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A Primer for the Democratic National Convention

July 22, 2016 Leave a comment

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Had Thurman J.D. Troyer not become a politician, he surely would have withered and died like an unwatered plant. From the instant of conception, the chromosomes of his mother and father meshed like fine gears, putting into motion the most efficient political machine the state of Georgia would ever see. He was blessed with the legendary striking good looks of his mother’s family, as well as their oozing, oily charm and, of course, the in-bred infra-structure of tradition peculiar to the deep South of the United States. Paternally, he was equipped with towering physical strength, seemingly endless reservoirs of stamina, a true filibuster’s gift of gab and the ability to read people like thirty point newspaper headlines. Environment conspired with heredity to pump his conscience down to a near perfect vacuum and to instill a system of moral values as simple as tallying votes or totaling left over campaign funds. His entire life had been one long political campaign—literally, in that four days after his birth, against doctors’ explicit orders, the swaddled Troyer babe was carried from one end of Georgia to the other in his mother’s arms to press the flesh (mostly cheeks and lips) in support of the first in the life-long string of his father’s unsuccessful bids for the governorship. Jefferson Davis Troyer was a far better peanut farmer than a politician, but his son avenged his many losses and “done his kin proud” by ascending that Mount Olympus of American government, Washington, D.C.

Thurman Troyer was at his level-best horse trading with his peers in the Senate cloak room. It mattered little whether he was garnering votes for passage of a bill or swapping livestock from his Ilium, Georgia, peanut farm with other landed gentry members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. He loved to feel the heat of face-to-face, toe-to-toe negotiations flush his cheeks and swore he could actually hear the snap of backbone when the nearly imperceptible relaxation of muscles about the eyes and mouth signaled the breaking of his opponent’s will. For leisure, he sipped Jack Daniel’s sour mash whiskey and charmed doting flocks of wealthy matrons at various society functions about town with juicy gossip about the inner workings of government and his own indelible marks made in shaping mankind’s future recorded history, all the while gauging in the back of his mind whether his audience of the moment might mark an ‘X’ by his name on a voting ballot.

Katherine “Cissy” McClean found Thurman Troyer to be an intolerable bore who took himself far too seriously, yet she nodded and smiled approvingly as the guest of honor at her dinner party droned on and on and on. It was the spring of 1943. The war dragged on and small wonder why, she thought, with interminable wind bags like the Senator running things. Although the war took its toll on Washington, D.C.’s second largest industry, what with food and gasoline rationing as well as a continuous stream of downbeat news reports about the fighting and killing overseas, Cissy McClean had been able to maintain her position of preeminence as the capitol’s premier party thrower. The secret of her success on the society pages was that she knew a hostess could not ignore the public’s insatiable taste for conflict, drama and intrigue. It took more than fine food and famous faces to get newspaper cameras clicking and Washington whispers wafting. Cissy McClean nodded and smiled approvingly at the man she had secretly selected to provide the entertainment for that evening.

As Cissy McClean well knew, Thurman Troyer never missed a ritualistic gathering of the rich and powerful of Washington society, lest his absence be noticed less than his presence, and to insure due notice of his attendance at such functions, he never failed to parade about with the most valuable social asset he possessed on his arm, his famously beautiful and infamously eligible daughter, Helen, for all the world—or at least all the world’s ambassadors—to see, to admire and to envy. Cissy McClean was also keenly aware that the feud between Senator Troyer and Admiral Hemmings had attracted wide public interest, having been fought openly and bitterly in Washington, D.C. newspapers during the first dark days of World War II when everyone was looking for someone else to take the blame for the embarrassing debacle of Pearl Harbor. Even though the Army eventually got their own war in Europe while the Navy got a war all to themselves in the South Pacific, the military’s internecine acrimony was never more than a few degrees short of a full boil, and Cissy McClean could feel the temperature rising as she stood with Senator Troyer watching her guests being seated for dinner. She smiled with a touch of Machiavellian malice as the Senator’s eyes narrowed to near slits and his ears flushed bright red at the sight of Helen Troyer being seated, exactly as Cissy McClean planned, next to a handsome young Naval officer, notorious in his own right for his prodigious womanizing as well as for his effectiveness as a member of Admiral Hemmings’ staff. The young Naval officer was Y.T., Sr.

Helen Troyer tried valiantly to ignore Y.T., Sr. by attempting to sustain a conversation with an impossibly droll little man from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on her left. Her efforts were in vain as the dullard had been scrupulously screened and selected by Cissy McClean to block her only possible avenue of retreat.

Cissy McClean had also deftly positioned on Y.T., Sr.’s right “The Countess”, an elderly Yugoslavian refugee with some extremely obscure lineage to Slovenian royalty who was renowned for her indecipherable English as well as her audible dozing between dinner courses. He ignored her snoring and stared overtly at Helen’s delicate profile as she nodded in agreement with agrarian history slowly unfolding in a painful monotone.

Senator Troyer steamed at the sight of his daughter being visually mauled by a Yankee infidel. Already the canapés he hungrily devoured before dinner were beginning to march through his intestinal tract like Sherman had marched through Georgia.

Delighted, Cissy McClean scanned her other guests for any inkling of recognition of the drama beginning to unfold in their midst.

Helen Troyer’s mind began to drift from the lecture detailing the precise genealogy of the Morovian 5 strain of wheat being recited by the bureaucratic troll at her side. She imagined herself looking down on the Mall from her father’s office window, watching pigeons gather on sidewalk grates for warmth, thinking of the flocking mentality of Washingtonites, being suddenly startled at the realization that a young Naval officer was staring directly back up at her from below. She began to feel Y.T., Sr.’s present stare like a heat upon her neck. An instinctive surge of adrenalin mainlined into her blood stream as if she were a quarry alarmed at the nearby presence of a predator. She began to coldly calculate her strategy to deal with Y.T., Sr. as, inevitably, she knew she would have to do sometime during the course of dinner.

Heading back to Navy Bachelor Officer’s Quarters after a long day of idle waiting at the Capitol, Y.T., Sr. often paused on the Mall to catch a glimpse of Helen Troyer’s alluring silhouette framed in her father’s office window like a bird in a gilded cage. He would try to imagine what it would be like to sit as close to her as he was there at Cissy McClean’s dinner party and what they might talk about. As Helen Troyer struggled to ignore him, Y.T., Sr. mentally inventoried her charms, counting among them the few very minor flaws in her beauty, knowing, as Leonardo Da Vinci must have, that the regularity of perfection can be boring and bland. An arousing Spanish fragrance teased him. Other women trolled with stink bait as if angling for carp, he mused, but this one was probably one hell of a fly fisherman. Having been taught by her father, one of the best fly fishermen in all of Congress, Y.T., Sr. was correct, but it was one of the few things he had not yet found out for sure about her through his many Capitol Hill connections.

Helen Troyer had endeavored to learn much about Y.T., Sr. as well. From Army C.I.D. reports requested by her father, she learned everything from his hat size (7 7/8) on down to his shoe size (9D). She read about his father’s suicide on Wall Street, his mother’s family exile and menial job at the O’Reilly Candy Factory, his school days at Harvard University and his numerous amorous exploits since coming to Washington, D.C. In a paragraph which made Senator Troyer swear out loud when he read it, she discovered that, unlike most Washington-brand warriors, the battle ribbons worn on the breast of his uniform were genuine. Y.T., Sr. had shot down four Japanese Zeros flying off the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier when he was unexpectedly caught in the midst of the Battle of Midway during a fleet inspection tour for Admiral Hemmings. But all of the typically turgid prose of government reports told Helen Troyer too much about events and too little about the kind of man Y.T., Sr. really was. That information she gleaned by gossiping with her father’s secretary, Madeline, who had inexplicably put her job in jeopardy by clandestinely dating the young Naval officer so despised by Senator Troyer.

He had known for sometime now how bored she was with the stilted society role defined by her father and thrust upon her.

From all accounts—but most vividly and graphically from Madeline—she knew how he fed on Washington society like a hungry predator.

He knew from the society pages that endless rumors of her pending engagement to the son of this southern governor or that western senator, this Texan rancher or that Midwestern business leader circulated freely and frequently. He knew from Madeline that she had begun to resent her father’s on-going matrimonial negotiations as if she were merely one more blue ribbon heifer to trade away off the farm in the Senate Cloak Room.

She knew, just by looking across the room at the fear, anger and frustration in her father’s eyes and the gleaming smile on Cissy McClean’s make-up caked face that Y.T., Sr. was the one man in all of Washington who could take the Senator on and, perhaps, prevail.

“And enough already about wheat,” she whispered to herself. She turned to look at Y.T., Sr.

He stared back, giving no quarter. He would not make it easy for her. He knew that would be the wrong approach.

“Ahem.” She cleared her throat and offered a small, coy smile.

He smiled the morphinic Erp smile. He said nothing.

With the arrival of the fruit cup, Helen Troyer elected to seize the initiative. She said with a gusty sigh, “If I have one more meal of chicken, I do believe I shall positively die.”

A moment of silence. A long moment of silence.

“Actually, I do not believe we have ever been properly introduced,” Y.T., Sr. said softly and politely.

Damn, that was my line, she thought to herself. She bowed her head and blushed ever so slightly.

“I am Navy Lieutenant Erp, Y.T. Erp, and I am very pleased to meet you,” he said in a crisp whisper that made her instinctively lean towards him to hear.

Across the room, Senator Troyer stoked his temper like a steamship’s boiler.

“Helen Troyer of the Ilium Troyers.” She looked over at her father, who was too far away to hear them speak. “My father is the senior Senator from the grand state of Georgia,” she said mechanically.

“Yes, of course. I know of him.”

They both smiled.

It seemed to Senator Troyer to be the longest dinner he had ever endured—and he had endured plenty in his life time of politics—watching helplessly from across the room as the flower of his life was sniffed, fingered and tossed in the blustery breeze of Lieutenant Erp’s line of Navy bullshit that he blew her way throughout the meal. As each course was served then later taken away from him untouched, Thurman Troyer’s discomfort and anger became more and more noticeable to those seated about him. Cissy McClean dreamily gazed upon the ripples of gossip slowly spreading out from around the Senator as if he were a stone she tossed into the still waters of a calm pond. The next day’s society headlines and columnists’ copy were still churning in her imagination after dessert when, in excess of even her grandest expectations, a frenzy of photographers’ flash bulbs erupted about a small scuffle at Lt. Erp’s table between Helen Troyer and her big brother. At his father’s behest, Hector Troyer, who also served as his father’s Senate aide and shared in his father’s unwavering hatred of Admiral Hemmings, forcibly escorted his “frail sister” out of the “lecherous reaches of that Navy Scoundrel” and back to the safety of her father’s side. Y.T., Sr. quietly retired from the party under Helen Troyer’s watchful eye.

Hector Troyer’s harsh words to his sister about loyalty, family honor and plain old, down home common sense during the limousine ride home echoed the Senator’s heartfelt sentiments exactly, but fell on deaf ears. Helen Troyer sat pressed against the door of the back seat as far away from her father as possible and stared at passing Washington, D.C. landmarks in a stone-like silence. Once home, she went directly to bed without a word to brother or father. Shaken to the depths of his southern core by the events of the evening and his daughter’s icy attitude towards him, Thurman Troyer went to the study with a fifth of Jack Daniel’s to brood. He listened to Hector Troyer rant and rave on the subject of revenge for only five minutes before he bluntly ordered him to leave. When Helen Troyer arose the next morning at four-thirty, her father was asleep, slumped over in his favorite chair. The whiskey bottle was nearly empty. She tip-toed past the study and left for the airport to meet Y.T., Sr. The night before, at Cissy McClean’s party, the young Naval Aviator had promised to teach her how to fly an airplane. It was a thing she had, inexplicably, always wanted to do, but none of the Army Air Corps pilots her father so favored ever had the nerve to do it, probably out of fear that if she ever got hurt or killed, Senator Troyer, Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Appropriations Committee, would never forgive—or fund—them ever again.


 

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A Primer for the Republican National Convention

July 15, 2016 Leave a comment

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 “Bullshit,” Marty Keegan told himself out loud, walking north towards the Conrad Hilton hotel and thinking of Lord Lytton’s adage that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” as he and thousands of fellow protesters were chased out of Grant Park with tear gas.

He was ready this time. Like Coach Sox always said, he knew now he was in a real fight, courtesy of the New York City police department that past April, not some polite academic war of words to settle a philosophical or political policy debate—and he literally had the physical scars to prove it. So he had prepared himself—and not by attending the college professor’s blackboard planning session for the upper echelon elites of the equality obsessed SDS or by participating in lame revolutionary boot camp activities in Grant’s Park, charging back and forth across the greens in half-assed rugby scrums, as if that would be effective in confronting Mayor Daley’s thugs. He had armed himself with an improvised black jack made of lead weights, a sweat sock and duct tape, small enough to conceal beneath his jacket, but heavy enough to be lethal.

He already carried the badge of honor of being arrested at a protest—been there, done that—and he had grown impatient with the plodding pronouncements delivered all afternoon, amplified with bull horns that theirs was a peaceful protest. Bullshit. People were dying—for real—and now it was time for real action. He was done writing articles and penning pamphlets. He was done organizing, demonstrating and protesting. No more posing for the cameras, headlines and mugshots. He was done just play-acting to make a point. It was time to effect real change with real action.

The Greyhound bus dropped him off in Chicago late Monday afternoon and he spent all day Tuesday walking the streets of downtown to learn the lay of the land, planning attack and escape routes. Wednesday afternoon, he wandered the inside perimeters of the protesters in Grant Park, ignoring the tinny megaphone tête à tête between organizers and police officials, instead carefully studying the formations of Chicago police officers and Illinois National Guardsmen deployed for the defense of Democrat party delegates, who were there to coronate their pick for the next Commander-In-Chief to send more young men off to die in Southeast Asia. Though it was August, Marty Keegan was dressed in layers to help absorb the blows of billy clubs and carried an industrial mask in his coat pocket to help protect against tear gas and mace. Besides his black jack, he carried a small Mason jar of gasoline and his grandfather’s Zippo lighter. A.B. Keegan changed the world one way and Marty Keegan would do it his own way. He was just biding his time.

No one really knew what happened, but policemen rushed the statue of General John A. Logan to clear away the protesters perched there like flag waving pigeons. It did not really matter why they did it. Marty Keegan knew the battle had begun and he braced himself for action. Not long after, tear gas canisters were fired into the crowd and the protesters began spilling out of Grant Park and into downtown Chicago.

Marty Keegan flowed along with the crowd, carefully positioning himself two or three people deep into the crowd as a buffer to protect himself, like working his blockers on the grid iron. Ten thousand strong, the protesters collected in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, where Democrat party officials, including their eventual Presidential nominee, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, were staying. He watched and waited patiently for his opportunity.

“The whole world is watching!” the sea of protesters began to chant as Mayor Daley’s police force waded into the crowd like a charging line of Napoleonic soldiers later that evening, their billy clubs and mace filling the air. “The whole world is watching.”

I hope not, Marty Keegan thought to himself, as he sliced through to the far flank of the crowd, watching the police line loosen and fray as it violently engaged the protesters. Then he saw his prey. A cop had separated himself from the thin blue line to chase a smaller group of protesters with a spray can of mace. Marty Keegan had done it dozens of times on the football field. He exploded out from the crowd. Instinctively angling to stay in the opponent’s blind side, he barreled into his target, driving his shoulder underneath the outstretched left arm delivering the stream of mace. At the same time, he swung his black jack as hard as he could into the officer’s knee, hearing a satisfying crack as the cop crumpled to the curb. Body blows brought the policeman’s arms down to protect his ribs, then Marty Keegan delivered a series of upper cuts to the underside of the pale blue helmet, driving him into a coma from which he never recovered.

By the time fellow officers noticed the assault and ran to the rescue, Marty Keegan was already heading up the alley he had scouted the day before. He tossed the Mason jar Molotov cocktail into their path and disappeared into the night.

It would take several weeks before the pictures a Chicago Sun-Times photographer took of Marty Keegan’s attack found their way into the hands of law enforcement authorities. By that time, the F.B.I. had identified him as one of the Pentagon bombers.


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In the Black: Phlegm Brains

October 2, 2015 Leave a comment

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This particular January morning, though, Dirk Rangely seemed to walk through the manufacturing plant in a daze, mumbling incoherently to himself, “H-the-ho-r-yo-toda…”

He was so curiously oblivious to the friendly, grass-roots hellos he so consciously cultivated that a buzz of whispered conversation followed in his wake like the wind through the dry, summer grass of Kansas prairies. Mort Mortenstein, Vice-President/Finance, noticed that those distant horizons upon which Dirk Rangely usually fixed his steely, Marketing gaze were evidently clouded. Mort Mortenstein clenched hard on his pipe, baring his teeth in a hungry grin.

“So, have you read the latest Memo?” Mort Mortenstein probed cautiously as he met Dirk Rangely halfway down the hall at the drinking fountain. Neither he nor Dirk Rangely noticed the young man bent over the drinking fountain sucking at the loop of cool water.

“Memo??!!” Dirk Rangely blurted out in anguished surprise, betraying the root of his sullen mood. Dirk Rangely had not actually read Y.T. Erp, Sr.’s latest memo, but he had eavesdropped on two people discussing its potential ramifications in the company cafeteria, and had quivered with horror at each of their envisioned scenarios. He carefully surveyed Mort Mortenstein’s shorter, pudgier body and the three-piece suit that strained in places to contain it, momentarily awed at this self-inflated accountant’s ability to detect another person’s open psychological wound and stick his finger directly into it. “Oh, er, sure—of course. You, Mort?”

“I most certainly did,” answered Mort Mortenstein earnestly. He pressed his advantage. “Do you think it will help our position in the marketplace?”

“Huh? Who the hell can tell, Mort?” Dirk Rangely said, gingerly passing his hand over the top of his head covered with thick, yet restrainedly curled, salt-and-pepper hair. “I’m beginning to worry about the Old Man and his cryptic memos.”

“He works in mysterious ways, to be sure,” Mort Mortenstein said, adjusting his ever-present, yet never lit pipe from the right side of his mouth to the left. “But let’s not forget his New Year’s Memo of 1957. He quite literally saved the company.”

“Well, I’m not really that worried about the Old Man,” hedged Dirk Rangely, suddenly sensing danger. After all, Mort Mortenstein’s department was in charge of Payroll with a capital ‘P’.

“A stroke of genius to sell size three-sixty O-rings as Hula Hoops after that Navy contract went down the tubes.” Mort Mortenstein chuckled around the stem of his pipe, which added sinister overtones to his laugh. “The books never looked so good—as black as spades.”

“Did I say worried? Actually, that was a poor choice of words,” Dirk Rangely squirmed.

“Then, there was the Memo of 1958.” Mort Mortenstein was relentless. He ground his teeth on the stem of his pipe, causing the hairs on the back of Dirk Rangely’s neck to rise. “We called it the Sputnik Memo. Now, that was a memo.”

“Of course, maybe the Old Man has been under a lot of pressure lately.” Dirk Rangely glanced feverishly up and down the hall for escape from this conversation with Mort Mortenstein. He might have been able to bow out by taking a drink of water, but that idiot was there, apparently trying to drain the Missouri River single-handedly.

“And then, the Memo of 1964,” Mort Mortenstein intoned softly. He took the pipe from his mouth and pointed the stem directly at Dirk Rangely’s heart like a deadly weapon. “I shed a bitter tear. We all did.”

“I’ll bet lawyers are behind all of this right-hand/left-hand stuff.” Tiny beads of sweat began to form on Dirk Rangely’s upper lip. “Or it could be Engineering.”

“Well, Dirk, I’d love to stand here and shoot the breeze all day long with you, but I’ve got numbers to crunch.” Mort Mortenstein stuffed his pipe back into his mouth and smiled savagely, pleased with himself at so unnerving a fellow executive. He walked past Dirk Rangely, giving him a hearty slap on the shoulder. Dirk Rangely thought he heard Mort Mortenstein chuckling to himself as he walked back to his office in Accounting. “And the Memo of 1960—what a sense of humor. What a sense of humor!”

“You know, the Company benefit plan does not cover accidental drownings in a God damned water fountain,” Dirk Rangely barked at the youth still hunched over the drinking fountain. When the boy stood up and turned around, Dirk Rangely found himself face-to-face with Y.T. Erp, Jr. It was quickly becoming one of those days. “Christ Almighty—just joking, son—just joking. You know, a joke, eh? So, how about that Mort? What a character, eh? Of course, how much can you say about a man whose favorite Marx brother is Zeppo?”

Y.T., Jr. shrugged his shoulders.

“So, anyway, you’re still around, eh?” Dirk Rangely put his arm around Y.T., Jr.’s shoulders and began walking down the hall, pulling the teenager along with him. “Are you down on the shipping dock still?”

“No, sir. I’m working maintenance with the Sugarman,” Y.T., Jr. said respectfully, while at the same time eying Dirk Rangely with suspicion.

“Oh yes, that’s right. That’s right. I recall now, but, hey, shouldn’t you be back at old Harry Truman High?”

“I took an early graduation so that I can start college sooner. Classes don’t start until the twenty-fifth, so I’m putting in a few more weeks here at work for extra spending money.”

“College, eh? Ah, yes.” Dirk Rangely’s eyes suddenly focused far down the hall at nothing in particular. Y.T., Jr. was amazed at how glassy Dirk Rangely’s eyes had become on cue and wondered if this man had ever been allowed to attend any institute of higher education anywhere. “Well, believe me, the days you spend haunting those ivy-covered halls will be the best you’ll ever know. So, which university will you be attending?”

“University of California at Berkeley.”

Dirk Rangely stopped dead in his tracks, knowing that Y.T., Sr. had been a Harvard Man after which he had been a Navy Man (not Annapolis either?) before he became the Old Man, and wondered what to make of this apparent act of disrespect and rebellion on the part of the younger Erp. Dirk Rangely vaguely recalled news reports a few months back concerning students in California stirring up trouble over something typically inane like Civil Rights or Free Speech. If he wasn’t careful, he could get sucked into the middle of an Erp family civil war right there and then. This day had certainly been fraught with danger—first the Memo, then Mort Mortenstein and now this. Dirk Rangely hoped that it was not portentous of the rest of the year to come. Rising to the occasion, he smiled down at Y.T., Jr. and said as sincerely as he could, “Well, I’d love to stand here and shoot the breeze all day long with you, but I’ve got numbers—I’ve got a million and one things to do. Remember what I said, college days will be the best days you’ll ever have,” Dirk Rangely smirked and gave Y.T., Jr. a hearty slap on the shoulder. As he began walking down the hall, he called back to Y.T., Jr., “Good luck to you.” And then under his breath he muttered, “You’ll need it.”

“Good morning, Mr. Rangely,” a secretary said as she passed Dirk Rangely in the hall.

“Hi-there-how-are-you-today, Margaret?” Dirk Rangely responded like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

Y.T., Jr. watched Dirk Rangely say hello to everyone he passed in exactly the same way. He wondered if Berkeley, California, would be far enough from Kansas City and if January twenty-fifth would come soon enough to get him the hell away from the abundance of phlegm-brains surrounding him before they drove him crazy.

_________________________________________

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Categories: In the Black

In the Black — Paperback Proofs Approved

September 18, 2015 Leave a comment

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Character List

 

Y.T. Erp, Sr. — Harvard Graduate; ex-Navy Officer and Naval Aviator; Founder, Owner and President of Erp Industries, Inc. in Meadowlawns, Missouri, a Suburb of Kansas City

Y.T. Erp, Jr. — Part Time/Seasonal Employee at Erp Industries, Inc., and heir apparent to the “Big Office”; Graduate of Harry S. Truman High School; Full Time Student at the University of California at Berkeley; Founding Member of The Triumvirate

Anna Elise Erp — Daughter of Wiley Cassidy; Mother of Y.T. Erp, Sr.; Estranged Heir to the Cassidy Beef Packing Empire

Wilson Cassidy — Nephew of Anna Elise Erp; President & CEO of the Cassidy Beef Packing Company

Hector Troyer — Son of Thurmon Troyer; Chief of Staff for his Father’s Senate Office

Helen Troyer — Daughter of Thurmon Troyer, Wife of Y.T. Erp, Sr., Mother of Y.T. Erp, Jr.

Jefferson Davis Troyer — Father of Thurmon Troyer; Georgia Peanut Farmer; Unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Georgia

Thurmon Troyer — Father of Helen Troyer; U.S. Senator from Georgia

***~~~***

Neil Armstrong — ex-Navy Commander and Naval Aviator; Civilian Test Pilot; NASA Astronaut; Commander of Apollo 11; First Man to Walk on the Moon

Hugh Betcha — Vice President/Materiel, Erp Industries, Inc.

Bill — Student at the University of Michigan; Member of the Students for a Democratic Society; Weather Underground founder; Boyfriend of Diana

Barry Boswagger — Harry S. Truman High School Fighting Eagles Quarterback; Deliveryman for Cassidy Beef Packing Company; Husband of Rebecca Sue Simmons

Orley Bovine — Shipping Supervisor at Erp Industries, Inc.; Self-employed Distributor for Independent Moonshine Distillers

Scarlett Angelina Brookings — Secretary to Vasili Ivanovich Dzhugashili at Erp Industries, Inc.

William Jefferson Clinton — Governor of Arkansas; Forty-Second President of the United States of America

Horace Cooley — Supervisor/Drafting Department, Erp Industries, Inc.

Leon Debs — Former Middleweight Boxer (0-32-2); Warehouse Supervisor, Erp Industries, Inc.

Diana — Student at Bryn Mawr College; Member of the Students for a Democratic Society; Weather Underground Member; Girlfriend of Bill

Doug — Warehouseman at Erp Industries, Inc.; Immigrant from Czechoslovakia

Vasili Ivanovich Dzhugashili — ex-Soviet Army Private; Vice-President/Research & Development, Erp Industries, Inc.; Officially, the First Employee Hired by Y.T., Sr.

Herman Eichmanhoff — Engineering Program Manager, Erp Industries, Inc.

Dahlia Feathers — Torch singer in Washington, D.C.; Mistress of Senator Thurman Troyer

Norman Fellows — Student at the University of California at Berkeley; Roommate of Y.T., Jr.

Frak — ex-Navy Commander and Naval Aviator; Erp Industries Corporate Pilot & Learjet First Officer

Frik — Retired Air Force Colonel; Co-pilot of the B-29 Bockscar, which dropped the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki; Erp Industries Corporate Pilot & Learjet Captain

Nelson Fullman — Student at the University of California at Berkeley; Roommate of Y.T., Jr.

Rolf Guderian — ex-Luftwaffe Corporal; Chief Engineer, Erp Industries, Inc.; Second Employee Hired by Y.T., Sr.

Admiral Hemmings (Ret.) — Former head of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics; Y.T., Sr.’s Commanding Officer During World War II

Rear Admiral Hemmings — Former P.T. Boat Skipper; Son of Admiral Hemmings

Adolf Himmlerlicht — Engineering Program Manager, Erp Industries, Inc.

J. Edgar Hoover — Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Ike — Warehouseman at Erp Industries, Inc.; Immigrant from Czechoslovakia

Jo Ann — Secretary to Dirk Rangely at Erp Industries, Inc.

Marty Keegan — Harry S. Truman High School Graduate; Columbia University Student; Member of the Students for a Democratic Society and Weather Underground; Friend of Y.T., Jr.

Fu Loin — Former Buddist Monk; Proprietor of Fu Loin’s Curio Emporium in San Francisco

Travis Marbling — Assistant to Wilson Cassidy at the Cassidy Beef Packing Company

Mark — English Major at Columbia University; President of Columbia Chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society; Leader of the Revolutionary Youth Movement; Weather Underground Founder

Katherine “Cissy” McClean — Washington, D.C. Socialite during World War II

Arlotta McGurdy — Food Service Manager at the Erp Industries, Inc., Cafeteria

Homer McKinnley Morganfield (”The Sugarman”) — ex-Army Air Corps Sergeant; Tenor Saxophonist; Maintenance Man at Erp Industries, Inc.

Mort Mortenstein — Vice-President/Accounting, Erp Industries, Inc.

Murph — Red Dog Ranch Leader; Founding Member of The Triumvirate; Bus Driver; Friend and Roommate of Y.T., Jr.

Arthur Needleman — M.I.T. Graduate; West Coast Regional Sales Manager for Erp Industries, Inc.

Clinton A. Owsley III — Chemistry Major at University of California at Berkeley; Founding Member of The Triumvirate; Friend and Roommate of Y.T., Jr.

Julius Parmakianski — Private Investigator

P. Peckerfelt — Vice President/Manufacturing, Erp Industries, Inc.

Dirk Rangly — Vice-President/Marketing, Erp Industries, Inc.

Simon Salisbury — Vice-President/Personnel, Erp Industries, Inc.

Billy Saul Sawyer — Harry S. Truman High School Graduate; U.S. Marine; Friend of Y.T., Erp, Jr.

Rebecca Sue Simmons — Head Cheerleader at Harry S. Truman High School; Wife of Barry Boswagger

Prunella Spoons — Assembly Line Worker at Erp Industries, Inc.

Wanda W. Willet — Former School Teacher; Secretary to Y.T. Erp, Sr. at Erp Industries, Inc.

Special Agents Williams & Walters — Field Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation assigned to the Triumverate Case

Melvin Vapors — Harvard Law School Graduate; Friend of Arthur Needleman; Attorney for Y.T., Sr.

Penelope Xing — Employee of Fu Loin’s Curio Emporium; History Major at San Francisco State University

_________________________________________

/ITB140306 - In the Black - Novel Cover - VW w180

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Categories: In the Black

In the Black — Cameo by William Jefferson Clinton

February 20, 2015 Leave a comment

WJC - Campaign Poster

Penelope Xing had slowed, then stopped completely, allowing the river of bodies heading towards the Pentagon parking lot to flow around her like a rock in the middle of a stream. After all the hours driving and thinking, after all of the platitudes and outrage expressed at the Lincoln Memorial in word and song, she found herself faced, not with speeches, music or the black and white typeset of a history text, but with men in uniform, armed with rifles. In the face of raw government power, she suddenly felt every bit as small and insignificant as the government wanted her to feel. Frightened and despairing at her vanity of being part of history — of making history — Penelope Xing was suddenly acutely homesick, wishing she were back in her fifth floor room at Fu Loin’s looking forward to Saturday night and Y.T., Jr. coming by later to hold her and, in the morning, to take her away to somewhere, anywhere to be free for a few precious hours on a Sunday afternoon.

“You look lost.”

The voice from right beside her literally made Penelope Xing jump and step back.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the young, clean-cut man oozed in a southern-country-hillbilly accent that Penelope Xing could not place geographically. “I feel a bit out of place, myself. I just came over to see what was going on. Pretty crazy, huh?”

Penelope Xing suddenly felt put at ease at the natural charm of the stranger.

“My name is Bill,” the stranger held out his hand.

“Penelope.” She extended her hand and felt Bill’s grip slowly, erotically embrace her hand, squeezing like a blood pressure cuff, in what was certainly the most sensual handshake she had ever felt.

“I’m a Senior over at Georgetown. Majoring in Foreign Service,” Bill said, lingering in their handshake, well beyond the norm for strangers or family. “I just came down to see this Moratorium thing first hand and I noticed you looking a bit confused or overwhelmed and thought maybe I could help out.”

“Uh, er, thanks?” Penelope Xing mumbled.

“It’s okay. Don’t worry. I mean, I work for Senator Fulbright — or I mean I did over the summer.”

“Oh.”

Bill smiled and gazed dreamily down into Penelope Xing’s eyes. Slowly, very slowly he released her hand from his embrace.

Penelope Xing melted and smiled back.

Y.T., Sr. stood on the Pentagon roof scanning the crowd that had spilled over the Fourteenth Street Bridge and onto the Pentagon grounds through a pair of binoculars. Frik and Frak had joined him to silently watch the events, images of which surely would be filling the network news broadcasts that evening and newspapers the next morning.

He smiled as he saw the protesters confront the MPs with flowers, planting them in the muzzles of their rifles. He was amused by the group splintered off from the main crowd meditating and chanting to exorcise the evils out of the Pentagon. Little did they know, he mused. His binoculars were drawn to a lone female who seemed to have been left behind by the mob of protesters who had marched intently on towards the steps of the Pentagon guarded by soldiers and U.S. Marshals six stories below. He recognized the pretty, young woman from his son’s hospital room after the motorcycle accident. She had spent days there knitting and reading aloud, left at night then returned in the morning. He knew who she was. Fu Loin had briefed Y.T, Sr. thoroughly on Penelope Xing.

His eye was suddenly drawn to a clean cut young man making a bee-line across the grounds towards the banks of portable johns, who, like a predator, spying the easy pickings of a vulnerable prey separated from the herd, quickly turned his focus and suddenly veered away from his path to the johns towards Penelope Xing. He watched the young man slow and stalk his way to her side, then press himself on the young woman. He watched Penelope Xing let down her guard and succumb to the charms that were evident even to Y.T., Sr. six stories above. He watched until his attention was drawn to a growing ripple of activity near the Pentagon steps. Soldiers and Marshals seemed to be slowly stirring and preparing for some kind of activity.

Y.T., Sr. turned to the ex-Navy Commander, pointed towards Penelope Xing, and made his intentions clear. Moments later, Frik and Frak headed downstairs and outside towards Penelope Xing and Bill.

Scanning the crowd and the increasing activity on the Pentagon steps, Y.T., Sr. missed Marty Keegan and Mark quickly making their way through the crowd to the portable johns with a duffel bag filled with explosives. They dropped the duffel bag on the floor of an empty john in the middle of the rows and began running away from the Pentagon and the johns as fast as they could to meet Bill and Diana in the cream-colored Cadillac De Ville convertible for their getaway.

Their sudden movement caught Y.T., Sr.’s eye. He followed them for a hundred yards, then caught sight of Frik and Frak parting the sea of protesters with their mere bearing and demeanor, as they headed directly for Penelope Xing and Bill. A burst of activity back on the Pentagon steps drew his attention again, as a line of soldiers, waded into the crowd of protesters, using their rifles as clubs to break up the protest. In their wake, U.S. Marshals began arresting protesters who stood their ground, whether intentionally or inadvertently after being dazed by a rifle butt to the head.

As soldiers engaged citizens, a bomb blast from the middle of the rows of portable johns rocked the grounds and shifted the battle between the protesters and soldiers into high gear. Panicked protesters stampeded away from the Pentagon steps. Soldiers gave chase and seemed to hurry their efforts to get as many licks in on the protesters while they had the chance, before they had retreated completely.

Penelope Xing and Bill, only a few hundred yards away from the portable johns were thrown to the ground before Frik and Frak got to them. Panicked, Bill quickly got to his feet and fled the scene leaving Penelope Xing on the ground, shaking her head to clear her thoughts and comprehend what had just happened. In truth, she had, indeed, become, not just part of history, but had changed the history of the country by saving the life of a future president of the United States, who would have been in the blast zone, had he continued to follow nature’s urges until spying Penelope Xing.

 

“That depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

~William Jefferson Clinton

 


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Categories: In the Black

In the Black — Cameo by Washington D.C.

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

ITB141008 - White House Logo

Finally! After pinballing endlessly — recklessly across the North American continent, The Bus found its way into the nation’s capitol. As Murph crossed the Potomac River and began to snake aimlessly around the entrails of avenues and streets in Washington D.C., Penelope Xing was at once overwhelmed with the bold and enormous monuments erected to the familiar icons of the history of the United States of America and the endless Acropolis-like buildings that seemed to have sprouted up everywhere as citadels for civil servants too numerous to contemplate. The initial effect of the Olympian government presence was exactly as intended: to belittle the being of this common citizen and to trivialize her cares. And yet, as they drove on and on and on, with Murph narrating incoherently like a hallucinating amateur tour guide — which, in fact, he was — she was struck by the obsession with white sandstone, white marble, and, evidently, endless buckets of white paint. They passed the White House and then the Capitol Building for what seemed like the fifth or sixth time, and a smile cracked on Penelope Xing’s face that reflected a crack she perceived in the facade of an empire’s vanity as she began to appreciate how the practitioners of the second oldest profession endeavored to separate and cleanse themselves from the first oldest profession by proclaiming their virtue in the color chosen for their architecture, as if the purity of a bride could be guaranteed by an ornate, white wedding gown.

Suddenly, Penelope Xing felt a fellowship — if not, indeed, a kinship — with the legislators and office holders who would prostitute themselves, their principles and their beliefs so nakedly for their own material and political gain. Time and again, she had seen in her studies history lay bare the manipulations, machinations and, ultimately, the failings of the ruling classes of all colors, creeds and geographies. She felt oddly at home there on the opposite side of the country, three thousand miles from where she had spent her entire life. She no longer felt so small and so insignificant. She looked forward to Friday’s protest with heightened anticipation, ready to embrace the opportunity — finally! — to live, to breath, to be a part of history.

 

“The only difference between Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. is that at least Vegas has the decency to admit the town is full of hookers and crooks.”
~Glenn Beck

 


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Categories: In the Black

In the Black — Cameo by Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin

July 20, 2014 Leave a comment

 

“Damn it. It’s the radar. No-no-no. Switch the radar–,” Vasili Ivanovich urged into his microphone as he interpreted the stream of data on the screen of his console in the Lunar Excursion Module support trailer at Cape Kennedy.

Beside him sat Y.T., Sr, and Arthur Needleman silently watching an unexpected twist in the dramatic events of a Sunday afternoon in July. Behind them sat Frik and Frak, watching the video feeds intently. The LEM support trailer was filled with consoles and the hushed, intense chatter of technicians and engineers monitoring telemetry feeds from two hundred thirty-eight thousand miles away and updating Gene Kranz’s White Team on their assessments of system performance and mission success or failure.

“The twelve oh-one and twelve oh-two errors are okay,” Vasili Ivanovich advised the chain of command at the Houston Mission Control Center. “It’s okay. It is okay. No problem. No problem. Just task prioritizing.”

The LEM was descending from six thousand feet above the surface of the moon when guidance and navigation alarms went off distracting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Vasili Ivanovich repeatedly advised the guidance team that the situation was okay.

When he saw from the data on his console that Neil Armstrong had taken manual control of the LEM to avoid boulders strewn about the originally plotted landing site, Vasili Ivanovich looked up at the video monitor as the clinical dialog of two astronauts — sounding so damn much like Frik and Frak in the Learjet cockpit — floated dreamily through his consciousness.

“Contact light!” said Buzz Aldrin

“Shutdown,” said Neil Armstrong.

“Okay, engine stop. ACA – out of detent.”

“Out of detent. Auto”

“Mode control – both auto. Descent engine command override off. Engine arm – off. 413 is in.”

“We copy you down, Eagle,” acknowledged CAPCOM from Houston.

“Engine arm is off,” Neil Armstrong confirmed to Buzz Aldrin. He then responded to CAPCOM, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Vasili Ivanovich sat in stunned silence, staring at his console. They made it, he thought. Then before the full realization hit him, the crowded trailer erupted as technicians and engineers leaped up, cheering and hugging one another. Without realizing it, Vasili Ivanovich was on his feet cheering, too. To his right he saw Arthur Needleman and wrapped his arms around the man who had set this entire adventure in motion for him with a sales call they made on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory years and years ago and lifted him up off his feet. When their embrace broke, Vasili Ivanovich turned left and saw Y.T., Sr., still staring at the video monitor. He hesitated, then grabbed the man who had saved him from a life of quiet desperation in a Washington D.C. radio repair shop after World War II in a bear hug.

“Spacibo, spacibo, spacibo,” the Russian whispered into Y.T., Sr.’s ear.

The ex-Navy Commander smiled That Smile! hearing his former VF-51 squadron mate announce he had “caught the wire” on the surface of the moon. The ex-Colonel, who himself had made history in a B-29 over Nagasaki, teared up witnessing a fellow Air Force pilot make a very different — and a very much better kind of history in outer space.

For Erp Industries, Inc., the mission was only half over. The five men stayed at the console in the LEM support trailer the entire night, watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the surface of the moon a few hours later, then, the next day monitoring their blast off from the surface of the moon to rejoin Command Module Pilot Michael Collins for the return trip to earth. Once the LEM ascent stage was released to lunar orbit, Vasili Ivanovich, shut down his console and they finally left the Kennedy Space Center. Their celebration Monday night ended with driving their rental car out on the beach where Y.T., Sr., Vasili Ivanovich and Arthur Needleman toasted the success of Apollo 11 with vodka and howled at the moon — around which the Erp Industries, Inc. black boxes that Vasili Ivanovich had dreamed up and created continued to orbit.

Y.T., Sr. walked off alone down the deserted beach and tried to imagine the “magnificent desolation” Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had witnessed first hand.

Far out to sea, lightning from passing storms arced across the horizon.

 

“Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying.”

~Neil Armstrong

 


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Categories: In the Black

In the Black — Cameo by J. Edgar Hoover

June 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Hoover

For J. Edgar Hoover there was only one stage of bureaucratic grief: Anger. And, in the Director’s opinion, when it came to grief, it was far better to give than to receive, so his anger flowed like a lava field down from the top, scorching those in the organization who were not prescient enough to have covered their ass or nimble enough to deflect the molten flow of blame to others. As he read the field reports delivered to his desk on the first Monday morning of the new year, a volcanic pressure built beneath the dome of his high forehead. If J. Edgar Hoover had been a cartoon character, Clyde Tolson surely would have seen steam venting from his ears.

The Director read that on the very first day of 1969, his agents came up empty handed when they went to serve search and arrest warrants on the subjects of at least twenty pounds of file folders filled with twenty pound weight paper filled with nearly four years of Bureau observations collected at a great expense funded by the taxpayers of the United States of America. In a mere two weeks, a new President would be inaugurated — and Dick Nixon was no slouch. He could play hardball with the best of them and J. Edgar Hoover was certain his new boss would not be impressed by the fact that his Bureau had let a terrorist bomber, a would-be presidential assassin and the two kingpins of the illicit hallucinogenic drug trade in California — which was destroying the moral fiber of the youth of the greatest nation on earth — slip through their hands in one fell swoop. Somehow, The Triumvirate had triumphed — at least for the moment. But, J. Edgar Hoover had not stayed Director for nearly a half a century by letting others triumph.

 

“Justice is incidental to law and order.”

~J. Edgar Hoover

 


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Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1965-1969

ITB140306 - In the Black - Novel Cover - VW w180

My novel, In the Black, is being released today, May Day — and, yeah, that’s kind of a friendly poke in the ribs to some of my pinker or even red friends.

The story of this story is that I was blessed to have a very special relationship with my father. He was my dad, always, but we also worked together, so he was a mentor, a boss and a colleague. Some of his friends became my friends. We all agree he was a great guy. He was an enabler for many of my passions: music, flying and telling tales. He helped me learn lessons in life and business that I later discovered myself trying to pass on to others. It is no accident that In the Black is dedicated to my dad.

I regret that he never got a chance to read this story, as he died two years ago. Even though I started writing this book in the last century — way back in the Eighties, in fact — it became clear as I raced to finish that the story would have been incomplete without the events of the intervening years between then and now. The more things change, the more they stay the same:

The United States faces existential threats from outside and within
Unpopular wars drag on
Journalism prostitutes itself
A paranoid government spies on its citizens
Technology advances at a frightening pace
Partisan acrimony paralyzes our political system
Communist revolutionaries fill American streets with violent demonstrations
Families, friends and society itself are overwhelmed and torn apart by events

But maybe things aren’t so grim, if you know anything about business and accounting . . . .

Anyway, I’ve been asked if In the Black is autobiographical (especially by siblings). I find if you pay attention and sometimes step back and spectate, life happening all around you can be quite entertaining, if not always rational and coherent. While certainly some of the characters, scenes and lunacy have been inspired by real people, real events and real lunacy, it is a work of fiction. But, remember, while victors may get to write history, novelists get to write reality.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. And to show my appreciation, please use this coupon code at Smashwords for a free download of the completed book, which will be good for the next couple of days:  UQ47L

In the Black is also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, the iBookstore, Kobo and Scribd via the links to the right under “My Stuff.”  (but the coupon is only good at Smashwords).

I wish everyone could have met my dad, so I hope you enjoy my story.

Thank you.

EAC140407 - MTB Signature  175x40

 

 

 


130920 - Girl Stearman Trampoline CDBaby Pic

The Girl, the Stearman and the Trampoline at CDBaby

 

Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1968 – Arthur Needleman

March 5, 2014 Leave a comment

ITB140213 - In the Black 1968 w180

Y.T., Sr. knew exactly where to find Arthur Needleman: at the shoe shine stand. It was where he had first met his West Coast sales manager seven years earlier, clear across the country at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square in San Francisco. Arthur Needleman was drawn to hot dog carts, coffee shops, news stands, bakeries, barber shops and, of course, shoe shine stands, like bees are drawn to nectar, craving the human interaction and banter with proprietors and personal service providers and feeding off of those interactions, absorbing energy like a psychological flywheel to propel his manic pace through the day.

Arthur Needleman was the son of one of the most respected and revered men in the cloistered world of Madison Avenue. His father was the man who single-handedly doubled Proctor and Gamble shampoo sales with a solitary word: Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Wilfred Gustave Needleman was an avid student of the human herd and the most effective methodologies for corralling their disposable income into the coffers of corporations who paid handsomely for his propaganda wrangling. Throughout his career, “W.G.” prided himself on taking a strict scientific approach to the understanding of human behavior, but despaired at the disdainful whispers, both real and imagined, for his profession — in spite of the millions upon millions of dollars of tangible results his “pseudo-science” produced. The overt lack of respect from all but his peers and his clients pierced the adman’s pride deeply, the wounds of which he sought to heal by sending his son to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to become a “real” scientist.

Arthur Needleman was enrolled in the Aeronautical Engineering program with a minor in Astronomy, which interested him immensely more than his major. Although he excelled in his studies, his heart was not in becoming a scientist or an engineer. He saw the undergraduate program through, though, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree magnum cum laude only for his father’s sake. While W.G.’s approach to his fellow human beings, including his family, was coldly clinical and remotely statistical, his son preferred to deal with folks belly-to-belly, on an equal footing, learning from them and enjoying their company, rather than analyzing how to make them jump through hoops or chase through mazes towards some dubious reward, like a B.F. Skinner experiment. After graduation, Arthur Needleman sought to get as far away as possible from the laboratory-like sterility of the Needleman household in New York City as soon as possible. His escape path led to a drafting board at the Lockheed Advanced Development Division in Burbank, California, where he spend long days drawing excruciatingly intricate details of the landing gears of top secret aircraft. The unbroken hours in the company of templates, t-squares and mechanical pencils quickly began killing his spirit. He literally felt his soul slowly drowning in the increasing quantities of alcohol he was consuming after work in the company of fellow “Skunk Works” worker bees, until one Tuesday afternoon he walked over to his supervisor’s desk under the watchful eye of forty disbelieving engineers in his section and tendered his resignation. Due to the classified nature of the work done there for Kelly Johnson, Arthur Needleman was escorted out of the Lockheed facility immediately by security and collected his last paycheck that Friday.

On the way home from his last day at work, Arthur Needleman stopped at a bookstore and stocked up on fiction, verse, history and philosophy tomes, which he consumed voraciously on Venice Beach, until the day he finished Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, after which he impulsively jumped into the gift he received from his father upon graduating from M.I.T., a Porsche Spyder, and headed north up California Highway 1, stopping at every coffee shop, diner, bowling alley, driving range and tavern between Los Angeles and San Francisco, until he crossed paths with Y.T., Sr. at the St. Francis Hotel. After a wide ranging conversation, ricocheting from sports cars to the “Buttoned-Down Mind” of Bob Newhart to the validity of Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s record of sixty home runs in a 162 game season to Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night to Fred McMurray’s invention of Flubber in The Absent Minded Professor to Eisenhower’s dire warnings about the “Military-Industrial Complex” to Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to journey into outer space, Y.T., Sr. told Arthur Needleman to call him after he got home from his Pacific coastal odyssey to go to work for Erp Industries, Inc.

Y.T., Sr. climbed up on the shoe shine stand in the lobby of the Parker House Hotel in downtown Boston. Arthur Needleman was already sitting there, scanning The Boston Globe obituaries and analyzing the upcoming World Series pitching matchup between Tiger Denny McClain and the Cardinal Bob Gibson with Aldo as he buffed Arthur Needleman’s Florsheims to a high gloss. Without looking, he handed Y.T., Sr. the Lifestyle section of the paper.

“I have to go with St. Louis, of course,” said Y.T., Sr., pulling out his pen to work the crossword puzzle.

“I hate to break this to you, but it’s going to be Detroit,” answered Arthur Needleman. “I hope you don’t have a lot riding on the Series.”

“Hmmm.” Y.T., Sr. filled in six down. “Aldo, your thoughts?”

“This is Boston,” said the shoe shine man as he dabbed polish on Y.T., Sr.’s Oxfords. “I gotta go American League, so I agree with Artie on this.”

“We’ll see. We’ll see,” said Y.T., Sr. “So, anyone we know kick off?”

“Looks like Patrick O’Hurley crossed the bar.”

“We know him?”

“No, but he’ll do.”

“How’s our buddy, Peckerfelt, making out these days?”

“He’s dealing with it. That Leon Debs guy is a real piece of work, though.”

“Anyone listening to him?”

“Oh, there are always a few malcontents who are just looking for any excuse to make trouble and stir the pot.”

“I don’t need any union problems in the shop.”

“Nothing to fear, my good man, but fear itself. Orley’s pitching in, too. Boy, he sure hates Debs’s guts.”

“We’re at a critical juncture with negotiations right now. Let me know what I can do to help.”

“Oh, I think everything is good-to-go right now. You won’t need to worry about manufacturing.”

“Okay.” Y.T., Sr. filled in twenty-three across. “And how are he and Prunella getting on?”

“Never seen him happier.”

“Good. Good for him.”

“Front desk,” Arthur Needleman whispered as he nudged Y.T., Sr.’s arm with his elbow. Without lifting their heads from their newspapers, both men caught a glimpse of Vasili Ivanovich pacing near the front desk, alternating between checking his wrist watch, then furtively glancing in their direction, then contemplating the scuffed condition of his cheap brown shoes, then rubbing the center of his forehead, then repeating the ritual again and again.

They would be late if they didn’t get going, Vasili Ivanovich fretted to himself, Y.T., Sr.’s long ago lesson in tardiness ever fresh in his mind. What was taking so long?

“You gentlemen are all set,” said Aldo.

“I shall retrieve our carriage,” said Arthur Needleman hopping down from the stand and heading toward the front entrance under the watchful eye of Vasili Ivanovich.

Y.T., Sr. paid Aldo and tipped him generously. “Tigers, huh? You Red Sox fans are all alike.”

Aldo shrugged. “Thank you, sir.”

Vasili Ivanovich met Y.T., Sr. halfway and walked with him to the hotel entrance. “I’ve checked and double checked everything — absolutely everything and — and the design is good. It is good. I swear it.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Y.T., Sr.

“But you’ve read the memos. They are all blaming us — Grumman, Raytheon, Bell, Marquardt, Rocketdyne, the government, Von Braun.” Delays in getting the Lunar Excursion Module flight ready had forced NASA to completely change the mission profile for Apollo 8, which was originally planned as a second Lunar Module/Command Module test in an elliptical medium Earth orbit in early 1969. “And this Raytheon fellow, Mc-Mc-Mc–“

“McCarthy.”

Vasili Ivanovich shuddered at the mere mention of the surname of the Senator from Wisconsin whose subcommittee hearings had precipitated his relocation from Washington D.C. to Kansas City so many years ago.

A porter held the door for them. They stepped to the curb to wait for Arthur Needleman.

“Everything is going to be just fine,” Y.T., Sr. said, putting his hand on Vasili Ivanovich’s shoulder. “Trust me.”

Vasili Ivanovich bowed his head and shook it slowly. He had seen it all before: the finger pointing, the accusations, the burying of facts and the inevitable purging of the innocents.

Arthur Needleman pulled up in a red four-door Ford Torino from Hertz and rolled down the window. “Need a lift?”

Y.T., Sr. read the question in Vasili Ivanovich’s painfully pinched expression at the sight of Arthur Needleman. “You know, he went to school here in Boston.”

Vasili Ivanovich just shook his head dejectedly and acquiesced to Y.T., Sr.’s gestures to get in the front seat, wondering if he might have the Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol with him and what it would feel like against the back of his head.

“A clean windshield. Powerful gasoline. And a shoe shine,” said Arthur Needleman as he squealed the tires pulling away from the Parker House Hotel and raced his way out of downtown Boston in a way that only compounded Vasili Ivanovich’s anxiety and terror.

In the back seat, Y.T., Sr. worked on the Boston Globe crossword puzzle.

“So, I hear old “Fuzzy” McCarthy has done pretty good for himself at Raytheon,” said Arthur Needleman.

“Assistant Chief Engineer,” said Y.T., Sr., from the back seat.

“You know, Vasya,” Arthur Needleman said, winking at Vasili Ivanovich, “Fuzzy and I were classmates back at M.I.T.”

Vasili Ivanovich’s worry-furrowed brow suddenly smoothed out. He looked back at Y.T., Sr. who was filling in the answer for forty-six down and finally understood.

Arthur Needleman arrived at St. Anthony Catholic Church just as Patrick O’Hurley’s funeral procession was departing for Westview Cemetery. He turned on the Torino’s headlights and fell in at the end of the long line of cars. Y.T., Sr. finished the crossword puzzle as they drove non-stop to Raytheon headquarters in Lexington, arriving on time for their meeting, after which the rabid hounds of bureaucratic reprisal turned their hunt to find others to blame besides Erp Industries, Inc.

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Categories: In the Black
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