Read an Excerpt
By Donald E. Westlake
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1970 M. Evans and Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.
There was a hansom cab at the airport. Looking over her grandfather's shoulder, Evelyn Canby saw the black and red cab rolling out across the tarmac toward their plane, pulled by a discouraged-looking gray horse. She looked to see, but it wasn't Uncle Harrison at the reins. Of course not; it had been private irony to consider he might be.
Three-year-old Dinah said, "I can't see. Mommy?" And tugged at Evelyn's wrist.
But it was Bradford who turned around and said, "Well, of course you can't see. And there's a horse out here to look at. Why aren't you up in my arms, where you belong?"
Evelyn said, "Yes, that's a good idea, Dinah. Go with Grampa."
Bradford Lockridge, once the President of the United States, and now at seventy an elder statesman who retained the politician's touch, picked up his great-granddaughter in his arms and stepped out smiling and waving onto the platform at the top of the stairs. "See the horse, Dinah? Wave to the horse. Wave to the people."
There weren't many of them. A chain-link fence separated the tarmac from the airport building, and a thin line of people stood waving and calling along the other side of that fence. There were so few of them that they gave the impression of not having come out to greet ex-President Bradford Lockridge at all, but of being merely the earliest arrivals for something of more importance that would occur later on this afternoon.
Evelyn watched Bradford's back, still straight and lean, saw his arm up in the characteristic wave that used to be parodied so much on television, and marveled that her grandfather could still treat the smallest gathering like an assemblage of thousands. He couldn't have—and wouldn't have—given a heartier greeting if all of California had come out to meet him.
They were the only passengers, Colonial Airport not yet having any regularly scheduled flights in from Los Angeles—or anywhere else—and this privately owned Lear jet having been borrowed by Uncle Harrison for the occasion from one of his business friends.
The hansom cab had come to a stop at the foot of the stairs, and Evelyn now could see that it was driven by a bored young man dressed in what somebody must have thought was a colonial manner. His shoes and trousers, both brown, were undoubtedly his own, but his jacket, a flaring black affair with brass buttons and broad lapels and broader cuffs, carrying with it a vague reminiscence of Benjamin Franklin, had undoubtedly come from the same costumer who had furnished the tri-cornered hat.
As to the cab itself, one would have thought Bradford Lockridge was running for president all over again. Pictures and posters and slogans were thumbtacked all over it, in the inevitable red and white and blue. BRADFORD LOCKRIDGE. WELCOME OUR GREATEST PRESIDENT. GEORGE WASHINGTON, CALIFORNIA, WELCOMES THE GEORGE WASHINGTON OF THE 2OTH CENTURY.
Remaining a minute longer inside the shadow of the plane, looking out at the poster-bedecked hansom cab and the waving people, Evelyn found herself feeling again that same half-embarrassed excitement she'd always felt while accompanying Bradford during his campaigns. The first Presidential campaign, when he'd won the office, she'd been thirteen years old, in fact her fourteenth birthday had come two days before the election, and that whole summer and fall had passed in a glittering confusion of bands and bunting, airplane trips and speeches and hotel rooms and cheering crowds. She supposed now that Bradford had brought her along so often mostly for political reasons, for the points to be gained by displaying the attractive children in his family, but at the time her reaction had been pure delight, undimmed by any questioning of motives.
When she thought about the happy times of campaigning these days, it was always that first election that came to her mind, and not entirely because Bradford had lost the second one, four years later. That second campaign had been uneasy and troubled throughout. There had been a feeling of defeat in the air all through it, which no brave speeches could quite hide. There had been the fight at the convention at the very beginning—an incumbent President very nearly denied his party's re-nomination!—and the ever-present pickets throughout the campaign, and the trouble in Los Angeles when so many demonstrators had wound up hospitalized. There had been all the bickering among the managers and speech writers and advertising men. And there had been Bradford himself, without his famous sense of humor, marching grimly through the paces of the campaign, frequently not even recognizing family members or close friends standing right in front of him.
And of course Evelyn herself had changed by then. She'd been seventeen that fall, the arguments at home were at their very worst around that time, and the campaign trail had not been something joyous she was moving toward but simply a means of escape from the intolerable situation at home. Climaxing not in the disaster of election night, but on the Friday three days later when she'd walked out on the birthday party her mother had organized, a party consisting exclusively of relatives—all still depressed from the lost election and not at all in a party mood—and with her own friends completely excluded.
That was the first time she'd actually stayed at Bradford's place outside Eustace, Pennsylvania. Of course, Grandma Dinah was still alive then, and there'd been no question of Evelyn's moving in on any kind of permanent basis. It had taken several deaths to affect that. That first time, Bradford had roused himself from his own post-election lethargy and arranged a reconciliation between Evelyn and her parents. She could still remember him, after he'd taken her home, showing a thin crooked smile and saying, "It seems I am a peacemaker, after all." And she'd known he was thinking of the picket signs that had been waving in his face the last year or more.
But that was nine years in the past now, and there were no more pickets. Not for Bradford Lockridge, at any rate. No more pickets, no more campaigning, and very little enthusiasm from the mass of people, most of whom these days would rather stay home than go out to the airport and wave at Bradford Lockridge. Bradford Lockridge? He still up and around?
Which made the gaudy hansom cab something of a cruel joke, though Evelyn knew Uncle Harrison hadn't meant it that way. It had just been his own particular brand of insensitivity at work again.
Out there in the sunlight, Bradford had stopped waving and had started down the stairs, still carrying Dinah. Evelyn followed after them, squinting in the direct sunlight, sorry she hadn't put her sunglasses on. But she didn't want to fumble in her bag for them while going down the stairs, so she just squinted and felt her way. I'm becoming a fussy old maid, she thought. A fussy old maid at twenty-six. A fussy old maid with a child.
Bradford had reached the bottom of the stairs. He now swung Dinah up into the hansom cab and followed her up, moving with the litheness of a man twenty years younger. The cab jounced with every movement, and Dinah was pleasurably alarmed.
Bradford turned back to give Evelyn his hand. It was only at moments like this, when the past had been evoked, that she realized how astonishingly fit he still was for a man seventy years of age. His grip was firm, and she felt the strength of him as he lifted her up into the cab.
Dinah insisted on a seat to herself, so she sat facing the rear, with Bradford and Evelyn in the seat facing front. The driver had been watching them with a kind of expressionless gloom, and now Bradford said to him, "All ready, young man." The driver nodded, and turned front to cluck at the reluctant horse.
"This is all so silly," Evelyn said. She felt embarrassed, riding away from an airport in a hansom cab.
Bradford reached over to pat her hand. "It's just Harrison," he said. "We'll indulge him, shall we?"
George Washington, California, WAS a new community northeast of Los Angeles, beyond Angeles National Forest. A new road had been built across the scrublands from route 395, and housing had been erected in a large north-south oval, with shopping centers toward both ends and municipal buildings in the middle. The town was built on five large tracts of land previously owned by separate interests, who had formed George Washington Planned Community Enterprises, Inc., in order to construct the city and attract residents.
From the beginning, it had been decided to affect a colonial atmosphere in the town, and all private homes and homesites had to be approved for colonial appearance before construction. The shopping centers existed without neon signs or other glaring anachronisms from the twentieth century, except for those which were absolutely necessary, such as parking lots. The five large tracts had been re-divided into thirteen sections, each named after one of the original Thirteen Colonies, and streets within those sections were named after cities and towns in the original colony. The high school—still under construction in the municipal area—was to be named Continental Congress High School, and the shopping centers were known respectively as Betsy Ross and Molly Pitcher.
Construction had begun five years ago, and the first residents had moved in nearly two years ago, but today, February 22nd, George Washington's birthday, the town was to be officially christened, in ceremonies organized by Harrison Lockridge, one of the community's founders, and featuring the presence in an honorary capacity of Harrison Lockridge's eldest brother, former President Bradford Lockridge.
The ceremonies would begin in front of the temporary City Hall at 2:00 P.M. The public and press were invited.
Riding along beside Bradford in the hansom cab, seeing his gracious wave and smile to the trickle of spectators along their route, Evelyn remembered what her cousin Howard had said, in refusing to come along on this trip: "Supermarket openings are demeaning to an ex-President." He had been quite angry that Harrison had even made the request, and even angrier that Bradford had gone along with it.
But Bradford had been untroubled by any implications of lost dignity. "It's always nice to go somewhere sunny for a day or two this time of year," he'd said. "You sure you wouldn't like to come with us?"
Howard had remained sure, leaving Evelyn to wonder if she too should have refused to make the trip. Would Bradford have come anyway, even alone?
Looking at his profile, watching him nod to a walking family group that had paused to wave, she was pretty sure he would have. Not only because Harrison had asked him to—and Harrison, at sixty-three, managed somehow to still be the baby of the family—but also because he expected to enjoy himself. Southern California was a pleasant change from snow-covered Pennsylvania, and a supermarket opening might after all be fun. How would he know until he'd tried it?
The town itself was surprisingly pretty, in a skimpy Disneyland way, with few trees and little grass, the pseudo-colonial houses rising out of khaki dirt, the blacktop roads winding among them. The airport—an added inducement built by the developers—was to the north of town, and they were traveling southward now through the most completely settled section. Houses were up on nearly two-thirds of the lots, and roughly one house in three gave evidence of occupancy. The occasional blue Plymouth or green Ford station wagon on the blacktop driveways was, in fact, a kind of anachronism in reverse, a visitor from another time.
Not that George Washington, California, really looked at all like anything in the original American Colonies. The land was too large, too flat and too brown for that. But it was a careful imitation in the process of being put together, and the automobiles and television aerials were a repeated discord.
They passed one of the shopping centers, about one-third of the storefronts occupied, a lot of hanging colonial-type signs and colonial-type lettering and the word shop invariably spelled with an extra pe. Evelyn noticed one small store that, in a fine lather of image confusion, called itself The Boutique Shoppe.
"Well," Bradford said, "there's our supermarket. Looks open already."
"Maybe we can open The Boutique Shoppe," Evelyn suggested.
"The what? Where?"
She pointed it out to him, and he laughed, and then Dinah insisted on seeing it, too. Evelyn carefully pointed at the proper sign, though Dinah had shown no real interest yet in learning to read, and Dinah duly laughed, looking to Bradford for approval. But Bradford was looking up at the sky, contemplating its blueness.
Evelyn saw Harrison at once, and immediately her tension returned. She'd put on her sunglasses at the beginning of the ride, and she was grateful for them now; they would help to hide her expression.
The cab came to a halt before the bunting-covered platform in front of City Hall, and Uncle Harrison came out from the group of men and women waiting there, his face smiling, his hand outstretched, his eyes for Bradford alone. "Brad! Good to see you! Have a good flight?"
"Yes, it was fine, everything fine."
Harrison was an extremely distinguished looking man. Older members of the family said that Harrison had always been handsome, and he had aged beautifully. The slight stockiness of his figure, the thickness in his face and neck, the iron-gray hair, none of it had detracted from his good looks but only added an aura of dignity and self-confidence and reliability.
It was only beside his older brother that one began to see the flaws in Harrison. Bradford Lockridge was a strong personality and a strong character and it showed in his face and in his every gesture. Seeing the two brothers together—or seeing Harrison with their third brother, Sterling—one was surprised to notice the weakness in Harrison's pale blue eyes, the slight betrayal of uncertainty in the line of his jaw, the hint of falseness around his mouth. But even then, the indications were very slight, and could be easily overlooked or forgotten.
Harrison wanted to lead Bradford right away from the cab, but Bradford turned back for Dinah. "You coming, honey?"
"That's all right, Bradford," Evelyn said. "I've got her."
"Come along, Brad," Harrison was saying, not quite grabbing his brother's arm. "We're all waiting here."
Bradford gave Evelyn a quick smile and a private wink, and turned away, allowing Harrison to lead him to the platform. Evelyn stepped down from the cab and helped Dinah down, and Dinah said, "Who's that man?"
"That's your Uncle Harrison," Evelyn told her, trying to keep her voice absolutely neutral. "He's your Grampa's brother."
"He isn't very nice," Dinah said.
"How can you say a thing like that? You don't even know him."
"I know he isn't very nice."
Evelyn felt she should argue the point, but knew she'd lack conviction if she did, so merely let the subject lapse. She took Dinah's hand and walked over to the platform, where she knew Harrison would not bother to introduce her to any of the smiling businessmen standing there.
And he didn't. He was too involved in showing off Bradford, like a trophy he'd captured, and Bradford was good-naturedly smiling and shaking hands and nodding to the compliments. The men on the platform were the developers, the founders of George Washington, California.
There was only one person up here that Evelyn knew, and that was Aunt Patricia, Harrison's wife. She stood against the rear railing of the platform, a tall and stocky fifty-eight-year-old woman dressed in severe and expensive black. Aunt Patricia was always dressed well and expensively and conservatively, and yet her hair was always terrible. She did it herself, at home in Brentwood, in a fiercely compact and ringletted style that had been out of date since the Second World War. Her hair, and the permanently grim expression of her face, distracted from her clothing and ultimately gave her a look of dowdiness. Howard had once said that Patricia Lockridge looked like the sort of woman who hits bus drivers with her purse; put such a woman in a two hundred dollar original dress and he was right.
Excerpted from Ex Officio by Donald E. Westlake. Copyright © 1970 M. Evans and Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.