The Charlotte News
Tuesday, July 18, 1944
Site Ed. Note: The front page reports that the American forces had, after being forced out of Ste. Croix during the night by a German countermove, taken the vital road junction of St. Lo against little opposition, encountering by morning only isolated machinegun nests left behind, as the Nazis retreated two miles from St. Lo along the eastward salient between St. Lo and Lessay. Booby traps and mines northwest of the city, however, had to be cleared before entry could be effected. Excepting Periers, the capture cleared the 48-mile front between Lessay and St. Lo of enemy troops.
The British also made substantial progress as they crossed the Orne River in a drive to the south and southeast of Caen into the Caen plain, open country which was ideal for armored warfare against the German armor concentrated in the eastern area of the Normandy front. The town of Vaucelles on the south side of the Orne opposite Caen had been captured and was being cleared of enemy troops. Heavy fighting against the Germans on that end of the front was still taking place.
The Allied move toward Paris had now begun from two points, Caen and St. Lo.
Numeorus air sorties were flown by the Allies between the Loire and Somme Rivers in support of the Normandy operations.
A force of 500 to 750 American bombers conducted a raid on Peenemunde and Zinnowitz in Germany on the Baltic coast, the former being the location of the Nazis' primary rocket-bomb research and testing facility. Encountering the stiffest air and flak opposition since a raid of July 7, the fighter escorts shot down 21 enemy planes. Major George Preddy of Greensboro, N.C., bagged four of the planes, bringing his combat record to 16 kills.
Another force, out of Italy, hit air facilities at Friedrichshafen and Memmingen.
In Italy, Amercian troops captured Pontedera, 18 miles northeast of Leghorn, on the south bank of the Arno River, following a three-mile advance across the Arno Valley from Ponsacco.
British and South African troops and tanks, having established a bridgehead the previous day on the Arno, advanced to a point south of Cincelli, six miles northwest of Arezzo and 30 miles from Florence.
On the mountainous Tuscany front, other Allied troops advanced to within about twenty miles of Florence, but through rough terrain which afforded only grudging progress.
Polish troops fighting near the Adriatic advanced three miles toward the port of Ancona, winning two valuable heights along the way.
The Eighth Army had refrained from shelling the Saint Ubaldo monastery at Gubbio for the fact that the German captors of the abbey had taken as hostages 232 Italian inhabitants, including 70 children, threatening to kill them should the Allies attempt to take the monastery. Apparently, the claim had been a stratagem of the Germans to allow time to reinforce their position.
In Russia, the Red Army was shelling the Suwalki Triangle northwest of Grodno, as the Russian forces also gained a foothold on the western bank of the Sviloch River running into the Niemen River south of Grodno. The latter move by the Second White Russian Army, which had moved 300 miles and captured 7,500 populated places within the previous three weeks, was a part of a major advance between Lunnol and Bialystok, aiming for the southern border of East Prussia, about 50 miles away.
Another force formed a wedge between Bialystok and Brest-Litovsk which put the Russians only 120 miles from Warsaw, 40 miles from the Bug River, 1939 boundary between Russia and Poland. It was unclear whether the forces intended to drive straight for Warsaw or turn and outflank either Bialystok or Brest-Litovsk, or accomplish all three objectives.
To the south, fighting was reported 37 miles east of Lwow, north of Zluerow.
In Japan, as part of a major shakeup in the military command, General Hideki Tojo was reported to have been relieved of one of his major war duties, that of chief of staff of the Army. General Yoshijiro Umezo had been named as his replacement. There was no word yet on General Tojo's status as Premier and War Minister—though he was about to be relieved of those positions as well. Tojo was out.
The day before, Admiral Naokuni Nomura had been appointed Navy Minister. In addition, Lt. General Prince Tsunenori Kaya, member of the Imperial family, was reported to have been attached to the Army Aviation General Headquarters.
Sir Anthony Eden told Commons that 33 more Allied fliers had been shot by the Nazis, 27 of whom were listed as shot while attempting to escape, the circumstances of the other six executions not being disclosed. These deaths supplemented the news of the 50 British airmen shot "trying to escape" after being captured in the "Great Escape" of March 25 out of a prisoner-of-war camp near Dresden. The piece suggests that disclosure to have occurred June 23. Any announcement on that date would appear to have been only an updated account of the May 19 disclosure of the executions of 47 airmen.
Thinking they were being bombed by Japanese invaders, the residents of Port Chicago, California, 35 miles east of San Francisco, were recovering from blasts out of the Naval Ordnance Station two miles from the town, causing damage to nearly every house and injuring hundreds. The blasts had been felt up to fifty miles distant. A man a mile away from the explosion described a "a mile-high skyrocket" of red and white flame leaping into the clouds. A 300-pound piece of steel landed on the main street of Port Chicago, a mile from the Naval Station.
At the Navy yard itself, the scene was chaos as 350 men were reported possibly lost after two ammunition ships, the S.S. Quinault Victory and the S.S. E. A. Bryan, exploded at 10:19 p.m. Between 200 and 250 men were missing, with another 130 listed on the civilian crew of the two ships. The injured numbered as many as a thousand, most of whom apparently had been occupying a collapsed barracks housing 1,500 men. An eyewitness at the Station described the exploding ordnance as including fragmentation shells and high explosives. Men in the barracks described the sensation of being thrown across the room. No cause for the blast was yet known.
Ultimately, the death toll was pinned at 320 with 390 others injured. Of these, 202 of the dead were African-Americans, while 233 of the injured were black. Most of the loaders at the facility were black sailors. The official inquiry into the matter lasted a month but could not determine a certain cause for the explosion, ruling that it was most probably the result of improper handling of the explosives by the men at the facility. Eyewitnesses reported hearing a crash at 10:19, sounding as that made by a large timber falling, such as a ship boom, followed by a fire which quickly ignited the explosives onboard the Quinault, spreading then to explosives in railroad cars on the adjacent dock, and setting off fuel oil in the hold of the Bryan. A seismograph at the University of California in Berkeley recorded the event as being the equivalent of an earthquake measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale.
Because of unsafe conditions at the facility, a month after the explosion 328 sailors refused to return to work. Of these, 258 were put in the brig, and after questioning, all except 50 were assigned to other duties, menial in nature, and eventually given bad conduct discharges after the war. Dubbed the Port Chicago mutiny, the remaining fifty men were court martialed, convicted of mutiny and disobeying orders, and sentenced to long prison terms, ten for 15 years, 24 for twelve years, eleven for ten years, and eight for five years. Forty-seven of the men were released in January, 1946, two of the remaining three being confined to the hospital for additional months because of injuries, and a third forced to serve a longer sentence because of a bad conduct record. The released men were provided a general discharge after being assigned to other service in the Pacific.
Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, then chief counsel for the N.A.A.C.P., observed the court martial proceedings in San Francisco and as a result requested Congressional inquiries into the working conditions of the men, most of whom were African-American, and the failure of proper training.
Supporters of Vice-President Henry Wallace had urged him to come to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, set to begin the following day, to press his case for being retained on the ticket. He agreed that he would arrive on Wednesday morning. The President's letter of mild support meanwhile had been made public, indicating that if he were casting a vote as a delegate, he would vote for the Vice-President.
A bitter floor fight appeared to be taking shape between the forces supporting former Supreme Court Justice and present War Mobilizer James Byrnes and those supporting Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley for the nomination. Both Board of Economic Warfare head Leo Crowley and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes were at the convention working against the renomination of Mr. Wallace.
Still, there was no mention of Harry Truman.
On the editorial page, "Green Gold" finds appealing the farm life, given the 1943-44 fiscal year income reported of 22 billion dollars, up two billion over the previous record year, and four or five billion more than the gold held in Fort Knox. The average between 1934 and 1938 had been only eight billion dollars.
The editor was prepared to sell his typewriter in exchange for a couple of green acres of arable farm land.
"End Comes" remarks on the beating which Germany was taking in the war and that it could not long withstand it. Whether it would be two weeks or two years more, the end was inevitable.
"Let's Yell" complains that through the many victories from Guadalcanal to Cherbourg, Americans had merely sat back and said, "Well! Well!" The editorial wanted to see more spirit, such as that exuded at baseball games. Where were the flying flags and the hoorahs?
"Bargain" reports of the political maneuvering of three million of fourteen million blacks in the country to obtain leverage from one or both political parties, each making its play for the support of these three million as swaying votes in the election across ten states.
The thusly empowered minority of the minority were, says the piece, playing both ends against the middle and, objectionably, Northern blacks were urging Northern whites to place pressure on Southern whites to construct a new Southern policy with respect to Southern blacks.
The problem, as the editorial saw it, was that until there was a dispersion of the population evenly across the country, there could be no resolution to the Southern race problem, that the heavy concentration of blacks in the South weighed down the region economically and socially and made progress unalterably slow.
Political pressure from the outside only brewed tension and delayed the time when the interracial difficulties could be ameliorated.
"Electors" finds the talk of the Texas revolt to have been mere bluster, a revolt cooked up outside the South, perhaps by Jim Farley, viewing the region from without but not from within, not understanding the inherent loyalty felt by Southerners to the Democratic Party.
They were the Democratic Party, says the piece, and would not be inveigled away from it by a cheap stunt which would brand their electors as nothing short of traitors to the country and to their party. They might one day leave the Democratic fold, but only by choice, not by sideshow jingoism.
Drew Pearson explores the history of perfidious electors in the electoral college, those who voted contrary to the will of the popular vote of their states. They were legion, especially in the nineteenth century and at the fin de siecle. But none had ever turned an election, except in the notorious case of the Hayes-Tilden fiasco of 1876.
In that, four states, South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and Oregon sent competing slates of electors to the College causing lack of clarity as to which slates, Republiucan or Democrat, would be accepted. The three Southern states were gaming for one of the candidates to endorse the end of Reconstruction, which Rutherford B. Hayes privately assured, and fulfilled after winning the election by electoral majority, though having lost the popular vote.
Mr. Pearson somewhat mistakes the case, however, to have been decided by the Congress. It was actually placed before a fifteen-member commission, five selected from the House, five from the Senate, and five from the Supreme Court. The commission was supposed to have been equally bipartisan but, with the designated independent deciding not to serve, was finally constituted by seven Democrats and eight Republicans. The commission then in each case of competing slates of electors agreed to recognize only those voting for Mr. Hayes, throwing the election to him by a single elector.
The column also notes the election of 1800 in which Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both received identical numbers of electoral votes, but only because of confusion in the process of voting, the votes for Burr having been intended only for Vice-President, the practice having been that the second place finisher in the Electoral College was awarded the vice-presidency after ballots were cast for individuals. The electors had cast votes for both Jefferson and Burr. Mr. Burr protested and the election was thrown into the House before Vice-President Jefferson was elected President.
Of course, we have added to the strange elections since 1944 the election of 2000, though not, strictly speaking, a case of perfidious electors, only a perfidious Florida Secretary of State, who certified the election while recounts were still in progress in numerous counties in the state, decided initially by only 576 votes in favor of Governor George W. Bush, there having been confusing ballots in Palm Beach and the several counties where ballots were discarded for not being deemed sufficiently punched, the so-called "hanging chad" issue. And then the United States Supreme Court intervened, temporarily stopped the recounts, eventuating in its 5 to 4 permanent injunction of the recounts for not being uniform throughout the state and thus not according equal protection, such that the country never really knew who won that election, other than by the popular vote which was carried nationally by Vice-President Gore by fully a half million ballots.
Also, in the 1960 election, there were perfidious electors in three states in the South who changed their votes, notably in Mississippi and Alabama, to candidates other than Senator Kennedy, most of the 14 changed votes going to Senator Harry Flood Byrd. In one case, an elector in Oklahoma changed his vote from Vice-President Nixon to Senator Barry Goldwater.
In any event, Mr. Pearson was making the point that the threatened Texas revolt, stating that they would turn their electoral votes to someone other than the popular vote winner unless the Democratic convention adopted a firm states' rights stand in its platform, was by no means a unique situation in the country's history.
He next relates of the unuusal pre-convention acceptance by Franklin Roosevelt of the nomination of his party. By contrast, Zachary Taylor in 1848 had not learned of his nomination until a month after the Whig Convention. General Taylor was in New Orleans and when he finally received the letter from the party, he refused its delivery because it arrived marked "collect".
As one of his snippets with which he concludes the column, Mr. Pearson relates of Senator Walter George of Georgia, part of the targeted group of anti-New Dealers which the Roosevelt forces sought to purge in 1938, having come out in favor of a fourth term for FDR.
He also provides the de minimis incomes of the principal Democratic National Committee employees, reduced, he reports, by the fact of scarce poiltical contributions during 1944.
Samuel Grafton describes the criticism by Senator Robert Taft of Ohio of the Bretton Woods monetary conference, aiming at establishing a world bank with eight billion dollars in assets to stabilize world currencies and provide loans to war-damaged nations to aid in rebuilding. Senator Taft thought the conference a plot to cheat America out of 2.75 billion dollars, its earmarked contribution to the fund, while contributing only to global charity.
Mr. Grafton argues to the contrary that for two decades the nations of the world had been saddled with unstable currencies which had ultimately led to World War II, that post-war loans during the twenties had been paid to nations to engage in trade with the United States, but then, refusing to accept imports from these countries, cut off their ability to repay the loans.
Meanwhile, Brazil had been burning coffee for its lack of markets. American farmers in the South, in the latter thirties, had consigned to the Government excess cotton production, stored in warehouses in exchange for loans, for the fact that there were no foreign markets available, with high tariffs on imports having created reciprocal high tariffs on exports, causing stiff competition to come from China. In a world, he points out, where millions wore little but rags, America had nowhere to sell its cotton, all the result of lack of global economic planning.
The world bank was designed to avoid such anomalies. But, by the logic of Senator Taft, such dangerous trends, Mr. Grafton concludes, should be avoided lest the world decide to abolish war altogether.
Marquis Childs takes the occasion of the publication posthumously of a collection of Raymond Clapper's columns, titled Watching the World, put together by his widow, to praise the jorunalist who lost his life February 2 while covering the war in the Pacific, dying in a midair collision of American planes over Eniwetok Island in the Marshalls. Mr. Childs observes that if there were more columnists with both the integrity and even-handed restraint of Mr. Clapper, there would be less likelihood of loss of freedom of the press at some point in the future via some revolution in violence.
He quotes from a column Mr. Clapper published December 29, just before his departure for the Pacific, not appearing in The News until December 31, as exemplifying his dedication to responsibility, understanding the influence his column had and the need to inform properly the millions who read it.
Hal Boyle reports from Normandy on July 9 that the "Bonbon racketeers" were hard at work attempting to obtain the prized loot of the soldiers, chewing gum and candy, after being deprived at the hands of the Nazis of the goodies for four full years.
The soldiers found the beckoning hands of the children hard to resist, but the enterprise had turned fast into gangland type operations in which zones of towns were cordoned off by groups of children descending as locusts and guarding their territorial boundaries with a passion, using push-and-shove tactics to ward off intruders. In families with multiple children, they worked in shifts. They hung out windows and raised "V" signs at passing American convoys, hoping to attract the tossing of the prized bonbons
A little girl, about five, looking like a Christmas doll, wore a white dress everyday and carried a little box under her arm to attract the showers of candy and gum which the soldiers cast on her from the passing trucks, mesmerized by her winning grin. She would then turn solemn each time the throws came her way, rush to gather the proceeds into the box to avoid trespass by unwelcome urchins. She had obtained, says Mr. Boyle, enough chewing gum to last generations.
In contrast, two little boys, not so successful at garnering the loot, had pulled a Jesse James stunt, jumping out into the road before an American jeep with MP's aboard, and shouting "Bosche! Bosche!" Thinking the boys had spotted some Germans, the Americans stopped, only to be informed that the highwaymen had no Germans in their sights, only American soldiers from whom they sought bonbons. The soldiers gave them gum and moved on. They told Mr. Boyle that they expected next the children would resort to setting up roadblocks.
Given the foregoing, we felt compelled to contact our friend in the Caribbean, for the fact that his novel written in 1991-92 had contained within its latter pages three references which dovetail with three images in Mr. Boyle's piece, even if one presents itself a bit more obscurely than the other two. They appear in section 5 of that which we re-printed in the note associated with July 1, 1941. We shall let you discern that for yourself. But we had to find out from our friend whether this curious crossroads came about purely mystically or was endowed by some actual perception of the print before he had written the work.
Our friend was, as usual, quite rancorous and told us to bug off, that he did not wish to be bothered any further by our "petty entreaties of intrigue and nonsensical shadow realities when the truth was as plain as a dog's nose on its face," that "the thing was the thing, inimitable in all respects, and if you are going to make joke of it, a plague on all your houses, butter-in."
We assured that we meant no levity or intended him as any object of sport, beyond that intended by the work itself, which was indeed scant and most usually Shakespearean in its recondite execution, but, nevertheless, felt the intersection remarkable and asked him pointedly whether he had seen this particular editorial when he indited the manuscript of that passage.
"Hell no!" he blurted. "How many times do I have to impart this simple notion to you? Are you deaf? Do you need an interpreter? ¿Comprende Ingles? I wrote that section to which you make reference in October, 1991. I had read none of the editorials from 1937 through 1945, none of the newsprint of The Charlotte News or any other newspaper, besides some of the stories appearing on V-E Day and V-J Day in The Charlotte Observer, and that is the way it is. I had also read The New York Times of the first days of July, 1941. And those few editorials of W. J. Cash appearing in the Reader section of Professor Morrison's book. How many times do I have to repeat that before you get it through your corn-balled head?"
We again assured that we meant not to be disturbing and that we thanked him for his kind reassurances. As we were profusely apologizing, he interjected that he had only one request: "If you are going to print the damn thing, at least try printing it right this time. You bungled everything the last time, you idiot punk. I will send to you the correct formatting." He then hung up the phone. And, sure enough, we received that appearing below a few hours later via Western Union.
Anyway, here is that penultimate section of the novel, drafted, per our friend's representations, in October, 1991, save for one line which, he called back to indicate for the sake of thorough accuracy, had been added in June, 1993:
Wilbur left the Geneve and headed for the Reforma. To conquer the tension, he began smiling as he walked. He felt ready for the meeting. He stopped at a fruitstand for a cold lemonade. He knew it would aggravate his stomach but he preferred that for the momentary quenching rather than endure the unremitting harshness of the heat. He stopped and sipped. Musing, and needing some positive human re-enforcement at this point, he smiled at a few of the passersby. One woman, carrying a bowl of fruit on her head, wearing a rebozo bearing the letters "B.B.", and muttering to herself as she passed, apparently interpreted his grin as mocking and began vituperating, "Tu bastardo! El hijo de la zorra!"
Reminded of his silliness a few days earlier, he thought to himself what he might say in return. "Buenas tardes, puta... ¿Como esta? ¿Como se llama? ¿Pequeno Puta?" He quickly snapped himself out of this thought train with the cross-cultural reminder that this woman, judging by outward appearances--and such seemingly did not belie much in Mexico as subtlety and intentional Bohemianism, if extant at all, were at a premium--had most probably maintained a subsistence life for most of it; at first, perhaps, as the basilica attendees on Sunday, in gracious, patient acceptance of the hereafter, but now, only grudgingly, having been heart-worn to the surface and haunted daily by her loads of produce to sell for a few pesos, perhaps needed to afford the cost of silk thread to sew the rents in her tattered garments or to buy a used pair of flip-flops to replace the barely discernible hunks of leather interfacing between her soles and the scorched July pavement--that same sort of pavement, what little there then was, which used to burn Wilbur's soles in the poverty surrounds of Gaffney 30 years earlier, 30 years primarily of war and depression and strife, 30 years, 30 years gone. Thirty-thirty.
This ancestrally questioning woman in front of him had likely been mocked or pointed at and stared upon by many bourgeois Gringos through those same thirty years. She did not appreciate the familiarity and could no longer distinguish the simple needs of others, the need for affirmation by the lonely Gringo embarking on a life-threatening challenge, reaching the base fibers of his character. It was not distinguishable from that of the merely insulting insecurity or unthinking, unconscionably dehumanizing curiosity of the average tourist.
The woman hurled more indiscernible anathemas at him in rapid succession. She walked away still declaiming as if demonically possessed.
As he stood now with his right foot cocked behind him against a white stucco wall, a block from La Reforma, he questioned whether this peasant tirade was his Dies Irae. Was he now playing the male counterpart of Dido with Aeneas his writing muse? Or was he truly more like Aeneas, himself?
He finished the ice-less lemonade and went to the hotel.
He entered the bar, called La Puerta de Obispo, and sat down. It was 4:55. He ordered a double Scotch. Again, he knew it would likely make him sick as a dog but he thought that perhaps he could vomit on cue at just the right moment--right onto the shiny shoe leather of Joe K., as he spouted his cool rhetoric about "The Merchant of Venice" and how it was time to make the loan at a reasonable interest rate and all of that garbage.
Wilbur began drinking the Scotch. The strange procession of Bruegels continued. On the wall, opposite the table where he sat, was "The Fall of the Rebel Angels". Wilbur soberly focused his attention on the underwater imagery possessed of a hooded head in the right area of the frame. He had never noticed it or its connotations until that moment. That face was the only one staring from the picture directly at the viewer. It was the face unmistakably full of ineffable fear, futilely seeking the appearance of offensive strength through the feeble pretension of an awkwardly held, forked spear as the angels from heaven descended to beat back the rebel retributive march from the fallen angels, more lately of hell.
It reminded of the half-seen, behind the picket fence corral of some god's den in Boiling Springs steam, dreaming of loping onto some Empire dream on the grassy savannas, trapping an impala or two or maybe a steenbok, just as they had become the trapped cheviots, producing their belles to bury the cantor and exalt canter, as surely as the Henrys did at the Cathedral, the while listening in between high-pitched interference zips to the mocking voices of Gosden and Correll as signs hawking the Twentieth Century Limited went wafting by--"The taste that charms but never cloys", "Two-way proof of two-way safety", and "My business is not as usual", among them.
A familiar noise issued forth from behind, making Wilbur start. He turned and saw on the rear wall of the bar the familiar redundant exit of the chirping little bird announcing the hour. He thought of leaving, but somehow the triumph of good, depicted in the old hickory frame, behind the bar, held him in the grip of the small, creaking wooden booth.
There was something of the familiar here. Even the rough cabinetry behind the bar reminded him of Nannie's country kitchen cabinets when they lived in Boiling Springs. The replacements in Shelby, of the same hardwood stock, were more smoothly hewn and sanded, with a nouveau finish.
He waited in the rough amid these calming waves and readied his nous for the duel of wits.
An anonymous thirteenth century trifle, on which he had glanced one fine spring exam morning in college, came floating along on a reeded raft of branches tied by sinewy cables. There was a note tied to the raft. From the other side, it said: "Summer is y-comen in,/ Loude sing, cuckoo!/ Groweth seed and bloweth meed/ And spring'th the woode now--/ Sing cuckoo!/ Ewe bleateth after lamb,/ Low'th after calfe cow;/ Bullock starteth, bucke farteth./ Merry sing, cuckoo! Cuckoo, Cuckoo!/ Well sing'st thou, cuckoo:/ Ne swike thou never now!/ Sing cuckoo, now! Sing, cuckoo!/ Sing cuckoo! Sing, cuckoo, now!"
Joe K. and two other men entered the bar at a few moments after 5:00. The two men accompanying him both appeared to be Mexican. One was short and stout. The other, tall and pudgy. The latter had a clipped moustache, qua the Fuehrer.
Wilbur was tempted to ask whether they were the Mexican versions of Laurel and Hardy. He resisted.
They sat down and ordered a round of drinks.
Joe K. began. "Okay, Cash, the hour of reckoning has arrived. The little business over the weekend which I am sure you have read about in the papers causes things to be a little different now. We no longer feel any generosity of spirit. You no doubt have been useful to the government in this regard. Now, we wish our payment. You have been a hero at our expense. Pay us back, Cash. I wish an answer, now. What shall it be? Are you going to be a pearl merchant or a pearl fancier?"
Wilbur slowly slurred his response.
"Spell it out, clown. I am tired of your stupid, sciolistic illiteracy and veiled threats. What do you think this is? You walk in here with your Nazi armbands practically showing beneath your coats and you have your loony goons with you and you want me to do your bidding. You are not a riiider. You are a horse's ass if there ever was one... Do you hear me, Joker, or whatever the hell your name is? You probably haven't got a name. I think therefore that I shall henceforth dub you 'Horse's-ass'. It suits you."
There was utter silence in the bar, otherwise empty of patrons. The spirits and adrenaline of the moment had led Wilbur to return to familiar ground, the barroom vituperation and badinage which he had perfected and elevated to practical art form with and around the barrooms' shadowy figures within Shelby and Charlotte in the thirties.
Wilbur realized he had stepped headlong into the parade. He could not now effect an exit. There was nothing left now but simply to roll with it and enjoy the exuberant release of anxiety, all the while reaffirming his self-confidence to stand his ground in the face of the worst and most threatening adversity of his days.
Joe K. was red-faced, obviously not expecting such a response. The two goons sat placidly mute, apparently understanding nothing. Addressing in low voice one as Enrique and the other as "Caballo Suelto", Joe K. spoke something to them in Spanish which Wilbur did not understand. They did not change their expressionless gravy faces.
"Brave man, Cash. And you are right. I am not a 'wriiiiter', as you say. You're that. You come from, how did Hamlet say it, the 'brave o'er hanging firmament', yes? Poor man. Stupid, dumb. You write a single book and somehow you think that will protect you so that you can go about and say and do anything you wish, apparently. I am reminded of good Gratiano in 'The Merchant of Venice'. 'O, be thou damn'd, inexcreble dog! And for thy life let justice be accused. Thou almost makest me waver in my faith to hold opinion with Pythagoras, that souls of animals infuse themselves into the trunks of men: thy currish spirit govern'd a wolf, who, hang'd for human slaughter, even from the gallows did his fell soul fleet, and whilst thou lay'st in thy unhallow'd dam, infus'd itself in thee; for thy desires are wolvish, bloody, starved and ravenous.'"
Joe K. accentuated each syllable perfectly, albeit with German accent. He recalled the words with verbatim accuracy, stating them with an actor's panache as if he, himself, had once performed them on stage.
"You will have time to contemplate long, Cash. You liked your ashy friend, Thomas Wolfe, yes? Methinks you are about to join him. You are but a sty to my eye, Cash. I shall now pluck it. For I am from the Wolves' Lair."
"Oh, bravo! Brilliant soliloquy. Bravo! Bartender, I order for this cur another wretched drink of dram. Bring it hither, I say! Bravo, indeed. The Elizabethan lives. It is John Wilkes Willie Shaking Ass-Horse, then, yes?"
Wilbur's mocking spirit was stated in as feigned disguise of his Southern heritage as he could muster. Under the influence, he was able to effect a bit of a Scotch-Irish accent mixed with his phonetically similar Southern country sound. He had now resorted to it in his best miming muse.
The bartender immediately arrived at the table at the sneering snap of Wilbur's fingers in deliberate overplaying of the scene.
"Bring my friends a round each of brandy. Let them drink to satiety and be done with their toil. E'er be it so. Betimes, methinks this callous curio of ancient times has ere, now come again. Quick, quick, to the point! Quick, quick, I say, that he be nourished nigh or be vanquished hither in his own dry tongue from issuing forth further of this most excellent and original flourish of words from that most high priest of English rhetoric and dramatic device."
Playing the fool, the bartender looked puzzled, pretending not to understand but the word 'brandy'. He scuttled off and returned shortly with three drinks.
No one could see that on the other side of the bar, just opposite the table, the bartender had, while wiping the counter, moved a microphone to within pickup distance of the conversation. He had a treadle behind the bar which enabled him to turn the recording device on at a moment's notice. The Hotel had found it a useful means to quell rowdies with too much drink in them without the displeasure of having to summon the police. The bartender would simply record the boisterous inebriate in full vocal splendor and then begin immediately playing it back over a speaker, allowing the droning drinker to hear himself. It had a way of calming the most insistent, sotted tirades.
He had turned on the recorder as soon as he saw Wilbur's demeanor when he walked in and ordered a double Scotch. Wilbur had not been abrasive or anything but properly courteous. But there was something brash in his smiling comfort, something too smug and arrogant. It unsettled the bartender and gave him to forecast, on the strength of past experience, that there might be trouble. When he saw the other three walk in and he began to observe the harsh interplay between the man with the German accent and the bald American, that was enough to make him resort to the recorder just in case. He had not, however, opted yet to play it back through the wood-encased speaker on the wall. Had other customers been present, the American's voice was sufficiently loud to demand some of the echoing remonstrance. But, at that point, there was no reason not to allow him to blow off his steam as long as he offered no physical action toward the others at the table. So far, there was none.
As Joe K. often spoke in murmurs, the recorder could not capture with full audibility everything that was being said at the table. There were only two voices heard, that of the blonde man and Wilbur.
No one spoke for awhile. No one drank anything except Wilbur. The bartender went to the phonograph and selected some Josh White, the black American folk musician. The songs started playing. There was first "Bon Bon".
Wilbur began wistfully and without self-consciousness chiming in after a bit. It signaled the increasing synchronicity between the rhythm of the music and his decreasing inhibitions in the face of the upending, rushing gait of the liquor. It was an onrushing retreat from his captors' attempts to arrest his spirit.
I've roamed this wide world over as a G.I. diplomatFinally, recapitulating his thinking from that morning regarding, among other dramatic vignettes, the previous year's theatrical hit, "The Time of Your Life", Wilbur leaned way over the table, looked one of the goons dead center in the eyes and said, "Hey, how about buying me some Juicy Fruit, Wilmer?"
It's funny I hear the same old cry no matter where I'm at
I got myself acquainted with the people and their ways
No matter what the language was, they understood this
Bon bons, chocolate and chewing gum
Bon bons, chocolate and chewing gum
Bon bons, chocolate and chewing gum
The short goon by now had ineluctibly been caught up in the bright mood of the music and buoyancy displayed by Wilbur and readily responded, "Si Señor, Juicy Fruit, si." He began to stand.
Joe K. looked dourly and incredulously at his apparently dullard, sycophantic associate and smirked, "Sit down, you Falstaff's fool."
"Falstaff, now I'm Falstaff. Capital, my good man. Wilkes-Willie Shakingsphere has staff befallen on the North Carolina Falstaffian frolic for a bit of Juicy Fruit. How insecure you have become, Willie Joke. Why indeed employ such a knave as this if he cannot be controlled beyond the entreaty of my own simple, most humble devices of importunate, rhetorical query? After all, I am but a parvenu, a mere soi-disant fainéant, given to beau geste and jeu d'esprit and increscent circumlocution. And you, you, of course, are the ultimate precieux, preexilian preeminence of prescinding malice prepense. Exile all us Shylock-Falstaff fools to Babylon to do penance under Nebuchadnezzar. Sobersides, yes, Sobersides, it is! To you..."
As Wilbur raised his glass in mock toast, Joe K. sat with a bemused look, continuing his sickening, sigmoidal sangfroid. After a few quiet moments, he crossed his arms appearing prideful, as if betraying some expected militaristic gratification for the thought about to be uttered. He smiled and carefully syllabicated each word as he spoke them with a trill beneath his accent.
"'An affable Irregular,/ A heavily-built Falstaffian man,/ Comes cracking jokes of civil war/ As though to die by gunshot were/ The finest play under the sun.'"
"Ohhhh, now you've become transmogrified from old Willie S. to Willie But. Y. Let's see, I think I know the next verse off-hand. It goes, why yes, it goes, 'A brown Lieutenant and his men,/ Half dressed in national uniform,/ Stand at my door, and I complain/ Of the foul weather, hail and rain,/ A pear-tree broken by the storm.' Well, no need for me to play show-off Willie, is there now, huh, boy? Why don't you finish it for me? Or maybe you could recite, say, 'Wolfram's Dirge' by Beddoes. Why, we could sit here half the night and have us a real down-home, hoe-down poetry readin', couldn't we now? That'd be fun, wouldn't it, boys?"
Laurel and Hardy began irresistibly to smile again but quickly caught themselves.
Joe K., obviously irritated by the continuing rejoinder, still maintained a semblance of calm, but became more sternly tense and dogmatic in his delivery. "Cash, an old German proverb says, 'No plough stops because of the death of one man.' I think it well that you remember it."
The record had reached a song called "Go Away from My Window", regarding a spurned lover and the sorrow of parting. A sense of sadness interfused the air. The lyrics brought a pause to Wilbur's thoughts of the moment and he drifted back to his family.
I'll tell all my brothers,
And I'll tell my sister, too.
The reason that my heart is broke
Is all account of you,
Is all account of you.
There was silence for awhile. Wilbur remained quietly contemplative as the song played out.But I'll remember you, my love,
As long as songbirds sing,
As long as songbirds sing.
Go on your way, be happy.
Go on your way and rest.
But remember, darlin',
You're the one I did love best
You're the one I did love best.
Joe K. interrupted the silence in more plaintive tone. "What is it going to be, Cash? We need help at Barber's Point. We cannot get in now. You have a choice, actually. Go there or to the peak of Mt. Tantalus for the high view of the water beneath the fruit trees. You have no other choice. You and your relatives will not wish to be judged by sixteen judges. Do what is best, now."
Wilbur, his eyes starting to droop, mumbled slowly, in a high-pitched, squeaky, weak voice, "You... 'They piled Pelion on Ossa and Ossa on Olympus, and then struggled up those rocky and bleeding slopes, panting and whooping.'"
"What? Come on Cash, that is enough."
The brandy downed, Joe K. told Wilbur to get up and go to the desk and take a room. Joe K. would then meet him upstairs and discuss matters more fully later in private after Wilbur returned to full sobriety. Wilbur was renitent.
"What do you want, Joker? Want some cutchie, cutchie coo, from me while your boyfriends watch? Oh... Almost forgot..." Wilbur cleared his throat of a flourish of phlegm. "I was reading about your Chiclets bombs. Some gimmick. Here, I bought some for you. Have one."
"Bury Me High" played--its subject reconciling his impending death and requesting only that the casket be kept high and dry.On parts of earth where the swamp is boss,
There's nothin' you can do to change its course,
But try and beat him to the rise
'Cause he's nothin' but the devil in disguise.
There's nothin' to keep me from passin' on
So thank you friends for gettin' here before
Mr. Devil Swamp got me through my door.
Bury me high where the water can't get me,
High close to the sky,
'Cause I'll never get to heaven unless I'm dry.
Bury me high where the water can't reach me,
Where the water can't reach me...
Wilbur popped out a Chiclets box and spilled a couple onto the table. The tall goon bristled in fear as the gum fell.
"Hmmm, didn't explode. Guess I'll have to chew one."
Wilbur reached for one of the Chiclets and the tall man clamped his hand tightly around Wilbur's arm and moved it away from the Chiclets box. It seems he had dealt with Chiclets bombs before. On the other hand, maybe he just did not like the impolitesse of chewing Chiclets in public places.
"No Juicy Fruit, no Chiclets... How about some Tutti-Frutti?"
"Cash, do not humiliate yourself. Do not fancy yourself Daniel. You would fair rather poorly in the den at the moment. Faith is for fools. You are drunk." Joe K. paused a moment and smiled venomously. "It is, is it not, to quote something you have already seen, 'Jonah, nat Daniels'--and I say 'nat' the way you and your kind would--with an 'a'." Wilbur's mind began to race at the mention. He began rubbing his face hard, forgetting for the moment all of his previous charade of carefree rebellion. Somehow, it rang bells. What he was saying led back to New Orleans and that led to the book. But what the hell did it mean? "We are Jap Endowed..."?
Joe K., poised for a moment with his right hand covering his mouth, spoke slowly with calm monotony from dead, staring, shark eyes. "My patience has run. Either take the room or I shall proceed to the plans I have previously detailed. Lumberton is but a short distance from Mexico, really. In twelve hours, by air, we three can be there. Before sunrise tomorrow, yes? Or, we can simply give the word from here--no muss. What can you do, Cash?"
Sobered to a recognition that he had no further choice but to take the matter as far as he could to delay and hope somehow to reach some resolution, Wilbur got up from the table without saying anything further.
As he walked from the bar, strains of the jaunty spiritual "So Soon" played from the wood-encased speaker.Wilbur went to the desk and obtained a room. No one appeared at the desk with him. The clerk informed him that some man had just called the Hotel an hour or so earlier looking for him. Wilbur appeared nonplussed. He smirked at the clerk and slurred simply, "Looks as though I'm a wanted man, huh?"
So soon in the morning when the clouds roll away,I'm standing at the station
So soon in the morning, I'll never go astray.
I'll hope and I'll trust and I'll trust and I'll hope
I'll watch through the night
And I'll watch through the day.
With my ticket in my hand.
I'm standing at the station
Tryin' to make the Promised Land.
So soon in the mornin'
When the clouds, clouds, clouds roll away.
So soon in the morning,
I'll never go astray...
The clerk simply smiled and remained silent.
Wilbur went to the elevator and rode to the third floor. He walked down the hall, to the fourth room on the left, number 344. He thought to himself that it was an appropriate designation, fitting his Liberal Fourth Estate, lifelong residence. He tipped his hat to a maid, an Indian, who was finishing up her afternoon rounds. She smiled at the unusual pleasantry. He walked into the room alone and shut the door.
Framed Edition') } //-->
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