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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 20


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The President had said to go on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This hand he was dealing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The FBI director shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

Lorimer stood up. “Over your dead body.”

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

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

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

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

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

Elliot looked over to his father.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s yours now.”

#

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

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

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

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

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

A familiar voice said, “Joseph Rabinowitz?”

“Right,” said Elliot. “Is this — ?”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

“How will I know — ?”

“The usual way. Don’t worry.”

Chin hung up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you — ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The car was past Fifty-third Street.

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

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

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

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

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

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XXI.

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




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

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