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If you're just beginning to read my writing, I'd like to suggest that you look up FLIGHT AT PEENEMŰNDE and its sequel GAMES AT DEAUVILLE in the historical and beginnings folders.
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Group Captain Ronnie Barber pulled his parka close around his body. It was fucking cold. And the sky – it looked like it was going to snow like a motherfucker, the clouds were so thick and low. And him sitting out here in the cold like this – on a cold-assed concrete bench. He glanced at the name carved into the mausoleum – William H. Taft.
So, why was he sitting in the middle of Arlington Cemetery at this guy's gravesite at ten o'clock on a Tuesday morning? That was the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, all right. Because he'd been told to. By that dumb-assed preacher back in Towson. This guy Davis Trellum is operations chief, Ronnie, he'd said. He wants to meet you.
Sure he did. What kind of nutcase was going to come to Arlington Cemetery and freeze his damned balls off when he could stay inside and stay warm? A south Georgia boy with shit for brains, that's who.
Ronnie wasn't really mad at the preacher, though. The man was all right for a preacher. He was even all right for a Methodist. And he'd got Ronnie into CMUM on a paying basis. He'd even got him put in charge of his own squad. And, for the first time in his life, Ronnie Barber was making decent money. That's what he liked about the Christian Men United For Morality. A guy didn't have to be somebody or go to college for four years to get ahead, all he had to do was be good. The rewards had come fast too.
He figured he'd sit at Taft's tomb another fifteen minutes waiting for this Trellum guy. He owed the preacher that.
He saw the black man then and stiffened when he realised that he was studying him. He didn't remember seeing him come through the break in the shrubbery. Damned nigger! Why was he just standing there gawking? He better not be no faggot, else they were going to find a dead nigger in Arlington Cemetery, one that hadn't been planted yet.
The man began to hum. It took Ronnie a moment to recognise the tune and then he almost fell over. It was the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the CMUM's anthem. The first stanza was the guy's way of identifying himself, the fucking code itself. The fucker was Davis Trellum. Ronnie's operations chief.
Shit! He was taking orders from a nigger! He bit off the thought, reminding himself he didn't have nothing against Blacks – as long as they stayed in their place. He hummed the first stanza to The New Day Belongs to Me back at the man to identify himself.
Trellum smiled. "Good morning, Group Commander," he said, "it was nice of you to come out today to meet me on such short notice."
Ronnie studied the man closer. He didn't sound like any Black he'd ever heard. This Trellum sounded ץ educated, he guessed was the word. He realised the man's overcoat looked to be some kind of fur. Trellum was educated and rich. Ronnie decided he probably could overlook the fact that the man was real mahogany-coloured. And what was this Group Commander bit? He was just a Group Captain.
"Just following orders, sir," he answered.
Trellum nodded. "You follow them very well, Group Commander – your first strike unit handled that vigilante execution as well as anything I've seen coming out of the CIA."
"You thought so, sir?" Ronnie asked, warming to the Black man. It was obvious that Trellum stayed on top of the nuts and bolts of an operation. Ronnie Barber figured that made him one hell of a commander.
"You're cold, aren't you?" Ronnie nodded. "Let's go sit in my car for a while. We've got things we need to discuss. I might find us a thermos of coffee to go along with the talk."
They walked silently along the gravelled path past the eternal flame burning at John Kennedy's gravesite. Ronnie realised they were moving deeper into the cemetery and away from the car parks. He stepped on the macadamised lane behind Trellum and saw the black, new natural gas-powered Caprice standing there.
"Hop in," Trellum told him. "I left the heater on high." Ronnie didn't think twice. He knew this Black man was a big cheese with the government to get one of these cars, much less be able to park it in the cemetery.
Trellum poured him a cup of coffee and then poured himself one. He screwed the lid back on the thermos and put it in the well beside the accelerator. He sighed. "Group Commander, you've been doing your job – doing it quite well, I might add – but the queers aren't doing theirs."
Ronnie stared at the man behind the steering wheel. "They aren't doing theirs?" he managed to ask without croaking.
"No." Trellum chuckled at his surprise. "We need them to fight back. That was the purpose of your first strike unit hitting the baths down in Southeast DC. But they didn't hit back like we thought they would."
"Isn't it better that they don't, sir? It's a lot easier to go in and beat them up side the head like we did that time." Ronnie shivered. "Things would've been a lot different if they'd had guns waiting for my boys."
Trellum smiled and sipped at his coffee. "No, we don't want running gun battles, Group Commander – at least, not with the faggots. That could change the whole image of CMUM that we want it to have." He paused for a moment. "I'm not going to go into our planning here, but let me just say that we need the faggots to fight back -- with their fists anyway – when we take them on. That's the only way we're going to make ordinary Americans realise that there is a radical homosexual programme and that the Christian Center is the only force willing to resist it."
"The Christian Center?" Ronnie felt immediately like a fool. The CMUM was part of the Christian Center. He hadn't even thought about it; he'd just been so caught up in electing Reed Stephens Senator from Georgia and then carrying out his orders.
Trellum's smile never left his face. "Again, that's on the national planning level, Group Commander. Just remember this, the Christian Center's one goal now is to make Reed Stephens President and to wipe out the queer threat to our people's children."
Good! Ronnie told himself, that's settled then. He relaxed and sipped at his cup.
"I'm giving you two more first strike units. That'll make you a full Group Commander in CMUM. You'll continue to work out of Good Shepherd Methodist Church in Towson."
A full Group? Three units? Five hundred more dollars a month? He could even start looking for a girl he could marry. He definitely liked Davis Trellum. He was Ronnie Barber's kind of man.
"Your first strike units are going to operate simultaneously in DC, Baltimore, and Philly. They're going to continue to be held outside the CMUM chain of command for the obvious reasons." Trellum cleared his throat. "As soon as we start seeing some results, we'll need to form other units for New York and Boston, as well as the West Coast. You're close to being a big man in CMUM."
Ronnie nodded. Beating people up or even killing them – even if they were faggots or drug dealers – couldn't be linked back to CMUM. That had been drilled into his head from day one. Some things could be morally right but never be politically right.
"Pick your best two men – the most dedicated ones – to head up these new units, Group Commander. They report directly to you. You'll continue to report directly to your minister there in Towson."
"What are our orders then?" Ronnie asked, cutting directly to the chase.
"Your men are going to start taking the fight directly to these queers, Group Commander. One by one. They'll ambush individuals or small groups leaving a bar. It doesn't matter if you kill them."
"That ought to get that Queer Nation group up in arms at us. Them and the rest of those faggots."
"That's our thinking too. Just make sure it's homosexuals you attack. And make sure there aren't any police around."
"No kind of witnesses. No, sir, no-one left to tell who and what they saw. No-one at all."
Trellum nodded. "You've got your orders then. I've already put your promotion through – you'll see it in your pay cheque starting next week." He opened the window of the Caprice and poured the rest of his coffee out on the tarmac.
Ronnie understood the interview was over. "Thank you, sir," he said as he opened the door and started to slide across the seat. "You won't ever regret your faith in me."
"Just do us proud, Group Commander. That's all we ask. And, if we each do that, this country will be returned to Christ before the year is out."
* * *
I had begun to think that I had been insane. That I still remained mentally deranged. Only an asylum inmate would have actively sought what I was enduring. I relaxed slightly as my mind pulled that chain of logic to its end. I was standing in the receiving line I had sought, dressed in coat and tails. That much was true. But I was not enjoying it. My embassy had obliged me. I was having my soiree. I wished I were anywhere but the Austrian Embassy.
"Robert Treman, Congressman from Maryland, and the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives," the Protocol Officer whispered in German.
I clicked my heels, smiled, and extended my hand to the ruddy-faced legislator. "Herr Congressman, it is my honour." I remembered that I had not fed. I could feel the heat of his blood.
"Jesse Stiers, Senator from Idaho, and Chairman of the Senate International Relations Committee." An ancient, bald – ugly – mortal teetered on his cane before he was finally able to place it before him and centre his weight on it. A muscular young man helped him through the distance that separated us.
I clicked my heels, smiled, and extended my hand. Senator Stiers belched. Loudly. The Protocol Officer froze. The muscular young man flushed. The Senator didn't seem to notice. The muscular young man helped the doddering old man to shuffle past me.
"Frau Doris Shafly, Special Assistant to the Vice President." The Protocol Officer glanced at me. "And a serious, intelligent player in the American rightwing," he elaborated in a whisper.
I smiled my appreciation at him. He was carrying out my instructions perfectly.
"Gnädige Frau Shaftey," I said, smiling and reaching for her hand. I clicked my heels, bowed, and barely brushed the top of her hand with my lips. "It is my pleasure." Her eyelashes fluttered. A tentative smile played at the corner of her lips as she moved past me. I sensed a longing but did not explore it.
"Major General Randolph Howell, US Army, and military advisor to the Vice President."
I smiled automatically as our hands met. General Howell's face was impassive. "It is an honour," I said as I took in his honours shown on the left breast of his uniform jacket. An Army general willing to be seen with the American Fascisti? I supposed him to be the military's front man, their investment in the right-wing cause in case it did gain power. But why would an intelligent man permit himself to be used this way? Unless he was sure of the investment he represented.
I was being introduced to the right-wing poseurs of Washington as they passed through the receiving line. I had met some of the middle-level players in American fascist politics. I had also encountered at least one fascist icon that had not had the grace to die and leave his memory untarnished. Senator Stiers had already become a laughingstock.
I knew that I wanted to become better acquainted with Bob Treman, General Howell, and Mitzi Shafly. These were the people who would lead me to the centre of fascist power. They were the reason I had demanded this soiree.
My lips were numb. My face ached from the smiles I had to force the past hour. The dye on the insides of my patent leather shoes was gone, leaving spots of the cow skin as bare as they were when the bovine met its fate. Only my memory kept the names of Congressmen, their wives, and other notables aligned with their faces.
I had met the First Secretary of the embassy the week before, the ambassador being unfortunately indisposed. We had agreed my title and position warranted a small gathering in which I could meet men and women of substance in the American capital. He frowned when I specifically requested the American members of the party be Republicans and pointed out to me that wouldn't be diplomatic and that Democrats were as prone to meet Austrian Princes as were Republicans.
I prevailed. The First Secretary thought my insistence that the leadership of the Christian Center be included would fare worse in the American media than Austria's election of a former SS Lieutenant as President had back in the 1980s. I understood from what he left unsaid I was not the only European who viewed the American fascist movement with alarm.
I prevailed. The soiree was set for the following Friday night, tonight. I had quickly been viewed by every Austrian in Washington as the worst kind of aristocrat – a reactionary, bigoted arse.
My eyes were glazing over, but I knew the end of the queue was near. I persevered.
A man with light brown hair and glittering blue eyes stood before me, smiling as he stretched his hand out to take mine – his face that of an impish pubescent boy. I had seen him recently on television and placed him now.
"Reed Stephens," he offered. I already knew he was the vice president of the United States.
"It's an honour to meet you, sir," I told him.
"You're from southeastern Austria, aren't you, Prince von Maribor?" he asked.
Caught by surprise, I looked at him, seeing him – the real him – there before me in person. I touched his thoughts, and it was as if he had opened an encyclopaedia to Austria and was skimming through the material. Nothing else broke through his concentration – not hunger, not the attractive woman beside him, not the stifling heat of the reception hall. Nothing. His mind and his thoughts were at that moment concentrated on the one thing at their centre. I smiled even as I envied him his organised mind.
"Yes. Maribor lies in the southeastern corner of present-day Austria – midway between the Slovene and Croatian borders, but a bit closer to the Croats."
"Yours must be an old title then."
I nodded and accepted that the man before me was a formidable politician. "Late ninth century, Mr. Vice President. Lothar, the son of Karl der Große, crowned my forebear. We became part of the Empire in the eleventh century."
"Charlemagne and his son Lothar who was bequested the German lands!" he yelped and shook his head slowly, incorporating the fact into something that was more personal. I did not understand how he performed his mental trick but appreciated it, as I did the man performing it.
The woman beside him pulled at his sleeve. She was well practised at surreptitiously gaining his attention in crowds; I had almost not seen her movement. The encyclopaedia inside his mind closed. Less than a moment later, a new folder appeared, one I sensed was titled "behaviour in political situations". His eyes shifted slightly and a smile pasted itself to his face. "Allow me to introduce my wife and the love of my life, Rita Stephens."
I took her hand and bowed over it, barely brushing her fingers with my lips. "It is my pleasure, Mrs. Stephens," I told her.
I circulated among the embassy's guests and studied Reed Stephens while keeping half the room between us. He was slim, short, and youthful. I was surprised that he was in his late 40s. He looked so much the impish, fun-loving lad, well in control of himself in his first outing among adults. The perfect young gentleman a mother would wish of her son. But I knew who he was. He was the clean-cut, bright-eyed poster boy for the new order that awaited America.
I hated what he stood for -- for the evil that should have been seared from the soul of man in those last days of the world war. He would possess the world. I wanted him to know who possessed whom when I had stopped his minions from succeeding in giving America the hell Europe knew in the last century. Yet, I respected him.
I wondered about the other three people I had met in the receiving line. Doris probably was not that important -- she was Reed Stephen's assistant. She seemed to offer little, except possibly as a means of reaching Reed Stephens. The men, however, held interesting positions.
Treman was the legislative leader of his party and, because he was here at this soiree, he was of the right wing of the Republican Party. He had also seemed to be more than just a puppet too. He was definitely one I needed to cultivate.
The General offered a number of possibilities. For a putsch to be successful, the conspirators had to have the tacit approval of the county's military or that military had to be in total collapse. Like Russia's had been when Lenin seized power there nearly a hundred years ago.
That obviously was not the case with the Americans. Their military had never had to admit to tasting defeat, not even in Vietnam. The country was convinced of its military's infallibility -- at least, they were convinced of its superiority on the battlefield.
Was General Howell's presence among the rightwing an indicator of where America's military had come to stand or was he their token who would become a Judas goat if the political winds in Washington changed?
I suspected it would be more difficult for a foreigner to establish friendly relations with a military officer than it would be for me to do so with the Minority Speaker. But I did want to know more about him and what he represented.
At all times, however, I would ensure that I stayed outwardly aware of the vice president. He was the centre around whom the other revolved. While I knew he would avoid dirtying his hands with specific knowledge, he was either the Fürher-to-be or close to the man who was.
I thanked the Protocol Officer and walked to the room where the guests of the Austrian Republic waited to meet a Prince of a dead regime.
|You look to be having fun,| Emil said in my mind.
|I wish you were here to share it,| I shot back.
|Me too,| he answered and a picture of a page in The Journal of Global Economics he was reading appeared in my mind. |"Demythifising the Greenspan Miracle"?| I groaned. |What miracle did he perform?| I asked.
|Alan Greenspan as head of the American central bank during the 90s kept the American economy growing for eight -- almost nine -- years despite a recession in Europe and a meltdown in Asia.|
|Oh, I see.| I did not see. I had not understood a single word he had said. Of course, I understood them. I spoke English now. I even spoke it well. But Emil's words had been only so much gibberish to me. There was no sense of the fullness of meaning that I associated with telepathy. He had made academic noises, and I was not an adherent of that academic discipline.
|I'll see you at home, Karli. I'm leaving the library now, but I'll hunt first.| Glistening lips appeared in my mind's focus, puckered up in a kiss to me.
I stepped into the room with my country's guests. And felt like a Christian pushed onto the sand of the Roman Coliseum to wait for the lions.
I walked towards the Vice President and his wife. He was, after all, the highest-ranking guest in attendance. They stood with the belching octogenarian Senator and his muscular young attendant.
I resolutely reminded myself that it was my duty to make nice to these people tonight. To be a politician. I wanted their doors to be open to me if and when I decided I wanted to talk about politics with them. "Mr. Vice President, it's indeed an honour you bestow on me." I offered as I neared their party, a smile on my face and my hand automatically reaching for his.