aspects. What percentage of ring players fell into each category? Come to think of it, how many ring wearers regularly played with their rings in the first place — and how frequently?
In despair, Elliot decided he had insufficient data even to start considering any other probability than that of Al and the tzigane’s coincidence of ring twirling being just that.
So, logically, there was no reason to assume any conspiracy involving Al and the tzigane. For the moment — on the basis of his father’s trust in the man — he could assume that Al was a free agent who might be useful in aiding his family.
Elliot was on Fifty-ninth Street nearing Fifth Avenue when a boy who looked about eleven, raggedly dressed and scarcely protected against the cold, approached him. “Mister, can I have a couple hundred blues to buy somethin’ t’eat?” The boy said it mechanically. Elliot wondered how long he might have been surviving this way. He took out his wallet, removing a wad of blue money much more impressive than its purchasing power, and peeled off five $100 bills. The boy took it, then — instead of thanking Elliot — he backed off, making a rapid arm gesture.
Suddenly — out from behind parked cars, garbage cans, and alleyway — came five more boys ranging in age from fifteen to one about twenty whom Elliot tagged as the leader. They did not have the polish of the more professional gangs of Harlem or the Bronx: no club jackets, no racial identity, no firearms. But they had Elliot surrounded and were armed with knives, broken bottles, a chain, and a hooked tire wrench.
The leader — his hair dyed in blond and black stripes — stood back just a bit, looking Elliot up and down. Elliot suddenly felt extremely self-conscious about the quality of his clothing. “Hot shit,” said the leader. “A brownie.” He brandished a knife.
This was his first mistake. An experienced knife fighter would have held his weapon low — at his hip — blade forward, ready to strike; instead, the leader stood in a semi-crouch with his arms extended, the knife in his right hand. He grinned. Even so, Elliot was not in a good position to defend himself if he lunged.
Then the leader made his second mistake. In an attempt to show off, he began tossing the knife back and forth between his hands. Elliot edged back — feigning panic in an attempt to get the space he needed — then kicked the knife away while it was in flight between the leader’s hands.
Elliot did not wait to see the expression on the leader’s face before he went for his gun.
He had only managed to withdraw it from its holster — but not from his jacket — when one boy swung at him with the tire wrench. Elliot blocked the blow — painfully — with his left shoulder and found himself rolling with the force onto the ground. Nonetheless, he managed to free the gun and get a shot off in the direction of the leader. He missed. The leader shouted, “The motherfucker’s got one!” and scurried down the street, followed in close order by his compatriots.
Elliot was still dazed when half a minute later a police car pulled up nearby. A blue-uniformed officer got out to see if Elliot needed medical assistance; another drove off in the direction of the gang. The officer helped Elliot up.
Somehow, without quite knowing how, Elliot found that the gun was no longer in his hand, but on the sidewalk next to him. The jumble of thoughts following added up to, Well, I’ve had it now.
“You all right, son?” Elliot just nodded. Then the officer noticed Elliot’s revolver and picked it up. She examined it a moment, looked at Elliot, and handed it to him. “Better put this away before my partner sees it, or I’ll have to take you in.”
Elliot was still too dazed to be sure what was going on. Was this an attempt at entrapment? He coughed, managing enough air to get out “Thanks.” Then he risked taking the gun from the officer, holstering it.
“Sure you’re all right?”
“Uh — I think so.”
“Then I’d better get my partner back before the blood-thirsty fool gets herself killed.” She started running down Fifty-ninth Street in the direction the police car had driven.
“Thanks a million,” Elliot shouted to his samaritan. Upon reflection, he realized a million was not very much thanks these days.
Fifth Avenue at night was even busier than in daytime, though the bumper-to-bumper traffic of automobiles and motor scooters had been replaced with an equally dense population of bicycles and pedestrians. Each night, between Fifty-ninth and Forty-second streets, the avenue was closed off to all motorized traffic except the electric patrol carts of Fifth Avenue Merchant Alliance Security — and FAMAS had justified the privilege. By totally ignoring any nonviolent, noninvasive behavior — no matter how outrageous or vulgar — and concentrating exclusively on protecting its clients and their customers from attacks and robbery, FAMAS made Fifth Avenue a safe haven from the city’s pervasive street violence. Anything else went, from sexual displays of every sort to the street merchandising of neo-opiates or — for several hours, at least — your own personal slave.
Within his first five minutes Elliot was approached by two beggars (one of whom looked as if he had taken a graduate degree in mendicancy from the University of Calcutta), had been invited to a gay dance hall, watched a man in a dress and high heels chase a midget, and been approached by a black-market currency dealer. Elliot might have made a deal with this last if his rates had been better.
Nor was this discouraged by the avenue’s property owners. They knew it was precisely this atmosphere that attracted their customers. Neither did the city government interfere; its own OTB gambling casinos on the avenue were one of the city’s few remaining reliable sources of revenue — and more than one city council member had secret business interests in the enclave.
As a result, Fifth Avenue had evolved into the center of the city’s nightlife, maintaining a carnival atmosphere — dazzling, noisy, and sensual — in which its patrons were as often as not more interesting than its own diversions, which were plentiful.
Elliot checked his watch; it was only a little after eight thirty. He found it astonishing, but his entire life had been pulled apart in just over six hours. More immediate, though was the thought that the Rabelais Bookstore might still be open.
After locating a pay phone, Elliot searched his pockets for a vendy. Officially named Federal Vending Machine Tokens, vendies were the same size and weight as the old dimes, nickels, and quarters, but had completely replaced coins in common exchange. By official definition vendies were not money: NOT LEGAL TENDER was conspicuously stamped on the obverse. They circulated as change anyway. Though vendies were sold legally only by banks and post offices at a price set daily by the Treasury Department, the official price tended toward the black-market one to prevent the hoarding that had greshamed all fixed-value coins out of exchange. In turn, the black-market price was a fixed ratio to the stable eurofrancs.
Depositing a dime vendy — today worth about fifty New Dollars or EFR .04 — Elliot obtained the Rabelais Bookstore’s telephone number and called it. There was no answer.
It was still early. Surely it was prudent that he should avoid the streets as much as possible, but he was not sure where else was completely safe, either. Perhaps Phillip could be useful after all. Elliot redeposited his vendy, punching in Phillip’s number from memory. Ten rings later he gave up, deciding to try again later.
Casually Elliot started down Fifth Avenue again, observing the gaudy spectacle around him. Two male transvestites passed by arm-in-arm. New Orleans jazz mixed in the street with infrasonic rock. Pushcart odors — sweet, then garlicky — wafted by his face. Brief clouds of warm, moist smoke vented out of cinema cabarets into the street, slowly there to dissipate. He was smiled at several times by streetwalkers, managing to ignore them until a more assertive one — his own age, quite pretty, and wearing an expensive evening gown with stole — started walking alongside him. “Hi,” she said.
Elliot continued walking and nodded curtly. “Hello.”
“Would you like to have a date with me?”
Elliot could not resist looking her over but answered politely, “Thank you, but no.” He speeded up a bit.
She matched his pace. “I’m different from the others.” Elliot glanced over as if to say, Oh? “For five thousand blues I’ll do it in my pants.”
Elliot reflected that all the weirdoes were certainly out, than gave her another glance. He couldn’t resist. “Run that by me again?”
She smiled, continuing to match his pace. “I said that for five thousand blues, I’ll go to the bathroom in my panties. I’ve been holding it in all day. You can watch me — even feel it if you want to. I wet myself, too. How about it?”
Elliot studied her with a fascinated horror mounting within him. He was almost jogging now. “You can’t be serious.”
“But I am. You’ll like it. It’s really –”
Her voice cut off as she stopped short, her face losing all expression. Almost automatically Elliot also stopped, thinking that she was about to faint. But several seconds later when she did not, Elliot knew with certainty what had caused her to stop. He backed slowly away.
“Oh, damn,” she said in a baby-soft voice. “Now you’ve made me do it.”
Five minutes later, he escaped into the lobby of the New York Hilton from its Sixth Avenue entrance. After hurrying into a telephone booth, he tried both the Rabelais Bookstore and Phillip again. There were still no answers.
Elliot then sat in the booth, taking account of his assets. He found that he had twenty-six thousand and some-odd blues in his wallet — a fair-sized sum. This surprised him. His allowance was generous, but not that generous. Then he remembered closing out his savings account just several days before to prevent the final erosion of his few remaining New Dollars.
For the first time in hours, he remembered the gold he was carrying. The idea started percolating through his mind that perhaps this might be the means of financing his family’s release, whether through bribery, lawyer’s fees, or even hiring criminals for a prison break. He knew that the gold was not his but his father’s; nevertheless, his father had said that if by “‘losing it’ or paying it as a bribe” he could improve their escape chances one iota, he wouldn’t have hesitated “for one second.”
In the meantime, though, the gold was illegal and unconverted — of no immediate use.
He was hungry and still not sure whether he wanted to take a room. After first visiting the lobby magazine shop, where he bought a paperback copy of Between Planets by Robert A. Heinlein, he rode the escalator down to the Taverne Coffee Shop on the lower level. There he ate a Monte Cristo sandwich with several cups of quite good coffee (but then eating out always seemed a luxury; hotels and restaurants were not rationed at consumer level) and he read about half the novel.
Elliot was a science-fiction fan, Heinlein by far his favorite author. This particular novel was an old friend that he had read many times before. Its seventeen-year-old protagonist was in a similar predicament. Unfortunately, the specific problems he encountered had their solution on Venus, not Earth. At half past ten, Elliot paid his check and called Phillip again.
Ten minutes later, Elliot had taken a single room for $11,500, registering as Donald J. Harvey, the hero of the Heinlein novel. An exorbitant bribe to the room clerk, added to advance cash payment, forestalled any questions about identification or travel permits.
The room was clean, comfortable, warm, and well lit. Though as functionally nondescript as a thousand other hotel rooms, its very anonymity made it more beautiful to Elliot than almost any other place he had seen. He punched a do-not-disturb notice into the hotel computer, locked and chained the door, then undressed for a leisurely whirlpool bath, hanging his precious belt on the towel rack so he could keep an eye on it.
He took the opportunity to examine his shoulder. On it was a purple-and-red bruise. He thought it strange that such an ugly wound did not hurt very much, but restrained from questioning his luck. The injury did not seem to require any immediate attention, though, nor would he have known what to do if it had.
After bathing, Elliot got into bed — with belt under his pillow and gun on the night table — and finished reading the Heinlein. Finally, he called the desk, leaving a wake-up Picturephone call for eight o’clock.
Momentarily overcome by an attack of lonely fright, he soon managed to guide his mind to other matters. Thinking about the poor streetwalker made him feel a bit less sorry for himself.
What a revoltin’ development that was!
Next in Alongside Night is Chapter VII.
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.