May, 1946. Willard Rochester sat in his office in the Federal Building in Manhattan. He glanced at his watch. It was 10:15 p.m. He heard, clunking below like the steps of Jacob Marley in the basement, the footsteps of the night watchman. He looked at the coffeepot, idly rubbing his belly, and absently licked the lower edge of his carefully trimmed mustache as he pondered whether to pour himself another cup. No, he thought. I’ll try calling George again. He should be in by now. He looked at the file before him, yet again. Edwin Stanton Bradley, he thought. Bad name to be stuck with, if you’re a Southern boy. Maybe that explains part of it. He put his finger on the page where the name of Dr. Lewis Wolberg appeared. I wonder if he’s talked about it with his head-shrinker. But what would Wolberg know about the War Between the States? Or Reconstruction—so called? That was before his people came here. He paused, then picked up the phone and dialed.
“The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, operator.”
George H. White’s head jerked up from the pillow as the phone rang. He stubbed out his cigarette, grasped the bottle of Canadian Club obstructing the phone, set it to the side, and picked up the receiver. His eyes focused on the ceiling and he cleared his throat.
“Hello, Colonel. How are things?”
“Weeell,” Rochester drawled, “up ‘til about three or so, there wasn’t much doing. But then one of the fellows from NYPD came over and said: ‘While you’re in town, take a look at this.’ He handed me a file on an Edwin S. Bradley II. Ring a bell?”
“No, not really.”
“When was the last time you used a typewriter with a reversible ribbon?”
“I wrote a memo to the Commissioner yesterday.”
“OK. The boy I’m talking about—his grandaddy invented the reversible ribbon. Used it for his adding machines first.”
“This kid’s from the Bradley family? The adding machine people?”
Though he was not facing White, Rochester nodded. “Yep. Not really a kid, though, George. He’s ah…just turned thirty-two. Just a little younger than you.”
“Well, Colonel, what did the NYPD have him in for?”
“Either he’s a yo-yo, or he’s new.”
“We were both out of the country, I think, when this happened, but—you remember when this fairy David Kammerer was killed? This teen-ager he had the hots on stabbed him with a Boy Scout knife, threw his body in the Hudson? Turned himself in after a couple days, the cops didn’t believe him, and just then the body comes back up?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, that rings a bell.”
“Well, the kid—Lucius somebody, I think—tells a couple friends about it right after he does it, and after he talks they get brought in as material witnesses. This fellow Bradley was one of ‘em.”
“Couple weeks ago, some hepster by the name of Dorio gets picked up in what turns out to be an apartment Bradley has on Henry Street. Possession. So they check the files on Bradley, then hit the pharmacies. Find a couple of prescriptions with a Dr. Greco’s signature—made out to Edwin Bradley.”
“His real name?” White chuckled. “Either he’s a yo-yo, or he’s new.”
“He’s green, all right.”
“Colonel, I’m sorely tempted to laugh.”
“’Fraid I’m not,” Rochester murmured. “I mean, George, I made some calls, and I’ve made some notes. We’re talking about a kid here who just really got on the wrong track, but he hasn’t gotten too wrong yet. I mean, yes, the word is he is hangin’ out with Bill Garver.”
“Overcoat Bill? I believe I could choose better company than that, Colonel.”
“Who couldn’t?” Rochester replied. “But what I’m getting at, George, is—young Bradley was not living at Henry Street. He’s up on West 103rd. Lives in a walkup with a war widow named Joan, she’s on bennies in the coffee; she has a daughter—and there’s some Jew kid going to Columbia named Carlo Lanin in there, too. The sources say Bradley’s a real soft-spoken, polite sort of fellow. Got Southern manners.”
“Where’s he from?”
“Edwin Stanton Bradley II.”
“Whoa, Colonel! Sounds a bit more Carpetbagger than South to me!”
“Whah, Ah’d seay thuh same thang mahself, son,” replied Rochester, affecting for purposes of emphasis an accent that had partly slipped away in the decades since he’d come north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Then he went back to his normal phrasing. “But the truth is, George, that was his granddaddy’s name, the inventor. Born in Ohio. Came to St. Louis in 1878 to make his fortune—not unlike a lot of Southerners, back then. Made the machine, came down with TB, moved to Citronelle, Alabama—not too far from Mobile where I was in ’27. Young Bradley’s dad was part raised there, part in St. Louis. Two stars on the Southern Cross.”
“And his mother’s family?”
“Why, George, there you have some history.” Rochester made a sweeping motion, pushing his empty coffee cup to the far side of his desk. “Remember Carter Ledbetter?”
“Sure, Colonel. The PR man.” White shifted his 250-pound bulk slightly as he reached for his bottle. “Worked for the Rockefellers, right?”
“And Hitler, right before he died, ‘round ’34. I think Putzi Hanfstaengl arranged that. Well, Ledbetter was young Bradley’s uncle, on his mother’s side. And it so happens that when I was down in Washington in ’33, this fella who went to Princeton with Ledbetter had a party for him. I was sitting at the next table, overheard Ledbetter talking about his father, this Methodist preacher, originally from Cedartown, Georgia—”
“That’s right by Atlanta, isn’t it, Colonel?”
“Just to the west, about thirty miles, I think. Anyway, the damyankees—present company always excepted, George—came through en route to Atlanta, and Ledbetter was talking about his pappy, at the age of fifteen, fightin’ Sherman’s men barehanded while they torched the barn and stole the chickens. The way Ledbetter told it, George, I’m telling you, you could just about hear the ember cracklin’ at the end and smell the rotgut on them Yankee breaths. If Bradley heard it when he was a young’un, from old Carter or from his mama, much less his grandaddy, then I’m telling you—wouldn’t matter if he was Ben Butler Bradley, he’d still be a Southern boy.”
“I’ll trust your judgment on that, Colonel. Are you planning to look into talking with his judge when the case comes up?”
“I think I’ll first look to talk to Bradley myself, George. I called up this fellow I know in St. Louis, Blodgett—works at the Federal Reserve there—asked him about Bradley. Turns out he knows his dad. Says the father’s a bit of a quiet type, like his son. but Blodgett mentioned a very interesting wrinkle on all this.”
“George, in June of ’41 young Bradley showed up in Bill Donovan’s office.”
“’41?” White gasped. “And five years later he’s forging misspelled prescriptions?”
“This NYPD file on the Kammerer case says that this Carlo kid was into Rimbaud, ‘derangement of the senses’—that whole Upper West Side bohemian thing.”
Rochester nodded. “Hard to believe. Right after Bill got COI set up, Blodgett mentioned it to Bradley’s father, and it turned out David Bruce had discussed it with Carter Ledbetter’s brother. So young Bradley, being a Harvard grad—Class of ’36, I think—had just got turned down for a Naval commission on eyesight, takes the train to D.C. and shows up at COI with a letter from his uncle. What Bradley said to his dad and his dad told Blodgett was that Bill was ready to take him on, but James Baxter turned out to have been his Harvard housemaster and hadn’t liked him at all, for some reason. Well, hell, Baxter is a Yankee, that explains the half of it.”
Rochester reached for his coffee cup absent-mindedly.
“Why, Colonel, it’s a damn shame nobody thought to refer him to you.”
“Well, sometimes things don’t turn out like you’d like ’em, George. I tell you, if I’d just been able to bring Bradley into the OSS—we sure could have used a few more men with the right stuff in there. American names, American education, American attitudes. Anyway, if I’d been able to do that, he wouldn’t be where he is today. But, y’know, George, something tells me it’s not too late.”
“Kind of wondering, Colonel—was he in the war at all?”
“I called the Pentagon.” Willard’s eye, wandering across his wall, fastened upon the calendar. “Bradley was called up in January ’42. Turned out he had a finger joint missing. He talked to a psychiatrist, who said he’d deliberately amputated it.”
“He was that much of a slacker?”
“Naw, he’d done it in ’37. The doctor didn’t quite seem to get to the reason, but he advised a civilian disability discharge. According to what the NYPD has on file, he was an exterminator after that—”
“Yep, in Chicago. He seems like one of those college kids we had a lot of in the depression, trying to figure out what to do. The NYPD file says he was at some nickel-and-dime ad agency around ’40, and—why, George, I almost forgot! Blodgett says he was a cub for the Post-Dispatch when he was home one summer from Harvard. So maybe he’s got that writing bug. You know, that might explain it, right there.”
“How so, Colonel?”
“This NYPD file on the Kammerer case I have here says that this Carlo kid was into Rimbaud, ‘derangement of the senses’—that whole Upper West Side bohemian thing.”
“Well, y’know, some of ‘em start out with cinnamon oil on a toothpick, and it goes from there.”
Rochester paused. “It’s getting late, George. I think I’ll call this Bradley boy up, and go home. Tell Jake Ehrlich to turn down a Yankee client for me.”
“Will do, Colonel.”
The phone rang at the apartment on West 103rd Street at 10:30. Joan stopped chewing her plain bagel. She picked up the receiver, but her palsied hand immediately dropped it.
With the aplomb of Sir Walter Raleigh stooping before his monarch, Carlo Lanin dashed across the room, reached down and picked it up.
“Hel-lloow, Maison-en-Enferrr!” he purred, in his best trans-tunnel tones.
Willard Rochester winced, then spoke.
“This Edwin Bradley’s residence?”
“Indeed it is. Would you like to speak to Mister Bradley?”
“Yes, sir, I would. This is Colonel Willard Rochester calling.”
“Just a moment, Kernel.”
Lanin looked over at Bradley, who was seated in a ratty Victorian chair with the stuffing coming out, doing his best, in posture and demeanor, to look as if he were instead in a rattan chair at Raffles.
Bradley pushed his glasses up with his middle finger and arose.
“Says he’s Willard Rochester. Isn’t that the District Supervisor?”
“Yes. But that’s Garver calling. Hold on.”
Bradley picked up the phone.
“Dammit, Bill, this ain’t funny! Now—”
But the Colonel interrupted.
“Mr. Bradley, I could not help overhearing your exchange with your young friend.”
“Please hear me out, Mr. Bradley. Our mutual acquaintance Tom Waring can vouch for my being, in fact, Willard Rochester.”
As soundlessly as the shutting of a padded door in an asylum, Bradley’s features shifted from irritation to surprise, and his shoulders sank slightly.
“I never said anything to Garver about Tom Waring. Where do you know him from?”
“As you know, Mr. Bradley, his family enjoys some prominence in Charleston, and I had the pleasure, some years ago, of dinner at his father’s house when I was down there on business for the Bureau.”
Bradley’s face went blank, then a bit curious.
“Is there a reason for your calling at this hour, Colonel?”
“Well, before you tell him I said hello, I imagine we should meet first.”
“Well, my apologies for interrupting your preparations for, ah, retiring, Mr. Bradley, but I’ve had occasion to look at a file that the New York Po-lice Department sent to us concerning your appearance in court next month, and there were some aspects about it that I couldn’t help noticing, such as, for example, your education down in Los Alamos, just when Tom Waring was there—by the way, I just telephoned him on—um, to discuss an editorial in the News and Courier.”
“Yes, well, this was before I came across your file, and I’ll be talking to him again, or, likely, writing next week, and—”
Bradley had been sampling a bit of the Benzedrine in the household, and he beat the Colonel to the punch.
“Well, before you tell him I said hello, I imagine we should meet first.”
“Why, that’s just what I had in mind, Mr. Bradley. Does tomorrow afternoon at, say, 4 p.m., sound right to you?”
“My schedule’s not really that cut and dry nowadays, Colonel Rochester. I see no problem with that.”
“Excellent, then. I’ll put it in my book. Looking forward to meeting you, Mr. Bradley.”
“The same, Colonel.”
Bradley hung up the phone. Lanin had soaked in every word.
“It was him.”
“It’s the Big Man all right, Carlo.” Bradley shook his head, then stared at a corner of the room. “And you know, I guess those junkies are right. He doesn’t need to tap my phone. Tom Waring. Jeez. I just have the feeling that every other name I’d drop—Harvard classmates, the guy who sat next to me in third grade—he’d know.”
“K,” Carlo Lanin said, dragging the initial out. Bradley turned to look at him.
Bradley nodded. “Yeah. But it’s my brother who’s the architect.”
Joan began laughing uproariously, and on that note the conversation moved on to Rilke for a while.
Meanwhile, Willard Rochester closed up his office. The night janitor approached, a West Indian who had lived in the San Juan Hill neighborhood in the West Sixties until it was evacuated to be converted into commercial properties.
The janitor spoke, his Grenadian singsong only slightly muted by the years in Manhattan. His voice made Rochester think back to a party he’d attended in Newport before the war. A woman over bedecked in jewels had turned to him; they’d been discussing Trinidad.
“The way those people down there speak, Mr. Rochester. Isn’t it just pure, ah, word-music?”
“Twelve-tone word-music,” he’d reflexively replied. From the expression on her face he knew she’d taken it the wrong way: she’d turned to the person opposite and begun to speak. He hadn’t controlled his expression well enough. He wondered if she even knew what twelve-tone music was … No. Forget that. Look at the man. Mild smile. Loosen lips. Don’t show teeth.
“Closing up for tonight, Mister Rochester?”
Nod. “Yes, Joseph. You can go in and clean now?” Everything locked? Yes.
“Thank you, sir. Goodnight.”
Another nod. Expel air through upper teeth to resemble acknowledgment. Go on.
It was not until the elevator doors had closed that the fist in Rochester’s jacket pocket unclenched.
The secretary looked up. Her fortyish well-permed head jerked to the left involuntarily at the sight of the man before her: clearly in his thirties, yet bearing a cadaverous appearance which brought to mind an elderly, none-too-reputable “confirmed bachelor.” Individuals like this often presented themselves in this room. She wondered whether the receptionist at Customs got such people.
“I’m here to see Colonel Rochester.”
“Is the Colonel expecting you?”
“Yes. I’m Edwin Bradley.”
She pressed the intercom button and announced him.
Bradley turned to seat himself, but before he’d fully lowered his weight into the chair, the door behind the receptionist’s desk opened, and a pot-bellied man with a springy step emerged. The afternoon sunlight from the window glanced off his high hairline.
“Mr. Bradley! Step right in, please.”
“Why am I here, Colonel Rochester?”
Bradley followed him in, and scanned the room without moving his head. The Colonel shaking hands with Roosevelt, with Truman, with both Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover. The Colonel and Harry Anslinger. The Colonel and the present mayor of New York. The Colonel and LaGuardia—though this last picture was smaller than the others. Bradley looked down at the table. Two folders were on it.
Rochester gestured to the chair and said, “Have a seat.” Bradley obliged. Rochester went around and seated himself behind the desk.
“If you don’t mind my asking, Colonel, were you in the European or the Pacific theater?”
Rochester looked him in the eye. “Actually, Mr. Bradley, I was in both. Generally in the Army Air Force, doing paratroop training.” He paused. “Prior to going overseas, I worked in the Washington area—D.C., that is—and also around New York.”
Bradley looked at the folders. “If you’ve gone through those, Colonel, you probably know my military history, such as it is. I studied flying in ‘41. Wanted to be a Navy flier. Would’ve been in competition, I guess.”
“Well, Mr. Bradley, I met quite a few Navy fliers in the war. There was some rivalry between the services, but not all that much.”
Bradley had tired of small talk. He peered over his spectacles and inquired, in his flintiest tone, “Why am I here, Colonel Rochester?”
To the older man’s ear, Bradley seemed to stress his last name, as if the fact that the Colonel shared a moniker with a popular black comedian had just come to mind. Rochester could feel the blood start rushing to his face. Time to get to business.
He grabbed the folder. “You are here, Mr. Bradley, because—well, because in my judgment, a young man who has grown up in a good home, has good manners as, ah, you’ve demonstrated, has a degree from Harvard, has studied anthropology—”
Bradley cut in. “Pardon me for interrupting, Colonel, but how do you know I studied anthropology? I don’t think I mentioned that to the NYPD. They just had my degree.”
Rochester looked at my table and placed both hands on it, fingers outstretched. “Well, to be honest, Mr. Bradley, after looking through your file I telephoned an old friend of mine on the anthropology faculty up there, Carleton Coon, and asked about you.”
“Did you tell him how my name had come up?”
“No, I really phrased it … I suppose he thought I was sounding you out for an undercover job or something.”
Bradley’s face grew stern. “Colonel, I think you know that, given my present … interests, that’s not really an impression I’m interested in people having.”
Willard Rochester thought about giving the trust-fund fiend a look to show who held the cards, but decided against it. Then Bradley smiled.
“Well, Colonel, I have to say I was a lot more interested in anthropology than in my undergrad major, English literature. I haven’t met Professor Coon, but doesn’t he, if I remember correctly, specialize in the North African tribes? The Berbers and so forth?”
“That’s one place I would have liked to visit during the war. Algiers, Casablanca, Tangier, that whole area. The Casbah … ”
“So you could help, ah, ‘round up the usual suspects?'” Rochester asked, in an imitation of Claude Rains that Bradley found amusing.
“Well, I’d read about it before then. I was quite a fiend for spy fiction—John Buchan, Somerset Maugham—when I was a teenager.”
Rochester licked his lips.
“I read quite a few of Buchan’s books when they came out, myself. And I read the ‘Ashenden’ stories when they were in, was it Smart Set!”
Bradley shrugged. “That was before my time, Colonel.”
“Later I started on D. H. Lawrence and Eliot. By the way, didn’t Eliot come to Harvard a few times when you were there?”
“He did, Colonel, but I didn’t go to any of his get-togethers. Lot of middle-aged ladies, you know, endless cups of tea, and the level of conversation … ”
Rochester nodded. “Can’t say I’ve gotten to know Eliot—Carleton Coon used to see him a lot, in England as well as the Yard—but you’ve got a point. Even if a man whose work you admire doesn’t turn out to be an utter disappointment in person, you may find it difficult to really draw out the, ah, character in him that you’ve encountered in his writings.”
“You mentioned Lawrence,” Bradley said. “Hope I’m not making you out to be older than you are, but did you … ”
“Meet him, Mr. Bradley?”
“Oh, you can call me Ed.” Bradley was almost starting to warm to the fellow.
“Well, all right, Ed. Now, to answer your, ah, incipient question, I was nearly out of my twenties when he died. I found out later I was in Mexico at the same time as him, and I was in Albuquerque once, and heard that he was in Taos, up by where you went to school, but I was working for Customs at the time, and they kept us moving.”
“Albuquerque is pretty far inland for Customs, Colonel.”
“They had an airfield there already, Ed, and I’d stopped in to talk to the staff about smuggling. As you probably know, New Mexico’s got a lot of things moving in and out all the time, from the Colorado border down to Mexico. Speaking of Mexico, did you ever read The Plumed Serpent?”
“Yes I did, when I was at Harvard the second time. Mayan culture was my main interest.”
“It was?” Colonel Rochester perked up. “You know, during Prohibition Customs sent me down to Cancun, Belize, Puerto Barrios in Guatemala—you know Puerto Barrios?”
“Just through National Geographic, Colonel. I never got around to field work down there. As you know, you haven’t really got people to work with, just ruins and codexes.”
“True.” Rochester looked down, a bit pensively. “I take it you studied the calendar?”
“That and the hierarchic structure—aspects of it, anyway—were what really fascinated me.”
“As you know, Ed, that calendar was more sophisticated than either the Julian or Gregorian calendars. And yet all three functioned, really, to service an agrarian society.”
“The difference being that the Julian and Gregorian calendars employ a decimal system, and the Mayan doesn’t, Colonel—or should I call you Willard?”
Rochester smiled with two-thirds of his mouth, thinly and not so broadly as to be a smirk.
“Whichever. I’m from the South, and, as you know, being a Colonel carries some weight with us.”
“Well, perhaps especially now. I received my title through military promotion; I didn’t go to a barbecue in Nashville or Lexington—”
Bradley raised his eyebrows a bit at the reference to the latter city. The Colonel understood, and lowered his eyes apologetically.
“—or Louisville. Anyway, I didn’t get it through the peacetime route of telling the Governor’s wife she was so charming a belle that Selznick was a fool not to make her Scarlett.”
The Colonel’s expression of mild misogyny agreed with Bradley. But he couldn’t while away the next few hours talking to this badgeman; some friends of Dorio’s were expecting him at a diner at 5:30, and he still had to stop and get their shit. There was no question they’d be on time, and Bradley did not consider it prudent to give his previous meeting as an excuse for being late. He leaned forward.
“And I have to be truthful, Colonel. I’m enough of a Southerner that I’m not going to talk.”
“My apologies for not having more time to chat, Colonel, but I am supposed to meet a couple of people for dinner at five-thirty. As you know, I am part Yankee—my grandfather was named for a man we shall pass over in silence—and I’m part native St. Louis. My grand-dad was the man behind the adding machine—so I’ve got some precision and punctuality there, like a stiff-necked ol’ Northerner. Now it’s true that on my mother’s side I’m Southern, so I have to be courteous—and I fear that tardiness, to my dinner guests, would be discourteous. So I’m sure you understand that I need to know whether you’re suggesting some direction that I should follow in order to obtain … ”
“To obtain. This is your first narcotics-related offense, that’s come to the attention of the law.”
“And I have to be truthful, Colonel. I’m enough of a Southerner that I’m not going to talk. Not about anybody, not about myself in any way that will implicate anybody. I don’t care what other people say about me in this context. Snitching back at a snitch isn’t the same as fighting fire with fire.”
“That’s true, Ed. You’re doing your forebears honor.” Rochester looked up from the table. There were tears welling in his eyes. “There will be no deals. I’ll talk to the judge. I’ll explain that you’re an educated, cultured fellow who’s just curious about life. Suppose I say that you’re an amateur anthropologist, really, who’s doing field work on Times Square?”
“Well, do you think the judge will hear that out with a straight face, Colonel?”
“Aw, Ed, this is a Yankee we’re talking about! I could tell him you’ve got a Carnegie Foundation fellowship to do this, kind of hint that Jock Whitney might put him on a guest list or John W. Davis may want to call him if he goes easy, and he’d believe it.”
“We don’t want to be untruthful, Colonel.”
“No, we do not. But—you would say that your present interests are relevant to your anthropological pursuits?”
“And, though having pursued graduate study … ”
“I’m not a professional at the subject.”
“Well, then shall I discuss it with him?”
“Would I be expected to go to a private hospital?”
“What this judge likes to do, Ed, is send first offenders, if he looks kindly, home.”
Ed frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You’d be going to stay with your parents.”
“That’s a bit—well, I’m thirty-two, Colonel.”
“Ed, the other option is the narcotics ward of the state hospital in Albany.”
“I don’t think I’d care for that, Colonel. I, uh, reside with a young lady—as well as Carl, who you talked to when you called last night. Anyway, the young lady is from Albany, and she’s heard things about the state hospital, and from what she’s told me, I think I’ll be able to get through a few months in St. Louis, no matter how muggy summer gets out there.”
Bradley got up to leave, but Rochester raised his hand. “But Ed, before you go, just one more thing.”
Bradley sat back down.
“You mentioned a young lady from Albany. My apologies for knowing this from the … sources, but she’s … she’s your, ah—”
“Not quite a fiancée, Colonel, but we can say, perhaps, she’s my intended. You understand that that’s a problem I have with going to St. Louis. She does work, from time to time, but apartments are getting expensive, what with the housing shortage, and her folks do not contribute to her upkeep, and Carlo is in the merchant marine off and on, and—”
“And you’re the steadiest source of income in the household.”
“Yes. I get a monthly allowance from my parents, but it won’t be enough to cover the bills. We’re behind in our payments already. But if worst comes to worst and she and her daughter are evicted, a friend of ours has strongly indicated he’ll let them be his guests until I can remove myself from—well, I was anticipating Rikers Island or the hospital, but now … ”
“It’s good that you have friends that will take her and her daughter in, Ed. But—and you understand I’m not putting this in a file—this is not somebody on the nod that—”
“Rest easy, Colonel. Spence may look upon a reefer at times and feel temptation comin’ on, but I’d say a Ballantine with his prime rib is—”
“Ed. Wait. I’ve heard of Spence.” Rochester went through the second file, pausing to look up and explain, “This is the one that led the NYPD to you,” before continuing.
Then he reached a page of the manuscript, studied it, and looked up. Bradley was looking out the window. Rochester appreciated the young man’s refusal to peer.
“Ed. You can’t be serious about putting Joan and, ah—”
“Margie. Three next month. Darling child.”
“Yes but—you can’t be serious about putting them up with—with—”
“Colonel, Spence is a reliable, honest, truthful—”
“Reliable, honest, truthful nigger, son.”
Bradley’s earnest face changed to one of such impassivity as would do honor to a fakir on the coals. But it was Rochester’s turn to be earnest. He shook his head.
“Ed, you know better.”
“No. I don’t know better.”
“You feel responsible for this woman. And her daughter. There isn’t a file on Joan but I’ve seen her mentioned in reports. We’re both gentlemen, but you understand the principle.”
Bradley’s upper and lower teeth were together as he spoke. “What is the principle, Colonel?”
“That … well, she’s a Yankee, from what these reports say, but they also say she’s got good manners and spirit, like—”
“Like Scarlett O’Hara?” Bradley asked sardonically.
“Well, dammit, Ed, fictional characters aside, she’s, ah—”
“White. And Spence is colored. And we know what that means, we Southern men.”
“Yes!” Rochester shouted. “We know what that means. We know—”
Bradley got up, almost kicking his chair aside. “Look, Colonel. I know we’ve both read some of the same books, but I never got past page two of The Klansman. What I’ve read are books that talk about Robert E. Lee going to the Confederate Congress and urging the emancipation of slaves in exchange for battlefield service—”
“And you know that his feet were held to the fire, Ed. The Rothschilds were telling Benjamin that that was a condition to recognition by England and—”
“You’re anti-Semitic, Colonel? And to think your manners when you talked to my young flatmate Carlo were—”
“Forget Carlo. I know Benjamin was the ‘brains of the Confederacy.’ Some brains—rushing off to London—”
“The rest of the Cabinet were trying to flee too,” Bradley noted. “Now I know just what’s coming next—after the war Lee wrote to Albert Pike and Forrest and—”
“He did. He may not have said so but he lived five years long enough to know he was wrong to let them—to even think about giving them guns.” By now, Rochester’s cheeks were puffing out, and his entire face was crimson.
Bradley stared him in the eye. “And what about Nathan Bedford Forrest? Is your Forrest the man who organized terror and murder? Or the man who repudiated the Klan and told a Negro audience, standing before the Stars and Stripes—”
“Got that from some damyankee historian at Harvard, eh?” shrieked Rochester.
“The article I saw quoted from a white eyewitness, a Southerner. Forrest said, ‘We have but one flat, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color but not in sentiment.’”
Rochester calmed. “I never saw that article. When was that supposed to happen?”
Rochester was silent for a long time. Then he said, “Ed, you’re too young to fuck yourself up. You’re too smart to spend the rest of your life with the—the humancattle. Why don’t you go back and read Lothrop Stoddard again? I mean, you know you can’t help knowing better, son. It’s in your blood. You’re white and you know it, you’ve always known it. There are some things you’ve got to learn, Ed.”
Rochester’s voice grew softer, and his eyes became more intense. Bradley’s psychiatrist used hypnotherapy, and Ed felt an uneasy deja vu. He didn’t know if Rochester was trying to put him in a trance, and he didn’t want to find out. “Colonel, I’m leaving.” He turned his back.
From behind him he heard, in a tone so neutral it was difficult to determine whether a request or a command was being issued. “Don’t tell anyone about this conversation—any part of it.”
“Very well, Colonel.” He glided out the door, past the receptionist, down the hall and into the elevator as if he were walking on air. He turned to the black uniformed man at the controls and said, “Ground floor, please.” He thought about making a comment about the weather, to conceal the tension he felt building, but the elevator operator seemed to understand.
September, 1993. In a hotel room in the Midwest, Edwin Bradley stood and raised a glass of champagne. He was at a table with three others: a friend of his from the Pacific Northwest whose label had just issued a record of Bradley’s readings, a rock star who had played the guitar backing on the record, and the rock star’s wife.
“A toast to the success of our collaboration,” Bradley rasped in a voice which, emanating from his pallid yet leathery frame, sounded almost youthful.
“Sköl!” piped the rock star in a voice incongruous to his large, comic-book-hero’s physique. His wife and the label-owner said nothing, their attention having been momentarily distracted by a video appearing on the television set on the far side of the room.
The rock star leaned forward. “Ed, I’ve been, you know, involved in some of the same kind of stuff you used to do as a young man.”
“Such as?” Bradley raised one eyebrow.
“Well,” the rock star continued, “what I mean is, when I was using that ol’ ear-infection medication—”
“Ah, yes, works wonders. I remember when I’d stop by to meet people in clubs that music and crowds talking would, ah, angry up my ears. Marvelously effective.”
“But what I was saying was I used to run into people who’d been around in Harry Anslinger’s time, around—”
“Well, his time lasted until 1962. That would have been about a decade before you came in.”
“I was born in ‘68. But I got talking with them about agents in the old Bureau, and I was wondering—did you have a specific man in mind when you wrote about the District Supervisor?”
“Don’t tell anyone about this conversation—any part of it.”
“I fear, young man, that the circumstances don’t permit me to confirm or deny that.”
The Colonel’s words rang in Edwin Bradley’s ear as if he’d heard them just that afternoon. Well, the old cracker had kept his word. Ed had gotten four months with his folks, no more, no less. And then there was New Orleans, the next year, when the judge, knowing full well Bradley wasn’t going to serve any two years in Angola if he could help it, told him he could travel out of state before the case came up. The lawyer said that he’d handled that. But then again, the Bureau had a field office in the Crescent City, and the attorney had indicated that the investigation into him had centered on whether he was involved with interstate trafficking of the devil weed—clearly the New Orleans office had info on him from New York on whether he had any propensity to sell beyond what was needed for his habit. Had the Colonel gone to bat for him then, despite their differences on race? He didn’t know, so he was cautious as he turned to the rock star.
“I fear, young man, that the circumstances don’t permit me to confirm or deny that.”
The guitarist nodded. They went back to picking at their vegetarian chow mein.
Bradley wondered, for the thousandth time that year: Never heard about the Colonel after he left the Bureau, when was that, ‘51? Some talk on the street he was working for the IRS, then was fired, was what I heard before I left for Europe in ’53. How old would he be now? Looked to be almost fifty, maybe? More like mid-forties. Outside of that pot-belly he looked fit. When he got in that rage I thought he looked like somebody who could throw a punch or take one. Where would he be now if he were still alive?
Bradley checked his watch; it read 12:15. Time to retire before long.
The moonlight bore down relentlessly on the stores and restaurants of Pacific Street in Santa Cruz, California. Although the street was the hub of downtown, it was curiously deserted, even though the courthouse clock in the distance read 1:15.
The nonagenarian pacing down the sidewalk looked around warily. What was he doing here? He was not unfamiliar with Santa Cruz. He’d stopped by here often in the late Fifties, when he was in Monterey to sound out foreign-language graduates for his branch of the service. Then again, in the late Sixties when he’d been up in the Bay Area practically fighting those damn bastards Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver with his bare hands, he’d often headed across the mountains to Santa Cruz. Between his keen ears and the eavesdropping equipment in his pockets, he’d picked up, amid the gossip of the hippies and long-haired trust-funded radicals from UCSC, some really solid information. And then there was that occasion he’d never forget.
Must have been around the end of the Summer of Love—1967. He’d been doing some fact-finding in the Haight. It was enjoyable. Usually when he did positive intelligence, it was under circumstances that really made him feel the weight on his shoulders. But when he started out at Divisadero and made his way west, he felt mellow. Sure, he was hearing too much of that damn Otis Redding coming out of the windows of these Victorian houses, but when he was past the Grateful Dead’s pad, he’d hear bluegrass and country half the time. Sooner or later, the kids were going to come around.
He’d no sooner seated himself than he looked across the room and saw his old protegé Tyrone.
He’d decided to go down Route 1 to Santa Cruz before going back inland. Sunset on the Pacific—nothing could beat it. Few things soothed his soul like the colors that the hills would turn as he gazed at them from his living room window, but to turn and look at the ocean—or to look straight ahead and get the whole view—why, it was things like that that made him ready to take on the duties of a job in which there was something to be done in every time zone of the world.
Upon arriving in Santa Cruz he’d headed down to a little café where he could always count on picking something up. He’d no sooner seated himself than he looked over to a table across the room and saw, sitting smack between two sisters of considerable local renown, his old protegé Tyrone, the hair a bit grayer and quite a bit shaggier than the last time he’d seen him (and that went for the mustache, too), but there was no mistaking the ultra-bright, bushy-tailed (and buck-toothed) sidekick of days past.
Rochester had waited for a couple of minutes. Ty’s eyes kept scanning the room—he’d sure kept his intelligence “chops” up, to borrow a word from the youngsters. Then he’d spotted him. His eyebrows had done the most prodigious triple-take this side of a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler. Rochester had wanted to walk across the room, give him a bear hug, and say:
“Ty, you old rascal! How’re you doin’? You know, I was talkin’ to old ‘Bish’ the other day, and he says, ‘Heard anything about Ty lately, Colonel? Last I heard he was in some rundown part of LA, but that was a while back.’ He was worryin ’about you—and I was too. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m a Californee-an myself now. Live just over those hills. Next time you’re in the South Bay look me up … ”
But he’d just nodded and walked out of the place.
Now he was in Santa Cruz again but things looked different, very different. His shadow seemed to stretch fifty feet ahead of him under the combined illumination of the streetlamp and the full moon.
Suddenly, an animal came around the corner.
Rochester stopped and looked at it. At first it seemed to be an oversized Doberman, but as it approached there was no mistaking its true identity. It was a big, sleek, well-fed California black panther.
Rochester froze, paralyzed for a moment, as the beast turned its head and looked right in his eyes. Then he turned and ran. Behind him he could hear a growl and then silence, but he dared not stop.
As he came out of downtown and approached Route 17 he turned to look, the yellow eyes seemed to be hovering just over his shoulder. At first he seemed to be running up the highway at a pace he knew to be too great for an Olympic athlete, much less someone of his age. Then he was leaping high into the air, as if he were running across the moon rather than the Santa Cruz mountains. The panther growled again, but this time the animal sounded more distant. Rochester kept moving.
Before he knew it he’d bounded over the mountains and landed in a quaint little relic of prewar—World War I, that is—times. He saw a park with an old fashioned bandstand, ran to the bench, and sat down. He turned his head left, then right. He must have shaken the giant cat. He leaned back, took a deep breath, and wondered where he was. He spotted a sign: Welcome to Los Gatos.
Like a thousand giant fireflies beaming at once, the darkness before him filled with yellow eyes, then silhouettes.
Somewhere, a clock began to toll.
Rochester opened his eyes. He was in his own bed. He looked across the room and saw the dresser, the mirror. He was awake.
The phone was ringing. He reached over to his left side and picked up the receiver as he checked the watch that only left his wrist when he showered. 2:15 a.m.
He’d been getting too many of these type of calls in the middle of the night, but he had to be patient. “Yes, Dick. What is it?”
“Sorry to wake you up. But I—”
“Oh, don’t worry, Dick, I wasn’t sleeping too well anyway. Something I ate didn’t quite agree.”
“All right, but I thought you should know—somebody just woke me up and said your name came up tonight.
Rochester sat up.
“When, Dick? And where?”
“At a party some of the Mellons were throwing out in Virginia. A girl from Manhattan said her friend Mark Marlowe was going around pitching a book about you at the publisher she works at.”
“Just a second, Dick.” He put the receiver down, got out of bed, and walked across to his PC. He turned it on, pressed a couple of buttons, and slipped in a disk. He pressed some keys, and the screen filled with greenish-yellow letters which cast a macabre glow across his wrinkled yet placid face. He picked up the phone next to the printer. “OK, Dick, I know this Marlowe fellow. He’s a young nigra, about 30. Used to work in bookstores in Manhattan, then he was hocking, ah, slightly singed Armani suits for a while, if you get my drift. He started going around to publishers and agents last February.
“Has he gone to Oliver Stone yet?” Dick almost yelled.
“Well, just tell all the folks at the Army-Navy hello for me, and I’ll be talkin’ to you later.”
“Doesn’t seem to know the boy wonder, no. From what he’s reported to have said, I’d guess he’s just going on rumors. You know, Dick, these Times Square hustlers—of the old school—seem to hear about, well, everything. But they always hear it from somebody who heard it from somebody who et cetera, and sooner or later the informants in the chain wind up being anonymous. Not the sort of information you would present to Ray or Clare and expect them to be grateful for it.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Dick was calmer now.
“But one thing I’ve been keeping an eye out for that hasn’t happened. I have been very reliably informed that this, ah, garment-grifter knows an olllld friend of yours whom I once spoke to on the phone a spell ago.”
“What old friend of mine?”
“Lit’ry gentleman by the name of, ah, Carlo Lanin.”
“Hey! That fucking fag’s no friend of mine,” yelled Dick, reverting to his old Navy form. “Just because I met the goddamn cocksucker twice and—”
“And you got into a couple of wagers with him. Now, in my part of the country, Dick, a couple of friendly bets does put a relationship a step above mere acquaintanceship. And to think I didn’t have you figured for a betting man! I mean, I never heard of Bobby Riggs hustling you for a twenty-spot or so—”
“Please, Colonel. Is Marlowe a problem?”
“Not at this juncture, Dick. What I was about to say is that, if he started talking to Lanin, and looking in Lanin’s archives, I’d start to wonder. But he hasn’t done anything like that yet. I’d say that if I were in your shoes I’d sip a little Postum, get some shuteye, and just stay calm.”
“Well, if you don’t see any cause for concern, Colonel, I guess I can do that.”
“Anything else, Dick?”
“Well, just tell all the folks at the Army-Navy hello for me, and I’ll be talkin’ to you later.”
Rochester hung up the phone and looked out the window. There seemed to be lightning in the distance, but it looked to be a ways off. Nonetheless he might have to stay in tomorrow and get caught up on work.
He looked over to his dresser. There was a small but authentic Mayan bust on it. Sometimes when he saw it he remembered a young man he’d met many years ago who was interested in the Mayans. As soon as he’d spotted Carlo Lanin’s name on the computer screen he thought about Ed Bradley. Somewhere in the basement he had Bradley’s books in a corner. Amazing, the filth in them. What might that fellow have been if he hadn’t fallen in with minority types? Rochester wondered. Last week he’d wandered into a B. Dalton’s and had seen a trade-paperback anthology of what the cover called “splatter-punk” stories. Bradley’s name was also on the cover. He’d opened it up and thumbed through to Bradley’s story—a very interesting, if characteristically morbid anecdote concerning “Bloody” Bill Anderson, apparently set in the days following the surrender, when Quantrill had split off to make his way to Kentucky and ol’ Bill had had to take on the damyankees himself. No doubt about it, Ed Bradley knew his Confederate history. How old was he now? Rochester had flipped over to the contributor’s notes. “Born in 1914”—seventy-nine now. Was he finally starting to learn, at this advanced age? Then the Colonel had thought about how old he himself was now, and laughed.
Now he reached over and turned off the computer. He looked at the table next to the printer, on which twenty or so letters were stacked, awaiting an answer. Amazing, Rochester thought. When I met him, he was a kind of stepfather to a two-year-old girl. Now be could be the great-grandfather—or great granduncle, or is it granduncle? Never can remember—of some of these youngsters who write to me.
He got back into bed and went to sleep, the distant noise of cars outside mingling with a rumble that might be thunder.