The Charlotte News

Sunday, June 29, 1941


Site Ed. Note: So, we go back to the prodigious work of our friend in the Caribbean, with all the usual advice and disclaimers attendant with it--.

On the morning of June 23, Wilbur rushed over to the Embassy to pick up the morning

newspapers. There had been some scuttlebutt the night before that the Axis had invaded Russia.

It was true. The day before, at 4:00 a.m., the Panzers had rolled into the Ukraine

and along a 2,000-mile front. Italy, Rumania, Slovakia, Hungary and Finland presented forces

alongside the German Army. The War had now taken its expected turn. Russia had now been

duped of its non-aggression accord signed between Stalin and Hitler in August, '39 and the

Volks-powered Panzers rolled onward toward Moscow. The question in the quest would be whether

Hitler's fighting force had enough reserve to make it to the Soviet capital before the winter snows

necessitated entrenchment on both sides. If Moscow was taken, there would be a vast wilderness

yet to cross to approach the Pacific side of Siberia and the extended fingertip of Alaska, a la Western

civilization's version of pictography, akin to God's approach of the spark of life to Adam on the ceiling

of the Sistine Chapel.

But this twentieth century painter of myth, with his sinistral blood of Satan's hellish corps

behind him, was offering instead, across that 2.2 mile chasm, the spark of fiery, smoking blackness,

meant to gather with it as much of the universe as could be enswathed and weltered with his swell of

men and tanks. And the clearly enunciated object by action, though denied in his proclamation of

June 22, was to have it all and for generations hence.

And there was talk further of the splitting of the atom to release untold amounts of explosive

energy, capable of destroying the earth in as many days as it was apocryphally made, if not less. Was

such the sub-conscious symbolic incarnation of man's inordinate desire to reach the unknowable point

of origin, whether on religious or purely empirical grounding? Did the splitting of the atom

represent to the hardcore fundamentalists, perhaps, as Wilbur had heard around Shelby, the splitting

off of Adam's rib? Was it, then, in some convoluted mis-machination of the cloud-usurped imagination,

enmeshed in their minds with the original temptation from Eden and all of that and so thought to be,

as a result, inevitable punishment for us all and the grand fulfillment of the Armageddon prophecies of

Revelations? If so, God help us.

He pondered to himself interstitially, between the lines of newsprint, continuing, even in the

thin Mexican air, his life-long tendency to reel his mind off of a thought on the page into the expansive

mists of daydreams. He could not manage much of one.

He looked back to the front page proclamation of Der Fuehrer which had been read at

5:30 a.m. on Sunday by the Goebels: "It was a difficult step for me to send my Minister to Moscow

in order to attend to work against the policy of encirclement of Britain. I hoped that at last it would

be possible to put away tension. Germany never intended to occupy Lithuania. The defeat

of Poland induced me to again address a peace offer to the Allies. This was declined because

Britain was still hoping to bring about European coalition."

"Baaaahhh... Yes, peace tenders in split infinitives."

Wilbur found himself biting his lip hard and could barely resist throwing the paper on the

floor and stomping it, grinding the face of the little man into the pink marble. He looked up a

minute to be reminded by the more lavish than News setting that he was in different company

and had better exert a measure of outward equanimity. It was difficult, but he calmed by studying

a whorling vine embedded in a planter near his seat.

He went back to the proclamation about the alleged motives of the 1940 mission by the

British Ambassador to Moscow, Sir Stafford Cripps: "That is why Cripps went to Moscow. He

was commissioned under all circumstances to come to an agreement with Moscow. Russia always

put out the lying statement that she was protecting these countries. The penetration of Russia

into Rumania and the Greek liaison with England threatened to place new, large areas into the

war. Rumania, however, believed she was able to accede to Russia only if she received guarantees

from Germany and Italy for the remainder of the country. With a heavy heart, I did this, for if

Germany gives guarantees, she will fulfill them. We are neither Englishmen nor Jews."

"Baaaahhh... Doesn't even make any goddamned evil-sense."

Wilbur audibly slapped down the newspaper. His instinct was to rip out the leering

proclamation and shred it into little bits of confetti. He resisted temptation for the sake of other

readers and instead fumbled through a pile of magazines on the table next to him. He picked

up a Newsweek from the week before.

He now read the words of Churchill calling Hitler the "blood thirsty gutter snipe." A cathartic

grin came to Wilbur's face. He read the reprinted words of Churchill's speech to the British people

a week earlier, not sounding much dissimilar in substance to his own closing remarks at Austin:

"Now, the old lion, with her lion cubs at her side,

stands alone against hunters who are armed with

deadly weapons and impelled by desperate and

destructive rage. Is the tragedy to repeat itself

once more? Ah no, this is not the end of the tale.

The stars in their courses proclaim the deliverance

of mankind. But time is short. Every month that passes

adds to the length and to the perils of the journey

that will have to be made. United we stand, divided

we fall. Divided, the darker ages return. United, we

can save and guide the world."

Truer words were never spoken, thought Wilbur. Why was the division still so apparent?

He had calmed enough to return to the front page of the Times. There was, as always, good

news with the bad. The British had advanced in Syria on Sunday and taken Damascus, the hot spot

of resistance, from the French. The French had fled the city, to the north. The British were moving

northeast toward Tadmur, containing an important air base on the oil pipeline. While German planes had

arrived in Syria to aid the French, the British had maintained a hard foothold and were also moving in

an armored column north toward Beirut which was expected to fall to the Allies any day. The British

had brought these troops to Syria and Lebanon from Iraq where things were now under control, though

by no means stabilized.

The German newspapers had reported that the Fuehrer was "surprised" by the quality of

French resistance in Damascus, against a "superior" fighting force waging "aggression" on them.

"Whether the French win is unimportant..." said the spinner. "That superior force at some points

is actually in confused retreat."

"Don't he wish..." He finished reading the proclamation with its conclusion that because

the Russians, Britain and the United States had sought to "throttle" Germany, they were now

putting the fate of the German people in the hands of the army.

"Throttle, throttle, throttle away the Nazi mottled leopards. They say they fight 'for civilization and the

future of Europe.' And I'm an Ajax Hector-scrubber, a veritable Haley's cleanser. Bon-ami and bonsai to

your bon mots-Bon rituals. Seppuku to you!"

He read Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop's statement that everywhere, the Russians "attempted to

prevent Germany from creating a stable order in Europe".

"Ain't that the truth."

The Royal Air Force, it said, had battered the Nazi-occupied regions of northern France, as

well, striking 26 planes, the greatest single day's haul yet.

"That's the way. Hit the corporal-electric-Fritz-Fit!"

Wilbur flipped the pages and saw a drawn picture of the Japanese Foreign Minister,

Yosuke Matsuoka, sporting a clipped moustache to match the half-lipped hirsuteness of his

buddy on the Rhine. He promised no offensive action unless offensive action were taken on members of the

triplice: "Should the United States enter the war, for the sake of fidelity and the honor of the empire, we

will be forced to participate in it."

"Sounds like a damned marriage."

He read Matsuoka's justification for the treaty between Japan, Germany and Italy as a design to

keep America out of the war and establish "peace on the terms of the Triple Alliance and thereby pave the

way for a new world order."

"Yes, I think I have a bridge somewhere, too."

He read that the people of Japan and a substantial part of the divided Imperial Government were

opposed to a war with the United States on the dread factor alone. But to this, Matsuoka's rulers had

taken the matter beyond the opposition of the people and the dissenters by proclaiming the treaty

sacrosanct, as much so as their treaty obligations with Great Britain had been in honoring those

commitments in the first World War: "Even though Japan may have to stake her very existence on the

issue, she would remain faithful to her obligations under the pact."

"Faith in tyrants' vows, my sweet."


"I don't know how or what... A few days hell! We may not be here in a few days. Look there

how he uses that word 'bight'. There are bites and there are bights of headlands, a curving shoreline

forming a bay. This man is a writer. He knows the craft. Mary, please just read it and I'll feel better."

Mary continued, now reaching, to Wilbur's mind, the piece de resistance:

"The Japanese Fleet, the message further informed him, already had put to sea. It already controlled by position the approaches to Manila Bay and the northern islands. It was waiting only for the first shot, the first word of war to put the control into effect. There was a Japanese cruiser squadron heading south, probably for Balabac Strait. 'To avoid being destroyed by this squadron, if a state of war ensues,' the message said, 'it is suggested you intern your vessel in nearest Dutch port of Borneo, coaling immediately at Sandakan against possibility of voyage involved'... 'Well, I won't!' was the decision he finally had come to in regard to the 'interning' part of the code message; and from this seed of decision, all the rest of his plan had risen before his mind's eye, risen like a hard, metallic, spiny plant, glittering, deadly but satisfying..."

Looking over Mary's shoulder, Wilbur stuck his left hand to the page.

"Strange use of the word 'intern' and all that 'metallic' stuff. What's the 'control'?"

"Okay...but..." Mary shook her head again side to side.

"Read on, please."

She read further. After a couple more references to the Captain's relishing of the idea of

sneaking along in the waters ever closer to confrontation with the Japanese destroyers, the Captain

had resolved to do what he was ordered to withhold from doing for "at this juncture [it] would seriously

aggravate the danger of the new situation: but that fitted in with his plan, fitted in perfectly".

Wilbur again interrupted her silent reading. "Why have they stressed, 'that'?"

"Who is 'they'? I thought... Wilbur, relax..."

"Okay, I'm sorry. But please, please just read it."

"I'm reading, okay?"

Mary continued, seeing that the "Captain" of Delilah lamented the absence of naval bases in the

area around Borneo other than the one in Manila Bay. The Captain then muses to himself,

" scornful bitterness that just a short distance away was Malampaya Sound, which only a few of the dollars that go into each administration sustaining political chicanery could turn into a naval base commodious enough to shelter and supply the whole United States Fleet...and there were still other adequate sites away south in Mindanao. The Navy had often thought of Malampaya Sound: deep, extensive, sheltered from all weathers, strategically located and capable of impregnable defence on all sides, it was perhaps the greatest natural naval base in existence. He could not help thinking, much as a person desperately pressed by poverty thinks how it would feel suddenly to find fifty dollars on the sidewalk, of the haven Malampaya Sound would have offered to him if he and his ship had been in the English or Japanese Navies and these islands had been developed by one or the other of those nations. The Americans did not even have a coal pile here. In a few hours more, he would need coal, too, and then he would have to risk going into English port to get it: There was no possible way for him to get more ammunition and torpedoes."

"Now, look, here, how he has used this phrase 'Malampaya Sound'. I've looked in the Gazetteer

all around Borneo and the Philippines and can find nothing like that or anywhere else in the Pacific. Look

at how he spells that word right there in this British fashion with a 'c'."

"Okay, okay, I remember you mentioning something about this a couple of months back. So what?"

"Just note it well, please."

Mary had stepped out for awhile on this Friday, June 27 to go shopping and Wilbur had been drawn

back into the vortex, periodically interrupted during the week only by sheer exhaustion. Compulsively, he

was again aboard Delilah. He rubbed his forehead, bit his fist, paced briskly about the apartment, trying to

piece it together: Delilah, the destroyer, the temptress, bribed to find Samson's weak point for the


If Hitler was planning to recoil on Japan the same way that he had on Russia, bomb a couple of

their coastal cities... And it made sense if the Russian movement stalled or if we entered the fight. They

must be planning to bomb Japan so they could utilize all their materiel. But who were 'they'? Where was

this code coming from? Was this conscious? Just coincidence? The book had just come out in late January.

Who is in on this thing? Could it be our code? Goodrich couldn't have consciously known. He was just

saying what he had heard, read somewhere. Must be, must be... It came from his sub-conscious. But it made

too much sense in light of all Wilbur had come to see in the last few months to ignore it.

Maybe it was being used in some way that Goodrich did not intend, edited maybe by one of

those nefarious gutted wonders, a Raddle perhaps, or perhaps used, by communicating certain sections

apart from the rest, to pass code by pointing out only limited parts rather than the whole book with all its

characters, good and bad, intact.

Had he inadvertently been made a tool in Austin by someone--that someone who told him to read

the thing? Who had it been? Where? If only he knew whether that message had come from the real

Key-enough. Damnit, who was the real Key-enough?

But, it did not really matter anyway. By Austin, he had developed an emergent sense of time

running out within which to do anything to alert those in command that something might be about to

happen--something other than the Russian invasion--something he had been sensing before Delilah.

Everyone, except the "military experts," knew Russia was going to happen sooner or later. This other

thing was different.

Was the invasion of Russia the trigger, that 'first shot' to put the 'control' in effect? Was that

the meaning? And, if so, days, hours were precious.

He had pondered a bit on the nights before the speech quite consciously about this thing--this

surprise somewhere. He had wondered if these pages had something, something hidden, in their strange

content. He had casually been bothered by it since first reading it in April--or was it earlier or later?

He could not remember, exactly, now.

He had wondered before Austin how he could let someone know who might know--who might

have more clues than he as to whether this thing possessed significance. If he just went to someone,

Jonathan or Josephus or Cam or anyone, he would look crazy--no proof. And to bear that out, look at

how Mary had reacted when he tried to underscore things.

And, indeed, it might truly be just the pages of a novel, and nothing but that--maybe coupled with a few

people around trying to stir up something--divert attention--make him or anyone, who might look at it and

try to discern something from it, look nutty.

Were we really planning to hit Japan? Was it us? launching an attack from this Malampaya Sound

or maybe putting the defenses there on alert for possible counter-attack? Did the reference to Pearl

Harbor have any meaning at all beyond the contextual reference in the book? Did that link to anything

he had been hearing on the short-wave and seeing in the Key-enough business? If so, had he gotten

in the way simply by being an ardent admirer of literature and someone who thought about it and looked

at it as reflective of the surroundings of the author?

That's possible...more likely, however, all was okay. He had not spilled any beans. It was

too cryptic in the speech. Unless someone knew what to look for, it could take years to figure it. By then,

it would be outdated information and only serve as an object lesson. Thus sanitized by time, it would be okay.

But Wilbur still could not loose from the mental press that nagging impulse that this was some sort

of code in those pages, whether intended by the author or not, and that he had tripped something

somewhere by calling attention to the section and that it was the reason for the blonde man sightings in

rapid succession on the day after the Russian invasion. They were keeping an eye on him for some

reason--ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity. He would not give them that--no! Must be analytical.

Take his own best advice. Think, man, think!

Why was this Malampaya Sound so hard to find in the atlas if it was so great enough to float the

whole U.S. Fleet? And was it not well-known that the whole Pacific fleet was now at Pearl Harbor? It was

in the newspapers at times--the movement of ships out there. He had written often enough of it himself.

What is Malampaya Sound? It had been repeated thrice on the same page--odd amount of

repetition. And the description perfectly fit the strategic significance of Pearl.

And what about that English spelling, that 'c'? It rang a bell with some other representation he

had seen sometime earlier in his life which was equally out of place in context. He knew where he had

seen it but he simply could not dare contemplate very thoroughly any reasonable connection. But it

kept nagging. He felt it was important. If the author had been British, it would not have been so strange.

But this author was American, raised in San Antonio.

Why? Why 'Pearl Harbour'? He looked at it and looked at it. Suddenly, something

anagrammatic struck him--something about Southernese and its arrrigins.

"Your!" Wilbur suddenly got a glimmer, like that damned deer half-scene seen by his still innocent-

enough child-like eyes, but not by Cant, that horribly depressing day in the Huntersville woods,

bridging reality to intuitive imagination--not pure nut-ball fantasy, as it was supposed to

look with all the onion-head peeling kooks on the loose in their Dodges and Plymouths having truck

with the cops and such. The obvious, the all too coldly, frighteningly obvious always does look all too

loose. So you deny.

But, this thing could not be so readily denied. It was there on the pages of Delilah.

Something came to mind, suddenly, inexplicably, in between the lines of thought, in between

the acts, about a tuba on one of his classical records.

"Oompah, pah, pah...oom pah, pah..."

That's it... Has to be... What was it the Gazetteer said? Right! Not 'Malampaya Sound' like 'papaya'

nectar, as he had been repeatedly pronouncing it, but rather 'Malampaya sound' like 'pay for your humiliating

us'--Mamala Bay is where it is--right there on the page!

"The bight! The bite!" It's like the damned texas leaguer! And I'm up to my bats in it... Pearl is

where they float it all and this book is telling them that or something, so they can get the information

to them without censorship, maybe, in shorthand, easy code so it would not be caught in the mails or

whatever controls they have. But if that's it, I don't get it. Why? Why? Who are 'they'? They already know

about Pearl. Why put Japan, an ally, as an enemy, in the context of World War I?

Was there anything to confirm it? All that stuff about inferior equipment and supplies was another part.

Of course... That strange little splintered dock denuded of the greenery with the subs in the water.

Right next door is Woodlawn. That's got to be it. The connection of the sections is the British spelling.

But why aim the phrases there and at the British Labor Party, maybe, and then couple that with

wheat? Russia...? Okay... Maybe that is pretty obvious at that. Damned fascist rats... But it still is not

clear who and what they are doing.

Maybe this is simply an effort to get the enemy thrown off--a good weak bluffing shadow-hand

at poker. Maybe it is us giving them a warning that if they try anything, then we'll hit two of their

cities. Maybe I'm just reading too much into all of it.

Perhaps, we know that they know already or believe that they do and

this stuff is quid pro quo to get them to trust us so they will join the

Allies. Maybe they are giving them good information with bad to throw them

off track. Just too complicated to figure at this point.

Every action has to have a mental part to succeed. So how am I to

communicate about this thing to try and stop it or confirm that we know?

Got to think and figure it out first. Cannot run...

They must be getting ready to hit. We already know it. How? How now,

brown-shirted cow?

Those Nazi bastards are trying to climb the ladder by tearing out half

the rungs. Can't be done. Never could be.

The Captain of Delilah is dead wrong and must be stopped! Fitzpatrick

and Mendel... That's what Goodrich was saying in a backwards fashion to get

his reader to think a little bit. Fitzpatrick gets back on board the submarine

rather than fishing out Mendel. No genetic engineering, but maintenance of the

integrated social organism as one being, whole, hearted, minded.

Harriet was right. We men just take it all too damned literally.

Names... That's not the point. People get so balled up in it. It is the

object lesson which counts. Of course...

"What's wrong with me? Have I lost what I had? Can I no longer think

sub rosa, sub silentio, down here harrowing Hell in language fit or not fit

a-tall for the king? But I can sure as hell speak the damned King's English!

And I shall... "

Wilbur suddenly caught himself in an old habit. He was thinking out

loud, too loud. Better shush now lest somebody hear it and

start trying to have him committed or something. He did not know his

neighbors at all. And they had talked enough, quite enough, about this

strange out-loud habit, even at home. So be quiet now, now that some

glimmer is there. Just rest. Think a little.

At Austin, he had done what was right in the context of its motive, to

enlighten darkness and get the bothering, smoking, cloudy thing off his

chest which clutched him somehow in reading it. But in doing what was right

he had possibly exposed himself and Mary to danger and now he had to figure

a way out of that. How? Could he go write it out, ball it for the basket and start

again until it was time to send it to New York?

Who the hell were these "Constant Velocity Joints"? Nuts.

Would it all likely not be like Lenin or Marx or the Brothers of Dostoevsky?

How many times had he seen it spelled 'Doestoyeverski'? That's the way

some of his students at the little college in Kentucky had spelled it. He

could not fault them. They tried and they were sincere in their efforts to

learn and it takes time. Maybe he was doing penance now for some of that

impatience that year in Kentucky. He had flown off the handle a couple of

times in class and turned a few of them pink and red and white all over. He

did not mean to do that. It is just the way it came out--thoughtless

excoriation as muddled as the babble from Towering Babel on his short-wave,

no different. Is it not a pity that he could not go back now and look them

in the eye and say he was sorry about it? He wished he could. Endearing as

he had seemed to them, judging by the expressions mirrored to his eyes, and

as much appreciation as he had accumulated for the increasing awareness

showing in their eyes as they slowly, brightly opened up the closed oyster

in them; he had just lost patience, tried to overburden too fast, too much

at once.

Maybe the book had already started doing the same thing and that is why

it didn't reach enough people in the initial months of release to do what

he had hoped it would--stop the hellion warring towns of history.

But he must control his patience. He had to slow the thing down or, as

before, on both sides of the Arlington bridged banks, there was going to be

so very much limited misperception. The friction would break it off and

that, this time, might be that. That's how it all got going in 1914, after all.

He could not write his novel that way, in that streaming way. They

would view it as hairy, whory, hoary snake-tongues of the viper's nest,

rather than just sweet songbirds chirping concordant ideas of harmony and

melody, at least when adequately prepared to avoid stumbling, but not

overly so--so cautiously pared by editing, such that it could only be read

on the radio, like hip-to-gut Coughlin or Sunday, rather than just finely spoken,

with a little reading and reeding, and then a little extemporaneous speech, here

and there, more or less, to get the feeling right and allow people to feel

and listen and be patient and realize, not reel eyes, that there was time to

do what needed to be done by the fireside and yet avoid being cast into it

like Ethan Brand. Roosevelt was right in January--also last month.

Wilbur began to think that perhaps he had been too quick to feel too

much had to be done to stop it too quickly--before everyone was ready to row


Like Goodrich seemed to suggest in his Captain's thoughts: if all of

the people had been behind Roosevelt, he could have intervened;

but there was so much division, electricity, and it might take no doubt a

wake-up call to get them motivated to prevent the Tiger from swallowing the

Lion and her Cubs.


He could not substitute his own intuitions for that of those having

oversight and specific knowledge of what was planned. But, he could lend his

voice and help. There was nothing wrong with that even if it was foolish

sounding to them, given what they know specifically, truly from the cold,

hard facts of the elemental matter.

It took everyone, after all, working on their own part, from their

particular individual talents, to understand the problem fully--not just the

few. So he had done the right thing in Austin.

Relax... That's it. They know. Warrington knows. Everything is fine. Of

course, nothing else makes sense.

The war will likely be over in a few months. There is really reason to

be comforted.

It makes no sense otherwise. Mr. Goodrich is Navy, makes perfectly good

sense. That's what it is. They knew all along. He knew he could rely on


Won't Mary be pleased when she returns to find out that he has

concluded that all is well after all and he is redivivus and ready to flow?

He knew there was some ultimately good reason as to why certain passages of

that book had haunted him. It was just a subterfuge of the subconscious to

get his mind motivated, geared properly in dynaflow and then ultimately

relaxed so he could start his writing. That takes care of that... Go Navy!

Wilbur whirled around, clasping his fists together and drawing his arms

toward his chest in triumphant gesture. "Yeah, go Navy!"


On Saturday, June 28, the intense whirling bout with melancholia of the

past five days seemed to pass--from outward signs, anyway. Inwardly, Wilbur

had slightly begun to cast doubt on his Friday bit of exultation. But he had

finally decided to suppress it all for now, lest he go crazy with it.

Delilah was too full of metaphor to go running on trying to

decipher this or that on the hunch that it might be some code. Mary was

right. He had done all that he could. And, there had been nothing unusual

happening around the apartment during the week. Had he tipped something at

the ceremony, surely something would have been done to him by now after

nearly four weeks. He was alright. There were a couple, maybe really only

one fleeting exchange of glances with that blonde fellow--nothing of any

consequence. He had kept periodic low-key vigils on the street outside,

grabbing glances when Mary was out of the room so as not to arouse her

anxiety. There had been absolutely nothing out of the ordinary parade of

Mexican women carrying bowls of fruit for sale, the occasional drunk staring

at the cracks in the pavement, the playful children, and the ordinarily

dressed residents and tourists. Everything was quite normal, really.

"Mary, I'm going over to the Embassy. I'm tired of sitting around.

I believe I should get out for awhile."

"Finally... I thought we would both go nuts in this nest."

"Well, you knew when you married me that I was a compulsive thinker

which, after all, is better than being a compulsive gambler."

"Yeah, Rodin, but a little bridge now and again wouldn't hurt."

"I haven't the foggiest idea about all of that trumping and tricks and

so forth. Now Bertie knows about bridge but I never took it up. I've played

a little poker, but that's about it."

"Well, you should've let Bertie teach you. There's more to it

than trumps and tricks. You have the artificial bids, for instance. That can

keep the bidding low enough so that the whole booty isn't at risk each time

things get out of control. Poker relies on those winks and stares

and bluffs--high stakes bluffs. It's hard to know who to trust because there's

no confirmation. Everyone's in it for himself. Anyway, you go on. I'll buy a

deck of cards and teach you later."

"Right--all 52."

Wilbur left the apartment for the Embassy to catch a peek at the

Saturday Review. He would also stop off at a barber shop later in the day

for a much needed clipping.

He spent a leisurely, therapeutic day, walking about, not observing

much in the outer world for too long. Letting the trees receive their breeze.

He decided that whatever had spooked him during the week since Monday

was the product of a body malnourished of both food and sleep. The five days

of rest, though fitful, had produced a sense of good, albeit wrung out, calm, now.

An attaché at the Embassy suggested he could get a good haircut at the

Reforma Hotel. He would be treated like royalty there, for they thrived on the

business of Americans, he was told. In fact, if he were cleverly mendacious,

he could pull over them the woolly implication with what little

of the sheepy substance he had remaining that he was staying there.

Should they so assume, they would likely throw in a complimentary manicure

and wet towel facial to soothe him under the heat of the day.

The towel, in fact, would be a necessary ingredient to holding up under

the heat of the electric razor's underfired motor. The ceiling fan's twirl

would not suffice. And air conditioning had not yet reached Mexico City in

but a very few places. It had hardly reached Texas. He and Mary had

found its icy breezes a pleasant relief in Austin but sufficed to suffer on

the convention of fans during the remainder of the trip down.

Wilbur hiked from the Embassy to La Reforma at around 2:30. The

barber was truly a major-domo of a gentleman and spoke reasonable English. He

asked Wilbur his business in Mexico and Wilbur trustingly obliged, sensing

no hint of larceny in the man's inquiries. If you could not trust a barber,

who in the world was left? That was true, at least, in most places.

"Señor, let me see if I can do a little something different for you


"Alright, be my guest."

"I was thinking to form a bit of a small widow's peak back here and

fashion it a bit--make you look, como se dice?--distinctive."

"Yes, fine, but not too much. My wife won't know me."

"Of course, Señor. I will give you the quetzal look."

Without any of the required mendacity suggested by the man at the

Embassy, Wilbur was now being indulged also by the manicurist in cuticular

splendor which relaxed his whole being. That, combined with the wet towel

wrap's coolness, aided in its effect by the breeze of the ceiling fan, soon caused

him to live up to his Howler nickname.

As Wilbur relaxed with the cut going, he saw the blonde man enter

through the door of the barber shop, but felt nevertheless insularly secure this time.

The man had not intended to hurt him at all. Mere coincidence. Everyone needed a

haircut and shave now and again.

He sat down directly opposite the red leather and chromium chair where

Wilbur was being snipped. The barber suddenly whirled the chair around on its

pumped-up pedestal and ordered the manicurist to pull the shade, bolt the door

and not allow anyone into the shop.

Wilbur's eyes were still covered by the towel but for some reason he

felt not the least uneasy and remained there, blind to the events around


The barber whispered in his ear, "Haven't keyed enough, you Southern


He felt a tickling sensation at his throat. Wilbur ripped away the

towel and fixed on his own image in horror in the mirror. He was bleeding

profusely from a slice across his jugular. He looked at his nails. The

manicurist had painted a letter on each of his full complement, "R-A-C-I-S-T

H-A-T-E". He put his first opposing penkwe of the right between the

fingwrazes marked "C" and "I". There, that made much better sense.

Suddenly he was being shaken.

"Wake up, Señor, you are all new and reformed."

Sleepy wiped his eyes and cleaned the spittle from his chin which had

drooped from his mouth during this short nap. He wiped his eyes clear and

apologized for sleeping on the job.

The barber laughed, "No matter, Señor, it happens all the time. Since

you are going to be around for awhile, I wish to introduce my services to

you with a free haircut in the hope you will return to me."

Wilbur immediately became red, not knowing whether to scream in horror

or silently get up and leave or accept the man's gracious generosity. After

a moment spent clarifying his mind and lightening the burden infused by the

nap-mare, he profusely thanked the man and extended a tip of 10 pesos, half

the cost displayed for the haircut, about $.50 American.

"Gracias, Señor, muchas gracias."

In his self-conscious awareness of his limited Spanish, Wilbur issued,

"De nada," and announced that he had received an absolutely splendid

haircut. The man could be sure to receive his repeat business for the entire

year he would be in Mexico City.

There were three other customers awaiting haircuts, two Anglos and one

Hispanic looking gent. No one seemed to take notice of the funny, shy,

middle-aged looking American, so pleased with the clip of what little

hirsuteness he still possessed. There was no blonde man among the three.

Wilbur left the shop in excellent spirits, the best he had felt

since departing Charlotte, save maybe some precious moments with Mary.


Strolling back to the apartment, he heard an uproar emanating from

within a saloon. He stepped inside the aire de sotas de corazones y

diamontes to find it filled with Mexican workers, yelling and cheering in

the reek of cigarettes and alcohol. A thick halo of blue tobacco smoke hung

at the ceiling and shimmered a prism of colors within the rays of sunlight

streaming through the wooden jalousie. In the center of the room, encircled

by a crowd, there appeared a commotion royal--hollering men, grizzled and

greasy in appearance, wildly gesticulating, alternately patting one another

on the back and then apparently blaspheming at some sudden occurrence of ill fate.

Wilbur decided to try some of the Mexican beer and put 10 pesos on the

counter. Unable to find Larks in Mexico, he was reduced to smoking Chesterfields.

He lit one and strode through the smiling, affable crowd of men toward the center

tumult. Everyone seemed very friendly and ushered him through with gusto. He

could not understand a word of the fast-paced Mexican banter save, now and again,

"muerte". It was one of the few basic vocabulary nouns, greetings, and other tourist

survival slogans he had managed to accumulate from some needed lessons

offered by Mary on the trip down and in looking up words he had heard or seen around

the City.

Upon finally reaching the center portion of the room, he understood the

reason for the gathering. It was a cockfight, with all the ardor attendant with that

which he had heard took place every Sundays at the bullfights. He had

planned to undertake the obligatory sojourn to the bullring with Mary when they

both felt up to it. They had not sought its sordid, sou markee soufflé of activities

thus far, but had been told by a fast-talking man with a pencil-thin moustache and

receding hairline that it was worth examination--mid-afternoon jeering and alternately

locked-in trill, of man's lasting dominion over the stronger aspects of nature outside him.

Not given to violent displays of any sort, especially those for reasons

of sport, he thought of turning around now and leaving. Have we not really

enough problems in the world without killing chickens for kicks? But he had

the additional thought that he had been stymied in his attempts to write and

perhaps this scene of reñidero would jar something loose to unblock the

dam. So, despite it being basically repugnant to his tastes and natural

affinity toward protection of living things, he stayed.

The cocks fought fiercely to the death, one after the other, emitting

their screeching epithets mano a mano until one was fatally wounded. The

bets flowed as generously as the liquor among the men. And there was an

intensity not unlike, he thought, that which went along with American

football crowds. It was not his cup of tea, or his chicken soup, for that


After a half hour or so, he began to feel isolated. It occurred to him

that he was standing amid total strangers in virtual darkness, excepting

only the strained rays of the sun which lighted the cock ring. He felt the

need to escape, but believed it might be taken as an affront, after having

been so seemingly ingratiated to the inner circle, surrounding the pit.

He smiled a becoming grin and feigned a coughing spell and offered

ample stammering doses of "Excusa me, por favor", gradually made his

way toward the door.

As he did so, he caught a glimpse of a picture by his dear, near

guardian Pieter, hanging near the end of the bar. It was "Scuffle of the


With the doorway now almost within reach, the streams of late

afternoon sunlight suddenly struck through it at a forty-five degree angle

of prismic color; in strode a short, stout, smiling Mexican youth, with a deeply

pitted face, stepped from the shadows of the street of no return. He positioned himself

immediately in Wilbur's path, enunciated plainly in a loud voice, looking

alternately over the heads of the crowd and right at Wilbur, "Muerte, muerte, muerte."

Wilbur bowed his head humbly, stepped around him quickly, not looking up,

accidentally brushed the man's arm but said nothing. He just wanted out--now.

The youth, looking stunned and humiliated, lowered his voice and

uttered in a weltering whisper, seemingly aimed at Wilbur, "El hijo de la

puta, tonto, muerte." The concomitant changing tones connoted his obvious

dram-induced sopor.

Wilbur, not thinking now of his best manners or his Spanish, simply

said, "Gracias, puta..." and walked out, thinking he had covered the bases

with inherent Southern sincerity.

The man, obviously incensed, followed him from the bar, yelling:

"Puta! Puta! El hijo de la zorra!"

There was clearly something amiss. Wilbur walked quickly down the

street toward the apartment. He looked back a couple of times to insure that

he was not being followed. There was no evidence of it.

He arrived back at the tabernacle. The Holy Ghost was just leaving and,

with a slight, head-bowed grin of approbation, made an unintelligible apparent

compliment regarding Wilbur's new haircut.

Caught off guard by her unusual warmth, and feeling the woozy

effect of the beer he had at the bar, Wilbur fumbled for a response:


Showing utter shock at the remark, she ran away.

Wilbur shook his head in confusion.

He went inside and informed Mary of the afternoon's adventure and the

splendid haircut, albeit having been interlaced with the particularly dark


Still and all, his spirits were good, and Mary was struck by his

Flynn-esque derring-do to enter the bar full of strangers given the previous

five days of utter reclusivity.

She howled with laughter when he told her of the short man's venting of

vitriol at him.

He was taken aback by her lack of sensitivity until she caught her breath

long enough to inform him that he had denunciated the man as a "puta", "whore".

She continued to imitate the exchange, "He said, 'Son-of-a-whore, fool,

death'. You said, 'Thank you, whore'."

"Oh God... That's not the worst of it. I just called the Holy Ghost a


They both enjoyed the best laughter they had felt since arrival.

But, upon greater reflection, it actually began to grate Mary that he

would be intrigued by such a purlieu of probable reprobates under any

circumstances. What if someone, not a Nazi or Ku Kluxer or temptress

Delilah, just maybe an ordinary unaffiliated misanthrope, a real cur,

decided that Wilbur appeared ripe for picking and followed him from the bar,

robbed him and knocked him in the head, leaving him to bleed to death?

She suggested that he not habituate such places in the future, at least, not

without a rather large chaperon. He insured he would not.

"Oh, by the way," Mary continued, "you know we were talking about the

serpent mythology and the snake handlers of the Appalachians?"

"Yes, I remember."

"Well, DeSoto, after service for Charles V in Central America, Peru and

Cuba, led an expedition in 1540 into the mountains of eastern Tennessee and

had truck with the Cherokee. Possible connection?"

"Very nice. You are going to be a social historian, yet. I suppose it

is certainly possible. Serpents seem to have a way of traveling--right into

church, sometimes. Want to write the 'Mind of the South, Part II'? You can

take the heat for awhile."

"Hmmm, and do you know what 'DeSoto' means?"

"Well, I have had my object lesson in spanish today. So I shall venture

no guesses. I trust it has nothing to do with questionable lineage."

"It means literally, 'of the copse'."


"Oh, come now. You are going to tell me that you have become such a man

of the big city that you have forgotten what a copse is."

"I have no earthly idea."

"It is a coppice."

"Ah... Por favor, éclaircissement?

"Fancy... You had no upbringing in the thicket."

"Ah, now I recall. It is about the way my head is today. I should have

gathered the connection."

"Well, it actually goes beyond thicket. It's a forest which grows from

sprouts or root suckers rather than seeds."

"Like I say, want to write the novel? I like that better than

'Proto-Dorian convention'."

"I'm working on it. One of us has to..."

"Well, I haven't the time. I'm still trying to consider what a

son-of-a-root sucker was doing in a DeSoto truck in east Tennessee with the

Cherokee in 1540."

"Droll, Cash. I'll give you the point...but only because it isn't your


"Well, dear one, being it my day or not, I have recalled upon where I

heard 'a copse'. It is, I fear to tell, of Scott, 'Lady of the Lake's'

ending verses taught. And being suddenly of a rhyming mood, I shall to you

quote lines in exchange for food." Wilbur fumbled around among his books.

"Here, this is it. Now listen up."

"You've my undivided attention, Sir Jack. I haven't seen you this

animated since we got here."

"I am feeling better. No doubt of it. Listen to the poem."

"'Harp of the North, farewell! The hills grow dark,

On purple peaks a deeper shade descending;
In twilight copse the glow-worm lights her spark,
The deer, half-seen, are to the covert wending.
Resume thy wizard elm! the fountain lending,
And the wild breeze, thy wilder minstrelsy;
Thy numbers sweet with Nature's vespers blending,
With distant echo from the fold and lea,
And herd-boy's evening pipe, and hum of housing bee

'Yet, once again, farewell, thou minstrel Harp!
Yet, once again, forgive my feeble sway,
And little reck I of the censure sharp
May idly cavil at an idle lay.

Much have I owed thy strains on life's long way,
Through secret woes the world has never known,
When on the weary night dawned wearier day,
And bitterer was the grief devoured alone.
That I o'erlive such woes, Enchantress! is thine own.

'Hark! as my lingering footsteps slow retire,
Some Spirit of the Air has waked thy string!
'Tis now a Seraph bold, with touch of fire,
'Tis now the brush of Fairy's frolic wing.

'Receding now, the dying numbers ring
Fainter and fainter down the rugged dell,
And now the mountain breezes scarcely bring
A wandering witch-note of the distant spell--
And now, 'tis silent all!--Enchantress, fare thee

"Splendid, boy, you have done me well. Now let us close off this, for I

fear to tell, that I can rhyme little more without spirits to drink. And

then I fear it may give me too much of moon to think. Now, I shall prepare a

hearth-held, huge buffet, my sweet, lest you think me ill and we both be far

too weak to eat."

"Bravo! Splendid! You should have been a Bronte!"

"And you, Jacko, spirit kindred, should have been Dante!"

"Stop... no more or we'll be rhyming all night."

"Thy copse of lore gave start to this soul binding plight."

"Are we going on ad nauseam?"

"Now till that bad mausoleum."

"I thought I had you..."

"Yes, and you thought 'ciudad' was pronounced 'see you dad', too."

Wilbur now boyishly held his lips tightly closed with exaggerated

jutting of his chin. Mary began laughing again. She held him in check for

the remainder of the evening with the threat of rhyming rejoinders to every

utterance. All cares melted for the duration of the contest.

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