Creative Works by Dr. David Walls-Kaufman, DC

Why Me? 1987

          A story contest wanted a sci-fi piece derived from your favorite sci-fi novel, and you had to use the title of that novel in your opening sentence. Here is my rendering of what Winston’s life looked like after his arrest and re-education in 1984.

DAVID

By David Walls-Kaufman

         In 1984 they arrested me.

         In 1987 I got out of reeducation.

         I didn’t actually learn anything in reeducation. Of course I could repeat by rote every lesson they “taught” me. It isn’t teaching. It is hearing the same things over and over. Until you cringe in all your being against anything different.

         But me, I was overhandled past terror, to numbness. I really don’t care. Yes, I learned my lesson. But I also understand them now and know they have nothing to fear from me because I am broken by the experience of how cunning they are. I know they are reading these writings, these scratchings. I leave them out for them to find. They know I am only escaping into thought without hope of eluding or challenging them. Once they see this defeat they drop you from mouth like a bored carnivore to sulk off and dominate some other creature until it is killed or shaken useless.

         I work mornings then sit hours in my same flat.

         I returned to that meditation in a cell in front of the disc. 

         I returned to eat cabbage and bad-smelling sausage at the cafeteria in the square. But I was re-assigned from the Ministry of Truth. I now work in the Department of Public Works, in refuse collection, with others on work release.

         I never see Julia, of course. And I don’t write in public.

         I may mull over a thought as I sip a beer from my Four Ration per week. But I carefully wrap that thought and take it home with me to lay it out and examine it on the paper; see how it fits, or blooms, or moves. The pages are my only friends. People know what I did. For that they whisper and keep good distance.

         And so it was a surprise the day the long, black, polished Spechyzia pulled up beside my cafe table as I sat in the December sunlight with my beer. Four other patrons shrank, wondering what big oafs might jump out to grab us. The windows are always dark tinted in official limousines. The Spechyzia idled, a feathering of exhaust regularly pulsing from the tailpipe in the frosty air.

         And I—I, amazingly, feared nothing.

         Then O’Brian stood, looking over the bonnet straight at me.

         O’Brian. Of all the people in their world. Remember? The official who sent me and Julia up. The man I thought owned a far-away look during Ministry speeches that made me imagine he might sympathize with my cooped-up hostility? The man who exactingly supervised my early phase reeducation.

         The breeze touched his sandy hair. His handsome face smiled.

         Smiled of all things.

         “Would you like to get in?” he asked. 

         The doors shut snugly around O’Brian and me.

         The driver turned smoothly toward the Avenida Populi. The Ministry buildings loomed like cliffs in the low winter sunshine.

         “I’ve always wondered about you, Winston.”

         I didn’t know what he meant. Did he wonder if I was cured? Had they picked me up because they didn’t even want me writing my harmless drivel lest someone find it? This was the only thing I could imagine they would object to since they knew they had won given how they know everything of the human psyche.

         “How’s life on the . . . outside?”

         His mouth smiled affectionately across his square jaw.

         I nodded. He knew what I did.

         “Do you tire smelling of putridity?”

         For some reason, this cut. Maybe all of us no matter how low we sink we keep a certain vanity for how others perceive us. We passed a main battle tank and the tank crew, seeing the Spech, snapped a crisp salute and boot click.

         “I’m offering you a way out, Winston.” The orange of the sun caught his handsome profile. “I’m sixty-one. You are—thirty-one.” He tucked his head just barely toward me as if to better see to the backs of my eyes. “You’ll never have to lift another pail of shit.” He pouted at the significance of the offer.

         “I’m not a homosexual,” I said defensively.

         He altered the pout. “All the more fun for me.”

         I looked away. “You tortured me.” 

         “What was I supposed to do? We always had a fondness for each other.” We were passing Parliament Complex. Several platoons of tanks lined the Avenida, and a handful of Spechyzias, some parked, some moving. Otherwise the Avenida was barren as usual, waiting for the next Pageant Day.

         “You won’t be the only one. I have other—friends.”

         I tried to grasp all that this meant. My mind opened a stagepiece in which he and I lay afterward across a comfortable, tousled bed with a splash of morning sun. We were somewhere tropical. I imagined I still felt his presence behind, up me. My mind created the indignity of the moment and arranged a query on whether I could take it.

         I didn’t look at O’Brian. “Why me?”

         O’Brian frowned. Either he nodded or our course over some cobbles made him seem to nod. “We have a history, you and I.”

         You have to wonder about really smart, powerful men. Even if they are married, sometimes you never know. And the offer still made little sense. I looked older after three years in reeducation. These morbid thoughts sickened me.

         “I travel a great deal,” O’Brian told me. “All over the world. The best resorts for the top Party officials. I have three homes in the country. Two abroad. The old Italy. The old Libya. And all you have to do is come along.”

         Indeed. What did I have to take along from my cell with the disc?

         “Is this the next step in my punishment?”

         He almost chuckled. “Does it sound like a punishment?” 

         True. What would be the goal? How would they know when I was fixed?

         “Is this punishment for my writing?”

         “I don’t give a damn about your silly writing, Winston. The writing makes you more vulnerable, frankly.” He looked out the window as if checking our progress. “Pull over at The Palm.” The Spech turned into the Latin Quarter behind the Parliament Constabulary where two armed soldiers kept vigil at every lane leading in. The Spech trundled over the cobbles and pulled up in front of The Palm. Potted palms nodded in the breeze and torchlit sconces flickered in the mirror-finish granite walls. Broad slide-open bays lined an elegant terrace, revealing tables dressed in sharp linen lit by candles even at this hour, and a swift-footed waitstaff clad in white buss-coats making ready for a busy evening. O’Brian’s driver opened the door for me.

         I wondered if he knew of O’Brian’s foul proposal. I checked his face but his gaze was averted so that I divined nothing.

         I put one foot out and took a moment studying the scene.

____

         I became acquainted with that Other World. 

         I don’t mean the Other World of homosexuals, but the Other World of the Party elite. They are not the same as you or I. They have more power.

         It was true what O’Brian admitted to me. They do little work. And when they are away, which is most of the time, managing their world from more pleasant climes, they nose like hummingbirds along a delightful archipelago of resorts whose views take in the best topography and color our world has to offer.

         We started in Gibraltar where he had an international conference. He kept me fairly well hidden in our pension high on the Mediterranean side. Gibraltar has the macaques. I had never even seen a monkey. Or a cable car. Then we took the overnight ferry to Málaga. We dined with the Captain. He never looked once at me. The man was frightened, but he stuck by his old world puritanism, though he had the head to keep the bias tight to his chest. Through dinner I dared him to give me a cross look. He refused. Our Gibraltar departure was delayed almost a day for a broken engine. O’Brian let the Harbor Captain understand his mood, but there was a coincident train problem that hampered the arrival of a replacement used carburetor. 

         I remember the expression on the Captain’s face half-hiding himself in the door of his bridge when O’Brian and I lurched down the gangway. It was so top-heavy that we descended first and let the Moroccan bearers follow after with the trunks. I bet he wished we’d fall, except then O’Brian might cast blame and make a reprisal. Málaga was a beautiful limestone city and the sea luminous. The water was so clear a fishing trawl appeared to float in the air above its shadow on the sand.

         Over two years I saw a lot of the world. We made many of those trips by way of the gold service on the blimp Comrade Stalin.

         The first class accommodations are impeccable. On one of these trips I came down with a mysterious illness spanning symptoms of extreme fatigue, headache, painful bowel and urination. By dinner bell, I exhibited jaundice. I couldn’t finish dining. I remained in bed until the Stalin reached Athens. I was taken directly to hospital where the doctors examined me and administered a couple tests. They found nothing. At least, this is what they told me. I saw them speaking confidentially in the hall with O’Brian and he nodding. When O’Brian came into my room he mentioned nothing of what they told him, and it enraged me that, even with my own health, and my dealing with whatever he put up me, he was still our only concern.

         I remained in hospital for ten days and gradually recovered from my mysterious illness that O’Brian possessed more knowledge of than did I.

         At that time, I returned home alone, and presumably another of O’Brian’s toys joined him for his trip to Vietnam for another economic conference. Much to my surprise upon landing home, I discovered first from the front page of Truth & Conviction that the invisible superiors or Big Brother had decided that the people of Britain could let slip the name Oceania and pick up the old names of Britain and London.

         As a former member of the Ministry of Truth I wondered long and hard what this meant in the change of political winds.

         I also wondered if my job as O’Brian’s toy was now ended.

         I was well aware that he did not love me. How could he when I behaved the way I did? I had fallen dead inside, and I cared about nothing. I could not bring myself to feel enough about my position and my future and my returning to the trash collection to flirt with him or to put on an act in bed with him behind me. I did not enjoy that prison barred by palm trees and turquoise shores. His bumping and skirmishing behind and biting my bum left me sick and dead cold.

         One time, O’Brian yanked on his pants and put the tine through his belt hole and said impatiently, “You could at least act as if you like it!”

         I burned on my own. What did he really want? 

         “You don’t care if I enjoy this,” I observed.

         This quieted him. He set his cuff links in the illumined bathroom mirror as he suddenly apprehended the crystal veracity of this.

         It grew so still we heard the surf of the Cinque Terre.

          “So . . . I suppose that is correct.”

          He emphasized suppose as if he was still unsure what this implied.

          He left without me for the dinner. I took my time dressing in uniform and then leaned on the balcony studying the sea far below and the path across the surface to the black horizon under the moon. I tallied in my mind the pros and cons of humiliating myself and going down. My emotions were in literal war. My throat, my heart, my diaphragm coalesced in a single steel bar of revulsion for myself and the image of the faces round our table if and when I finally degraded myself to follow my “lover” down, tail between my legs. I did go down. My face scorched as if from sunburn. My throat clenched so hard and dry I felt any moment thin vomit would force its way to the back of my mouth. Any tart comment from one of those Party cardinals or their wives or toys and my flaming humiliation would have aimed a fork at an eye.

          I knew all this. That I could lose “favor”. That I could be sent back down from the Comrade Stalin to hoist ash bins leaky with refuse. Worse, back to raw humiliation for my choices without the consolation of perquisites and the beauty of the best places in the world. Apparently, Fate believed that I hadn’t suffered enough. And O’Brian set his hairy legs behind me to point it out, each day. Me, pretending only half of it was real life in idylls having diplomatic relations with the Union.

          My self-discipline had run aground on irremediable self-loathing. So hard was it fixed that no threat in Oceania terrified me.

____

          I was five months living in O’Brian’s villa while it was in full-out renovations. For that reason I actually stayed in the pool guesthouse. 

          It was modest enough that my feelings of hypocrisy subsided.

          I chose to make political interpretations from the extent and obvious cost of the renovations, the much larger indoor-outdoor pool and the choicest materials for double doors, wood trim, chandeliers, flooring and the same gorgeous North African tilework O’Brian used in his grand Libyan villa. I decided the State and Big Brother must be increasingly confident in their consolidation on power now if they cared just shit about appearances where their villas and lifestyle were concerned. The splendor of O’Brian’s house and grounds taking shape around me filled me with despair. What chance was there for the rest of us if Oceania was this brazen? The workmen labored from sunrise to sunset fabricating lovely architectural art. Each work cycle shackled my mind with another layer of hopelessness that God surely had abandoned us.

          It was so corrupt and unfair. I relived the disappointment that both my parents died so early that I could never whisper in their ear to please tell me how this world of inverse morals had toddled into reality. Couldn’t people see it coming?

          Don’t monsters like this make their existence known?

          Of course, I had to stop writing.

          I couldn’t leave these ideas traced out.

          I had gone too far in my hatred for O’Brian and the Party and how one helped the other take everything for the sole purpose that they could have fun and no one else could. I despised them for being the sort of people that probably could have found an honest way to come by this luxury so that others could experience it too. Certainly, if they brought all this destruction—weren’t they capable of the inverse? I assumed they had destroyed much that had been based on seeing the unending fear in my parents’ eyes. I knew even so young something was amiss. This could not be right. Before O’Brian, the Ministry of Truth, burning pictures and papers to hide lies. People were not built such that the fear I saw could be the norm—and now, as O’Brian’s plaything I saw what the remarkable facade of deceit was singularly used to hide.

          For all this I loathed O’Brian more.

          When O’Brian’s dream house neared completion he called me long distance from Hong Kong. He sounded happy. He told me breathlessly how spectacular the island peaks looked jutting over the rough cobalt of the channel.

          “How is the house, darling?”

          The endearment shocked me. My hate spiked.

          “It’s coming along perfectly,” I said, inserting a soft smile.

          “I miss you.” He was flirting, for God’s sake.

          Instinct compelled me to follow his lead.

          “I thought maybe you were bored with me.”

          “Oh, maybe for a while. We have history. I told you.”

          We hung on the line together.

          “I’m headed to Sicily. Meet me.”

          His voice was mysterious, like a little girl. It seemed ridiculous, this tenderness I’d never heard coming from this large political enforcer. That he was getting older must be the only explanation. I remembered the buffalo bull in Tanzania when guides told us the lions only pulled him over in a blaze of dust because of his age.

          “Aren’t you anxious to see the house?”

          The fucking “house”, like it was ours.

          And we were a fucking couple.

          “After. Sicily first. I want to show you a special place.” He sighed. “Will you be excited to see it?”

          I smiled. “Of course.”

____

          We crossed on the Comrade Stalin again.

          The first night out I came upon O’Brian and a friend he had made armed with cocktails playing ping pong in the Recreation Room. I heard raucous laughter. When I opened the door I saw the “net” was the athletic naked body of a blonde male steward that earlier both men had been flattering.

          O’Brian told me a special surprise was on board. I believed maybe he was going to present me with some sort of a diamond bracelet in a flute of champagne arriving with dinner. Each meal, the gift never came.

          I came to realize the accommodations in the Stalin had altered. The salon was truncated and a conspicuous nautical door with the typical rounded corners stood in the new bulkhead that shortened the salon. There were fewer chrome rails and velvet observation chairs and sofas. Not until the second day of the voyage did I see the change and realize that the new bulkhead’s padded silk upholstery probably hid a magnificent state room. I couldn’t imagine why else the grandeur of the Party’s flagship dirigible would be compromised. Who was on the other side?

          That evening, I tarried on the observation deck with my Pappa Doble cocktail in hand, taking in the views of the Sardinian coast floating below. Part of the observation deck extended out in a bay port and starboard. There, I twisted the aluminum latch and leaned out the pane into the turbulent breeze. I put aside my cocktail on a side table bolted into the salon carpet then leaned my torso out into the wind snapping past the bulk of the airship. I peered sternward to see in the windows in the rear compartment. The angle of the sun pouring in behind made it possible for to me to make out a man with arms behind him similarly taking in the coastline.

          He was in his seventies with thick mustaches, brush cut white hair and a short, thick torso that bespoke endurance and menace. At first I thought it was Comrade Stalin risen from the dead! But there was something more familiar about him.

          It wasn’t Stalin. . . . It was Big Brother!

          So this was O’Brian’s surprise.

          We were all bound for Sicily together for probably what was to be the single-most significant conference since the turn of the world.

____

          The presence of Big Brother created palpable excitement.

          Part of me doubted he was ever even real, if you remember. I believed he was a device, a boogeyman talisman, fashioned only to terrorize us children.

          But he was actually here, in Sicily. None of us, wives and toys, were permitted to go along with our partners to the functions where he appeared. Was there a crisis in the war? Was his visit just an appearance or was state policy being developed? I saw O’Brian only in the late afternoons when we did some touring or enjoyed a luncheon in a coastal cafe, or in the evening every other night when a state dinner was not scheduled. I never saw O’Brian happier. Except for one awful problem.

          At one lunch, we were joined by Comrade Felancon from Madrid and his female toy and his son and wife. We ate roast sardines and a light tomato-based shellfish stew and bottle after bottle of ice cold proseco. Felancon and O’Brian were carrying on an intense grudge. They argued and competed over everything. The last debate they were engaged in was the stature of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and how important this genre of anti-military Leftist literature had been in undermining the moral strength of the West in resisting the incursion of the Party into hemispheric politics.

          “Heller was a Communist,” Felancon insisted as if O’Brian were stupid for not knowing this tidbit about the author.

          “No, Felancon. He was a Socialist.”

          “Well, what’s the difference at this point?” The Spaniard opened his arms and took a look around emphasizing how all the West was clearly Socialist.

          “He was not a Party member!” O’Brian complained.

          “He’s still a major figure, you dolt!”

          The two glared at each other. Each settled back in his chair and removed the leather cigar commodes from inside their black tunics. The remains of lobsters covered the long table. They prepared their smokes in hostile silence and looked out over the balustrade with the awning nodding over the azure of the sea. To the right nosed a thin sailboat that was taking members out for twilight excursions. It too rode in the clear water that way as if on air floating over its uneven shadow on the bottom.

          Like my first time seeing Spain.

         It was that evening during cocktails that the two egoists got into a shouting match over some other mercurial point of revolutionary literature. They became so enraged that the two twisted fistfuls of each other’s tunics and campaign medals as they hollered nearly mouth to mouth. They were taken apart by friends, and I wonder if maybe the presence of The Man himself put them up to trying to outshine each other during this brief and maybe never-to-be-repeated opportunity.

          The standoff became even more difficult given that Comrade Felancon and his outfit were roomed one suite down from us in the same hotel. I saw him late nights alone on his balcony enjoying a cigar. I made out the orange dot traveling up and down as he meditated on the murmur of surf far below.

____

          The local police found the bodies on the rocks.

          The State Security officers investigated as well. Even Big Brother came out onto Felancon’s terrace to take a look at the bodies. He made some sort of benediction with his thick hand that I could not translate and left through the living room after a period that paid too little respect. I supposed the two officials meant enough to the State apparatus to warrant checking on them with his own eyes.

          Certainly the deaths came as a shock.

          What the local police told the resort staff was that obviously the two men had escalated their quarrel after the big dinner. When each returned to their suites, they well knew their antagonist was scant feet away where they could have another crack at each other and maybe even sneak up to surprise him.

          O’Brian apparently went for Felancon over the other’s balustrade and they lost balance so they plunged in each other’s clutches onto the mossy rubble. Their skulls and limbs were badly wrecked by the fall. But the local police were quite satisfied given all the witnesses to the escalating situation over two days. The State Security officers were probably inclined to put in more of a show for the sake of the reputations of the two men. I saw them carefully inspecting a patch among the rocks directly below the balcony of our suite. They were down there nearly two hours and then made their way up the demanding zig-zag steps carved into the cliff.

          I was packing my valise when they came into the suite unannounced. Three of them. They did not look happy, but then why would the State police?

          Seeing them reminded me of the boots up the stairs long ago.

          “What happened to your face?” one asked me. 

          “My friend enjoys rough play.”

          He seemed embarrassed, hostile.

          “What was he doing, exactly?”

          “Choking my throat. He hit me here.” I showed him. I didn’t have to show him. The purple pink bruise was prominent.

          “How long were you—lovers?” He followed curiously the progress of his partner who slung his leg over our balcony and dropped down to the dirt on the other side. The two of us went to peer over at what he was looking for.

          “We were together for four years.”

          “It was consensual? You with him?”

          I steered my head to say of course.

          The man below took to his knees. He reached inside his blouse for a magnifying glass. “What are these scuff marks?” He peered closer.

          I didn’t see any scuff marks. “What scuff marks?”

          His partner beside me squinted too.

          The fellow below showed nothing, but kept looking.

          “The problem is,” said the fellow next to me, “below, on the rocks, there appear to be pieces where Comrade O’Brian burst. And if he landed there—then, how did he drift over to the spot there beneath Comrade Felancon’s suite?” I saw him rove over my facial highlights carefully again.

          I frowned and shook my head.

          Three of the local Sicilian cops strolled onto the terrace with folded hands as if shy they were crashing our party. One with a mustache and gold epaulets smiled cheerily at me. They seemed quite impressed with the hotel. 

          “This is a shoe print!” said the one below.

          “I climbed after the Comrade’s lighter,” I told him.

          “He dropped it?” asked the officer next to me.

          I nodded at the Sicilian cop, who shrugged at me.

          “He dropped it,” the Sicilian cop said.

          The officer below started picking his way along the bottom of my terrace studying the soil between patches of grass and flowers.

          The Sicilian gazed down at the two Security officers still nosing around the rocks where pieces of O’Brian had been found. The Sicilians started speaking in Italian to one another about the men below. They spoke for some time about a variety of topics. The depth of the conversation began annoying the officer with me.

          “What is it you are talking about?” he said.

          “Your men, what are they finding?”

____

          O’Brian died three years ago.

          I’ve lived in the pool house ever since. Another Comrade took possession of the house within a few months of the completion of renovations. This Comrade, Daladier, met me numerous times at functions with O’Brian. Daladier travels a great deal too and wanted a pension overseas. He asked the Party if he could take possession of the house in Tripoli as well and then asked if I would stay on to caretake both properties for him and his wife. I agreed and he made the arrangements.

          The same Security officers came to visit me twice more to ask me about what exactly happened that night and how they found O’Brian.

          I guess they didn’t like what the Sicilian cops urged them to understand about hunks of meat and corpses left open along sea water.

          “Crabs, and turtles! They swish-swish! Carry all over!”

          The Sicilian cop had spoken to me with the same partisan assurance that he gave the security officers. Like I was security too. Like he had to convince me of the same facts of coastal marine violence. Turtles and crabs. And tide.

          I never forgot that cop.

          I guess I could ask, “Why me?”

Sex, Love and a Soviet Obituary

By David Walls-Kaufman

         A love story set in World War Two, and after.

DAVID

         I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about how she died or where she died, bitter and surreal as the news struck me, and bare enough to make me feel cold, hollow, unclean. I’m really not sure if what I felt, or feel, for her is really what I would call love. Especially in light of what she did.

         Could anything be more perverse and despicable?

         We met at Columbia University before the War when we both majored in physics. I knew her from a class and we had spoken a few times and then I saw her at a jazz club and she held a cigarette aloft in the tight crowd, and we spoke over a drink, and then two drinks, over the course of hours, and even then she smoked too much. I realized all this after I made my way blearily back to my room on 112th and flopped into my lumpy bed seeing her lovely face in double vision wreathed in a dirty halo just like a movie shot.

         —You’re leaving the department, she asked incredulously. Why?

         —I’m listening to my father’s practicality, I said. She shrugged, wanting more. I’m realizing I really have no prospects. I don’t see myself teaching.

         —You’re selling out? To the bourgeois? She bit the tip of her pinky in one of the few coquettish, girlish gestures I would ever see her do. Most everything she ever did was decidedly masculine, I see in retrospect.

         —You’re beautiful when you smile. I didn’t realize you could.

         She watched me with a complete lack of conviction. –A person’s politics is more important to me than looks, she said, smiling.

         —I see. You’re a political racist.

         She didn’t like that at all. I realized that night flopped on my face that she was beautiful, and smart, and that I felt some special closeness for her, and I maybe felt moved even more intensely because my feelings were so totally incongruous with her cold, strange supremacy. We made subsequent appointments to meet and talk in a cafe that clearly adopted Left Bank airs there on Amsterdam near Shermerhorn where she confessed, as she tipped up a coffee cup to full lips that left no lipstick stain, radicals congregated. I could tell she found it all very exciting and clandestine and that made her happy.

         —Why do you like me? I asked her.

         That made her smile. —I don’t know. Should we have sex?

         I was startled by her boldness. Anyway, we did go back to my room for the loss of my virginity. It was surprisingly awful, and I could tell it was for her, too; and I accept total responsibility. I didn’t know what I was doing at all. And she seemed halfway hurt as if she should have known better.

         —Are you a virgin? I asked her afterward, feeling angry.

         She shook her head No. 

         —I don’t believe you, I said decisively. And I didn’t because the sex was so bad as if she had no more idea than I what to do about making it better. She was wooden in her emotions and actions, her abrupt, jerky thrustings of pelvis at me during my incomplete freshman explorations.

         —No, she told me a little sharply, defensively, I had sex just last week.

         —I think you’re lying to me.

         I don’t know why I tried to be superior. I should have just shut up and taken my embarrassment like a man. In spite of the curt directness of this coital foible and the mutual lack of rapture she and I had sex again half a dozen times over the fall. In those subsequent skirmishes we found our stride. I don’t know why. Maybe we stopped trying, certainly she stopped poking at me, we held our kisses longer, we held each other longer, and I remember many times how we  embraced one another with appreciation, and the sex, the contact, cured the loneliness and unknowing. She, I think, seemed impressed with me as if I had touched her in some way others had not. She never said so. I felt she went away a little hurt that maybe she now had some sort of deeper emotional bond or obligation with me than she had desired, though she wouldn’t fulfill it. From then on, I sensed that she considered me her intellectual equal and she was more willing to try to avoid being rude in ways that she clearly had not cared about before. Namely, derogatory comments about America, how it was such a sorry country and needed a do-over. This was a remarkable thing to hear anyone say in those days. I would look at her like she was talking a weird language. She mentioned things like racism and greed and classist genocide. 

         —I have no idea what you are talking about, I would say to her.

         —You wouldn’t. You’re blindness makes you a cog.

         —No. I don’t think you understand the fundamental definitions of some of the words you throw around. And it’s so striking because you are so arrogantly belligerent when you strike those artifices.

         —You are such a boor.

         —At least I know the definitions of the words I use. What system do you think is better than a democratic republic?

         —A workers paradise like we’ve got in the Soviet Union. Where there is no greed or hunger, no want or poverty! Where everyone is finally getting along. She smirked at me defiantly like I was stupid.

         So it was hot and cold, romance and friction. She gave me hell for leaving the physics department for finance and could not understand why I was perfectly content. In her eyes I was somehow impure.

         —You’re living off the backs of the workers, she chastised me.

         —How am I doing that? I’m in another department.

         She made a sharp face at my joke. Her anger was stoked by her sense that she wasn’t making a convert of me. —You’ll profit off labor!

         —Yeah? And how aren’t they profiting off me?

         —But you’re not doing anything!

         —Investment capital is the most important part! Who puts up the money to buy the plant? Machines? Materials? Wages? Accounting?

         I couldn’t understand her at all. I’d read Marx and realized in a dim, naive way that his thinking was having a deep impact on my generation, but I felt that people were missing the overriding historical fact that a middle class had emerged that totally exploded his argument that social evolution was stuck. It clearly wasn’t. It was racing forward. Yes, things could be better. But people like her seemed want to ignore that conditions were improving.

         I put too little effort into explaining any of this to her because, truthfully, I hadn’t realized the broad outlines of her anger. This was in part because we only learned much later that the Soviet Union murdered and terrorized people who tried to leak the truth about what was going on. There is also some indication that the print media in the West was intent on suppressing the whole story as well. If this is true, it is hard to calculate what to say about such an effort. She was not ready to hear any challenge I made on obvious points that progress could be seen, and predicted. And I always felt bored as if I was in Sunday school when she started cranking that rotisserie of radical platitudes. Twice, after making love, she told me flat out she did not want to sleep with me any more. I was just surprised. I lay back, saying nothing, watching her stare in irritation at her unadorned fingernails, lighting a cigarette.

         Our warmth toward one another abated over the course of the dreary winter. I would see her on the campus or in the company of two different men at different times that I could tell at a distance I would not approve of due to a manner they had about them that suited her. Like her, they had a conceit, and a desire to make themselves unhappy.

         And then I was in the War and made my way into Officer Candidate School and got my army commission. By 1943 I was in Italy with Patton. After Italy, we were re-assigned to England in April 1944 and there I was with so many thousands of American GIs pouring out of pubs, eateries, vaudeville theaters, movie palaces and dance halls on the arms of friendly English working girls that none of us figured the Krauts couldn’t figure out we were coming. Scuttlebutt had it that the Germans were going to have a hard time figuring out where the half million of us would land.

         Turns out, I went in on the second day on Sword Beach and the sand was splotched all over with dark red brown explosion patterns, and up in the dunes and splashed across rocks and grass lining the inland paths. It was a sobering sight seeing what a blitz our boys had given back to the Hitler Youth. Crews carried out the bodies on stretchers with an occasional hand or leg hanging over the edge, sometimes with a raw missing piece, while we marched in. Looking back over my shoulder, I couldn’t count the number of our ships. You just can’t otherwise grasp the push, the effort, the preparation. To me, the sight of all those ships was the high point of Western civilization. In those countless ships and LCTs on the sun-warmed buff green sea was the most enduring embodiment of nobility that the human hand will ever write.

         And I remembered her just then, too, walking up backwards, sinking my boots silently into the moist, coarse sand. I thought of her petulant, angelic face that I knew then could never be made happy.

         Then after the invasion I saw a lovely girl in a tam o’ shanter dodging in the sunny haze of Piccadilly Circus with rubble all around her. After we got over our amazement at seeing each other, she found out I was with command and she was studying at Oxford and we agreed to have dinner. 

         —I can’t tell you what I’m doing, it’s all hush hush, she told me as we ate liver sausages and dehydrated potatoes out of a box two nights later at a smoky pub right off the square. I know it’s something military.

         —Do you know where you’ll go? I asked.

         —No one knows. They’ve emptied out the physics departments.

         —Who has?

         —We think it’s the War Department. No one can say. She smiled. People just disappear and the rumor is that they’re somewhere out west working on a super secret bomb. Maybe the atomic bomb. She whispered excitedly.

         I nodded. —Are you working for the wrong side? I couldn’t help barbing her a little, sipping what passed for coffee in London. Actually, it was closer to dishwater than the Army coffee that was half chicory.

         She shrugged. —Well, Hitler has to be stopped.

         —Why? He’s a Socialist.

         She pulled away a strand of hair. —No; he’s a fascist.

         —So’s every Socialist you know.

         She tilted her head and glared at me disappointedly. —You want to go fuck? She brought up the sumptuous round lip of her off-white coffee mug and watched my reaction with juvenile hopefulness.

         I chuckled admiringly. —I’m not thrown out of your crib in wartime?

         —You are the sort of man I should marry. Though that’ll never happen. She folded her arms with finality and, after a beat, started laughing at me and the abrupt way she had left me jilted at the altar. 

         I relished her bodacious, crazy incongruity. I did care for her, unpredictable and half-crazy as she was. She smiled at me with that golden warmth of hers, more girlish and fun than I had ever seen her. Maybe she could be happy, after all. Had anything changed? Was it the War? Was it the spirit of adventure now that she was off to join a mysterious team of top physicists gathered for tinkering somewhere in the Wild West? Was it that she thought me not half bad any longer? There was something precious, tender and sincere about her that I loved, but that got submerged in that uncompromising cruelty that was also there always finding vent in her chronic political malcontent.

         We walked through the rubbled streets in the bright haze of a northern latitude evening until we spotted an arched doorway gutted by blast from what must have been a thousand pounder. Every step was coated in ash down a cellar stair leading from street level under the house. A thatch of pulverized timber blocked the way just beyond the nook behind the exterior wall. We watched out for the home guard at the far corner in his flat Brodie helmet and over-baggy uniform, and when he turned out of sight we ducked down into the gloom. Under the crosshatch of beams, in the cool fragrant from overturned earth and that peculiar odor of stone-fractured-by-bomb, we adjusted our clothing up and down. We tenderly went at it far more appreciatively than in the old days. After, we even kissed sweetly a long while, me holding her chin, as if we were turning over in our minds whether we actually should marry.

         When she trotted off with her little fists tucked deep in the pockets of her worn green serge jacket, she plucked one hand out to wave a little frantic goodbye to me. —Goodbye, Eliot. I love you in my own way. I smiled and held my hand up in eternal salute to her, fondly taking in her colorless silhouette in a tam with a pom cutting the bright yellow haze of the late sunset in a city denuded by bombs.

         And that was it; there was no more of her or about her. 

         Turns out, she had gone West to work with a regiment composed of the top physicists from the United States and England led by Bob Oppenheimer whom I had met before the War. The Los Alamos team defied gravity building the bomb that ended the war in the Pacific and that saved a quarter million American lives. And she had been there, one of just a handful of women in the program, indeed recruited from Oxford, along with Fuchs, like her, an ardent Communist. The Soviets wanted two separate information streams on the bomb to confirm they weren’t being intentionally misled by the Americans. They had cultivated Klaus Fuchs and Ted Hall, both at the Los Alamos site, and those men knew they were working for Stalin.

         It all seems so incredible and preposterous to me that people like them could actually lose sight of what America represented for civilization and what the Soviet Union actually did. But she did make that mistake, and so did Fuchs and Hall and so many others around that time. They did it, most said, because of the Great Depression and the economic hardship it caused. But when it ended—why didn’t they wake up with the others who had also been fooled? 

         She was approached by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who took their orders from the head of the KGB in America. She was asked to pick up the Ted Hall bomb documents, and she eagerly agreed. She even told Ted Hall that she hoped her participation in giving Stalin the bomb would injure the United States. She had been told by the KGB officer who ran the New York office, Leonid Kvasnikov, that if it appeared FBI agents had picked up her trail or that of Ted Hall, she was to usher Hall and herself straightaway to New York to be smuggled into the Soviet Union via France where they would be handed a new life and be treated as heroes of the revolution. She arrived in Santa Fe in the guise of a tuberculosis patient seeking relief in the desert air. After several aborted attempts to meet Hall on the campus of the University of New Mexico, Ted Hall having been told to look for a girl with a rolled magazine in her pocket, Hall was finally able to get away from Los Alamos with his painstakingly detailed drawings and notes that she then stashed in the bottom of a box of Kleenex. Once she had the drawings, she went to the train station and found the place flooded with Army police and FBI agents specifically there to search everyone for bomb materials. She was cold enough to actually hand the Kleenex box to the FBI agent that stopped her as she searched her purse for her train tickets and identification. She was quite proud of her little gambit with the Kleenex boxy and how she turned to get on her departing train and left it for the agent to call out to her to hand back her box of tissues, the only thing he had not searched. 

         Klaus Fuchs had waited weeks for the chance to leave the Los Alamos camp and that chance finally came when his Los Alamos friends planned a party after the Japanese surrender and needed someone to ride down the mountain for the booze. Fuchs volunteered and drove off into the desert and drew up his renderings and then got them to Harry Gold who got them to New York City where Kvasnikov compared the two sets of documents. She handed her parcel of  drawings to Anatoly Yatzkov who spirited them to the fourth floor of the Russian embassy in New York where about forty members of the KGB worked to oversee the vast conspiracy that was actually in place to convince the American intelligentsia of the superior virtues of Socialism. All of it—that only Socialism can solve poverty, that America is racist and a hindrance to enlightenment—that was all the program of the New York KGB office. Kvasnikov quickly saw that the two sets of documents were nearly identical, and therefore probably real. And so, Joseph Stalin, with his black teeth, who laughed in the face of the crippled Roosevelt in his wheelchair, who murdered 30 million to Hitler’s 6 million, got the bomb he had been screaming for for over a year. Delivered by American and British citizens who idolized him, as did the rest of the Socialist world. Including the New York Times reporter, Walter Duranty, who was a Communist and painted such a loyal, rosy picture about 1930s Soviet life that he won the Pulitzer for it. Stalin celebrated his bomb victory by launching yet another wave of terrorist purges to “protect the security of the Soviet state”. This time, only fifty thousand died. And this was after Stalin wiped out his army’s officer corp, to whom he had lied and promised an end to Soviet Socialism when the army showed no will to fight until the Wehrmacht stood three miles from Moscow. That lie turned the tide of Soviet fortunes. 

         I wonder at the blindspot in the Socialist Fascist mind. Reading about the rest of her life was only more surreal. In 1949, when the Soviets blew up their bomb, American intelligence knew the Soviets could only have built a bomb that quickly with inside help. The FBI went back and carefully combed through the old encrypted Western Union records collected through the war from the Soviet embassy in New York, and secretly cracked the code, and this time they were far more careful screening decoders to make sure Communists had not infiltrated this office too. These messages exposed all the key players and how they smuggled the bomb plans. Ted Hall, Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and then the Left wing conspiracy to raise cane internationally to destroy the evidence and the case against them, specifically the Rosenbergs, just like in the Sacco and Vanzetti trial when Communists grabbed for evidence right on the judge’s desk under his very nose even as they screamed “Where is the evidence? Where is the evidence?” . . . And I remember her arrogance to me about her political pedigree. I shake my head. You might think you have the power to persuade people to be civilized and decent, to see good and evil clearly, but I can tell you, there she was in my life, and we spoke at length about these things, and I can assure you she looked at me with diamond clarity that the good was aligned with her and that she was a dedicated humanitarian.

         She got word about the Rosenbergs and she and another Communist, named Johnson, escaped to the Soviet Union via France in 1950. And they were hailed as heroes of world “liberation”. They were paraded before the Kremlin under the grateful scrutiny of the politburo above the hundreds of thousands of hungry, shabby people ordered to assemble and cheer for the newsreels. The KGB records state that Johnson and she were both given positions in the nuclear research department on the outskirts of Kiev and she was awarded a Pension of the People in the amount equivalent to $45 a month, which I know was less than she had to work with at Columbia. In 1953, she suffered an injury from an explosion and the burns probably hurt her looks and after the injury she was more hostile, which now we know goes hand in glove with any brain injury. If she was no longer so fetching, then she was no longer so charming, and probably she fell out of favor, which meant she was less protected if yet another wave of “exposures” of “wreckers” and “limiters” came about. Solzhenitsyn has many lines that deal with this absurd and cruel fall from grace: “Famous revolutionaries, theoreticians, and prophets, . . . before their own inglorious destruction, welcomed the roar of the crowd, not guessing that their own time [of punishment] stood on the threshold, that soon their own names would be dragged down in that roar of “Scum!” “Filth!” Doubtless, she would have tried to trade sex for protection and food enough to survive on, but if she was uninteresting to the guards then she would have had no chance to survive. 

         The records of the Mitrokhin Archives say that she died of “lung failure” in the camps in 1957. These came out much later, and so her family had no word and no trace of her after her arrest in 1953. I had corroboration of this ironical ending from a meeting I was able to obtain with a secretary of Gorbachov who of course recalled the grim details of the trial of her “betrayal” in Pravda.

         Who killed more, the one or the other? How does the heart and mind turn on this ideological pivot with dark and near perfect conviction? It makes no sense to me, this special treachery of human gifts.

         I remember her smile, in those quick moments in a smoky bar or in a taxi when she was briefly so happy to be alive.

         —You’re stealing from the workers! she scolded me.

         I see nothing more I could have done.

Frankenstein, Politician

By David Walls-Kaufman

         I really enjoyed the Liberty Island short story contests because you had to come up with a story outside your comfort zone, and you had to write for a deadline. It was terrific practice for a writer. This was for a “Fantasy Father’s Day” contest.

DAVID

         A clear day peppered by fall colors. Three veterans sat in the sidewalk cafe in the shadow of the Great Doctor Memorial in the Plaza Frankenstein.

         “First of all,” said the first vet, “Frankenstein was no politician.”

         “He was a statesman,” agreed the second.

         The scribe nodded as his quill wrote.

         “No Regent who does great things is a politician,” said the third. “And all the corrupt bureaucrats Frankenstein slayed that day makes him the greatest.”

        “The greatest of all!” chimed the second.

        The veterans lifted in toast their chalices of purple absinthe. The purple absinthe from Tall Cheops. The scribe bought the best to loosen the tongues of these chevaliers. They wore the black beret with the immemorial gold-green badge. The badge showed the Rook the militia took that day to break the Diet and Ministries.

         “Did you men participate in the regicide?” asked the scribe.

         “Why yes! For shame if we missed!”

         “And Frankenstein led you up?” The scribe’s gaze landed again on the fat gold signet on the finger of the third veteran, the loony one.

         “The Great Murderer led until he was struck down. Then up again, healed by his very father! He wanted credit, you see. For the liberation. Was it not His stately vision to capture the corruptniks against the republic?”

         “Things were awful under their hand, Scribe.”

         The scribe touched the quill feather to his chin. “How were The Troubles?”

         “Alas! Dark Oligarchy it ‘twas.”

         “Oligarchy is alright if it is Just and bright. But this was vile double standard of Law and risk. One for common, another for those in the top rank.”

         “They made it their express mission to destroy the reputation of anything and everyone! To spoil life so no one got along.”

         “To keep us at each other rather than at them!”

         “Friends even to our enemies before us!”

         “Only Frankenstein saw through.”

         “Really? Only He?” The scribe writ faster. “With his famous hair?”

         “Only He, scribe!” The third sucked the last drip from his chalice. He sucked again, watching the scribe. He overturned the chalice to demonstrate the forlorn emptiness. “And it was more the shape of his head than the hair, that captured his virility.” The scribe dipped in his wool tunic for his coin pouch. “Scribe! Reachest for the pouch? Wonderful! Tis a wondrous day for another absinthe.”

         “Aye! We chevaliers are known for our thirst!”

         “Renowned, I might say,” said the scribe professionally.

         The first waved to the barmaid. “Lass! Another squirt!”

         “I’m to go in for the bot.”

         “I have a cavalry pension, lass,” said the third. “You could do worse than to receive my Civil War pension for the rest of your life.”

         The girl frowned, considering. “Me, a CivilWar bride?”

         “Yes, my girl. And mother of eight. Ten. Fifteen.”

         She eyed the signet. “And how many kids do you want?”

         “I feel I owe the Realm a dozen more.”

         This seemed fair. “And you fought at Rooks?”

         “Yes, wifey. Aired the shoulders of many crooks at Rooks.”

         The vets grinned at the rhyme. The scribe writ.

         “Bring the bot, lass, and we’ll tell of the Day, and how the Doctor Father of our Great Murdering Leader saved the Sun that saved the Realm!”

         The Rooks stood atop The Cliffs.

         The Cliffs towered vertical over the Valley of Kings. Once the Citadel of the Republic, lice from the “best schools” permeated the chambers sufficient to wrest the institutions so that they became playthings for the rich and the permanent political class. The ruse spread through the Oracles, the schools, even the circuses in the bazaar. Each preached the same toxin—life was not worth living, the Realm had botched the world, that Oligarchs were the only doers of Good. 

         Citizens prayed wise peace could be restored by the vote pushing the ruling class to decency. But, no—the rulers doubled down. Frankenstein became the Partisan champion. His father, Dr. Frankenstein, scion of the elite, friend of intellectuals, begged his son leave alone the natural evolution of politics. Unforeseen popular uprising won Frankenstein the Chancellorship, but he was blocked from authority by the Oligarchs, who enlisted all branches of government to harry the Chancellor’s reforms.

         Turncoats inside the dramas revealed the extent of the mischief. Frankenstein took his leadership to the farms and shires. He raised his sword and told of his plan:

         “Divide the realm! Let Oligarchs own the cesspool Cities! Common and Partisan shall take the rest. Let each govern as they see fit and prove to the other who governs best. Let Partisan crash the tax and sweep away the regulations.” Of course, Oligarchs would hear none of this. Well did they know the discouragement tyranny brings. When rulers are the winners at every turn. Could Oligarchs leave two gardens growing side by side for comparison? No, they must bite out both eyeballs to stop from being seen!

         Frankenstein declared for martial law across the Realm. He launched his campaign with the brilliant speech on “The Cancer against Freedom”, given before the army in the Valley of Kings. He warned against disloyalty of not only the bureaucracy, but also some generals for fear the intellectuality of the Oligarchs had beguiled them. “Soft men bring hard times; hard men bring soft times,” Frankenstein quoted.

         Frankenstein then lay siege to the Rooks. The Oligarchs met the siege with the commanding presence of Dr. Frankenstein, who speechified from Pulpit Rock. He begged his son stand down, for he had created him and could not stand this division of the Realm.

         “I made you with my own hands, stitch by stitch! Each piece I carefully composed without interference by woman! To make you pure!”

         The Oligarchs and intellectuals watched greedily from the ramparts. They figured to shame the rebel leader to submit.

         The people in the Rookery and the City hung on each word. 

         “Father, this life and my talents are blessing’s kiss!”

         “Your hair, my son! The shape of your head! They are legend, they are mine! The size of your hands that are known clear to the Sands of Huld!”

         “I bless and thank you, Father, for all!”

         “Show love, and do as your Father commands!”

         “But each must weigh even family against the preeminence of Land and Law, dear Father! What is family without foundation? They are nomads! Equal justice is never guaranteed in the wilds where beastly shapes prey on manly shapes. Without equal justice, Father, society becomes the wilds! Come down and join us for the sake of all Mankind. Your son and the Partisans will show you love, hiding by rock and stream, in field and glade, in cliffs above you—ready to fight for liberty!”

         These famous words shook the father, for he was wise. He saw that his judgment was clouded by old favorite intellectuals so wedded to their privilege that they lost compass. The Oligarchs spied the wince in the father’s gaze. They knew they must stop this public humiliation if Dr. Frankenstein abandoned them for cause of right. At a signal, Captain Greide buried deep an arrow in the thorax. The Father’s tongue and eyes glared out before he plunged into the arms of his son and the Partisan captains. The whale bone staves knotted into his fox saved the Father. Thus, the wizard healer patched up Dr. Frankenstein.

         Lucky this was for what would happen next.

         The people of the City were chastened by this treachery. But they were unarmed. The Rookery Guard was fierce, and the Spearmen spread out with the Criers through the City with the yarn that Dr. Frankenstein was a traitor and so his end was Just. 

         Frankenstein held aloft his mighty sword, Darlt. 

         He hollered attack; his generals joined in voice. 

         The bird world rallied to the call. Swallows, finches, pigeons from the Cities and towns, starlings, robins, grackles. Poured forth they did round the boots of Frankenstein and his entire great Partisan army, and cavalry too. Up, they went along the sheer walls. The Rookery Guard bent back their mighty bows, sending sheets of arrows upon the up-trending regiments. Arrows and spears sparked off sword and shield. Frankenstein, whipped by rage, for his father and freedom, upraised his mighty arms daring traitors to strike. 

         Strike they did. Many times. 

         Remember how his head was near torn off? By slicing halberd and arrows? And his right arm. The mighty head hung by a tether, the arm gone.

         But lo!—the loving Father rallied from his own death! To kneel over the broken son. Whilst the wizard showered the Chancellor with herbs and waved the healing qi clouds, the father staunched the wounds with plaster from his lab and then sewed them shut. Even before He was fully recovered, the army rose up on the bird clouds, their recovering leader croaking orders in the frenzied attack. Through the birds, the Partisans saw their leader rally wave after wave upon the Rookery Guard.

         The Guard fought from every window and balcony. They shot arrows, hurled spears, heaved out furniture and drapes, pots of geraniums from the concubines’ apartments. The Oligarchs were so well conceived in their treachery that they had hoarded all manner of projectiles and weapons into the ateliers and lofts of the Rook.

         Frankenstein clawed back to lift his sword and cycle it round to lop off oh so many noggins from the Guard. Swish, swish! Zing, zing! A scythe taking down mushrooms. Off they popped, in vivid explosions of gore, all in the glory of freedom.

         The Rookery Guard beheld Frankenstein and his father growing stronger. Dr. Frankenstein ministered heroically to wounded Partisans and they lurched back into the fray. The Oligarchs had few wizards on their side for the wizards feared the Oligarchs and now had gone into hiding. The Oligarchs were caught by surprise since their strategy had stoked public hate against arms and brave men, and had always sought to see the nation die like a babe snuffed in the crib. The Guard faltered in bravery and felt the weight of their spears, and flower pots and busts of old Oligarchs. For the Guard saw the spirit of the rebels. The rebels cut and slashed with the excitement of Freemen when they smell the chance to hit back at tyrants, a chance that delivers a special joy. The eyes of the Guard lit with the wish to fly elsewhere, anywhere but fighting for these masters.

         “Hold!” cried Frankenstein at the Guard. “Hold, and thoust wilt be passed over!”

         “We Guardsmen will fight into a lake of blood, Frankenstein.”

         “Your eyes speak a different language, Captain.”

         “Why would you not behead us as traitors?”

         “For the world is made better by more good men! And good men are made each moment by their choices!”

         “How can we know truly?”

         “As a warrior and Freeman, I give my vow! Turn now your backs and invigorate our ranks against the tyrants!”

         “May we bear arms after the fight, Frankenstein?”

         “Your swords and bows will insure thine trust!”

         With that, half the Guardsmen turned upon their brothers. Their brothers faced the moral defeat that whispered in the cauldrons of their own burning lungs.

         The sweated warriors huzzahed. The bird swarms lowered Lord Frankenstein upon the balustrade of the Imperial Loggia. The Oligarchs, watching from the luxurious interiors, let show the hatred in their eyes. Frankenstein’s boots strode across the loggia awash in blood and bodies, the latter festooned with arrows and mortal slices. He snapped out his own silk from within his breastplate and dabbed at his neck wound.

         “Gather up the Oligarchs,” he ordered.

         Much protestation issued from within as Partisans and Guardsmen rousted out the unctuous hedonists from their hiding spaces. Out they came, with their wives and other sex playthings, draped in inestimable wealth.

         Frankenstein glared, holding his neck wound.

         “You betrayed the nation, the Republic. You are an infestation, with no wont but to destroy what others create to bend to your purpose. You are the infinite siren song of trouble, and today your constant complaining shall end.”

         All citizens nodded. No one was safe so long as a single Oligarch serpent lived, cutting inroads in future unhappiness.

         “Good people assume all are on the same page to make the world better. That none would sabotage that which is true enough to serve human comfort and need not be rebuilt. But your cult’s only concept of society is the one over which you hold exclusive tyranny, no matter the cost to the rest. Anything short of that, you exhaustively undermine to attrit and throw your cloak over the shoulders of power.”

         “You know not what of you speak, Frankenstein,” answered Calumbri, the Exchequer, and their leader. “None of your fool words is true! Solve this crime against democracy by restoring us to full power and you and the common shall live well!”

         Frankenstein rubbed his famous, stitched chin.

         “Calumbri, thou art a singleminded race. The stench of blood in the Rookery is no presentment for the doing of nothing. It is the death sentence of you all.”

         “What does this mean?” Calumbri doubted this fate. “No trial?”

         A trial meant lawyers. Lawyers were allies.

         “What trial or examination did you ever give to anyone or any notion of morality beyond the high walls of your self-obsession?”

         “You are not human, Frankenstein!”

         “More human than thou, Exchequer. Ask the men.”

         “They will say what you wish! You hold the axe!”

         “Yet they sheathed arms. They quit your fight. Any sane traveler coming upon this scene would appraise the image opposite to you, Calumbri.”

         The Captain of the Guard stood with a boot upon the dais.

         “It is as Lord Frankenstein sayeth, Exchequer. You whore to your own disease. Who trusts thee? What haven’t thou ruined? Farms? Commerce? Your only defense against egregious proof is the baton of intimidation. Our only sure wager is to execute you off until the remainder see their fate upon the City wall and swear upon their children never to wander even to a political opinion for fear of death.”

         Frankenstein leaned upon his sword hilt. “This is wisdom!”

         “You are a traitor, Renfield!” Calumbri yelled.

         “Not to my family and men, rabbit.”

         “No more wasted words,” Frankenstein declared. “Bring them to the parapet and line behind them with stout halberdmen. Let free Partisans swing free and sacrifice the corpses into the Valley of Kings until they slip on the blood or grow weary of arm. And let us all sing and dance, dine and drink at the doing. Let the apartments of these pimps be turned out so the jewels may be dealt to the soldiers and the poor.”

         The scribe pulled back his robe sleeve.

         “We piled the gold, gowns, crowns, rings, candlesticks, sconces, satin undergarments, coins, paintings, tapestries upon the loggia until the blood rose between the tiles to a level that threatened the dainties.”

         “Then,” said the third veteran, twisting his signet, “we prepared a pallet so to raise up the wares from the red drool, and then kept stacking and hacking.”

         “Gloriously granting to conceit its just reward!”

         “Frankenstein, great King that He was, claimed for the satisfaction of his own blade the top seven miscreants against the republic.”

         The poor scribe shook his wrist. 

         “Please! Chevaliers, I cramp!”

         The veteran’s laughed.

         The barmaid had drawn nigh to partake of the history. Her suitor smirked much at her and boldly lay his arm around her hips. Such the twinkle of wit was he that the lass let him do it. And she plopped her fair hand atop his beret as if atop the bean of a faithful spaniel. Quite the couple did they strike!

         “You should have heard we Partisans exult as mighty Frankenstein dispatched each miscreant,” informed the first. “‘Twas the song of Republic!”

         “And in true form of the dramatist,” said the spaniel, “he sacrificed the juniors first to make way the excitement of executing the top rank!”

         “Brooms pushed gore out the parapet rainspouts.”

         The third again fondly twisted the signet ring. The second pointed the ring out to the barmaid. “That ring, lass, was gifted to George from the King himself.”

         “Aye,” said George, smiling in his beard. “Me arm come off just like Dr. Frankenstein’s son. But I didn’t stop swinging with me left. We found an arm good as new, and the wizard sooth-said upon it and touched it with a dash of braised flox, then Dr. Frankenstein stitched me with the same gold thread as erected his boy from dead parts!” George squinted up at the statue to Dr. Frankenstein in the square.

         The bot clicked out another round of absinthe.

         “The Sire of the Realm, lass,” said her future husband. “For when he battened down the head of his son that fateful battle, Good and Evil saw how Good that day would find its way through to shine upon thee and me!”

         The lass caressed the old face. 

         “You are a shining batch of history, ain’t you?”

         “True as me love for you, girl.”

         “And how many spuds is it you want?”

         “As many as will fit, lass. As many as will fit.”

Nothing Like It In the World

By David Walls-Kaufman

         The story challenge was to deal with a subject that had at some time horrified you. The thing that stuck in my mind was an obscure subject I had come upon several times in reading histories about the First World War.

DAVID

         “It’s the meanest thing in the world.”

         “There’s nothing like it.”

         “Aye. I don’t like it.”

         “That’s a small way to put it. ‘You don’t like it’.”

         “Aye, but you get my meanin’.”

         “I suppose I do.”

         The three Irish in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, VIII Corp went back to rolling the 15-inchers onto the shell lorry and then wheeling them one at a time across the loading dock to the open trap of the caisson. They grunted and heaved when the huge shells for shooting at the enemy 30 miles away needed to be hoisted on or off the lorry. Their boots slipped where a basket of lettuce heads had been dropped in haste that broke open and some lettuce heads were stepped on so that juice from the leaves smeared the boards, making tricky work with big shells.

         “Whats this slipping?”

         “It’s the buggerin’ lettuce heads what was yere!”

         Andy, leaned on a shell laying flat in the lorry and gave the moist boards a tired look. “I’ll have a smoke, I will. Let ‘er dry out.”

         “Oh, stop. Smoke after!”

         They heaved and rolled and tipped the shells up on their balance on the thick brass rim at the end of the jacket to use all their strength to keep them on their balance and steer them into alignment in the wagon bed. The two horses yoked in at the front were alert and twisted their ears keenly at every thump or thud or curse. They almost seemed to know what the familiar boys at the back doing the load-in were talking about. They were both black, fine, big breasted farm horses bought from local farmers by the quartermaster. Their names were Argo, on the left, and Bruce, on the right. Everyone got a chuckle how a horse came to be named Bruce by a French farmer near the Somme.

         “Bruce up there is more the leader,” said Andy. “You can see him smart enough to know what we’re talking about!”

         “Aw, go on,” said Tanner. “He’s still a horse!”

         “I’m telling you they’re smarter than we credit!”

         “And maybe we should stop talking about it cause it’s bad luck,” said Mel.

         They were all Donegal boys. Mel, at Augustines, had once played football against Tanner when he was at St. Edwards. They got on well. And they were at the rail depot far from the trenches nine miles up. They hadn’t liked the Frenchies, at first. All the past wars, the Kaiser be hanged. Frenchies and Brits fought regular. Then one day one of the other blokes mentioned how the French did Catholics a favor fighting the Brits. From then on, everybody got on just fine. The Yanks and the Frenchies got on fine from the American Rebellion. The Yanks and Brits did not like each other either, left over also from the Rebellion.

         “Listen, my sympathies for horses is as strong as yours, And’,” said Tanner, “but I’m not believing Bruce understands the Queen’s English.”

         “I bet he knows the gist of what we’re talking,” Mel said. “And it’s bad luck. For anyone. Would you talk that way for a man going to the Front?”

         “No, I wouldn’t, shit beard,” Tanner said.

         “Well, then don’t do it against a dumb animal, either.”

         Tanner shook his head at all they had talked about.

         They finished rolling in the 12 15-inchers, and before the wagoner drove away Tanner went over and swatted Argo on his fine shiny withers to get him back to good luck. The driver nodded and started away, not in his usual good mood, to make a spot for the next caisson to rumble alongside. A dozen other teams worked in tandem down the long dock, loading caissons for the batteries in the low hills none of which could be seen twenty miles from the Front. A big attack was coming. No one knew for when. Word was for morning.

         The boys knew the caisson driver because he was a cheerful fellow who talked a lot to, and about, Argo and Bruce. “Come say hello to them! My boys are smart as people, I can tell you,” the driver would say. “Look at them, how smart!” He scruffled the stiff sweat-smelling hair between their ears. “See here, I have a whip. But do you know? I never have to use it. And they both like the Chinese!”

         People laughed when he claimed this. Why would horses especially like the coolie trench diggers?

         “Go on!” Tanner would say. “What do they know about coolies?”

         The driver was offended. He came from down south near Spain, a place called Andorra, where they offend easily, he admitted. “It is the eyes! And the rope of hair down the back! They like it! And the Chinese work like the horses! What do you mean? How do they not know Chinese? You are stupid!”

         “I don’t say they can’t see a difference between people,” Tanner explained. “I’m saying they can’t know that makes any one person from a different country from another person, is all. Frenchie.”

         “No. Andorra. Not French!”

         The Irish finished the last load-in and plopped down anywhere they could. The same subject came up.

         “I don’t know why it’s not the same,” Andy said. “It’s kind of embarrassing that we feel more hurt for them than for fellow human beings.”

         Mel nodded. “Like the time I saw the house get blown apart by that heavy shell. I saw the poor woman with the top half of her gone, and I saw the small girl there dead and blanketed in dust. And then there was the horse in the barn and I couldn’t even see him or his injuries, but I knew from the terrible sound of his suffering that it was no joke, that it had to be bad in there. And I just couldn’t bring myself to go and look! Or do anything for him! I woulda had to stove in his head with a stone. I woulda had to beat him with a stone to get it done! I saw the ma, and the child, and I felt a lot for the girl there covered in thick stone dust. But I tell you it was not the same compared to what I was feeling inside for the horse hidden away and cryin’ out behind the fallen wall of the barn.”

         The boys thought over his repeat of the story. Andy reached under the flap of his breast pocket for his packet of Gauloises cigarettes. They were the best the French had. Far better were they than them from the Isles.

         “Do you think it was because you couldn’t see him,” Andy asked, “that you could only imagine how he was tore open?”

         “No, it wasn’t that. You know, from the deep grunts I ‘eard ‘im make. Grunts and wheezes and sighs like I just can’t describe. The sufferin’. I’m telling you boys there’s nothing like the sounds of a poor horse condemned to suffering the wounds of a bloody useless war!”

         “Aye. But shut up for the censors,” Tanner warned. They looked around. They’d throw you in the jail for such talk.

         The boys fell quiet again. In a past telling, after it first happened, Mel had told how the sighs of the horse sounded a bit like he was farting gas out of holes blown by shrapnel through his barrel of a body. Thank God he hadn’t gone into such detail this time around. But they remembered. And they thought about all that again now. Poor bugger of a horse. It just wasn’t a thing to talk about.

         Most blokes had tales of horse injuries. Horses blown half to bits. Runnin’ down the road, steppin’ on their own entrails. The guts strung out and caked with dirt for thirty years behind ’em while they ran. Draggin’ themselves to soldiers or farmers asking for help with both back legs gone.

         Everybody said the same thing. Injuries to boys in the trenches was horrible, but to see and hear the poor horses was another thing entirely. No man could stand it. You could not a put words to it.

         “It’s not like it’s their war,” Mel said. 

         Andy thought Mel was the thoughtful one, like that.

         Tanner had a story too. But he had told it and would not tell it now because of how bad it was to go through. He had gone along on a detail with a squad of caissons that trailed north at night through toward Montdidier. German spotters must have seen something because they lobbed over a starlight grenade that shed dead white light on them out in the open on a stretch of road that wound around the midriff of a rise in plain sight of the Front. The Germans opened up with 70s. They came in like thunder out of the ground itself, and they sent up another beacon, and there was just no place to hide. Soldiers dove for cover anyplace they could, mostly in the culvert. But not the horses. The poor dumb, faithful horses that always did their job stayed there because no one cut them loose and the loads of heavies were too much for them to drag off. You could not cut them loose because they would run for thirty miles. The column would be mired until new teams came in. So you had to leave them to get hit, and die. And got hit they did. It could not be helped. You could hear it, Tanner remembered. He had not told his buddies exact details about the horrible slapping sounds of shrapnel blowing hunks out of the horses in any direction and taking off their entire legs and heads in one clip. And the God damned sounds the poor horses made. 

         There was no sound like it in the world. Once you heard it, you could not forget it. It changed you forever.

         Tanner slapped his hands over his face thinking about it all over again, feeling the same clenching in his gut all over again. He shook his head at the effort to block it. The sounds. The horses grunting at the suddenness of their wounds. The thud of their heavy bodies falling helplessly with legs gone.

         It was hell to remember. Tanner had cried about it. He started crying now.

         “They’re just helpless,” Mel said. “It’s not their fault they’re here. And I can see in their eyes when they look at you that they’re just asking you for help to get them out of it because they know that you know it isn’t fair.” He looked over and he saw Tanner with wet on his cheeks in broad day.

         “We should never have started talking like this,” Andy said, hollow.

         “I’ve got to get up and do something!” Tanner said.

         “Are we done? Let’s bugger off to canteen!”

         The three slipped off to the restaurant in the village on the rail from which the depot had grown. The restaurant had been converted over to a mess for the soldiers. They laughed boisterously as they marched their way along the dusty road to the village, ambulances passing and lifting up lazy dust. The village was in good shape this far back. Only occasionally, would a shell slam down somewhere around and shake things apart. They bought a pale of bier and sat out on the benches in the April shade with a bunch of other blokes. They had been loading 85s and 15-inchers since three in the morning. Bone-ache exhaustion settled in with the bier.

         The attack did come in the morning. 

         They heard the peppering, growing rumble of violent death spread across the unseen land of the Front. They heard and felt even in their bunks the cross-hatch shaking, trembling rumble from all the 15s they had dragged the day before now fouling life for the German, blowing them to kingdom come and to life without limbs and to life with creeping, perpetual infirmity from gas attack. It went on and on. The drumming of unimaginable deafening and violence. On and on, seemingly at a million lives a minute, ground into hamburger and shat out into nonexistence as if that woman in Kent, and that woman in Munich, had never had any tiny little pink baby to speak of because that little baby of hers counted for exactly nothing in the pre-dark of a day like this.

         On it went, until around noon. A hot flat noon when the sun baked the not-yet-green grass and the grey-black flat earthy upheaval of No Man’s Land, which you could see like a flat grey mist from any promontory. 

         And the dead smoke that faded sleepily to the East, like a fog of Death’s Triumph taking away the spirits it had claimed.

         And there was silence. And the birds, even.

         Next day was sunshiny again, perfect. Birds sang in the grass and crickets sprang in the sun. The blouses of the server girls at the Atelier gleamed especially white in the noonday light.

         And the Andorran came by the road on foot and saw the Irish there at a table. They would not have recognized him without him riding up on his caisson and without the “boys”. Right away they thought something had gone wrong with him on foot like that, with the whip he proudly never used slung under his arm. They learned from the pain on his face that it was something so bloody awful that no decent person would ever want to hear of it.

Of Crusaders and Cartels

by David Walls-Kaufman

      One of my favorites of my short stories. It has been rewritten several times and was originally published under the title Plight of the Locusts. It is based on a true event involving the Mexican drug cartels.

DAVID

         “Remy, I am going to go over the Border.”

         The 20-year old woman hefted their small boy. “What do you mean? When did you decide to start thinking like this again?”

         Tippy ducked his head and shrugged.

         “Bernardo and Felix are going.”

         The couple stood near the open doorway of the family’s small house made of dirt brick and ancient repurposed windows and doors splintered from the sun. “Tippy, we have already talked about this!” The loud bray of locusts sounded outside. The sheen of white light was that of the desert.

         Her husband could barely look at her.

         “I think it is best to go with Felix and them.”

         “What about me and Sancho?” She hiked the boy on her hip.

         Tippy scrunched his head deeper between his small shoulders.

         “They are going. I can go with them. It’s safer if we go together.”

         “So, you are going to leave your boy and your wife?”

         He put his hands in his back jean pockets.

         “We talked about this. I’m not letting you go.” She hiked the boy again and rubbed an itch on her jaw on her shoulder.

         “I can do more good for us up there.”

         She nodded in frustration, conceding the obvious. “Okay. Okay. Your son will do better never seeing you up there?” She rocked the baby soothingly. She glared at her man like he too was a child. “Short term, Tippy. But what about the long term? Hmm? What about that?”

         Tippy stared at the burnished dirt floor.

         “I don’t need you to think short term, Tippy. I need a man who thinks long term. Hmm? Right? Do you understand me? I can’t do this alone.”

         “We can all go up together.”

         “With the baby? Really? Look at him. That’s what you want?” She waited for him. “I’m not going up there. This is our home. My parents need me. Your parents need you.”

         Tippy’s mother came to the bright door, putting her hands on either jamb. The two-room house was sixty years old. The wood framing from before Pancho Villa. The lazy sounds of the locusts moved in and out of phase.

         “What’s going on?”

         “I want to go over the Border.”

         The woman’s name is Marta. She looked inquiringly at Remy as if nothing was wrong with this, in the end. She shrugged. “Why not let him go?”

         “I told him before, Nunu.” Remy shook her head. 

         “Dios mio,” Marta said.

         The baby started to get upset. Remy rocked him.

         “This is not the answer. We need our good men home.”

         Marta raised her hand in solemn frustration and walked away. She halted three steps out in the sun then slowly turned back. She returned to the door and replaced her hands on the jambs.

         “You two shouldn’t fight. It’s not good for your health.”

         Remy shook her head. The boy looked tearfully at the adults, screwing his head this way and that as his mother cradled him.

         “No. This is not the way. Long term.”

         Marta looked at her son. She shrugged. Tippy kept his head hung and scratched once at the back of his neck. His pointed cowboy boots handed down from his uncle in this very room were white with dust from the bull ranch where he worked as a hand. 

         “He can make money.”

         Remy shook her head.

         Marta lifted her hands in surrender and made to leave again. This time, she simply turned around and replaced her hands on the jambs.

         “He can send money home to us.”

         “What do we need?”

         “Aye. Shit.” Marta shook her head.

         “Seriously. What do we need? What do we need that we won’t get one day if he stays and we all work?”

         Marta said nothing.

         “Running away from Mexico is not the answer. I want a better world for my son, here.” She kissed the boy. He is sensitive and doesn’t like adults fighting. “His father running away to America for a few dollars is not the answer for what’s wrong here that makes him run away.”

         Marta turned to lean against the door. She crossed her sandals. “This is true.” Marta looked at the pale leaves of the mesquite trees in the ravine.

         “What is there in America that you are chasing? What magic do they have that makes you think you need to chase what they have, Tippy? Eh? Tell me?”

         “They have money. That is magical.”

         “Okay. But why do they have that magic, eh?”

         Tippy shuffled. He wanted to avoid fighting because he never wins.

         “They have the money because they have it.”

         “That’s not the reason, husband.”

         Marta looked at a finger. She looked at her daughter-in-law.

         “They have money because they have a stable country. They have a stable law.” Remy’s knees were tired and she sat on the bunk draped with blankets under the window that served as a couch. “They have courts that work. Police that work. Because they have people up there that insist on these things being done. That is why they have money.”

         Marta shrugged noncommittally and looked away.

         Tippy shifted his hands to his back pockets.

         “We will never have those things if our good men run away from here, Tippy.” She bounced the boy. She could tell he would cry if she made him go down. “We have to bring what they have down here. Running away from this to go there and nibble will change nothing here.”

         Tippy glanced up at her briefly. 

         She is always right. She is too smart for him. 

         That is the worst trouble for his being married to her. His friends know the situation. They give him a hard time. He accepts it because he knows it is good to be with a smart woman, and for the man to see it when it is true. 

         “I can go learn from them. Send money. Come back.”

         Remy nods. “Okay. How many years? . . . What if something happens to Mama? Or Sancho? What if he dies? What if I die?”

         “Caramba,” Tippy said, displeased she tempts fate.

         “Caramba,” Marta said. “Girl. You go too far. That, should not be said.”

         Tippy twisted his head, refusing to look at her again.

         He would kill himself if such awful things should happen.

         “And all those years away you could be here doing something. Like I told you before.”

         Marta nods; Tippy nods.

         “The FCN,” Tippy mutters. 

         “Exactly. Fighters. They have connections. You are a good worker. They know you. There is enough work here. And they are here.” Remy stopped bouncing the boy. She squared him up and looked keen into his large beautiful eyes and kissed him full, with a smack. She put him on the floor. He trotted to his grandma’s bare knees in her pink gingham shorts and leaned on them, looking out for the shrill locusts invisible in the pale green canopy of the mesquite descending into the white ravine.

         Tippy rubbed the back of his neck. 

         “Maybe she is right, Titi?”

         “What should I do?” he asked his wife.

         “The FCN are Christians and only they are standing up to the criminals and protecting people. I told you. That is the way.”

         Tippy nodded faintly. He turned and leaned his weight on the wall by the doorframe. His shirt is filthy with dust. He still looked down at his boots. They are the finest thing he owns.

         “Let’s go talk to Señor Ramon,” Remy said. “He knows you.” 

—-

         The family of three walked up the hill on the road out of Apatzingan up to the larger house made of white-painted concrete with a two-car garage and a clean 2012 Ford F-150 parked in it. Two young men sit on the low stone wall in front with automatic rifles. An old truck approached with a hole in the muffler and Remy quickly reached for her son to guide him more to the shoulder of the road. Two men are in the truck. One held a rifle.

         “Hola, Tippy,” called the driver in passing.

         Tippy barely looked.

         “Hola, Samuel,” Remy answered.

         She looked at Tippy. The men are FCN.

         Sturdy, fanciful grillwork covered the car port and all around the second story balcony, a bit like a fortress.

         In the shadowy front room, they found Don Ramon. Three other young men were also in the house and the voices of at least two women can be heard in back. A child too. Piled on a table are four AR-15s and two Kalashnikovs, assorted pistols and ammunition boxes. One of the young men nods and says hello as he repairs one of the pistols. Don Ramon sits squarely beneath the ceiling fan in the middle of the room. His floral shirt is open and sometimes he fans himself with a straw cowboy hat. His head is unusually long and rectangular, his skin dark, his toothbrush mustache stark and plain.

         “Hola. How are you? Sit down.”

         The family sits. The boy, Sancho, watches the man fixing the pistol.

         “Don Ramon,” Marta says, “Tippy is thinking of going up North.”

         “Oh? Many do.”

         “Remy wants him to stay with his family and work with you.”

         The Don nods sagely at Remy.

         “I want him to stay and make life better here so we can one day be more like the United States. Not run away from our problems.”

         The Don frowns. “Who will ever be like the United States? Maybe China will one day be like the United States, or even better. But we can make life better here,” he indicates Sancho, “for our little ones. Much better than Mexico is now. Now, it’s bad. God willing, we can make it better.”

         “God willing.”

         “God willing.” Marta crosses herself.

         “Tippy is hard working and honest and he wants to join you and the FCN to fight the drug lords and make an honest living. We are from the same town. We want to help,” Remy says. Sancho leans deep into the space between her thighs and stares at the big guns across on the table.

         “We always have room for another good man. He works now at Don Ortega’s ranch. If he needs more work there is opportunity.”

         “Thank you, Don Ramon,” Remy says.

         “Let me hear from Tippy directly, now. I know how his women think and how they love him. How do you want to help the FCN?”

         “I am nervous about the FCN, Don Ramon.”

         “Oh? Why do you have reservations, my son?”

         “I know you keep the money you steal from the kingpins.”

         “Yes. This is true.”

         “I don’t like it. And I know others worry about this and I know the Church Fathers also find fault with you doing this. Isn’t it crooked? And don’t you risk just taking their place?” Tippy looked directly at the Don, but he slouched low against the chair back.

         “Ah, see? This is a big problem for many,” the Don admitted.

         He fanned himself with the hat. He was tall, quiet.

         “This is true, many people worry for this practice. And the Church Fathers too, for some, feel I should not do this practice. But the money from the Church and our own collections is insufficient for a small army. It is good for us to grow and pay our soldiers a little something. They are volunteers trying to save their country from murdering cutthroats, but where else should the money go but to them and to food, equipment and needed weapons? Look what the cartels have. We have to stand toe to toe with that? And where else should the money go? To the police? To the government? Should we burn it? To me? If this were the case and I was as corrupt as they and our police then I would deserve to die like them and be put in the desert in the same hole as they by our own men.” He crossed one thin leg over the other. “So, no. This is a fine practice. It is turning what is plainly sinful into a benefice for our state.” He watched Tippy square. “This is war. Only once we admitted to ourselves that this was war did we start to win and scare the cartels and the incompetent cops.” He looked at the backs of his fingernails. “Is our self-defense just? So is stealing their drug money. It is all the same virtuous business.”

         He looked frankly at Remy now, the smart one.

         “I think this is the truth of it,” she stated, looking at Tippy.

         “They are killing us, Tippy. It’s only killing back. Enough to show them who is the righteous and who is going to be the boss.”

         “We did not start it,” Marta said.

         “No, no. We did not.”

         The Don looked out at the land sloping from the rise.

         The land was parched and rang with locusts.

         “We and the Americans both have a war against godless cancer on our hands, Tippy. If you go North, you will be a knowing part of the problem. And you know it. In your heart. They are waking up to a problem of godless people doing their best to tip over that great country with disorder and hedonism. Look at the shit they teach their kids in school at earlier and earlier ages to train them to think of their own sexual desires first before being good people in a sound society.” He emphasized this with his long index finger. “Goodness is mocked in every one of their movies and TV shows. We see it here. It cannot be hidden. They who do it don’t want to hide it.” He paused. “Every one.” He gazed down the land again. “Showing sexual restraint. Not taking the property of your fellow man. Working hard. Up there, they are coming to war. Down here, we are already at war.”

         “Good and evil,” Remy said.

         Marta and Don Ramon nodded.

         “I like sex as much as the next fellow. I am no prude. But sex is the least important of the social virtues we build on. The most important is mutually respecting our work and then what is the basis of reward and punishment in our society. First, you lay that foundation of the respect. Our cancer is that our people need to work harder to understand the importance of a larger social and legal organization and to be faithful to keeping it pure from criminals. We have a problem ignoring the near reward of making the quick dirty money that pushes away the far reward.” He twitched his mustache. He smiled. His smile was surprisingly immediate. “After we lay this foundation, then we can chase each other’s women.”

         Tippy smiled. Marta and Remy laughed. Marta covered her mouth.

         “Don Ramon! You are not the man of God I thought you were!”

         “I joke. I am old enough that I need the women to chase me!” He snickered at them. “I am still a soldier of God, even though I have never read the Bible.”

         “How can you never have read the Bible?”

         “Well, when I was made to do it as a child. I should study it as a man.”

         “You know in your heart what it says,” Marta said, squinting advisingly.

         The Don nodded. He looked back at the man with the pistol.

         “How goes it, Fidel?”

         “Good, Don. Two more.”

         Little Sancho scratched his head, watching the pistol. He put his head back against his mom and yawned. The Don smiled at the size of the mouth.

         “So Tippy, you want to be a fighter?”

         Tippy’s face didn’t know which way to move. But the Don’s speech had made up his mind.

         “We are going out this week, if you want to join.”

         Sancho said, “I want to join.” He stretched his arms and yawned again.

         The Don and his mother chuckled.

         Tippy knew better than to be amused by such a thing.

         “We will show you the ropes of what we do. But each man must decide for himself what future does he want for himself and his family.”

         “It’s a lot of fighting,” Tippy said.

         The Don frowned. “Their fighting will never end. Again, my young friend, they are not the same. Because one barbarian after another rises to the top to savage those below. No one is easy with that. Our fighting is to wipe out the savages, who will not be peaceful, and then build the prosperity and peace on the other side of the hill where we respect one another.

         “Not every man is a fighter, Tippy,” the Don said.

—-

         Tippy and the squad left Apatzingan in a big box van with three other large box vans each filled with a squad of vigilantes. At 9:30, they loaded out on the cobbled main street of a town on the outskirts of Uruapan. A cantina there was already secured by their well-armed vigilantes who had captured three men in the bar whom Don Ramon wished very much to interrogate. The interrogation took place by using a rifle stock to open the skull of the lowest cartel thug in the group and using this demonstration as leverage against the other two. It was known among the vigilantes that these cartel thugs knew of the whereabouts of some others. The Don used his cell phone to give the location to others of his men, and Tippy loaded back with the other vigilantes into the box vans.

         The vans drove back and forth through narrow streets until the men got out again at a large old apartment building where the men they were looking for had already been caught and tied up hands and feet with sacks over their heads. The Don came into the apartment and ordered the sacks taken off the three men and then he had them dropped out of the window into the alley two floors below. Tippy and the other vigilantes returned downstairs to the alley where the three men were groggy but still aware of their surroundings. 

         “You know why we are here?” Don Ramon asked the men again. 

         He wanted them to swim back to reality before anything happened.

         “We didn’t do anything,” one man whispered, rolling in pain.

         “You have only a minute to get right with God and ask forgiveness.”

         “You have the wrong guys,” the man tried again.

         Blood bubbled out between this one’s nose and broken teeth.

         “Oh, no. We have the right guys. You should see what we did to your amigos to get the truth out of them.” The Don nodded at Tippy and Tippy shouldered his AR-15 and brought out his machete that he had sharpened expertly yesterday just for this occasion. The blade shone with ragged file marks. “The farmer, our friend, Jalisco. You remember? What did you do? Eh? What did you do, young man? To his boys. Tell me. Tell me and make your peace with your God.”

         “You have the wrong guys.”

         Don Ramon dropped this one and picked up the head of the next guy by the hair and throat and shook him sharply.

         “Very little time left, boys. Or you will go to God black with your deed. Tell the truth. You know as well as we what you did to those tiny boys.”

         The young man in the Don’s grip looked up at him in double fear. Double fear for what was about to happen to him and what would happen to him in the afterlife. Tippy watched him blink heavily, his lips smooshed from the pressure of the Don and another fellow, Pico, choking him.

         “We killed them.”

         “Yes! You killed them. For what?”

         “Because the farmer did not pay.”

         “Pay what?”

         “The money—”

         “Oh! You wanted your protection extortion money from him? You rat bastards. Why did he not pay you?”

         “He said he did not have the money.”

         “Oh? Why is that?”

         “I do not know.”

         “Maybe because he was poor?”

         “Yes.”

         “So, then. What did you do, you boys?”

         “We killed them. With rocks.”

         “Excuse me? I did not hear you.”

         “We killed them. On the rocks.”

         “Oh, that’s right. Now, I remember: You killed his four young sons by tying them up feet and hands, like you are now, and then bashing their brains out on the rocks. While he watched. He and his wife. Is that what you did?” The Don shouted all of this out loud so that his voice echoed down the alley. He turned to Tippy, his face flush with coldness. “Chop them up.”

         The Don and the vigilantes not holding the three punks stood back and watched without any sign of emotion.

         Tippy slung his machete up and down and chopped at the joints of each man. The blade sunk deep enough to stick with each bite. He wept as he cut. It was an outpouring that he did not really understand. He had known Jalisco, and his wife, and the four young sons. Sancho had played with them. He had seen the little boys the next day battered purposelessly to pieces.

         “That’s for Raphael . . . . That’s for Mario . . . . That’s for Emilio.” 

         Each time he swiped apart a limb, he said a name, like a mantra. The blade was very sharp and made like the joints were thick saplings.

         Another fellow helped him a little bit.

         Tippy went around and around through the boy’s names.

         They left the clothed limbs and bodies in a loose red pile in the alley for the other cartel members to see what happened.

—-

         On the drive back to Apatzingan it was late.

         They got into the town and no one was on the street.

         Tippy jumped down from the truck and hefted his gear and started the walk out to his house. He did not think about what he had done. He thought about the weight of his rifle and gear and the straight shape of his machete in the treated canvas sheath stiff on his hip. The machete he normally used to cut brush on the ranch with the great breeding bulls of Don Ortega’s family.

         Remy was waiting up for him.

         “I have some soup.”

         Tippy sat at the table by the stove as Remy turned up the single burner under the dented, burn-stained pot.

         “Is Sancho good?”

         “Yes. He asked where you went.”

         Tippy nodded. 

         Tippy stood. “I have to clean something. Is there water?”

         Remy nodded at the bucket of water waiting for him by the back door. Tippy took a rag and his machete and the bucket and went out behind the house. The sky was full of stars. Remy inside opened the cabinet.

         Tippy took a moment to listen to the sound of the crickets.

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