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Brown quickened his steps down the corridor in order to enter the elevator with Schwarzlose. Watch Brown! Brown is our man. We will remain with Brown all evening and far into the night. He is the engine of our story. Schwarzlose, on the other hand, will soon depart from our sight in the smoking noise of McGinley headquarters.
On the double doors inside the elevator someone had printed with a black felt-marking implement:
When the doors parted, however, the message read:
SC HWARZLOSE SU CKS
Up and down, night after night, week after week, Brown and Schwarzlose saw those words. Once, during recent weeks, someone had also written on the double doors, "Janitor, where are you?" and someone else (perhaps the janitor himself) had scrubbed away that message without scrubbing away the other.
Was it Brown who wrote on the elevator doors? No. It wasn't his language, nor would he have thought such a message productive. He wished above all to be productive, to improve the world. Had he done so? Had he made the world in any way better?
He had saved some souls, especially children's, by writing threatening or abusive anonymous letters here and there, or by placing threatening or abusive telephone calls. What hath God wrought? Watson, come here a minute. He hoped he'd never be caught at it. In the front of the telephone book the Company announced its own feelings in these matters:
Annoyance Calls. The laws of the State provide that whoever telephones another person and addresses to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, or indecent words or language; or whoever telephones another person repeatedly for the purpose of annoying, molesting, or harassing such other person, or his or her family, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined in any sum not exceeding $500, to which may be added imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months....
Brown never uttered "lewd, lascivious, or indecent words or language." Even his thoughts were mainly free of such language. It was his training. His college was Faith Calvary Central, where he had been "in training for God's team" (here we are quoting his teacher, Dr. Blikey), until he discovered life more widely, when language vanquished God.
But the spirit of daily service nevertheless remained within him, and he performed every day an anonymous deed for justice. One deed a day was three hundred and sixty-five a year. Now and then he missed a day. (Who doesn't miss a day now and then?) Often he felt himself surviving a day without wrath just when his wrath set in, his rage mounted, and he'd make even several telephone calls then, or he'd dash off a flurry of mail. At this moment, elevator descending, rage rising, Brown felt the need to write a letter to a man in Montana about whom he had read an hour ago, for whom he had written a headline:
Montana Father's Shrine for Son
Pledged to World Peace Ideal
Why did that Montana man permit his son to go to war in the first place? Dear Sir, You are certainly mixing up money and love in your mind. Why did you let him go in the first place? My own son ... my wife's son I suppose I should say.... Not his "wife", exactly, either. His letter began to fail in his mind, but these were the lines he'd follow at the rented typewriter in the public library.
"Where are you headed for dinner?" Schwarzlose asked in the elevator.
"I thought I'd stroll over to the library," Brown replied.
"I'll walk along awhile," said Schwarzlose. "Do me a favor tonight. Come back after dinner. The other night you didn't come back."
Death once again to Schwarzlose by phosphorous fire! Yes. Hide inside, thought Brown. Sure, there he'd be inside late at night after hours, crouching somewhere in a closet or a dustbin, and he'd take a couple of those little phosphorous balls from his pocket and drop them and leave. They were inextinguishable, or so Brown had heard. He didn't really know. Nor did he really know why it should be Schwarzlose of all people sitting there by himself in the middle of the night in the city room waiting patiently to be burned up by phosphorous balls. Then, too, why didn't the phosphorous balls burn in Brown's pocket? He wasn't certain. He'd never seen a phosphorous ball:
"Burn, Baby, Burn"
Headlines Writer Chronicle Arsonist—
One Dead in Inferno of Repressed Rage
"My wife wasn't well," said Brown.
"Make her square away," said Schwarzlose—tough guy, you see, takes no womanly excuses from anybody, carrier, messenger. Why kill the messenger? Brown couldn't help it. Was Cronkite a bad man? No, it seemed not so, and yet Brown was always killing Cronkite for bringing him the bad news. Shoot him in the back while on the air. Then the sign would change from On the Air to Off the Air. But shooting him in the back? Why did it always present itself to Brown in that way? He didn't like it, though it might have been the injection of a bit of fair play at that, a little help to the police, for the cameras on Cronkite would catch a good glimpse of Brown, too, beaming out his face to a hundred million witnesses sitting at home watching murder, war, riots, massacres, and other calamities while eating dinner.
This murder always occurred, too, on the seventeenth floor, with a gun, always, never changing, unvarying, because once having established a fantasy in his mind Brown pursued it in the same way each time, it became a habit with him (even if not a good habit) —Cronkite and Sevareid by gun on the seventeenth floor, Schwarzlose by phosphorous balls late at night in the Chronicle building, McGinley with a hot harpoon in the office of the Draft Board, and Stanley Krannick with an automobile. He moved in slowly behind Stanley, nudging him behind the knees so that he'd fall forward and be gently ground to death beneath Brown's Goodrich tires, Atlas tires, Firestone tires, but always tires, always gently, always from behind (probably to avoid his eyes, for the same reason prisoners are blindfolded when executed), always Stanley. Stanley was Luella's husband. Man and woman Brown and Luella had been for twenty years, but husband and wife they were not.
"She's really quite well now," said Brown. The two men were walking up Mission Street between Sixth and Seventh. "She lost sleep. A dog across the street keeps barking all night." To be truthful, however, it wasn't Luella but Brown who "lost sleep" because of the dog "across the street." The dog's name was Paprika, and he looms large in our story, for Brown leads us to Paprika, Paprika to Lala Ferne, and Lala beyond.
"Poison it," said Schwarzlose.
Where was Eric Sevareid? Was he in the room with Cronkite? You notice how they nod toward one another without ever being seen together. It was part of the showmanship—making a show of the news, imagine that, no wonder mad assassins abound. Out comes Sevareid from wherever he was, having seen Walter shot "off the air." Eric's perplexed. He blinks, blink, blink, and then from behind he's shot, down goes big Eric, too, back up, back out, drop the gun in your pocket, and resume walking rapidly down the stairway. Don't fall. Watch your step. He started down. Now people were in motion all over. Seventeen floors to go. Some people were coming up the stairs, and he motioned to them, waved to them, calling "Up here, up here, on the seventeenth floor," while he continued down, hastening past them, floor after floor, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve ... perhaps the numbers would be on the doors ... to the tenth floor, let us say, counting down with the astronauts. They were in trouble tonight, although Cronkite's opinion was that it might be nothing more than faulty radio. Let them die gurgling their frozen oxygen—Brown's idea—Brown stepping lightly onto the elevator there on the tenth floor and dropping his gun down the chute between the elevator and the walls of the shaft (clunk, clunk) and descending to the main floor and into the street, which would be Madison Avenue, he supposed (he'd never been there), and casually walking along, inconspicuously removing from his hands his flesh-colored gloves from which he had removed all evidence, if any, of ownership, and all evidence leading to the store from which he had purchased them: Robert Kirk Ltd., on Post Street. At the next corner he dropped them into a wastebin as nonchalantly as you'd toss away an old tobacco pouch, waiting for the first word, listening as he walked for the first report gasped in excitement, "Cronkite was shot on the air ... Sevareid was shot ... no, only Cronkite, I saw it with my own ... no, both, Cronkite on the air and Sevareid off."
It was all a fraud, like the quiz shows of the past, the answers given beforehand. These astronauts tonight weren't in trouble at all, it was faked, and Cronkite an accomplice, messenger, as he'd been the messenger for the Pentagon, reading their handouts on the air, denying the war was a war, although Junie had died in it. Junie was Luella's son. My very dear father of the Montana shrine, Brown wrote in his mind, standing with Schwarzlose before the public library.
"I'm going over and poke my head in McGinley headquarters," said Schwarzlose.
"All right," said Brown, "I'll go too," forsaking the library and following Schwarzlose, as he'd followed him into the elevator.
They crossed the street and entered McGinley headquarters. "Come on," said Schwarzlose, "we'll shake the bastard's hand," knowing full well that such an act of cynicism was impossible for Brown, and the foul language offensive, too. He enjoyed offending Brown.
"I've been here before," said Brown. "What was located here?"
"Some store," said Schwarzlose without interest, reading from a McGinley campaign pamphlet. "Listen to the shit this man is," he said.
McGinley had been, among other things, Chairman of the Draft Board. For that "crime" he would be dead in twenty-four hours—elected by day, murdered in the evening. Chairman of the Draft Board murdered by violence, enemy of crime criminally murdered. McGinley was an advocate of guns "in the hands of the right people," and one of his most effective campaign slogans had been "The West wasn't won with a registered gun." Upon the wall a great banner read, "Congress shall make no law respecting the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It shall not be infringed." But the lover of the Constitution had distorted it, corrupted it. "That's not the proper reading," said Brown to Schwarzlose.
"It's near enough," said Schwarzlose.
Well, that was Schwarzlose for you, no sense getting mad. "Near enough" had always been good enough for Schwarzlose. "Oh my Lord," said Brown, his heart pained, "it was a toy store. It was Mordecai's Toys." His pained heart dropped like a rock. "My boy and I came here all the time."
"Time marches on," said Schwarzlose, to show that a fact was merely a fact, to prove that, as for himself, he had no tender feelings. "Don't look back, you complicate your life, you're a worrier."
Mordecai's Toys. The first word Junie had learned to read was the word toys, learned from the painted letters on Mordecai's window and at Edna's & Jerry's Toys, too, on Eighteenth Street. Brown and Junie alighted from the street-car when they saw the painted window, and of course the street-car was a part of the pleasure, too, streetcar there, buy a toy, streetcar home. Brown's father had been for many years a streetcar motorman, back and forth for thirty-five years on the "M" car through the tunnel. They had been very smart, that Mordecai and wife, they sold good toys for twenty years and retired young to the Avenues. Brown had encountered them one day not long ago on Geary Boulevard, and they had asked for "the wife" and for "the little one" and he hadn't the heart, for their sake, nor the strength for his own, to tell them that "the little one" was grown and gone and dead, thank you.
"They used to hang big stuffed animals from the ceiling," said Brown to Schwarzlose, "and then they had angels floating across the blue sky, the ceiling painted. It was an illusion. Especially giraffes, big stuffed giraffes, although we never bought the expensive stuff. We bought a thousand little Matchbox cars and ... well ... we still have them."
"I've seen enough," said Schwarzlose. "Don't forget to come back after dinner."
"We bought little guns here, too, I suppose. I mean toy guns, not guns that shoot."
"McGinley means guns that shoot," said Schwarzlose tight-lipped, as if he were a tough guy.
"I'm positive he does," said Brown, thinking Blow it up with a firebomb, this whole headquarters. That would solve the problem. But he was uncertain. This was his first experience of McGinley's headquarters, he'd never before demolished it, and he was unclear how to go about it. McGinley himself he had always killed with a hot harpoon through the mouth. Too many innocent people were here. Then, too, consider that unfortunate boy in the wheelchair, you couldn't blow up the boy upon the grounds that he was his father's tool. Let's have a little justice here. My Very Dear Father of the Montana Shrine, We must be certain not to exploit our memories for private purposes. Just tonight I happened to visit the political headquarters of one McGinley, whose featured performer throughout his campaign has been his unfortunate son in a wheelchair. Lately many people preparing explosives lost limbs and eyes. Such were the occupational hazards of assassins. Bazookas were practical. Often Brown knelt on the sidewalk across the street from the White House and fired his bazooka within, although truth to tell he had never seen a bazooka except on television. Stop the Killing. It was a common bumper sticker. People who buy guns ache to use them to justify their expenditure. Having invested so much in an atomic bomb Harry Truman was compelled to use it, which he did, and then spent the rest of his life justifying his having done so, and Let's Be Johnson settled down to spend the rest of his life justifying the war upon Vietnam, where Junie died. The two greatest mass murderers of recent time are Americans. Let's hear it for the red and white and blue. Now pin the Olympic medals to their sweatshirts.
AMERICA FINISHES ONE-TWO
IN GLOBAL MURDER EVENT
U.S. Aces Notch Records—
Johnson, Truman Score
"Your husband has slightly misquoted the U.S. Constitution," said Brown most politely to the candidate's wife, who shook his hand. She wore a blouse low-cut, exposing her graceful neck, but she spoiled it all with purple schoolgirl ribbons in her hair, and matching stockings rather for roller-skating than for statesmanship, a little girl smiling as she'd been told to smile, and careful to say nothing she'd not rehearsed first with her husband and his staff. Content to be a slave she was, and her husband was her master. But she was a slave who loved her condition: look at her smiling and curtsying like a mechanical doll, hoping to help her husband become a United States Congressman, as if that were automatically a good thing to become.
"We're awfully glad to have you aboard," she said, pretending not to have heard his criticism.
"I'm not aboard," said Brown, still most politely. "My feet are dragging in the ocean. What are your husband's plans for the world if he's elected? Tell me something he hopes for humanity."
"We'll live in Washington," she said. "The Congressman has already signed a lease on a house." Like his staff, she called him "Congressman," as if he already were. But he'd never see that house in Washington, lease or not. Listen, he'd never even see Wednesday this chap. She passed him right along the line with firm pressure of her hand, to her right, to a low platform, where her son in his wheelchair flung his arm upward and said with some difficulty—undoubtedly his speaking mechanism had been affected—"We are all very pleased to have you aboard."
"I'm delighted to be aboard," said Brown to the boy in the wheelchair, shaking his hand enthusiastically. "I guess you've been campaigning hard for your father."
"We are all very pleased to have you aboard," said the boy once more, who, according to McGinley's biographical material, was fifteen years old and had "fought valiantly against affliction." Gripping Brown's hand powerfully, the boy steered him along the line toward a table where campaign workers wearing chefs' hats were pouring beer into paper cups. Their hats were striped with patriotic colors in the familiar campaign motif, and they bore various winning slogans, such as "Register bomb-throwers, not guns," and "Unity." The wall behind the beer table was a montage of photographs and headlines exhibiting McGinley in various stances and postures of his past life and recent campaign. Here was the Chairman of the Draft Board, here the "hard-driving lawyer," and so forth. Some of the headlines had been written by Brown, and he took a certain pride in identifying those which were clearly his. Brown had once intended to become a writer and save the world, but events hadn't worked that way. His nearest connection to literature was a writer living on Nineteenth Street, whose house Brown passed shyly when he did. Brown himself had been a most excellent writer at Faith Calvary Central, and in the end been rebuked for his skill, for Dr. Blikey told him that his essays were "too literary ... too profound," that the qualities truly valued in "this modern world of ours," as Dr. Blikey phrased it, were "straight talk, easy sentences, direct thoughts, and only one thought to one sentence." Dr. Blikey often said, "A good whipcracking funny joke is worth a thousand highfalutin' smart thoughts."
"Are you studying your handiwork on the wall?" Schwarzlose asked. "It's writ in water. It's newspapers." He was drinking beer.
"I've written some nice heads in my time," said Brown.
"Well I'm off to dinner," said Schwarzlose.
"I'll see you after," said Brown.
"I hope so," said Schwarzlose. "Did you shake the candidate's hand?"
"Certainly not," said Brown to Schwarzlose, but it was no easy matter to avoid the candidate. The crowd was enlarging, and the pressure was great. Brown chose not to fight the direction of the crowd. He'd let its flow carry him. What had been here? Counters and counters of toys, and Junie running back and forth up and down the aisles, confounded by a thousand options. It was in another life. The boy had been recovering from Stanley's cruelty when first Brown brought him here, moving in slowly on Stanley now (Brown, from behind, in his automobile) and nudging his knees—clipping, it was called, illegal in football —so that Stanley would fall forward and be gently ground to death by Brown's Atlas tires. Junie's favorite counter contained the Matchbox cars. These little cars had mattered a great deal to Junie, and he bought dozens of them, and treasured them, and knew them by name and color, lining them up all over the house. Brown and Luella turned their ankles in the dark on Matchbox cars. Sweet boy. Firebomb draft headquarters. Men who believe only in guns answer only to firebombs. "He who lives by the sword perishes by the sword," said Brown to McGinley.
"Oh sure, I've heard that one before," said the former Chairman of the Draft Board, throwing out his hand, which Brown refused. McGinley's lips tightened while his eyes searched for assistance. Some people became difficult on the handshaking line, these debaters, these nuts. "I want to greet a few friends over here," McGinley said, ushering Brown along. "Glad to have you aboard."
"I'm not aboard," said Brown. "You killed my son."
"Never killed anybody," McGinley said. "Have a beer."
"You sent him to war without a gun," said Brown.
"Who the hell are you, buddy?" McGinley softly asked. Still smiling, he added, "Get going along or you'll be helped along."
"If you're going to be my Congressman you should answer my question," said Brown.
"There's no if," said McGinley. "That's not how we're talking. This time tomorrow night I'll be your Congressman." This was a poor prediction, for "this time tomorrow night" he would be dead.
"I lost a boy in the war and you sent him there," cried Brown. "Not my boy—my wife's boy, I should say. A man must be held responsible."
"Fuck off, creep," said McGinley in a violent whisper, and at this point Brown was seized by a strong young man looping arms with Brown as if they were friends or companions (as they soon would be) and led from the presence of the candidate. Brown was stunned, as if in shock, and therefore easily led away. Was this his Congressman speaking? Was this dialogue? Was this debate?
"Sir, don't struggle," said the strong young man.
"I'm not struggling," said Brown. "I surrender. I just hate that man, that's all. I hate to say it, but I do."
"You're not the only one," said the strong young man, releasing Brown into the crowd, letting him go, throwing him back, so to speak, as if he were a fish. "Go home, sir."
But Brown, in picking his way through the crowd toward the street, noticed a telephone booth. What good deed had he performed today? The letter beginning My Very Dear Father of the Montana Shrine was unbegun, and Brown had no time for the library now. He'd call the Fernes, that's what he'd do, and complain of Paprika whose barking had kept him awake. That Paprika! Well, Brown knew a tried and true method of accomplishing things worthwhile. Often he had promoted justice by telephone, and he proceeded to repeat himself now, dropping his last dime into the slot, and barking a few warm-up barks while dialing, and continuing to bark into the telephone after his ringing had been answered by the lady of the house, Lala, who replied to his barking by calling against it, "We understand you, there's nothing we can do, my husband won't part with the dog." When she hung up Brown stopped barking. He, too, hung up.
Oddly, his dime came back. The Telephone Company is imperfect. His dime had new life. This time Brown dialed the operator. His dime again returned, but he was indifferent to it, speaking in a high, fierce, intense, passionate, disguised falsetto voice into the telephone, saying, "Operator, operator, we have planted a big bomb in the McGinley headquarters at Larkin and McAllister. Hurry, hurry, hurry, put it out, thousands will be killed, anyhow hundreds, the crowd is increasing in size, hurry and get the big bomb out." After a slight pause he added, "McAllister and Larkin, don't forget." He hung up.
Excerpted from Killing Everybody by Mark Harris. Copyright © 1973 by Mark Harris. Excerpted by permission.