In Darkness in the Deeps
… she or he who is NOT AFRAID and who actively seeks death out will find it NOT AT THEIR DOOR.
—NANCY LING PERRY, APRIL 4, 1974
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; took upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
HERE’S A RED AND white VW van, parked and baking in the sun on this clear and warm May day, and the young woman seated in the front passenger seat, the van’s sole occupant, stirs uncomfortably, her clothes sticking to her, her scalp roasting under the towering Afro wig she wears. She is, she hopes, inconspicuous. She lifts her buttocks from the seat, rearranges herself, sits. She moves again, leaning across and over the stick shift to roll down the driver’s side window, letting in a warm draft redolent of exhaust and cut grass and what she thinks may be roasting frankfurters. Her nonprescription eyeglasses begin to slip down her nose, and she removes them to blot the perspiration from her face with a Kleenex. When she again looks up, a small boy meets her eyes. He walks beside a woman, his mother she guesses, toward a Chevrolet sedan, struggling with an oversize paper bag that appears to contain some cheap and colorful reward for enduring, with a minimum of fuss and fidget, Mom’s afternoon of shopping. They stare at each other, the boy’s head following his gaze as he hurries to keep up with the woman—definitely his mother, the young woman sees now; the boy is her diminutive masculine echo in nearly every way—and then his arm is tugging the woman’s, Mama … Mom … look … The young woman quickly replaces the eyeglasses and moves to the rear of the van, where she sits cross-legged on the metal floor and reaches for the paper: the funnies, “Dear Abby,” the movie listings, and her stars for today, May 16, 1974.
The horoscope for Pisces is mysteriously oblique: “Rumor has it that others have a bonanza in the works, vast unearned rewards. Truth is some people work hard, get paid. Some loaf, don’t use a lucky break.”
She reads on, flipping the pages of the newspaper, dotting her index finger with saliva and turning the pages from the bottom, giving each a little shake as she separates it from the ones remaining so that it won’t wrinkle up. And then there’s a disturbance across the street. Its sounds at first have the lazy quality of shouts carrying across open distances, the slightly rude hollering of Sunday afternoon intramurals, and she pays no attention as she reads. But then she clearly hears Yolanda’s biting tone: “Get the fuck off him, you motherfucker! Let him go!”
She cranes to see her comrade straddling the back and punching the head of a young black man who wrestles with General Teko in the parking lot of Mel’s Sporting Goods, where Teko and Yolanda went to pick up a few things for the search-and-destroys. This is a strange sight, totally unexpected. And a little dispiriting; she had just wanted to go shopping, get out of the safe house for an afternoon, get a little fresh air. She cranes and stares, her jaw dropping. Three other men rush out of Mel’s. Two of the men lift Yolanda off the young man’s back, and she thrashes and curses, kicking at shins, trying to stomp on her captors’ insteps. The young woman drops the newspaper and, feeling for it on the floor with her fingers as she begins to scramble toward the front seat, picks up a .30-caliber submachine gun. Bracing herself on the door frame, she points the submachine gun out the driver’s window, wanting to hit the top of Mel’s building across South Crenshaw. She wants bullets zipping over the heads of her comrades’ attackers. She squeezes the trigger and the gun just jumps out of her grip, and she gasps, pulling her hands away. She sees the greenery planted on the center divider rocking, sees shards of concrete spinning through the air to land amid the traffic that glides down Crenshaw, oblivious, and hears her own gasping exclamation of surprise: they’d told her the gun wouldn’t buck. Inhaling deeply, she picks up the gun again, aims, squeezes and holds the trigger. The thirty-round clip emptied, she picks up the M-1 carbine. At 850 rounds per minute, she’s gotten their attention across the street. Teko and Yolanda break free, begin the dash across Crenshaw while their four assailants head for cover. She fires. She fires. She fires. She knows this weapon, can strip it and reassemble it blindfolded. She hears glass breaking, the sound slapping back at her across the distance, a small, contained noise, like something carefully controlled, ultimately disappointing. The doors open and she slips to the rear as Teko and Yolanda jump aboard.
There’s pride in her voice as she asks: “How’d I do?”
“The fuck took you so long?” says Teko.
A day shy of a week ago Cinque had them split into teams for the southward migration, and these three had driven the length of the state, Highway 99, breathed deep the wet smell of soil and manure in the night, stared into predawn tule fog near Fresno. It hung outside the van windows, thick five-and-ten Halloween cobwebbing hanging sinisterly still, inscrutable, and they crawled through it. Yolanda hunched forward over the wheel, her long face a skull mask of tension, and Teko reached over to wipe the condensation from the inside of the windshield with his jacket sleeve. Near Bakersfield Yolanda had at last pulled off and crawled into the back, telling her to drive. Ass numb, fingertips bone tired on the wheel, she’d merged with 1-5 at Wheeler Ridge and then pushed the van onto the Grapevine for the long uphill crawl (Teko sputtering angrily about her driving) and then the stunning rush of the drop into Los Angeles County; how heartening to cross the threshold of another world after the scary hiatus of being in between. The roads acquired names, Golden State Freeway, Hollywood Freeway, Harbor Freeway, each a sort of vivid promise.
They rendezvoused with the others at a nondescript tract of patchy grass and few trees. Still, walking and stretching in the warming sun of late morning, they were grateful for the birds and insects and barking dogs of spring. She and Cujo held hands, squeezing, squeezing each other’s palms, kneading messages to each other to be read deep in the flesh. They had time for this indulgence as the team leaders met in Cinque’s van, the red-and-white VW with the matching curtains. They thought about buying churros from a man selling them from a pushcart, the warm sweet smell inhabiting the still air, discussing this, but Gelina reminded them that Zoya would make them pool and redivide the money again even after this purchase, so they laughed and said forget it.
They said, “Oh, that’s right, Christ, forget it.”
“Oh my God, never mind then, I forgot.”
And laughed, Zoya eyeing them suspiciously.
She’s off-balance; her wig is slipping; she slides around on the bare metal floor in the back of the van, bumping and banging into everything and thinking that one crappy carpet remnant would make a world of difference back here. Teko is driving very fast, weaving in and out of traffic, turning frequently. She sees that they are driving through a neighborhood of low bungalows right now, where the short driveways have only two thin strips of paving on either side, for the tires to ride on, with unloved grass sprouting in between. Tacky. Strange. She thinks.
Yolanda says, “So would you mind telling me what the hell happened back there, Teko?”
“Fucking junior pig. I only wish I’d blown his motherfucking head off,” says Teko.
“OK. But this is not what I asked.”
“Because that is the absolute worst. You know? The absolute worst. Here is a beautiful strong young brother doing the dirty work of the Man.”
“Mm-hm. But, so tell me.”
“This brother from a heritage of chains, three hundred mother-fucking years of the Man dangling chains off him, and he tries to chain me up like a—like a—” He raises and shakes his wrist, the cuffs there dancing.
“Like a three-speed, Drew.”
There is a silence. Without looking, she knows Yolanda sits with her arms folded.
After a moment Teko says, “Where the fuck am I going anyway?”
“Well, you sure got me there. Let me have a little look.”
“Well you sure don’t sound, geez! What. You on the rag? Or what?”
“Ruthellen.” Yolanda twists her neck to read a street sign as they pass. “No, I’m not on the rag, Drew. The hell happened back there?”
“Ruth … Ellen.” He pronounces the name as if he could do something with this.
“You know, what we need is we need to get rid of this fucking van.”
Then Teko brakes abruptly as he encounters a line of waiting traffic at the top of a rise.
“Shit,” and he’s turned around to see about backing up.
“Well, you want to get rid of this van how about this red car parking right here?”
But Teko’s shifted into reverse and has begun moving when he notices a car approaching from the bottom of the hill.
“There’s that little fucking junior pig again!”
“You’re kidding me. Well, maybe you had better waste him.” Yolanda looks at him out of the corner of her eye. There is more than a trace of sarcasm in her voice.
“Ah, as leader of this fire team I personally oversee expropriation and commandeering of goods and matériel.” Teko wags a finger at the red car, a Pontiac LeMans.
“Uh-huh,” says Yolanda.
Ignoring Yolanda, Teko addresses her for the first time since the ride began. He says, “Take the carbine,” and points to the other car, the one that climbs toward them.
There’s a High Noon aspect to this that doesn’t escape her. She’s holding the rifle before her—“at port arms,” it’ll later be described—as she approaches the car below. She’s made strangely happy by the mere sensation of walking downhill; it’s an old elation, unquestioned, its source a mystery. She feels tall; maybe that’s it. The distant car is her strange, thrumming opponent; she doesn’t look at the man inside, but at the face of the car: the headlight eyes and radiator grille grimace. As she advances, she thinks she will aim dead center of the windshield and wonders how many rounds are left in the banana clip. Behind her, she hears Teko’s goofy greeting: “Hi! We’ll be needing your car right now if you don’t mind. I don’t want to have to kill you!” She takes another step and then another. She slips her finger inside the trigger guard and raises the gun to sight down its length. Within the car there’s an abrupt flurry of motion as the occupant throws his arm over the seat back, looking to the rear as he rolls back and out of sight. She returns to the van, but Yolanda calls her to the Pontiac.
“This is Arthur, and, Ruby? Ruby. Arthur and Ruby are letting us have their car for now.” She indicates the LeMans. “Would you please tell them who you are?”
She smiles, broadly, as she’s been told, and removes the eyeglasses. Neither crude disguise nor subsistence rations nor the rigors of combat training have altered a face everyone has come to know.
Speaking slowly and clearly, she says, “I’m Tania Galton.”
As they begin to drive and she feels her heart slow she indulges the old luxury of feeling annoyed with her comrades.
“So anyway. What happened, General Teko?” asks Yolanda.
“Nothing. Well. I saw something, a bandolier. I thought we could maybe use it.”
“Jesus Christ, that was stupid.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“What did it cost, two big bucks?”
“Jeez, will you just. Come on, Diane.” He pounds the steering wheel with the heel of his hand.
They go on, a soft-shoe demonstration of marital antagonism. Tania wonders if this kind of life intensifies conjugal discord or just frees it to seek its regular expression. She wonders if there was ever a little off-campus apartment for Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Shepard of Bloomington, IN, with jug wine on the counter, Ritz crackers and a hunk of Kraft on the cutting board, and a Mr. Coffee hissing and spitting brown liquid into a steamy carafe, a place where they lived politely, planning their evenings around the listings in the TV Guide, while Teko earned his master’s in urban education. She sees the clean shower stall, the carpeted staircase, the burnt-orange Creuset saucepan simmering with Campbell’s soup atop the range centered in the island overlooking the living room. A little off-campus nest full of the twigs and string of stifling ambitions. All that clutter coming between the hairy little grad student and his tall wife with the bland athletic good looks and the slightly off-center face, between their hostility. Now it flows like lava, burning clean.
Under her annoyance, Tania admires them. She thinks of Eric Stump, her lover since she was sixteen, her fiancé for some months, and now the deserted cuckold. He was like a radio receiver eternally on and tuned to receive garbled flashes of superior intelligence from distant reaches of the galaxy. Her job had been to monitor the airwaves for sudden bursts of communication that would inevitably be followed by cryptic silences. She imagines the Shepards into a past that resembles her own because it’s easier that way to imagine their path out of the familiar. Though little could compare with the sudden violent rupture that had removed her from Eric. Still, she can see the need for its having happened now. She might never have gotten around to it otherwise, because what’s there to hassle about when you can watch The Magician at eight o’clock? How can you admit you hate being with someone when you’ve gone and bought an ADT system to remain locked safely alone with him? When you’ve had your formal engagement photograph taken, standing posed beneath a portrait of your long-suffering grandmother Millicent?
Once the clutter started rolling in, it was almost impossible to stop it: silver and china and crystal, all at her disposal for a light supper on the TV trays, eaten in silence while Bill Bixby sped around in his Corvette, pulling knotted scarves out of his sleeve.
And even as she picked out her formal Royal Green Darby Panel, Hutschenreuther cobalt blue, and Herend VBOH china patterns, her Towle Old Master silver, her thumbcut Powerscourt crystal by Waterford, she was beginning to think of those things as objects to be set between her and Eric.
She fingers the ugly stone monkey that hangs from her neck. Cujo gave it to her and as far as she’s concerned it’s the only gift she need ever receive again.
Her parents have released photos of her receiving her first Holy Communion. A photo of her and Eric, taken to commemorate the announcement of their engagement, in which their faces are imprinted with their forced enthusiasm. A pensive 16 magazine shot showing her with knees drawn up to her chest, hands folded across her knees, cheek resting on her hands, eyes staring off to one side—just an ordinary girl with her head full of confusing fun choices.
Her mother had gone to town, to the press actually, describing the pearl-handled fruit knives and forks she’d given her as an engagement present.
They would offer this, the weight of a life of well-intentioned privilege, in evidence against the bewigged specter in the bank captured on dozens of pictures shot by two Mosler Photoguard cameras firing away at four frames per second; against the guerrilla girl, legs astride, hugging the M-1 to her hip before the seven-headed Naga symbol (Xeroxed flyers made from this Polaroid have shown up all over Sproul Plaza, declaring WE LOVE YOU TANIA); against the voice referring to her parents as “pigs”; against all the overwhelming documentation that Tania had devoured Alice, that the girl had simply become divorced from her own self.
“Stop. Stop. Stop. Slow down,” says Yolanda.
“Well, which one? I mean. Man.”
“Slow down. We need to find another car.”
“Already? Like, two blocks, this car.”
“Try and, you know. Where I’m coming from, here.”
Two men are unloading a lawn mower from a blue Nova wagon when Teko pulls the LeMans up and jumps out, carrying the submachine gun.
“We’re the SLA. We need your car right now. This is not an expropriation; we’re just borrowing it. I mean, you’ll get it back, man.”
“Just put our stuff in the car, Teko,” says Yolanda. “Stop talking now.”
“Sure,” says one of the men. “Long as you need it.”
“You can, ah,” says Teko, “keep the lawn mower.” And the men move it off the back of the wagon, double time.
She’s about to get in when Yolanda reminds her, nodding in the direction of the two men. “Tania?”
“Oh. Yeah.” After straightening her wig, she removes her eyeglasses and smiles at the men. The younger one smiles back.
It’s now 4:33 p.m. Yolanda turns the dashboard radio dial searching for news reports, while Teko drives. At this hour, helicopters hover in position over the freeways that enlace the city, delivering traffic reports to the drivers anchored below. The unfamiliar road names, and the conditions on each, are enumerated over the radio. There’s no word yet of a manhunt, or the incident at Mel’s.
They stop at a shopping center called Town & Country Village. Tania enjoys these oases, the hand-painted signs in the supermarket windows, the faded placard outside the restaurant and cocktail lounge listing the specials. This one has a slightly rough-hewn theme, the storefronts framed in wood stained a dark brown. A boy in a blue apron retrieves the shopping carts scattered throughout the parking lot. He links them in a long unwieldy train and pushes them toward the entrance of the supermarket. A lot of crashing noise accompanies the task. It looks like not such a bad job. Tania’s only job, ever, was working at Capwell’s, in Oakland, clerking in the stationery department for two and a quarter an hour.
But her scalp is starting to itch like hell, and she is nearly overcome with anxiety when she realizes that Teko and Yolanda are discussing switching cars once again. Teko parks and they all get out of the Nova, Teko carrying the submachine gun concealed in a plastic shopping bag from Mel’s, which says brightly in red script Thank You For Your Patronage! with some sort of exploding curlicues or whatever all around the words. A festive-looking bag. They stroll around the shopping center periphery, listening to the thin strains of the Muzak, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which Tania has heard so often in such places she believes it must act as a subliminal inducement to shop. As this gives way to “Moon River,” an old pickup with a camper top pulls into a spot, and a man, youngish, in faded denim, with long hair, gets out and walks around to open the passenger door for a little boy. The boy wears a sateen windbreaker with applique patches shaped like baseballs. She thinks it’s called a varsity jacket. She’s fascinated with the little boy’s jacket. It’s new and clean and looks like the largesse of Grandma or Grandpa, or so she guesses.
Teko asks Yolanda, “How about that hippie’s camper?”
“How ’bout it?”
“Fill the bill?”
“Go for it, Teko.”
“Go go go go go.”
“I’ll talk to him, see what he says.”
The man has squatted to tie his son’s sneakers. Tania hears the boy’s high little voice carrying across the lot—it demands: “Tight! Tight!”—while the man squats, pulling the laces tighter, unaware of the presence of danger and revolution as Teko comes near, swinging the bag with the submachine gun nestled in it beside thermal underwear and socks and a flannel shirt. It unfolds like a two-reel silent: Teko hails the man, and they talk, friendly enough; Teko, speaking, gestures toward the camper, and the man startles, a little flurry of the arms and upper body; Teko lifts the muzzle of the gun out of the bag; the man leaps to his feet and grabs his son and dashes around the camper; Teko shuffles back and forth near the front fender, trying to keep the man in sight. When the man breaks away, Teko tears the submachine gun out of the bag and rushes after him.
“Oh, shit,” says Yolanda. Teko screams, gesturing with the gun, at the man, who is crumpled against the hood of a car, his arms draped over his head, moaning. Teko turns to Yolanda and hefts the gun, as if he were testing its weight.
“Should I off him?”
The man moans, “No, no.”
“Shut up! Should I just fucking off him right now?”
“Teko, you’ll bring the pigs down on us!” says Tania.
“Shut! up! Who asked you?”
“Teko, she’s right, we better go now!”
“OK. OK. OK. Listen, you hippie dipshit. You listening? Listen! You tell anyone about this and we will be on you like white on fucking rice! We will cut off your balls! You hear? We will tear out your fingernails! You hear? We will take that kid of yours and roast him on a fucking spit! You hear?”
“Do you hear me?” Teko holds the gun close to the man’s ear and fires into the air. He backs away. Yolanda and Tania are already running for the Nova; the gunfire releases them to their fear. “Close to You” is playing on the Muzak. The ice-cream families of America keep coming out of the shoppes, unawares, poised and carefree.
“I can’t necessarily agree with these tactics, Teko.”
“That’s why you’re not a general.”
“Don’t even start.”
“You might not want to admit it, but: it’s true.”
Yolanda is driving now. Tania is beginning to get hungry. It’s six, and the top-of-the-hour newscasts are reporting the incident at Mel’s and the Southern California manhunt for “suspected SLA members, possibly including kidnapped heiress Alice Galton.” Who is being sought for questioning in connection with the San Francisco bank robbery last month in which she was an apparently willing participant, in which innocent family men were gunned down; who has turned her back on her loving family and devoted fiancé; who has adopted the name Tania. Is she, as U.S. Attorney General William Saxbe claims, “nothing more than a common criminal”? Is she the mindless, programmed victim of brainwashing? Or is it more likely that she may have been coerced and is just waiting for the opportunity to send us all a message of reassurance?
There’s a hearty laugh in the Nova.
In any case, it is a mystery for the public and law enforcement officials alike. In any case, it is clear she is not what she once was.
The mood in the car turns sour again when the announcer reports that Teko had been caught stealing a pair of sweat socks.
“It wasn’t sweat socks. And I didn’t steal it.”
The exact meaning of those sprawling urban stucco barrens evaded him. Not that he’d been looking for it. But what did it all mean, the ugliness they’d wrapped themselves in, the beaten cars and shabby houses and dingy streets? He saw boys on the corner carrying golf clubs, black boys, a little younger than he was, never been near a golf course in their lives. He saw two men drive up to a house and furtively unload unopened cases of Viva paper towels and bring them inside, then come out on the tiny porch laughing when the chore was done. He saw two used condoms in the gutter and a third that had been inflated and a stylized girl’s face drawn on it with lipstick. It was like observing something a million miles or years distant.
Tania said that what they needed was to break out the Polaroid Pronto and take plenty of clear, crisp SX-70 pictures. Why? So he could look twice at everything, once to live it and again to try to understand, she said.
Typically for her, it was just apolitical enough to make perfect sense while seeming like a non sequitur.
You took the picture, you listened to the motor whine as it ejected the print, and then you held it by the one-inch border at the bottom, shaking it to get it to develop faster. She’d demonstrated, waving dry a snapshot of a grinning Cujo who looked just a little too much like Willie Wolfe, the all-American boy.
It was also apolitical enough to enrage Cinque, who only liked to use the camera these days to take heroic pictures of their army, the seven-headed Naga banner pinned to the wall behind them.
General Gelina cut his hair that afternoon. Gelina breached security to remove the surveillance drapes from the window over the sink and let a little daylight in. A towel was draped over his shoulders, and he sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor, watching his damp hair fall to the cracked linoleum.
It was quiet that day, with Teko, Yolanda, and Tania gone. He wanted to talk about Tania but didn’t know how to go about it. He shifted restlessly. There were other things to talk about, but he didn’t want to talk about them. The arrow of his consciousness flew directly to her.
Gelina understood, he thought. He and she and Tania were what he once would have thought of as “friends,” though the bourgeois connotations of the term could be quite simply mind-boggling, as could be the bourgeois connotations of almost anything. He had never realized how hard it was just to live.
Anyway, Gelina was a comrade, a very sympathetic and intuitive comrade, and as she snipped his hair, cutting away the remains of the bright red dye job that had so bothered Tania, guiding his head into position with gently prodding fingers, she gradually brought the conversation around to where he wanted it.
“I think your comrades will appreciate your new look,” she said.
“One comrade,” said Cujo.
From behind him he could hear Gelina sharply expelling breath through her nose, an understanding laugh.
“Sometimes a pretty effective costume isn’t what you’d call the most suitable,” she said, holding out a clipped lock of dyed hair for their scrutiny. “In acting, you learn how to get past it, get outside the sense of yourself to play a role you couldn’t ordinarily identify with.”
“As a guerrilla I could definitely appreciate the costume.” Cujo nodded as Gelina paused, scissors upraised, allowing him his gesture. “But as a man …” Cujo let the sentence hang.
Gelina began cutting hair again. “Hasn’t anyone been feeling comradely toward you lately?” She sounded amused.
“Sometimes some people feel more comradely than others,” she continued. “I see you gave Tania that little stone monkey face, the whatchamacallit. It’s cute.”
Cujo blushed. “The Olmec monkey. It’s Mexican.”
And Gelina very exaggeratedly put her hand to one side of her mouth, as if to shield her speech from eavesdroppers, and said in a stage whisper, “Sometimes when the heart speaks, you gotta listen. The bourgeois aren’t wrong about everything, you know.”
“Some people shouldn’t talk,” she said.
“Like Gabi and Zoya and all their dykey dramatics. I mean, come on, what, is this a soap opera?” she said.
“Like you-know-who and you-know-who whose last name rhymes with Shepard, give me a break. It’s like The Honeymooners. You remember The Honeymooners?” she said.
Cujo agreed. “Yeah, Tania was saying, like, this is a big problem.”
“Oh, I can see how it would be for her. I really relate. I’m so glad I’m not on their team. Anyway.”
Gelina dipped a comb in a basin of water and ran it through Cujo’s freshly cut hair. Gradually, over the last few weeks, the awkward postadolescent had repossessed him. First he’d ditched the beret, then the wispy experiments with Ché-like facial hair. Now he sat, slunched forward, clean-cut and shorn, a silly smirk on his smooth face.
“All finished, hon.”
After the haircut Cin called Gelina to bed, and Cujo stayed sitting on the kitchen floor because he didn’t feel like watching them fuck. He felt lonely and blue and wanted Tania to come home so he could surprise her with his new hair. He dozed off.
It was about six o’clock in the evening when there came a knock at the door of the house on Eighty-fourth Street. A pretty odd thing to be happening at a secret hideout, thought Cujo, as he came awake. The phrase, secret hideout, just appeared in his thoughts from out of the past, the days when he was Willie Wolfe; from out of backyard stands of elms and sycamores and maples and other craggy trees of the Northeast, kids in striped tees and jeans and U.S. Keds scrabbling through, heading for some crude structure of plywood and two-by-fours, secret doings under the high armadas of furrowed cumulus drifting through a honed October sky and the wind shaking leaves from the trees, the explorations of that after-school wilderness ca 1963 fueled by Tang and Twinkies, Ovaltine and Oreos, ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.
Wait a second. Huh? He was still waking up.
Ammonium nitrate and fuel oil were well-known as primary components of homemade explosives. The thought excited him, the thought of a bomb factory, another piquant phrase.
A knocking, an insistent knocking on the door in this tough neighborhood, where it paid to be what was the word? Reticent. Circumspect. His lips formed the name: Tania.
More of a thudding, now, the ham of an impatient fist striking the door: not Tania.
Back when Cujo was Willie Wolfe, when he was falling out of trees and kissing Amy Alderson on her sun porch and serving as sports editor for the Mount Hermon Clarion and swimming varsity, his dad, Skip, was the one who strode to the door in response to the chimes, brimming with authority. Young Willie had watched this banal act about a thousand times, slumped on the sofa or wherever he happened to be when it came to pass that Sally Brooks arrived to collect for the Shriners or Santo the gardener needed to get into the basement or little Kerry Sherman came around with her Girl Scout cookies and had never thought twice about it. And now here he was, Cassandra’s “my brother the Communist,” and was he supposed to draw his gun and take cover or answer the knock?
But it was a safe house and he was not Cassandra’s weird little brother anymore; now he was a revolutionary, committed, divested of emotional baggage and material wealth. But as soon as Cujo began thinking of his dad, his family, the jig was up; he was a basket case, meditating deeply on a loss that was politically incorrect to mourn and that marked a definite reduction of himself.
Cinque came in from the other room, sleepy, stiff-legged and bare-chested. Hitching his pants, he stuck a revolver in the waistband, undid the locks, and opened the door. Just like that. And Cujo watched, mouth agape.
It was Prophet Jones, come to call, six foot five and solid as a cannonball. Prophet Jones had first shown up late on the first night to check out his new tenants, scrutinize them in the wavering candlelight that illuminated the doleful space of the two rooms. He’d reminded them to lay low. Prophet Jones thought Fahizah might not have taken very seriously his earlier suggestion to that effect, made when she’d rented the place from him. He scolded them and criticized and looked from face to face, but mostly he stood looking down at Cinque while he did it. Cujo was in awe. Prophet Jones dressed down the Field Marshal as if he’d been just anybody. But he knew Cin was bound to respect him. It was the mutual respect that was only natural between a brother and a freedom fighter. Prophet Jones talked, and they all listened. Cujo loved that cadence; it jangled him right down to the white of his bones, set the marrow vibrating. Fungg-kayy! He loved the man’s name. He loved Fahizah’s story of the Malcolm and Huey posters on his walls, of his poised nonchalance when, in an effort to prove that she was indeed a general in the SLA, she’d pulled her submachine gun out of the Ralph’s shopping bag she was carrying.
Oh, how he couldn’t wait to be a real urban guerrilla! Oh, how he couldn’t wait to be black!
NIGHT IS FALLING. THE Nova is beginning to feel like bad luck rolling. Tania is still hungry, and all that neon against the darkening sky puts an edge on her appetite. Signs that rotate and light up in sequence, that point the way to satiety. A green arrow appears, and they turn. A circle shines yellow, and they speed up. Soon they are working through the cul-de-sacs again, the turn signal clicking and the brakes sighing softly, marking time.
“This car, it’s starting to feel a little, I don’t know.”
“Dangerous, especially after the whole thing back at the shopping center.”
“Well,” says Teko, “I’m aware of that.”
“You always have to be, I don’t know, demonstrative that way.”
“Well. What do they say? Desperate times.”
“First the socks, then this gun thing.”
“It wasn’t socks. It was a bandolier.”
Entering a small, unheralded city called Lynwood, they turn onto Pendleton Avenue and drive slowly for about two blocks before Yolanda pauses beside a parked Ford Econoline van that has a FOR SALE sign taped in the back window, listing a phone number and an Elm Avenue address. As it happens, the address is directly adjacent to where the van is parked. Yolanda gets out of the Nova.
Dan Russell contours himself to accommodate the shifting shapelessness of the beanbag chair, his right hand inside a Claude Osteen model MacGregor fielder’s glove. The fingers of his left hand rest idly on the thongs that will allow him to fine-tune the glove’s Adjusta-Wrist. Tomorrow’s the big game. He takes the glove off and balances it on his lap, gazing into the dark oiled pocket. The weight of the glove on his crotch begins to give him an erection, and he puts the glove aside and prods himself through his jeans as he stiffens. Then he begins to think about Geraldine. Now, Dan Russell is not supposed to masturbate before he pitches. Coach has made this abundantly clear, using a number of creative and evocative euphemisms, the most memorable of which makes reference to “keeping the pearl jam in the jar.” Also, Dan is motivated to stop by his grave misgivings about masturbating while he thinks about the transvestite alter ego of a stocky black man. Yet his fingers undo the snap at the waistband of his Wranglers. He thinks: Geraldine is not a woman; she is Flip Wilson in drag. He works out a compromise: If he must jerk off, he will substitute for Geraldine in his thoughts Mary Ellen Walton: wholly female, about his age, warmhearted, levelheaded, white like him, enduring the Great Depression back in the forties or whenever with John Boy and the rest, and, if he didn’t mention it yet, someone who is both white and a girl.
These two characters compete against each other on TV Thursday nights. Which happens to be tonight.
But then Geraldine sashays back into his mind, wearing a saucy double knit skirt and bright rayon blouse. Dan Russell puts one hand on her arm, another around her waist. “Don’t you touch me!” protests Geraldine. “You don’t know me that well!” He silences her with a violent kiss on her big black lips. He pulses involuntarily under his cotton briefs and then frantically pulls his dick out of his pants. This is not anything anyone has to know about: not the jerking-off part, certainly not the Geraldine part. In his mind he is twisting one of Geraldine’s arms behind her back, yanking the skirt up and the panties down. The sudden idea of Geraldine with dick and balls makes his own dick throb with excitement. Then his brother starts in hammering on the door.
“Open up, shithead.”
“Huhhwhat is it?”
“Stop beating off in there.”
“Fuuuck yoooooou.” Dan Russell leaps up and, with pants around his ankles, shuffles across the shag carpet to make sure the door is locked. He gets a shock when he touches the knob.
“Trying to stick it in the keyhole?”
“It’d fit in there too, I bet.”
“Yeah bet you’d like it you homo.”
“Fuck you! What the hell you want anyway?”
“Open up and I’ll tell you. Someone’s here to see you.”
“Open up. A lady.”
“A lady? Who?”
“Open up. She’s got big knockers.”
Dan stuffs his penis back into his pants and slowly zips up. He gives himself a couple of flicks with his index finger to make his hard go down and then opens the door. His brother is leaning against the door frame. He crosses his eyes at the sight of Dan, then blocks his path.
“Where is she?” Dan says, by which he means get out of the way.
“Maybe she left already, dickbreath.”
“Fuck you. Where’s she?”
“She’s up front. She goes, I saw a sign, stud for hire. Hope he’s not shooting it all into an old sock with red stripes that his mom goes in front of everybody, how ever did you get this soooo dirty, Dan?”
Dan pushes his brother out of the way. “Shut up.”
“She goes, I’m here for some of that hot Dan Russell action.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.” Dan muscles past and begins down the hall.
“Keep believing it, shitforbrains,” says his brother.
He’s a good-looking boy, well built, with hair he constantly is pushing out of his eyes. His mother had stood there holding a semen-encrusted sweat sock, a look of genuine concern on her face, as if his foot were discharging some sort of toxic secretion.
At the end of the hall, Dan sees her silhouetted in the doorway She does have big knockers, and roundish hips, and long, straight legs that he imagines wrapped around his back, and a kind of pretty OK face. He pushes the hair out of his eyes.
“Hi,” he says. “You wanted to see me?”
“Well, I think you’re the person I want to see.” She smiles. “Are you the man with the van for sale?”
Something about the way she calls him a man just makes his day.
“Yes,” he says, deliberately deepening his voice. “Are you interested?”
“I’m very interested!” The woman smiles.
“Well, I’d be happy to show it to you.” He crosses his arms, turning the palms of his hands so that his biceps swell. “I’m Dan, by the way.” He smiles. They stand for a moment.
“Well, I’d love to see it.”
Dan makes this kind of what-a-doofus-I-am facial expression and reaches over to grab the keys off a hook. They walk out together, and he has trouble coming up with anything else to say. He’s relieved the van is there to talk about.
“It’s not like there’s anything wrong with it or anything. I just need something more in the line of an economy car what with gas costing what it does these days.” He shrugs.
“I know, isn’t it awful?” the woman agrees. “If I didn’t have all this stuff and people and things I need to carry around.”
“Well,” says Dan. “It’s a very comfortable van,” and he begins doing a walkaround to point out the features and open the sliding panel door and, not incidentally, show her the back, carpeted in thick shag.
But she says: “I’m sorry, I’m in a bit of a hurry. I’d like to just test-drive it. I’m sure all the, you know, is just fine.”
Faintly disappointed, Dan hands her the keys, taking advantage of the opportunity to cast a glance at her tits. He climbs into the passenger seat. The woman gets in, settles herself behind the wheel, and looks around.
“What a nice, comfortable van,” she says.
“You must take great care of it,” she says.
“Roomy,” she says.
“Starts right up,” she says, putting the key in the ignition and turning it.
“I, uh, had it tuned,” Dan says. She turns to him and smiles, throwing the van into gear. It’s a funny smile, tight; it makes her eyes crinkle up. Her right eye is noticeably bigger than her left eye. She has regular features, drearily pretty. A weak chin. He imagines her naked on the carpet in the back.
“It’s real reliable,” Dan says. “I mean, sometimes I think I must be crazy for getting rid of it. It’s real handy. I mean, I use it for the team, to take equipment, stuff like that.”
“Team,” says the woman, considering the word. She looks at him again. “I should have known you were an athlete. You have the build.”
Dan blushes. “Baseball,” he says. “I pitch.” He considers the possibility that now might not be a bad time to point out the luxuriously carpeted back. The van is turning right, and he leans toward her involuntarily and smiles at her, and sensing his smile, she smiles back, without looking away from the road.
She says, “I was wondering.”
She says, “I have some friends who brought me here, and I was wondering.”
She says, “Would it be OK if they came along on the drive? They’re right over there.”
Dan looks and sees two people, a man and a girl, standing in the road. They wave. “Sure,” he says. “It’s OK with me.” He feels slightly stung by the request. But the girl in the road is sort of cute he guesses. The van pulls to a stop and he turns to unlock the sliding panel door behind him. But then his own door is opening and he’s a little confused and he looks around to see the man standing just outside, staring up at him. “Get in the back,” the man says. He gestures with the machine gun he’s carrying.
The machine gun he’s carrying.
Dan moves into the back, not quite sure what to do with his hands. At any rate, he can’t shift from the passenger seat to the floor in the rear with his hands above his head, so he takes his chances, moving to the back the way he normally would and then quickly sitting cross-legged, resting his hands on his knees. Hope that’s OK. It must be, because the girl and the man get in and then the man just closes the panel door and doesn’t kill him or anything.
“We’re the SLA, and we need your vehicle,” says the man.
Dan wants to ask what the SLA is but figures it’d be better if he didn’t.
“You don’t do anything stupid, you don’t get hurt,” explains the man.
“That’s fine with me,” says Dan. “Just as long as I don’t get shot.”
The man and the girl laugh, and the man, who’s squatting on the wheel cover, reaches out and pats his shoulder. The lurching of the van nearly sends him sprawling.
“Watch it, Yolanda,” he says to the woman. There is a faint, derisive sound from the front seat. The man ignores this and turns to Dan, gesturing toward the girl beside him. “You know who this is?”
Dan shakes his head.
“Tania. Tania Galton.”
Dan nods now and as he does he feels himself sighing involuntarily, like, huuuhhhhh. His recognition of at least one of the many things that all of a sudden seem to be happening to him yield this hugely physical expression of release, as he feels himself freed from at least some of his confusion. He fairly rocks as he nods, and the sighing comes from deep inside. The man and Tania are smiling and laughing, and at the sight of this Dan can’t help smiling and laughing too. In fact, he’s basically crying over his luck in encountering smiling faces here and now.
“Wow,” he says. “Wow.”
“You know what?” says the man. “We need to stop and get a fucking hacksaw.” He holds up his wrist to display the dangling handcuff. And they all laugh some more.
When he drove up he saw the two gals lying out on the grass he won’t bother to call a lawn because he may be a cheat but he’s no liar. It was the hard-looking one, Zoe or some such, and the fat old lady–looking one. The radio basically giving out a grave invitation to escape and they are not getting gone, they are sunbathing. He got out of his car and took their arms—some protest here, which he smirkled at a bit—and brought them to the door.
“What you doing on that lawn? I told you white folks got to stay out of sight around here.”
“It’s cool,” said DeFreeze.
“It’s cool. You listening to the news?”
“I say it’s cool, it’s cool,” said DeFreeze. “We reconnoited the perimeter.”
Prophet Jones stared at the man for a moment, his head moving with the slightest trace of a poor-fool shake.
“Where’s the radio at?”
“Ain’t no radio,” said DeFreeze.
“Come on here,” said Prophet Jones, and he waited while DeFreeze got himself a T-shirt, and then the two of them walked to ProphetJones’s car, parked at the curb. Which was good because the smell coming from the house was like pussy and okra and old piss and was upsetting to the stomach. DeFreeze climbed in the passenger side. Prophet Jones walked around the car slowly, looking at the yard, the jalopies crowding the driveway, back at the house and the cell of white faces clustered in the open door. He waved slightly, a dismissive gesture, and the cell withdrew inside and the door closed. After a moment’s hesitation he smoothly folded his large body and inserted it in the space of the open door, which he shut behind him.
Inside he gave the ignition key a half turn, and the radio came to life. Top of the hour, drive time, the news on every station the same: SLA in L.A., committing the daring daylight robbery of an Inglewood sporting goods store. Witnesses reported being fired upon by a young Caucasian woman, whose identity authorities were working to establish. The suspect vehicle, a VW van, had been recovered nearby. Prophet Jones folded his arms across the steering wheel and laid his face on them, peeping over to see how Field Marshal Cinque Mtume, the dumb motherfucker, reacted. His eyes widened, his lips ovaled, a comic wooooo-eee face. But there was nothing funny going on.
“The fuck they doing a holdup for?”
“Say your boy stole some socks.” Prophet Jones felt a deep pleasure resonating within as he emphasized the word socks. His dislike of the Field Marshal was intense at that moment. The word on Donald DeFreeze was that he was a common police informer, a weak man, a cuckold, a chump.
“Say what? Socks?”
“What they say.” Prophet Jones shrugged.
“Damn. We got to get out of here.”
“I advise it.”
“Not what I wanted to do.”
“Don’t matter what you wanted, Jim.”
“Damn. This plays havoc with our strategy.”
And who the fuck this fucking mutt think he fucking is, Bernard fucking Montgomery? Prophet Jones raised his head to look square at the Field Marshal. Why’d he bother coming here, is the major question. Because he didn’t want the house shot up: it’s not much, but it’s what he got. DeFreeze was processing the data, drumming nervously on his knees with his open palms, looking straight ahead through the windshield. As the warm evening drew near, the neighborhood settled into its torpid routine. Boys appeared on the streets, in growing numbers, in pairs and trios and half dozens, drawn like a magnet to the corners on the broad intersection at Vermont.
“You better go, Sin-Q Em-toom-ay.” Prophet Jones stretched the name beyond ridiculous. “Better go rally your troops.”
“Where I’m gonna go?”
“I don’t know. Go back to Frisco. Go back to your wife. She still around here, ain’t she?”
When DeFreeze turned to him, Prophet Jones could see that the man had been overwhelmed as if by a sudden shadow that covered the continuous succession of postures that substituted for his personality. He modeled a curious little boy expression on his face.
“How you know my wife?” he asked.
“I just hear about her.”
“What you hear?” DeFreeze twisted in the car seat, the vinyl squeaking.
“This and that.” Prophet Jones was leery of this particular avenue. DeFreeze balled his fists up and slammed them into his thighs. “Damn,” he said. “The little stories just keep coming on me. I hear and I close up my ears and they just keep coming.”
Motherfucker was freaking out on him. “Damn, nigger, you got no time for this. Got to get out of here right now.”
And what Prophet Jones definitely did not want to be was sitting inside his personal vehicle with Donald DeFreeze when the Man rolled up with his gotcha grin.
DeFreeze went right ahead. “Try to turn my back to it, put faith in her, but even now the little stories make their way here.”
“It’s bad. I know it. We all know the story. You not alone. They all the same. But you got to get going. Go get your shit together and find someplace else to be.”
He thought of the lockup downtown and how little it would take for the Man to offer him deluxe accommodations therein. Plus all the Man had to do was break a fucking window and that house was a what you call shambles.
“They ain’t all the same,” insisted DeFreeze, suddenly argumentative.
“I want you to know I got some really beautiful, aware comrades right in here. They are helping me put all this motherfucking shit behind me.” DeFreeze’s voice rose in pitch and volume and he tilted his head back. “I am truly blessed. My God has said unto me that I sinned and I must pay. But in his forgiveness my evil has perished and I am come unto the meek to offer them deliverance.”
What the fuck. Prophet Jones was not bargaining for anyone to be shoving a cross up his ass. Just took him on in here so he could hear the radio, and all the sudden he’s Reverend Ike. He reached past DeFreeze and unlatched the door, giving it a little push. Like, hint hint. The Field Marshal put one foot on the sidewalk but kept the rest of his body in the car. Prophet Jones exhaled sharply, opened his own door, and came around to the passenger side, where he fully opened DeFreeze’s door and gestured up at the house.
“Listen, DeFreeze. Go in there, get everbody together, put they guns, they C-rats, all they shit in they ditty bag, get going. They find you, you won’t be delivering a motherfucking pizza, you hear? Get out. Get on out.”
McLellan’s Home Decorating Center extends deep into its low building, long narrow dark aisles formed from ceiling-high shelves leading like tunnels to the back of the store, where the overhead fluorescents are shut off and the parched dust of provident thrift has settled on every anciently untouched surface. The store smells of old cardboard and potting soil and it has the empty silence of a place that has only just stopped making noise. Toward the front, the remaining fluorescents flicker, and there’s also a large blue-lit device that first lures and then eliminates flying insects, sizzling them disconcertingly. Hoes and mops and nets and pickaxes and push brooms and rakes and scythes and shovels and window poles and window screens lean against the walls, and there are bins holding nails and screws and bolts and nuts, and stacks of paint cans, and canvas dropcloths folded heavily on low shelves, and terra-cotta flower pots and planters and window boxes of all sizes stacked on the floor, and the walls lined with perforated Masonite panels for paintbrushes and rolls of tape and sanding blocks and tape measures and work gloves to hang from, and the man at the counter is obscured behind the revolving display of shiny key blanks. Yolanda approaches the man, who is entering figures in a little notebook.
“May I buy a hacksaw, please?”
The man looks at her. He raises his nose and shakes his head slightly to signify incomprehension.
“A hacksaw. Hacksaw.” Yolanda mimes the act of sawing. She almost mimes the act of sawing off a handcuff but catches herself.
The man turns to look at the tools hanging behind him. He takes down a small crosscut saw.
“Yes, but … no. A saw, but different.”
He replaces the crosscut saw and removes a circular saw blade from a hook.
“Closed.” He reaches behind him to snap off another row of fluorescents.
Dan Russell wants to know: “When you start these house-to-house things, what do you do? Just burst in with guns and all?”
“No, we’ll knock on the doors and announce ourselves and explain that we need the People’s help, so can we please billet some of our troops here or at least spend the night?, blah blah blah,” says Teko.
“Well what if they say, sorry no thanks?”
“We’ll move on to the next house.”
“What if they call the police?”
“They won’t, Dan,” says Yolanda. “The People know we’re doing it for their sake.”
“Um,” says Dan, “am I the People?”
Yolanda reaches for the door at Klein Bros. Ace Hardware and is surprised when it opens automatically. Inside the place is bright and air-conditioned and playing “I Shot the Sheriff” from speakers stuck in the dropped ceiling so that the song follows her around. A teenage girl is mopping beyond a barrier of yellow WET FLOOR signs and a young man wearing a red blazer and carrying a clipboard emerges from a tiny office like a tollbooth set in the corner.
He asks the girl: “Can I see myself in it?”
“It’s good and shiny.”
“Can I eat off it?”
“It’s pretty clean.”
“Can I perform surgery on it?”
“It’s real clean.”
He spies Yolanda and disappears into the tollbooth. A moment later his voice interrupts Clapton’s backup singers. “Chaz help the lady in Window Treatments.”
A big pimply boy wearing a short-sleeve shirt and a clip-on bow tie under a shiny green vest approaches Yolanda. His name tag announces him as Chaz. “Help you, ma’am?”
“Looking for something nice for your windows today.”
But there are no further queries forthcoming from the boy, whose expression is as blank as a bowl of dough, and the journey from window treatments to hacksaws seems longer and more savage than she would have imagined.
“A saw,” she says.
“A saw. Oh”—and an eager look that hints at his contempt settles on his face—“you’re totally in the wrong place. That’s over there.” And he jabs at the air with his forefinger before turning away. Yolanda begins walking to the other side of the store, where another teenage boy in a similar outfit is waiting. This boy is named Douglas.
Clapton sings, “ … Every day the bucket goes to the well …”
“Help you find what you’re looking for today,” the boy breathes.
“Hacksaw,” she says.
“Hacksaw! You sure you need a hacksaw? Most people, I find, they’re like, ‘I need a hacksaw’ and whatnot when really they need something else.”
“I think I need a hacksaw.”
“Do me a favor. What are you exactly trying to cut? It makes a difference.”
“ … yes, one day the bottom will drop out . . .”
“Well what kind? Cast-iron pipe? Galvanized steel? Copper? Plastic PVC? It makes a difference, believe me.”
“Um. I don’t know. Pipe.”
“Inside or out? I know you’re wondering, ‘Why’s the guy asking so many questions?’ And you know, I’m not trying to denigrate the valuable addition of a hacksaw to anyone’s home toolbox. But let’s make sure we’re using the right tool for the right job, right? And after we figure out what that is, if you still want a hacksaw, we’ll set you up with a hacksaw.”
“What was the question?”
“Inside or out?”
“Right. So. It’s probably not cast-iron then, so what you probably want is not a hacksaw at all but a pipe cutter.”
“You know. I should probably ask my husband. He knows.”
“He out in the car?” Douglas looks over her shoulder, very enthusiastic about extending the conversation.
“No. No. No, he isn’t. He’s home. With the baby. I’ll have to come back tomorrow.”
Dan Russell wants to know: “If you take over the country—”
“When, Dan,” stresses Teko.
“—what happens to a guy like my grampa? He’s pretty like, you know, Nixon’s the One. But he’s a good old guy I think. He volunteers and stuff. Is it OK if he’s like, all the same to you I’ll be voting for Governor Reagan?”
“That asshole,” says Teko.
“We take over, your granddad will see why Nixon’s not the one,” says Yolanda.
“What about Reagan?” asks Dan.
Avery Trust-Rite Lumber & Hardware looks the way a workingman’s saloon does when the weary day flowers with night; several men in coveralls and carpenter’s pants line up on the customer’s side of the counter, bullshitting with the man behind, who actually paces its length on duckboards like a bartender, and why not?—a day spent on his feet, back and forth, crouching down, reaching up, cutting keys and mixing gallons of paint and smashing flower pots with a mallet to be mixed in with sacks of fragrant soil. The place stops dead when Yolanda walks in. She smiles, and they return amused looks. One man tips a Dodgers cap.
“Lady needs some help, Ed,” says the man in the Dodgers cap, and the other men on the customer’s side of the counter laugh.
Ed leans across the counter tiredly; thank God he’s not going along with the joke: “Help you, miss?”
“Yes, I need a hacksaw.”
Ed is starting to ask her if she just needs a blade or if she needs the whole thing when the men explode:
“—hacksaw? Oh, ho-ho-ho—”
“—she need with a hacksaw?—”
“—Whoa. Whoa. Lady gotta be careful—”
“—wouldn’t want to be her old man. Lady with a hacksaw—”
“—damn, god damn—”
“The whole thing, please. The blade and the handle part.”
“I’mon tell you, I don’t know if you ought to sell her a hacksaw, Eddie.”
“Maybe one of those chamois cloths.”
“A nice feather duster.”
“Can of silver polish.”
“But a hacksaw—”
Ed shrugs. “Lady’s free white and twenty-one, and she can do as she pleases.”
“Now, who here’s wanting a hacksaw?”
Everyone turns to see a uniformed L.A. County deputy sheriff, carrying a roller tray, two rollers, a dropcloth, and a gallon of standard white, emerge from one of the aisles. He puts the stuff on the counter and stares straight at Yolanda.
“Lady right there,” says the man in the cap.
The deputy looks at her appraisingly, a slight smile on his face, drumming his fingers on the counter with an even rhythm. Yolanda knows the other men are with him on this. No way any of this is in fun anymore.
“Mind if I ask any special reason why you’re needing a hacksaw at”—and here he very pointedly gazes at his wristwatch—“eight forty-five at night?”
All of the men wait patiently for her answer. She smiles and tosses her head.
“My husband just escaped from custody, and we need to saw his handcuffs off.”
Amid the laughter Ed takes her money and bags the saw. As Yolanda is leaving, she hears one of the men sum up: “She ought to take that and saw the balls off herself’cause she has got some pair down there.”
Dan Russell wants to know: “Well I mean I just don’t understand why you robbed the bank in San Francisco if you’re these revolutionary army people and all.” He is on his knees behind the bucket seats in the front of the van, working away with the saw at the handcuff on Teko’s wrist.
“Well,” says Teko, somewhat nervously watching Dan at work, “running a revolution is pretty expensive business. You’d be surprised. You need vehicles—”
“But, I mean, I thought you stole the vehicles.” Dan shrugs and gestures to take in the van.
“This is a definite exception in the case of an emergency. I mean, ideally we purchase the vehicles legitimately. So called. Try and keep a low profile.” Teko winks. “Anyway. You need matériel. You need ordnance. Arms, ammunition, tools—”
“Sweat socks,” says Yolanda.
“Oh, I just. OK. Attention please: It was not sweat socks. It was a bandolier.”
“Dan, let’s not get sidetracked here in the details, the minutiae of revolutionary struggle. I want to make one thing perfectly clear: We aren’t crooks. We’ve declared war on the fascist United States government, and the bank job was an expropriation of enemy funds in order to meet our simple revolutionary needs.”
“Oh,” says Dan.
General Field Marshal Cinque Mtume
He walked that patch of grass leading to the shack looking around as if the whole world had changed its constitution, had undiscernibly come apart and then reassembled itself along slightly askew lines. The truth hid in the shadows angling from the objects all around. There were signs to which an instinctive hustler was sensitive: the marked card, the bill protruding conspicuously from the unattended wallet, the calm quiet before a bust. Then again, maybe it was just sitting in the car with that bald motherfucker Prophet Jones. Dude always got his nerves all blanged up.
It was a hostile place into which he’d been born, in whose light he now floated between the darkness at either end. He knew the darkness into which he’d exit differed from where he’d come in because it would be corrupted by his regret. The idea was to regret nothing: neither Gloria nor her children he’d accepted as his own nor the one or two he’d actually fathered with her.
There’d been a sense of receding since Tania’s annunciation; it was a tough act to follow. As he’d worked his way through his own early enthusiasm, that of his followers, and come to recognize that his army was already with him in its entirety; that he’d come up empty foraging for members even amid the Berkeley Left; that he hadn’t convinced political recruits so much as entranced true believers; that he’d done less to shape his enlistees into an army than they’d done to elevate him to its leadership, as he had come to see these things clearly, he’d also seen that his most incandescent vision had been realized as political theater rather than as a terrorist act. Its rulingclass victim had renounced her victimhood, disavowing the very self that had been victimized and thereby annulling the crime that millions had been convinced took place. Thus the SLA’s greatest success—the abduction and conversion of Alice Daniels Galton—a success that had brought it fame and notoriety and the power to make extortionate demands also clearly marked its limitations as well, for if Alice Daniels Galton was human enough to disappear into a new identity as one of the People, what did that say about the “fascist insect”? If the victim’s declaration that her ravishers were in fact heroes led to the People’s repudiation of her, what did that say about the People?
That it was the wrong time, place, ideology, and army everybody already knew. He’d sensed it since he saw a hundred doors in precarious dingbat apartment buildings and crappy bungalows close again and again on his primitive importuning, the gestures and cadence he’d learned in Buffalo from Reverend Borrows twinned with retread political oratory. The fearless Left covered its soft white ass, oh so politely. But while before there was always some residual feeling of hope, now, on at least one level, Cin knew he was totally fucked. Send the man out to procure field supplies using the local currency, easiest fucking thing in the world—oh what the fuck say he got sent to go shopping—and he tries to take some motherfucking socks off them. He walked back to the shack through the subtle unfamiliarity of the world, thinking about how losers seemed always to be packing up, how he’d been packing his bag up since the day he left Cleveland.
“I don’t like him,” said Zoya as soon as he came through the door. Out with the opinion, right up in his face, like she’d been doing from Day One. “I get a bad feeling.”
He ignored her. Whatever the others might have had to say to her about this they’d probably already said, because they stayed quiet.
“Uh-uh,” she repeated, “don’t like him.”
“Well,” said Cinque, finally, “you won’t have to see him no more. We’re booking on out of here.”
The shape the predictable protest took was: What about Teko, Yolanda, and Tania?, but Cin could tell it was inertia speaking, the tedium of unscattering everything that lay strewn around the house, stuffing it into duffel bags and grocery sacks; of bugging out of another safe house without even leaving behind one of the successively less grandiose valedictory gestures—e.g., the incendiary bomb at Sutherland Court (to “melt away any fingerprints,” Fahizah had said), the cache of papers they’d placed in the tub and then pissed on at Golden Gate Avenue—that had accompanied each previous evacuation, and his five troops had begun complying with the general order even before their objections ceased, as he fell into a meditative mood and fetched his bottle of plum wine to sit leaning against the wall, drinking and smoking.
Even as the chrysalis had cracked and Tania had entered dripping into their presence—taping her declaration of herself while posing for the photograph that seconded that declaration more persuasively than any words she’d spoken, the picture depicting her before the Naga banner, armed and ready for just about anything—Cin had felt the end drawing near. He painstakingly crafted what amounted to goodbyes to them all—to Victor, Damon, Sherry, Sherlyne, Dawn, DeDe, and, by implication, Gloria—to be tacked onto the end of that tape (after Fahizah’s curiously cultish anointment of him as a revolutionary messiah, which had swiftly and decisively destroyed any remaining credibility the SLA had with the Left), along with a couple of death warrants that he’d issued more in the spirit of rhetorical What the Hell than in true seriousness. There was just this strange foreboding that he would not be allowed to live through this. He saw himself dying in fire and smoke.
They packed up and then Fahizah and Cujo went to warm up the vehicles and for an instant, before he heard the engines turning over, he sensed, from some strange deep part of himself that was in touch with the darkness of childhood nightmare, hopeless encirclement, that waiting for him were highly efficient shock troops with rifles and tear gas and Nixon’s the One bumper stickers and flagstone backyard patios and weekend ticket plans at Dodger Stadium and color TV and a thousand other things that made him wince, waiting and snacking and sipping and chatting in their idleness and not even taking the whole thing seriously.
He wanted to go.
He wanted to wait.
He wanted someone to tell him what to do.
He wanted someone to come up and say, It’s OK.
Instead his sullenness generated a zone around him into which no one crossed. The evening brought a darkness to the two rooms that had the glow of his cigarettes at its center. He lit them, each one from the last, then absently field-stripped the butts. Fahizah and Cujo went and shut off the motor again after a while. Inside, it was implicit that silence was part of the bargain. Outside, the voices of young men, a shouting-out into the spring evening. It was like that feeling after a bad argument with Gloria, when he was crushed and empty, sitting there as depleted as after sex, while the world kept moving right outside the windows and you just couldn’t believe it was still going on, that anything still bothered.
Yolanda and Teko are smiling! And before Tania has a chance to really think about it, she realizes that they’re happy simply to be here at the Century Drive-In! Workers of the world, unite-and let’s go to the movies! Though that would not, strictly speaking, constitute a Maoist aphorism. And of course she is not a member of the proletariat. And while the folks all around them enjoying The New Centurions from the comfy depths of their bucket seats may be the lumpen of the westward dream, they are also the bourgeois, putatively enfranchised, silent majority, and they surely are getting a different charge from this cops ‘n’ robbers melodrama than the SLA Three, who, though the major reason they’re here is to rendezvous with the others, are enjoying the rare opportunity to study enemy propaganda that their being here allows.
“Shoot ’em, kill the pigs!” urges Teko.
Forget she said anything.
Teko: Cheeseburger, Fries, Coke
Yolanda: Chicken ‘n’ a Basket, Fries, Tab
Tania: Hamburger, Onion Rings, 7-Up
Civilian Prisoner of War: Hamburger, Fries, Coke
A knit cotton blanket speaks from the back of the van, requesting extra ketchup. It’s the prisoner under there.
Old grizzled cop George C. Scott is showing the ropes to idealistic rookie Stacy Keach. Tania has heard that Stacy Keach overcame the obstacle of a harelip to become an actor. And what a beautiful and mellifluous voice he has! Like Orson Welles. She thinks instantly of the famous movie.
(As a countercultural document, the SLA finds Citizen Kane virtually useless. For one thing, its criticisms of the media are outmoded, made obsolete by the emergence of television as the major information source for most people. But mostly, there’s a problem with its reductionist preoccupation with Kane’s megalomaniacal villainy and its definition of that villainy as merely the greatest flaw in his heroic makeup, which render the film romantic propaganda for the fascist establishment. Even now it’s said that Hank Galton’s forced exposure to the “underprivileged” has changed him; it’s said that he and the notoriously right-leaning San Francisco Examiner are beginning to address the concerns of “the people” and to run “hard-hitting” investigative pieces that “expose” things, lack of hot water and potholes and unsanitary conditions in the Western Addition and such. Tania’s not sure who it is who’s said these things. The Examiner, she thinks.
Alice has never seen Citizen Kane. Tania isn’t even curious.)
Tania wanders through the rows of parked automobiles, seconded by the enormous image of Stacy Keach, which itself approaches a parked car, intending to warn its occupants to leave the scene of some impending carnage. Little does he know. The helpful rookie leans toward the passenger window to address the lovey-dovey couple and encounters a young woman with a shotgun laid across her lap, pointed directly at him. Shock, surprise. She pulls the trigger, sending Keach flying. Tania hears Teko cheering from the van.
Right around when Tania heads back to report that she hasn’t seen any sign of the others and that their signal—a big paper cup set upside down on the speaker stanchion—is clearly visible, Keach is being dumped by his wife, who can’t really take it anymore: it’s hard being a cop’s wife; it’s all the worrying, the late hours. It’s the not knowing.
As if you ever do.
Later he heard the voice of a child in the street, a strong little voice forming sentences of pealing innocence. It was 11:50. Reverend Borrows: “There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who auto-MATically look at the clock when they hear a child outside after dark, and those who do not.” He’d been sixteen when Borrows laid that on him, about to get caught robbing parking meters and sent up to the reformatory at Elmira. He got to his feet, stiff and cramped. He watched the shadows of the others as they followed suit, except Cujo, who seemed to have fallen asleep.
“All right, comrades,” he said. “Let’s get on out of here.” Fahizah spoke, her voice coming from near the kitchen. “We have just enough time to get to the rendezvous, I think.”
“Rendezvous?” said Cinque.
“We were supposed to meet up at the last show at the Century Drive-In.” She added: “Um. You picked it.”
“Well, why the hell didn’t you mention it before now?”
“Well, I. I thought, it seemed like you, like you wanted, I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” demanded the Field Marshal.
“Like you wanted us to be quiet, like you needed to think things over.”
Because of a painful corn that had formed on the ball of his left foot, what Cinque had thought over was this: Reverend Borrows liked to treat the smallest cuts with iodine that hurt so bad it felt like you were trying to scare the dirt out. It was a pleasure to him to treat wounds, to sit with his teenage boarder with surgical tape and a blue box of cotton and little brown bottles of stinging ointment between them, disinfecting and bandaging up his cuts and scrapes. Cinque had let him do it too.
It was information of a kind, neither more nor less important than anything else he might think about. Always expecting him to have like these great thoughts, damn.
Reverend Borrows’s daughter was Harriet. If Borrows had let him marry her when he got out of Elmira, everything would be different now. OK, she was only fourteen. But with the reverend’s permission he would have waited around, learned a steady trade, gotten work. Instead he floated to Newark, swum into the waiting maw of Gloria Thomas, twenty-three, drop-dead gorgeous, mother of three.
“Too dangerous. We’ll check out the drops tomorrow. What we need tonight is to get out of here and find a place to stay.”
Was there a hint of discontent in the ranks as they filed out the door in quiet pairs, himself and Gelina, Cujo and Fahizah, Gabi and Zoya? Well?
Once a senior class treasurer … She divided and redivided the money, enjoyed seeing it split into equal parts. No “more or less.” Her best work was done at a desk, in bright light. She liked thinking and plotting. She liked the look of an idea as it took shape on paper. She liked the look of a number in a box or a circle. She wished she had a typewriter. She enjoyed working with reams of paper, generating drifts of ideas from out of nothing. The sheer accumulation, as the stack of papers mounted, as collections of receipts grew fat in a stained number ten envelope imprinted with the address of the Berkeley Public Library. Where she worked for a while and helped organize fellow workers in a labor dispute. This was something she would put on a resume one day, after the revolution, at the very bottom so that people could see what a long way she’d come.
At the library it had been thought that she had difficulty communicating with older workers. She categorically disagreed.
The dispute had ended up with the library’s remaining a nonunion shop. Still, she reminded herself, significant advances had been made.
Leaving stuff like that behind—the receipts, the notes, the drafts, the lists, the correspondence—killed her, not just because the others pointed out that their movements could be tracked exactly if such a rich trove of evidence were to fall into the wrong hands (she had to admit that she didn’t care, instinctively disliked the idea of vanishing off the face of the earth) but because it was a comfort and a relief to watch evidence of herself add up on the record. White drifts of her self, piling up on a tabletop on either side of the blue Smith-Corona portable. She wished for personalized checks, for a business card she could give out. Checks were better; they came back. She wrote graffiti on the walls of the safe houses instead.
And now maybe this was not what she wanted. She had grown used to things not being precisely as she wanted them; that was no longer her life’s objective, so it wasn’t where the problem was located. The problem was not quite knowing what the objective was. Zoya knew armed struggle was not about to happen down here. These people were in love with their Chevrolets and Smoky Joes: so what? They would come around. That wasn’t the problem. Inevitably her mind returned to Gabi. She couldn’t help thinking that Gabi had manipulated her into a situation where the ultimate point was for her to be with Gabi. This was unacceptable, and the word she used to describe it in her thoughts was travesty, a travesty of her beliefs. At the same time, she just had to look at Gabi—shlumpy in her fatigues, apart from the others—to feel an unwelcome wave of guilty feelings wash over her. It was like trying to abandon a kitten and hearing it calling for you from the back alley. Gabi cried from the physical effort of her training. She lumbered through drills, bulky and awkward, and Zoya wished she would just stop. Gabi stubbornly made it plain that her ideological commitment was less than 100 percent, and the fact of her actually having lived among the third world poor to whom her father ministered made everyone suspicious, including, Zoya realized, herself. Gabi had settled in as the butt of the cadre’s jokes. Cin gave her a horrible time. She’d seen her unmet sexual needs become the topic of an evening’s discussion more than once, and Zoya resented the implication that she was the one obliged to satisfy them. The whole focus of Zoya’s involvement in the group now was to keep Gabi from having a negative net effect on operations. Hand-holder. Babysitter. She jollied her and walked with her. Explained why they weren’t on the same team.
Today they’d sat on the lawn, and Gabi had cried while she accused Zoya of not thinking to suggest to Cinque that the two of them carry out the errands Teko, Yolanda, and Tania had been sent to complete. Of just plain not thinking. Gabi shook her head, burdened with the inexpressible complexity of her emotions. But they knew each other so well now that Zoya no longer wished to see to a deeper level of Gabi’s character: Gabi was now as much an agglomeration of annoying habits as any stranger, except that she was stupefyingly predictable to boot. When Gabi cried, Zoya always had to fight the impulse to laugh. It was the cruelest thing she’d ever recognized in herself. It was like watching a clown weeping clown tears in clown clothes. Gabi blubbered and snuffled on that retarded Compton lawn and Zoya wanted alternately to laugh out loud and to crush her ex-lover’s skull.
Now she started heading off to her own van, with her own team of Cujo and Fahizah. Gabi reached out and held her by her sleeve.
“Mizmoon,” she said, “happy birthday.” She held up her wristwatch to show that it was past midnight. May 17: Zoya was twenty-four.
“Damn, don’t call me that.”
“That’s your name. You chose it.”
“I choose Zoya.”
“We need to talk.”
You need, thought Zoya, but she looked directly into Gabi’s eyes and raised her chin to indicate that she was listening.
“There’s something wrong here.”
“What do you mean, something wrong?”
“The way we sat. For hours, Trish.”
Zoya cringed. Especially don’t call her Trish. She would choose her names from now on, as often as necessary, swapping whenever one became freighted with outcast meaning.
“The police are supposedly coming, and we sit for hours without a word of protest.”
“The just sitting there.”
“Cinque had to work it out.”
“And no one’s allowed to talk while he does it? That’s bullshit, Trish.”
They were whispering in the din of the complaining engines.
“What’s your point? My team’s leaving.”
“Team. You know what this is turning into?”
“What is this turning into?”
“This is turning into like one of those whatchamacallits I read about in Time last year. Cults.”
“Like people in hoods and altars? Drinking blood? You insult me. You insult our hard work, our comrades.” Then, bitterly: “Time.”
“No,” said Gabi, falteringly. “Like the Hare Krishnas. The Moonies.”
Utopian hucksters, dealing in a new variant on the familiar people’s opiate, with daily sales quotas. Their kind would be put against the wall. A look of disgust crossed Zoya’s face: a slight curl of the lip, the subtlest suggestion of a rolled eyeball. She sensed the presence of the expression and exaggerated it in case Gabi had missed it.
“‘Any comrade may leave the guerrilla forces if she or he feels that they no longer feel the courage or faith in the People and the struggle that we wage.’” Zoya quoted from memory.
Gabi walked off.
It was snug in the little apartment on Parker Street where Zoya wrote the Codes of War with Cinque the previous March. It was a rainy spring, and they worked in the kitchen, with the oven door open to warm the room. In the persistent damp, paperback book covers curled back upon themselves and photographs she’d pinned to the walls rolled up tight as scrolls. They had a series of running jokes about the oven, the oven door. Very funny at the time. Delirious. Everything had a heightened sense of meaning in that brief interlude of revolutionary domesticity. Cin was handy. The circular fluorescent buzzed annoyingly; he went to the hardware store and brought back mysteriously useful items in a brown paper bag, replaced the fixture with an incandescent. Soon they sat in the white silence of a GE Soft White bulb, hunting and pecking, holding the world at arm’s length while it waited for their embrace.
TANIA CAN’T STAND BEING with these people, she realizes. While Teko and Yolanda argue about whether they ought to leave now or remain through the second feature just in case, she stretches out in the back next to the blanket. The van smells like warm ketchup. The blanket seems to shiver or tremble from time to time. She pats the blanket on the head. “It’s OK,” she says. “You’ll be OK.”
Despite the engaging subject matter of the film, Teko is in favor of leaving. Yolanda is opposed. The details of the argument are sheer static, a kind of buzzing in the front, and Tania ignores them, patting the blanket with Dan Russell under it at regular intervals, as if she were stirring a pot. At one o’clock the movie ends, and dozens of cars start up and switch on their headlights. Teko and Yolanda argue about whether they should leave right away or wait until the numbers of cars jockeying to join the long line have thinned. Teko wants to get started right away; Yolanda wants to wait awhile. The van sits motionless as they gesticulate and whisper fiercely in the front, occasionally bathed in the headlights of the cars outside that slowly turn, gravel crunching beneath their tires. Moths spin in the dusty shafts of moving light.
At last they join the queue and after a while merge with the traffic on the road.
“We need to get some sleep. We’ve got a big day tomorrow,” says Teko.
“Can we just kind of scoot by the house? I mean, just to see.”
“See what? They’ve gone. Gotta be.”
“Well they didn’t—when they never showed up at the drive-in I was thinking maybe somehow they haven’t heard about the whole thing, our problem today.”
(Another fight brewing, Tania thinks.)
“That’s absurd. And you have any idea what the risk is?”
“This is the guy who fires off three rounds in a shopping mall talking to me about risk.”
“It’s against all the rules of urban guerrilla warfare.”
“This is the guy who shoplifts a pair of socks talking to me about rules.”
“GOD damn it, it was NOT a pair of socks it was a FUCKING bandolier, do you have it FUCKING straight?” The heel of his hand smacking the dashboard on each emphasized word. Yolanda, who has been driving very slowly in the right lane, pulls over to the side of the road and begins to cry, enormous choking sobs.
“Well can you just get a grip. I mean, until we’re somewhere else? Ow, I hurt my hand.”
“Where else? Where? Bandolier, socks—who cares? You did it, you stupid bastard. You had to go and take it, and now we’re here, going in stupid circles nowhere. I feel lost, I feel totally lost and alone and stupid, stupid, stupid! for listening to anything you ever say.”
“Let me tell you something.”
“Don’t tell me anything.”
“Let me just tell you this, OK?”
“Don’t! Don’t tell me anything!” Yolanda opens her door and is out of the van.
“Oh shit. This isn’t good. OK. We’ll be back. Sit tight.” And Teko leaves.
Tania and Dan Russell are alone in the van. Outside, the scanty traffic speeds down the road, each car making its own clean, distinct noise as it passes, the sound of things going smoothly for someone else.
“You OK?” Tania asks the blanket.
“I’m OK,” says the voice of Dan Russell.
“Don’t be scared,” suggests Tania. “You’ll be OK.”
“I’m not scared,” answers Dan.
“I was scared,” says Tania. “I was really fucking freaked out. Man. They came through the door and they knocked me down and tied my arms and carried me out kicking and screaming. They hit me in the face and threw me into the trunk of a car. I thought I was gonna die.”
“Well. You’ve all been pretty nice to me.”
“We don’t want. See, look: they had to scare me. I mean, my head was so screwed up before you wouldn’t believe it. Plus, you know, they were planning for me to be with them, to learn with them, for a while. While with you we just need to have you with us for a little bit because of the van and all.”
“Would you be being mean to me if I were going to be staying for a while?”
Tania smiles through the dark at the blanket. “No,” she says.
They are quiet for maybe thirty seconds, and Tania watches Teko and Yolanda standing outside on the shoulder of the road. They’re not arguing now; they’re talking, working it out, and she suddenly feels both tremendous loneliness without the others, without Cujo particularly, and unexpected warmth for the two of them.
Dan Russell asks, “When did you decide to go with, join their army deal? Was there a plan with a deadline or something, or did it just like happen?”
Tania shrugs. “I just started listening and learning from like the day I was taken away, and I started changing my views about things. It was a real process, the way I see it, though I guess it seems like a real sudden change. But first it seemed like my dad wasn’t trying real hard to get me back, so I start wondering why isn’t he interested in complying with the spirit of the ransom demands, blah blah blah. I mean, he’s cheaping out in this kind of totally obvious way when, you know, my family’s got more money than God: let’s face it. So they helped me, my comrades, they helped me see that these are all signs of like a hidden agenda, that there’s serious pressure coming from somewhere to keep me from coming home because they don’t want to be seen as giving in to the SLA demands.”
“The pigs,” answers Tania.
“Oh,” says Dan.
“Because they’re really, you know, the People’s demands. And so they gave me all sorts of shit to read and talk about. We do a lot of studying you know. This was like George Jackson and Malcolm and Soul on Ice. Blew me away.”
“Oh,” says Dan.
“And plus it was getting pretty obvious that the FBI and police are going to be gunning for me, what with all the statements flying around the press where they’re just assuming that I haven’t been even really kidnapped, even, like it’s just this ruse, and the pigs are grilling Eric—you know who that is?”
“Ex. Who had totally nothing to do with it, which I didn’t either I might add. Anyways, and then my mom accepts her being reappointed by Reagan to the UC Regents, which is this totally bogus inflammatory thing and in such bad faith under the circumstances I just basically thank the reasonableness and patience of the SLA for not killing me right on the spot.”
Dan nods judiciously.
Outside, Teko and Yolanda have walked a little ways, hand in hand, and appear to be talking calmly. Tania sighs. Then she pats the blanket, which asks anyway why are the three of them on the run. And she sighs again and tells about Mel’s, and about how she fired on the store, and about all this driving around, and car switching, and how it was they decided on Dan’s van, and then about Mel’s again: the shots, the gun jumping away, how it was the first time she’d fired using live ammunition, and Dan asks her how it felt.
“It was a good feeling,” says Tania emphatically. “It was a good feeling to see my comrades come running across the street.”
He just meant the actual what do you call physical act of the shooting. How did it feel to shoot the gun?
The doors open, and Teko and Yolanda get in.
“We’re going to drive by Eighty-fourth,” says Teko. “Everybody stay down back there.”
The house on Eighty-fourth appears, sitting dark as they approach it. Not that there was any electricity to begin with. But the other cars have gone from the driveway and are not parked anywhere on the street, and the heavy surveillance drapes have been removed from the front windows. Teko sits behind the wheel staring rigidly ahead, proceeding at a steady 25 mph, while Yolanda and Tania both study the empty house as openly as they dare when they pass. Teko rounds the next corner with deliberate care, signaling ahead of time and decelerating into the turn. Then he gives the van gas, gradually bringing its speed up, heading for the anonymous arteries.
What could be a more trusted component of American sensory experience than the feel of getting into a car for a long trip, the familiar abbreviation of the body as it settles into its seat? Gabi could have closed her eyes and imagined that she was heading just about anyplace as they set out into the ghetto night of Los Angeles. A little more than a year before she’d driven west from her parents’ in Illinois to reunite and reconcile with Mizmoon, who’d flown to Denver to meet her. Life aboveground was so near at hand. Even today she could feel the familiarity of the enveloping seat during that trip, her car clean from its months inside her parents’ garage, and well tuned, and an air freshener in the shape of a pine tree dangling from the rearview—her father’s idea—emitting its overpowering aroma. Taking turns at the wheel, driving back to the Coast, they read aloud to each other from magazines with campy quizzes and grave stories about failed marriages. They stopped, got out, stretched, and walked around. Fill ’er up, ladies? Her plain round face behind its eyeglasses was anonymity itself. Her most political act was the writing of faintly erotic lesbian poems. And Mizmoon, flying into Stapleton, opening little cellophane packages of peanuts and counting out money to buy headphones from a smiling woman in a pillbox hat, she herself must have looked more like a stewardess than a radical.
And now this. She shook her head (Cin’s eyes darting toward the rearview, to glare at her reflection, alert as ever for any sign of insubordination). One day Mizmoon had been talking about composting, the next about armed revolution. Was it that facile a set of alternatives? Had there been no sense of a complete overturning of one’s life, much less of a wholesale exchange of personalities, when she’d taken up arms? And Gabi just felt dumb, reciting for Mizmoon (“Zoya, damn it!”): I will cradle youlln my woman hips/Kiss you/With my woman lips. “Stupid little boudoir poems,” was what Mizmoon called them now. OK. All right. Gabi would follow her in good faith. She accepted that this was the love she just had to follow, wherever it led, even as it forsook her, turned on her, spit on her.
Oh, what was she doing here?
“What you having a conversation with your own self back there about, Comrade Gabi?” Cinque sounded mellow enough. He tilted back a pint bottle of blackberry brandy as he drove, his left hand laid atop the steering wheel.
She responded forthrightly. “I was just thinking it was funny, how we’ve come so far together in such a short time. This is never what I’d have imagined for myself just a year ago, but here we are.”
Cinque still sounded even-toned, but in Gelina’s quick response Gabi read that she’d provoked him somehow:
“I think she means it like we came together so well that it’s hard to believe it’s only been, what, eight months?”
“Well, that’s not ‘funny.’ That’s a vision. On behalf the People.”
“I don’t mean ha-ha funny—”
“Watch you say, bitch. Enough trouble without you calling the SLA funny. You be the only thing funny here. Not funny we separated from our comrades, who may’ve fallen into enemy hands. Not funny we out in the open right now. Damn.”
“I don’t think she meant it that way, Cin.” But Cinque shook Gelina’s hand off his right arm, raising the pint bottle to his mouth.
“Then she ought to watch she says.”
Gabi sighed; she was done talking. She was very tired anyway. Leaning her head against the cold window, she looked out at the dark houses they passed. Inside each was a blossom of life as complex as a flower, beautiful and strange and triumphant for as long as it continued. Her father had taught her that anyone else’s life was unimaginable, that you needed patience, that it was the utmost arrogance to draw assumptions from the disheveled flesh that encased the spirit. Flowers she had taught herself about, drawing and painting them in compulsive detail from a bee’s-eye view, in order to learn something about beauty’s working parts. She looked at Cin, recalling “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another,” the divine injunction that had brought her family first to Africa, and then to South America. What she’d seen there had roused the gentleness in her. She was the most surprised of anyone to find herself holding a gun in her hands. She imagined herself explaining her life to her father, sitting opposite him before a fireplace, describing how similar her work was to his. They each had mugs full of some hot comfort, and her father nodded, nodded, though his eyes displayed the faltering of his understanding. Gabi slept.
ANGELA DEANGELIS ATWOOD
Make memory into a postcard and mail it off and it doesn’t come back to get you.
Postcard one shows a high ranch house in North Haledon, NJ. A picture window to one side of the front door looks out on the house’s twin, opposite. A pair of knotted-together sneakers swings from the power line overhead: the modern-day equivalent of heads on pikes, a form of expression imported from the nightmare crater of Paterson, scant blocks distant. But it loses something in translation. Here it signals boyish exuberance, the Norman Rockwell touch.
Today the driveway is full of cars. There are balloons taped to the English plane tree that shades the front yard. A hand-printed sign that says “Denise & Barry,” with two entwined hearts, is stapled to the trunk. More hand-printed signs, arrows, guide arrivals around the house to the backyard, from which music can be heard, the sound of a Fender Rhodes keyboard that bangs out “Happy Together” from the muzzy depths of its sonic register.
It’s Angel’s sister’s wedding. Angel’s home from the land of the nuts. You seen Angel? What a mouth she’s got on her. Beautiful wedding, yeah, but so what’s up with Angel?
Gelina is stewing in her polyester floral sheath, counting the covered dishes being brought out from the kitchen, where the caterer is working, and laid on the white tablecloths clamped to the three long folding tables near the pool. She catches one of the waiters staring at her unshaved legs, and she gives him the finger.
She’s got a real fuckin attitude today.
You know how many people all this shit could feed? She gestures toward the table, laden with trays and tureens and platters and chaf ing dishes abubble over cans of flaming Sterno. You know how many people are dying so you can eat this shit? Gestures with a lit cigarette, ash tumbling into some macaroni salad. Plus she’s just a little pissed off she’s not maid of honor.
Take it easy, Angel.
Her sister: Cries. Cries and cries, how could you?
Her father: You know this is your sister’s day, blah blah blah.
Her sister’s privileged status notwithstanding, Gelina has no intention of just silently taking it. Soon she and her father are toe to toe, arguing intensely. There is a dusky blush to his face as he attempts to preserve decorum. The last time most of these people, the guests, were together was at her mother’s wake. They look on through their crushed recollection of the saintly young daughter in mourning. She ruins the day.
You’ve ruined my special day, says Denise.
How dare you lecture me … as long as you’re in my house … She doesn’t need to hear the end of a single one of these sentences.
The next day she calls Pan Am to change her ticket. She takes a New Jersey Transit bus to the airport and pointedly stuffs the bridesmaid’s dress in the garbage as she walks to the corner.
Postcard two shows the Great Electric Underground. A fake “mod” cocktail lounge on the ground floor of the B of A building, a place for horny businessmen and their pet toupees. About the hippest spot you’ll ever find in a building named after a huge commercial bank. A month after participating in the assassination of the Oakland superintendent of schools, Gelina is finally ready to quit her day job.
Susan Rorvik, a friend she met while in the cast of a Company Theater production of Hedda Gabler, is quitting with her. She was Thea, Susan Hedda. They both are sick of being exploited in order to earn money, and neither of them is willing any longer to work for “agents of the ruling class,” as their five-page parting letter describes their employers, much less in the revealing dresses that accompany the job’s compulsory flirtatiousness. They quit flamboyantly, dropping copies of the letter on the tables of their customers. Who look up in sleepy confusion, seeking the source of these unwanted gifts. Whatzis? Before leaving, Gelina turns around to survey the room. A bunch of affluent white men working on an afternoon buzz amid the weekday torpor of the gray holiday season. Composed. Serene, even. She raises a fist.
“Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the People!”
Hey—’sChristmastime. Take it easy. A self-congratulatory laugh circulates softly throughout the carpeted room, like a shared secret, or the punch line to a dirty joke at her expense.
She and Susan send copies of the letter to KPFA and to the Bay Guardian. The one never airs it and the other never prints it. Angela moves in with her friends from Indiana, Drew and Diane Shepard, to cut costs and prepare for life underground. She stays in their closet-size spare bedroom, listening every night as they fight. She and Susan fall out of touch.
Cin was funny today, Gelina thought. She watched him, wondering what could be bothering him, as he sort of pitched and yawed behind the steering wheel, peering out into the night as if they were surrounded by a thick fog, turning to see that the other van still followed them, sighing and muttering inaudibly to himself. She sensed an approaching decision, a big one, judging from his behavior. Actually, she’d spent most of her life thinking about what could be bothering men, what it was that would please them. She wanted to hate her father, but as much as she tried to politicize all the “discoveries” she’d made about her banal upbringing, he was just another dumb daddy aching for the little girl he’d loved. The agitator’s role didn’t come naturally. She was a born conciliator, felt the memory of her sister’s wedding as a bayonet.
And deep down she did think it was a special day. That’s what she’d tell Denise when she saw her again, after.
She was basically a stuffed animal—type person.
Memory is a bayonet. Mail it to some distant isle / with palm trees and a beach / where your daily troubles all will be / safely out of reach. Postcard three: Gelina’s body goes unclaimed for days. Her exhusband finally signs the necessary paperwork to have it shipped for burial.
Cin had a penciled list of addresses he consulted now and again, but apparently something at each of those locations disturbed him, because although he would slow the van as he approached them, he never stopped except once, on which occasion he’d gotten out and stood for a while on the dark lawn before a small house, the wind ruffling his jacket, before climbing back into the idling van, shaking his head. Something about this man today: not talking. Gelina held her wrist to the window to read her watch under the passing streetlights. Close to 3 a.m. There was zero traffic out at this hour, and the unmuffled engines made a lot of noise. Cin signaled a turn and headed the van toward Slauson, a big road where they wouldn’t seem as conspicuous as they did crawling through residential streets. Behind Gelina, Gabi was sleeping, mouth agape and with her cheek pressed unattractively against the window. The only people she liked to watch sleeping were children. Through the rear window she saw the other van turn onto the avenue and begin to follow a few lengths behind. They rolled through a landscape of raw cinder-block meanness, past empty service stations, liquor stores, pawnshops, and check-cashing places. A used car lot sat behind a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and multicolored plastic bunting that flapped noisily in the warm breeze. A patrol car heading in the opposite direction cruised toward them. Cin stared straight ahead, the muscles in his jaw bulging. Gelina tried to look unconcerned and happy. The two cops in the cruiser slid jaded eyes over them in the instant in which the two vehicles passed each other and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, apparently making the same decision about the van containing Cujo, Zoya, and Fahizah.
TANIA HAS BEGUN TO drop off to sleep when Teko speaks sharply to her, telling her to check her weapon to make sure there isn’t a round in the chamber. She knows there isn’t, but recognizing that this is to be a command performance for their captive, she chambers a round, and she’s pleased that he watches avidly as she then easily ejects the bullet, removes the clip from the weapon to reinsert the cartridge, and then rams the clip home. She handles the rifle with the little showy flourishes that her familiarity with it will allow. All its working parts engage with satisfying clicks and snaps.
“You know,” says Tania, offhandedly, “I heard a lot of bullshit about that bank robbery.”
“Did you?” asks Dan, politely.
“It was totally, I don’t know. Much ado about nothing.”
“Well, I mean. I guess people were interested that you seemed to be doing something like a bank robbery. I mean after being kidnapped and stuff.”
“But not that. Stuff about me being like tied to my gun so I couldn’t put it down and go, Help, help, save me. About the others pointing their guns at me. I mean, what is that? I’m so obviously a committed, you know, guerrilla.”
“Well, I guess since you got kidnapped people thought maybe you wouldn’t want to, um, rob the bank with your, you know, kidnappers.”
“Tell people that I said I did the bank robbery out of my own free will.”
“Tell the press,” emphasizes Teko.
“OK,” says Dan.
You can mount these hills, climb toward the stars hanging high in the dark. The canyon roads remind Tania of the coast-bound highways back home, 84 and 92. The winding drives to those foggy, rocky beaches. Teko is hunched over the wheel to take the unfamiliar turns, giving the impression of great physical exertion. 92 she could drive in her sleep, she thinks, and she closes her eyes to greet the phosphene memory of the Denny’s and Charley Brown’s signs that lit the way until the road narrowed where it had been blasted out of the hillsides to form a high, perilous terrace over the coastal valleys of bush lupine and redwood. She thinks of 280, “The World’s Most Beautiful Freeway.” Sometimes, heading to Eric’s apartment after school, when they’d first begun dating, she would downshift on the tight curve of the Sand Hill Road exit ramp, avoiding any contact between her foot and the brake pedal while she cycled through the gearbox as the car climbed to the end of the ramp. Eric had an apartment down the Peninsula in Menlo Park, a cute IMMAC. 1BR, rumpled and full of books and papers, somehow looking collegiate and manly instead of monkish and bookwormy. He was brilliant and handsome and perfect. She was sixteen.
Her parents called him Toothbrush for the mustache; it was the most beautiful mustache in the world. They thought he was poor and after her money, though he was the son of a Palo Alto stockbroker; she would have given him everything or lived with him in a tent. They thought he was a weakling (her mother asked, “Where did all the real men go?”) when he was actually a champion all-around athlete; she saw him as an Adonis. They thought he was effete, an irrelevant aesthete, though he’d been trained in physics; to her he was a practical man of action. They thought he was a radical, a bomb thrower, though he was a McGovern liberal; together they’d change the world.
Then she got tired of proving the point. She sat and watched as he twirled the dial and then fell into silence to begin his indiscriminate TV watching. Every night the same. She heated up food in cans and pouches and poured it onto plates and bowls. Then she talked on the phone, or studied, and watched him watching TV. Every night he would bask in the television’s cold shifting light that lent him the pallid aspect of a corpse. And then one night.
She entered the kitchen, and the doorbell rang. The doorbell rang, and Eric headed for the door. Eric headed for the door and slid it open.
Oh, she thought. This is pretty weird. “Put the chain on,” she said. Eric responded with the slightest dismissive shrug.
Slid it open to confront a girl who said there’d been an accident.
Alice thought that she meant she’d hit her MG and became pissed off.
She said there’s been an accident; can she use the phone? She backed up and hit a car. She pointed down at the ground, to indicate the parking garage beneath.
There was a strange vibe coming from this girl, emotion shredding that voice on the doorstep, a wayward pitch that marked a seeming contradiction between what this girl was saying and what she meant, and what she was doing and what she would prefer to be doing, and this agitation was beyond that warranted by a low-speed fender bender.
She pointed at the ground to indicate the parking garage downstairs. Eric glanced down the hall at the telephone, a green wall model, peering at it as if to see if it was capable of being used by a stranger seeking help on a winter’s evening. When he looked down the hall, he looked right through Alice. It’s her last memory of him.
The girl outside shifted her weight, Eric turned back after checking out the phone, and from deep inside Alice actual expressions from the xenophobic nightmare of her mother’s phrasebook began rising up, free-floating, to seek their application in this circumstance: drop out, druggie, going to hell in a handbasket, hippie, take some responsibility, nigger lover, have they no shame, undesirable elements, each sounding fluent and expressive to her though she felt no anger, only the pull, from the next room, of the neglected television making her impatient with this interlude.
And then the door was shoved open entirely, and the two men came in, with guns.
She tries to imagine, for the hundredth time, Eric aiming a rifle at a living target.
There was a time when Alice thought it was possible that a poem or a song could save every faltering affair in the universe; there was a time when Alice thought she would use it, as she might an incantation, on a night when the TV finally ran out of things to say.
Tania wryly quotes to herself: Death to the Fascist Insect that Preys upon the Life of the People!
NANCY LING PERRY
Fahizah noticed in the rearview that the instant after passing them, the pigs swung into a wide arc to make a U-turn and began following them from about twenty yards behind. It was a quiet and ominously piglike move, and she was sure the pigs’ eyes glowed red at the moment they’d targeted them, like pig androids in a pig killing machine. Fahizah checked her speedometer to make sure she was within the limit, whatever the hell that was around here. Thirty? Eighty-seven? Quarter past three? Huh? She was actually going about forty-two. Holy shit. She realized that she was sort of near Whittier College. The memories came seeping back into her pounded consciousness. Not a happy year, the one she spent there, but it presented her now with a golden opportunity to exercise classic revolutionary deceit: She was on her way to Whittier College, OK, pig? Go ahead and call Pig Central and find out if what she said wasn’t true. She could tell all about the local landmarks: the library, the college theater, the fire-breathing stanwixauropodinoose … and … and … they better believe her, man. The cruiser followed them, flat and menacing. She would shoot their pig faces off. She would steal their pig badges and pig guns from their faceless pig corpses. She thought: Fahizah: the name means one who is victorious. Was her mouth moving? She raised a hand from the steering wheel to touch her lips and found them muttering, in silence, independent of her thoughts, whatever the hell they were.
Cujo turned around again to look at the cops.
“Will you stop?” said Zoya. “You’re just giving them a reason.”
“Pigs don’t need a reason,” said Cujo. “They’re pigs.” He and Fahizah giggled. Zoya looked annoyed.
“Just stop looking back there.”
“I smell bacon,” said Cujo, singsong. He raised his nose and sniffed noisily.
Fahizah looked into the rearview, thinking: There is no flight to freedom except that of an armed projectile. She kept the van at a steady forty, the engine quietly speaking to her, fine fine fine you’re doing fine fine fine, the message traveling from the gas pedal to her foot and up through her spinal cord, as she signaled and eased into the right lane to give the pigs a chance to pass them, to disengage. A fighting chance. To the rear, the cruiser shifted along with them. She thought it might take off any second now. She thought she’d read something about that, flying pigmobiles. Pigs with wings. Heh. They would fly overhead to release the death gas on them, cause them to crash their cars. Then take their bodies to the Dissection Center. Display their brains in some pig trophy case that toured Amerikkka to dissuade the People from attempting to challenge fascist power. They would hook the brains up to a pig Mind Control device that would have them spouting pigisms in their own voices. That was probably something to worry about maybe.
“I say if they pull us over that we just kill them, ask questions later,” said Zoya. That suited Fahizah just fine. She patted her personal sidearm, a revolver, snug in its shoulder holster, thinking: The only way to destroy fear is to destroy the makers of fear.
They continued east on Slauson for another half mile or so. Ahead of them, Cinque kept a steady course. Suddenly he signaled left. The van’s brake lights flared as it slowed and turned into a small street leading back into the bungalow maze. Fahizah noted its name as she passed: Ascot. Like a man in a whadayacallit smoking jacket. Like a man in a smoking jacket holding a whadayacallit snifter. Like a man in a smoking jacket holding a snifter taking a cigar from a whadayacallit humidor. Like a man in a smoking jacket holding a snifter taking a cigar from a humidor. Yeah. That’s what it was like.
“Nobody look!” warned Zoya.
Fahizah said, affecting a British accent: “Would you care for a cigar?” Zoya stared.
Why the hell would anyone look, man? Fahizah would feel her way back to her comrades. She had reversed the polarity of the Fascist Government transponder that had been subcutaneously implanted, and now she could home in on her comrades at any distance on Earth as well as Zibiriliax; she’d tested it.
Still, she tried to suppress the desolation of the thought: We’re totally alone.
They drove on, perhaps two miles, until they approached the dry bed of the Los Angeles River and the overpass that crossed the Long Beach Freeway. There the cruiser that shadowed them abruptly turned off to follow a course parallel to the highway. When their pursuers disappeared from sight, Fahizah pulled over, bringing the van to a stop amid the low industrial buildings.
“Now what?” said Cujo.
“We go back and rendezvous,” said Fahizah.
“Where’d those guys turn off?” said Cujo.
As Fahizah opened her mouth, Zoya answered: “Ascot.”
Such a display of diligence should have pleased General Fahizah. It pissed her off instead, as she was forced to add lamely, feeling the weakness of the imprecision, “It was kind of near Central.” Abruptly she opened the door and got out to stretch her legs. She felt drained and let down all of a sudden. Her mind felt flat and ordinary.
The street outside was quiet, with only a faded wash of noise from the nearby freeway. She was tired, and her eyes ached. She stared morosely across the street at the unappealing landscape, considering her last meal, a congenitally nasty farrago of canned spinach, okra, and mackerel. An ember of discomfort burned at the center of her stomach. She wanted a cheeseburger from the Zim’s restaurant on Nineteenth and Taraval, with french fries and an icy glass of Coca-Cola that burned the back of the throat as it went down.
She felt like nothing, a nobody from nowhere.
Inside the van, Cujo was absorbed in picking his nose. Zoya climbed out to stand beside Fahizah.
“That got kind of scary,” she confessed.
“Oh, man. I need, like, a fucking break. That wore me out,” said Fahizah.
“You want me to drive?”
Fahizah nodded. She leaned against the van and put a hand to her face, sensing some stifled impulse behind her eyes, the snots and tears that never came—never! She felt so sorry for herself she decided to fake it, a little, drawing in big gulps of air and shaking with a simulated passion that was totally counter to the crawl-in-a-hole thing she was feeling. Anyway, it was the wrong audience. Zoya just stood and watched. She’d spent the day with crying Gabi, Fahizah remembered. Gabi cried, Yolanda cried, Teko cried, Gelina didn’t cry much but you knew she would if it came down to it. Tania didn’t cry. An interesting thought. She pitied her, stuck somewhere with Teko and Yolanda; what a pair of royal pains in the ass they could be. If anything could make her cry, it would be getting caught with the two of them at a fork in the road; the arguing would go on forever. This made Fahizah smile. She lifted her dry face from her cupped hand and reached up to clap Zoya on the shoulder, then walked around to get in on the passenger side.
Zoya drove back to Ascot slightly above the limit. The cops were either after them or they weren’t, they figured. A certain jaunty fatalism seemed called for. They zipped down the dark street, and Cin’s van flashed its lights at them as they passed. Zoya slowed and parked at the corner (next to a fire hydrant, Fahizah noted. But she didn’t say anything) and the three of them walked back for a brief, excitedly whispered reunion with the others.
Cin suggested that now would be as good a time as any to institute the search-and-destroys, so they re-formed their caravan of two and began slowly driving through the neighborhood in search of a welcoming sign. It wasn’t long before they spotted the lights inside the stucco house at 1466 East Fifty-fourth Street.
AWAKENING IN THE 6:30 GRAY, Yolanda asks what time it is. All four of them are lying on the carpeting in the back of the van, and Tania wakes up confused and exhausted. When she opens her eyes, she sees Dan Russell is out from under the blanket and gazing at her, and his smile is a pretty nice how do you do first thing. Her hand reaches for the monkey.
Teko suggests hijacking a car, striding purposefully toward one stopped at a red light and ousting its fucking occupants at gunpoint. Yolanda intimates, though she does not come right out and say, that to allow Dan to return home while nearly simultaneously making their presence known to yet another, almost certainly more hostile party would undo all the hard work of the last twelve hours. She would prefer that she and Tania first pose as attractive hitchhikers (she guarantees that a typical sexist will bumble along) and then, after securing a ride, kidnap their benefactor, who’ll be in no position to alert the pigs. Yolanda’s will prevails, and Tania now hurriedly prepares to commit at least one more capital offense, as well as miscellaneous lesser felonies, adjusting her wig and pulling her shoes on. Yolanda gives her a revolver, which she tucks into her waistband, but Teko tells her that her blouse doesn’t cover it completely. She tries closing her jacket over it, but that leaves a curious bulge. Finally she places it in her waistband at the small of her back, then tries drawing it a couple of times. It appears in her hand smoothly enough, though Yolanda assures her, “I’ll draw first.” They leave.
“Dan,” says Teko, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to mention long as we’re alone for a couple of minutes.”
“We just want to let you know we think you’re really great. A big help, with the handcuffs and all. And when I think: some people would make a real big stink out of getting abducted. I remember I was a kid, around your age, something interrupted my plans I went apeshit, big time. But you’ve been aces: driving around, lousy fucking night’s sleep, wondering what was gonna happen.”
“Well, you’ve been real great too. All of you.”
“Well, good. Anyway I just was thinking, Yolanda and me and Tania too, that if you wanted to lead a youth unit of the SLA, I think you’d be perfect. You’re just the sort of young person we’re looking for.”
“Well, um. I don’t know what to say except that well, I’m flattered, first, but even though I can see your point?”
“Even though I can see your point of view politics really isn’t my thing? You know? No offense.”
“No, no. I understand. Just the same, if you change your mind.”
“We know where to find you.”
“We know where you live, OK.” Teko makes a little gun out of his thumb and forefinger and aims it at Dan, bringing down the hammer of his thumb. He grins. Then Yolanda and Tania drive up in a new Lincoln Continental. A man is sitting in the backseat, looking like a frightened bird.
“Well, Dan. You take care, now.”
“You too. Good luck.”
“Need any gas money to get back home?”
“Um, I’m all right.”
“’Kay. Let me have that blanket we used on you, will you? Just wrap the rifles up in it. Yeah. And give us about a half an hour, OK? Count to a million.”
“Jeez,” says Dan, a little affronted, “I won’t tell anybody.”
“I know you won’t. Bye, Dan.”
“Bye!” Dan waves out the window at Tania and Yolanda as Teko gets out of the van, carrying the bundled rifles, shopping bags, and other gear.
“You’re gonna have to scunch down, mister,” says Teko, getting into the backseat. “Hang on a sec. Did you check him out?”
Yolanda shrugs, and Tania shakes her head.
“Christ, for all you know the guy could be a pig.” Teko goes through the man’s pockets, finding a wallet. “Ray Fraley. What’s your line, Ray Fraley?”
“I’m a, I’m a contractor.”
“Like, buildings? Excellent. Useful, productive. Do you build good buildings?”
“I. Yes. I mean. How do you mean?”
Teko shakes his head. “Man, I’m not trying to trip you up with bullshit doublespeak. Do you build good buildings or do you build bad buildings?”
“Yes, they’re good, I’m proud of them.”
“Good. Good. OK, now, I’m hereby expropriating this here two hundred fifty dollars in your wallet in the name of the Symbionese Liberation Army. It will be put to good use. Now, scunch down. We’re going to put this blanket over you for your own protection. Don’t do anything weird or flaky or we’ll shoot you and you’ll be dead and that’s just not gonna be a good thing. OK?”
Teko drops the blanket over the man sprawled uncomfortably across the floor in the back of the car. He notices that the blanket is trembling; his mind articulates the phrase shaking like a leaf, which reminds him, inexplicably, of his mother. He asks the shaking blanket: “Are you OK under there? You don’t have a bad heart or anything, do you?”
The blanket shakes some more.
“I mean, we really don’t want you to get sick on us or anything. I’m asking are you OK?”
“That’s good. ’Cause you’re just shit out of luck if you have a heart attack. I just need you to know that.”
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
Sheila Mears wanted the lights down low while they sat quiet and listened to music in the front room, but she didn’t want Charles Gates getting the wrong idea. She could tell from the look on his face all night that he figured he was the wolf in the chicken coop with them all, and when the card game stopped and the wine kept coming she just knew, she read in his face that taking your pick look she’s seen before. And she didn’t feel like it, she knew Lillian didn’t if what she said was to be believed (which it wasn’t always), and she didn’t either think it was correct for a girl of Crystal’s age of seventeen years, not that she was all that innocent, but you know. And her own kids would be getting up pretty soon now for school; she didn’t want all that going on while they trying to get to the cornflakes.
She’d gotten up to go into the kitchen to get another nerve pill when there was a knock at the door. This wasn’t that unusual. People knew Sheila and Lillian liked to stay up and have company. Nothing duller than a quiet house. Her mother kept a quiet house. But four in the morning: kind of late. Other hand, here come the cavalry is how you want to look at it in regards to Charles Gates and his wolf-looking face. She opened the door. Lillian joined her at the entryway. Outside a good-looking stranger was standing at ease on the porch like the most natural thing.
“Hello, sisters,” he said. “My name is Cinque.”
“Sin Q?” repeated Lillian, giggling.
“Yes, sister. I need your help. I saw your lights. The police are looking for my friends and I, and we need a place to stay for several hours.”
He spoke formally; he was reaching. Sheila was impressed and amused at the same time.
“Why I’d want to hide you from the police?”
Cinque smiled. He was a fine-looking man. “We’re the SLA. Freedom fighters fighting on behalf of all the People. Maybe,” he added, “you’ve heard of us.”
“What’s going on out there?” yelled Crystal, who’d been left alone with Charles Gates in the front room.
“Well, I don’t know,” said Sheila.
“There’ll be no trouble, I promise you.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out five twenties, which he fanned out so that Sheila and Lillian could see them all. They looked real. Sheila and Lillian put their heads together for a little chat.
“What we got in here,” said Lillian, phrasing the decisive argument, “they could take worth a hundred dollars?”
Charles Gates was drafted to help tote in supplies. Soon Sheila was surprised to see all manner of arms and ammunition coming in the front door and being carried through the house to the kitchen, along with suitcases, footlockers, and cardboard cartons. Plus white people. Sheila never had a white person in her house before. They come to the door to sell her Jesus. They read her meters and delivered her mail. But never inside. She kept waiting for another black face, as four white women and a white man came through the door, all partly hidden behind whatever they carried.
“Thank you, sister. You are helping the cause of freedom.” The fact that Cinque uttered this while holding a sloshing gasoline can put a vague fear in Sheila’s insides. The others followed suit as if cued, mechanically thanking Sheila.
“What about me?” said Lillian, jokingly.
They all dutifuly extended thanks to Lillian, who burst out laughing, breaking the tiniest of holes in the white ice. Cinque then explained that they needed to hide the vans somewhere. Charles Gates knew just the place. He said he’d take Cinque.
Outside, Charles Gates said, “You the ones took Alice Galton.”
“We have liberated her mind of fascist oppression,” said Cinque, still grandiloquent.
“Where she at?”
“She is with a combat unit, brother, on special assignment. And that is all I’m at liberty to say at present.”
The sky began to grow light. Darkness would never touch this home again. Lillian, Sheila, and Crystal remained in the front room while their guests occupied themselves in the kitchen.
“You see all that? What you get us into?”
“Me? You the one said let’s take the hundred dollars.”
“Damn, I didn’t know they was a whole army and shit.”
The front door opened, and Charles Gates and Cinque entered.
“Cinque say they need a place to stay about two weeks,” reported Charles Gates.
Sheila snapped her fingers; there was a place for rent around the corner, on Compton. Oh yeah, said Charles Gates, lightly striking himself in the forehead. And we was right there, too. They went out again.
“Hi.” It was two of the white girls, the teensy one and the pretty one. They didn’t know what to say but wanted to say something. This was white gratitude toward blacks: the idea was you were supposed to divine it from their sheer dumb presence. Lillian asked them why they were on the move.
“Long story short, pigs foun’ us,” said the teensy one. “Dey lucky we all left fo’ dey got there.”
Sheila wrinkled up her nose as if she had smelled a mouse lying dead behind the baseboard.
“I believe it,” said Lillian amiably. “You look like you ready for them.”
Gradually the kitchen emptied, and the hall filled with milling SLA members again, peering in at their black benefactors with that mutely abject appreciation. Sheila felt uncomfortable. And she wanted to see what was going on in her kitchen.
“Why don’t you all sit down and I will see what is going on in my kitchen,” she said. She prided herself on being a very direct person. The SLA obediently traded places with the black women.
Sheila had some trouble with the kitchen. One thing, she spent about an hour the day before cleaning it all up with Fantastik and Mop & Glo and all that. The real official cleanup for killing things that can’t be seen with your naked eye. And now there was a bunch of dirty ass shit in here, and stacked on her dinette too. Like who hasn’t got sense enough to stack crates of bullets on the floor, thank you.
Lillian knew her roommate was a fussy person. She saw the look on her face.
“Sheila, girl, it’s just for today. They call up about Compton Avenue and they gone.”
“Yeah, they in here now, though.”
“Sheila, the man just paid the rent.”
“Girl can’t add.”
“Your half the rent.”
“Can’t buy peace of mind.”
“Buy a whole lot of other stuff,” said Lillian.
Charles Gates banged on the glass of the kitchen door with his fist and the three women jumped.
“Here’s Cinque,” announced Charles Gates. “He likes the place. He thinks it’s fine. He’s calling up today.” He sounded breathless, excited. He added, “I’m skipping work today, helping Cinque out.”
“Who cares?” said Sheila sulkily. Someone was honking in the driveway.
“That’s my ride,” said Charles Gates, beaming. “I’m telling them to go on without me.”
“How they know you suppose to be here? Cocky turkey.”
“You never guess who’s in here. Cinque, that’s who. The Symbionese Liberation Army who took Alice Galton. They got guns and they got bombs. You want to see him? They just show up, middle of the night, blam, out of nowhere. I’m, like, wooo. This is different. I’m staying. I’m helping Cinque today. You want to see him?”
The other man looked at his watch. “I gotta open today,” he said, apologetically. “Maybe I’ll come see him tonight.”
LETTER TO THE PEOPLE
May 18, 1974 Women’s Bathroom Hollywood Station, Vine Street
It’s an odd note that Tania duplicates in her Palmer script on sheets of blank notepaper she finds in Ray Fraley’s glove compartment, taking whispered dictation from Teko and Yolanda. The brief message will be deposited at several prearranged dead drops around South Central Los Angeles. What it means is that tomorrow another communication will be left in the restroom at the bus station. If conditions are favorable, there may actually be a physical reunion there between the divided forces of the SLA.
They stop at a drugstore off Hollywood Boulevard to buy Scotch tape before getting on the freeway and heading back toward Inglewood. On one occasion Yolanda believes she sees Dan Russell’s van up ahead in the number two lane, and she slows so abruptly that Teko slides off the backseat, landing with his knees on Ray Fraley’s back. Teko curses and snarls but Ray Fraley gives only a sharp inhalation, because he is afraid to cry out.
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
Sheila’s kids came into the kitchen for breakfast.
“I’m hungry,” said Timmy, the eleven-year-old.
“I’m hungry,” said Tony, the eight-year-old.
But there were all these boxes, bullets and the like, stacked up in front of the cabinet where she kept cereal, and she wasn’t about to touch them.
Who’re these white people? What’s all this stuff? It was a different kind of morning, just say. She put glasses of milk in front of the kids.
“Yuck!” said Timmy.
“I want Lucky Charms!” said Tony.
“We don’t have no Lucky Charms, you know that,” said Sheila. She got up the courage to take the boxes of cartridges and gingerly move them to another spot. They were heavy. She opened the cabinet. No cereal. In the other room, Cinque was handing Crystal a twenty and sending her to Sam’s to buy beer, bread, cold cuts, and cigarettes, and Sheila asked her nice to buy some cereal and milk. Crystal shot her some look; probably she was counting on keeping the change. Sheila wasn’t going to hold her breath, just say.
Dead Drop 1
UNITED STATES POST OFFICE, COMPTON STATION
He says, Are you telling me these trucks stayed right here? and I said, Yes, sir. And he looks at me funny and says, They’re dirty, these trucks, because they are parked on this street all night. At first, you know, I think he is joking. But still I’m looking him right in the face because it’s near impossible to tell. He’s a real cold fish. Cold fish eyes. By and by I’m like: he means it.
So what I said?, I said to him, We ain’t got the keys, sir. And he says: What? What did you say?
Yeah, like that. I tell him, We’d like to keep ’em looking clean too, sir, but we ain’t got the keys to the trucks. The carriers come back and park them where they like. Been doing it that way a long time, I guess.
Well I, well you know, you know what I heard was. What I heard was that they sent him over here from Century City ’cause he’s reweighing all the damn flats up there. Says he knows the mailroom boys in all the office buildings are fudging on the first class rates. Every now and then he finds one that’s under by ten cents or so and he sends a bunch of ’em right back. Lawyers going bananas in their fancy offices. You know how they like to send out their flats.
Say, now what’s that gal up to?
You lose something under there, miss?
Damnedest things people do.
Sure be happy to help you find it. No questions asked.
Well, she’s got her mind fixed on something. Not that I’m ever sorry to see a lady in that position. Anyways, that’s why I’m heading out to the hardware, get these here keys copied. Bet you lot of people get their mail late today, I’ll tell you.
Tania stands and readjusts her wig and casts a quick glance around her. The man and his companion, both wearing uniforms that seem somehow even more drab, even less convincing an assertion of authority, than those worn by ordinary letter carriers, watch her abstractedly while they talk. She is a sort of oddity here in Compton. The drop is under one of the drive-up mailboxes behind the post of fice building; the Lincoln waits around the corner. Tania is unarmed and feels exposed here without the others. As she hustles back, more anxious about getting to the car than she is concerned about the LETTER TO THE PEOPLE’S surviving the curiosity of the two postal employees, she catches a sidelong glimpse of her own photograph, hanging among the wanted posters.
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
Sure enough, there was no breakfast in the bag Crystal lugged back. Sheila hoped it was nice and heavy. Cinque cracked open one of the quarts of Colt .45 and lit a cigarette while Crystal carried the remaining stuff into the kitchen, where the fat white one right away started making sandwiches. She was pretty nice, the only one didn’t creep around like she was in a museum of black people or something. Sheila asked for two sandwiches for Timmy and Tony right away, then called them in from the front room, where they were watching cartoons with the white man. The kids ate a sandwich and Charles Gates had one and Crystal too and the pile of sandwiches for Cinque and the white people looked pretty skinny, but the fat one didn’t seem to mind too much. Sheila took another nerve pill.
Charles Gates took his sandwich into the front room, where he stood eating it, looking on as Cinque and the white dude watched the street through the windows. Cinque spoke to him without turning around.
“You think you could find us a cheap van or station wagon? Just buy it from whoever?”
“Well, I could look around.”
“Just need to run, that’s all.” Cinque reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. He counted out ten twenties, two fifties, and two hundreds.
Charles Gates suddenly had this great entrepreneurial idea: He’d call around to friends on behalf of the SLA, offering fifty dollars for the afternoon’s use of their car, and then offer copious apologies when the SLA disappeared with it. It was such a sweet idea he started right away, walking to the pay phone down at Sam’s. Hey, man, I said it’s for the SLA! No takers, though, and they all gave him shit about it. Think I’m lying? He walked back to the house, fingering the cash in his pocket, to tell Cinque he’d try again later. He’d hold on to the money, right, just in case he had to make a deal quick.
Dead Drop 2
MABE’S, NORMANDIE AVENUE
Mmmmm-hmm. So I say, I’m a tell you what you need to do, girl. You better watch your mouth. Mmmmm-hmm. ’Cause I don’t want to hear that. ‘Cause that’s some feeb excuses. ’Cause that’s bull. I never had no problems getting in the movies. I hand them they money and they say, Come on in, Sharifa, same as everbody else. And she say, she say, Why you don’t believe me? See my ticket? Show me some raggedy-ass stub she be picking up off the ground somewheres. This here girl a genius of deception, I tell you. Mmmmm-hmm. And she goes, they say I dressed in-appropriate. And I say of course you are dressed in-appropriately. You dressed inappropriate ly in here. You dressed in-appropriately when you be going down to the church. You dressed in-appropriately when you lying on your sofa at your house. You are a in-appropriate person by in large, you knowm saying? That’s why my momma tell me not to book around with you when we kids. That’s why you pregnant when you eighteen, fool. Mmmmm-hmm. That’s why you gots four kids and no money. Mmmmm-hmm. But they let anybody in the movies. They let Woolsy in and he a screamer. They let gang kids in and they be ripping on the seats with they knives. And I give you five dollars to be taking my kids to the matinee, and I want to know where it’s at and what you did with them when they wasn’t at the movies like I said. I’m sorry, I just saying the truth ’cause God don’t like a liar and God don’t like ugly. That’s what I tell her.
Honey, what can I get you?
Just coffee? Honey, you look hungry!
All right, all right, just axing ’cause you look like you need a real meal.
In there. Uh-huh.
Damn, they got a what you call, Hamburger Hamlet, right up near the Forum if she only want to eat where the white people at.
Well, if she just need to take a pee, I let her. Not like some cheap white restaurant lady.
In the ladies’ room Yolanda raises her shirt and untapes the note from her abdomen. Stiffly, she lowers herself to her knees to peer under the sink and, feeling satisfied that conditions are OK under there (on the basis of criteria she invents on the spot), she tapes the message to the underside of the basin. She rises and dusts off her knees and then leaves the room. She places a quarter next to the steaming cup of coffee and is about to walk out, but then she stops, fixing the coffee with sugar and plenty of milk to cool it. She drinks it down quickly, feeling upon her the eyes of the counter woman and her single customer. She tells herself that she feels closer to these people every day. She is trying hard to love them.
It is 8:55 and a police sergeant lifts a bullhorn to his lips.
“To those inside the house at Eight thirty-three West Eighty-fourth Street, this is the Los Angeles Police Department. We want you to come out of the front door with your hands up. We want you to come out immediately. You will not be harmed.” He lowers the bullhorn and looks at the device while he awaits a response, as if he expected to see smoke curling from it. One hundred twenty-five cops and federal agents are here, ready for a siege, ready to see blood rain from the poor shack they surround and fix their attention on, 125 law officers wearing jumpsuits and flak jackets, laid across rooftops with powerful scoped rifles trained on Prophet Jones’s hovel, concealed in the shrubbery with M-16s and tear gas canisters, crouched behind unmarked cars, all squired by dozens of members of the press, who stand back across the street with notepads and doughnuts and cardboard cups of tepid coffee. Their attention is beginning to wander. The LAPD commander on the scene notes this and imposes himself on the FBI supervisor, calling for immediate action. The agent agrees.
There is a ritual uneventfulness to what follows, the way that brutal and violent games intersperse bursts of outraged fury with prolonged and decorous procedural maneuvers. Four FBI men break from cover to dash toward the house, two covering with M-16s as the others fire Flite-Rite rockets bearing CS tear gas through the front windows of the building. Then all four men disappear again, to rejoin the waiting.
Five minutes later another team of four agents storms the house, breaking down the door and rushing in with rifles. The remaining lawmen and the press wait.
Then one of the agents emerges from the house, his gun put up, and removes his gas mask. He is supposed to be indignant—he says, “Shit!”—but he’s actually relieved to live another day.
Dead Drop 3
CRENSHAW ACRES SHOPPING CENTRE, INGLEWOOD
So I’m out here with my staple gun and my flyers, going around and hoping for the best. They do run away sometimes and you just have to face that and I said to Ralph last night just before bed when I’d gone outside and called for her for a little while with no luck that you just have to face it. Cats aren’t the most domesticated of creatures, you know? It is the essence of their appeal if you ask me. They were in the wilds aeons after dogs had already made themselves right at home among man, because I suppose dogs had more of a function in a hunter-gathery kind of culture like they liked back then. Then of course people started growing things and storing grain and before you know it you have mice and rats getting into the grain and that’s just not good at all for the good people of the Fertile Crescent or wherever it was and so cats sort of insinuated themselves and the people looked the other way and then the next thing you know they’re carving these big statues of them and praying to them! And from there you get the common house cat that we all know. But common as they are, you become oh so attached to them. The last one I had, it was all over at seven, kidney problems, that’s how the males go. I’ll never have another male again; it breaks your heart. But we moved recently, not too very far from where we were, I suppose she may have gotten confused. Somebody over there is probably feeding her, and I’ll be heading over there with my flyers and my staple gun, and then I’ll be off to the Humane Society to check the binders and see if anyone’s reported finding her. There’s always a little hope.
Young man, do you need to get in here? I don’t mean to be blocking your path but as I’m telling this young lady here I want to cover this bulletin board nicely because—oh, excuse me!
Some people just aren’t very nice these days. Well, I don’t let it bother me, though I do hope that it’s a nice sort of person who spots her. I’ve heard terrible stories about vivisectionists, do you know, who slice open living animals for science—science they call it!—they roam around looking for lost pets to take to USC for secret experiments. It’s too horrible to even think about! So I won’t.
Yes, young man, I can, and I would. I’m just not so spry as a strong young fellow like you … oh, you look perfectly healthy to me, young man, your knee may have been injured once upon a time but I’m sure it’s healed completely, the young are lucky that way, but please do not push past me, I told you that I will move out of your way just as I did before, you have only to ask.
It gets worse and worse. It really does.
This is General Teko’s most daring move yet. The drop is on the community bulletin board of the Crenshaw Acres Shopping Centre-directly across from Mel’s Sporting Goods! It was while scouting out this drop, during their first day in L.A., that Teko had spotted Mel’s and made a mental note to return for supplies. There is some bright yellow police tape demarcating the crime scene in front of the store and plywood covering the plate glass panes that Tania’s bullets shattered. Otherwise things look pretty peaceful. The old biddy is staring daggers at him but looks away when he meets her eyes. He wonders whether she noted the relative incongruity of the LETTER TO THE PEOPLE amid the ads for dance lessons and used cars or if his photograph has been broadcast locally. The radio has already aired news reports that the police have surrounded a “bungalow in the ghetto area of Compton.” And here he is back at the scene of the skirmish. He looks at his watch. About five to nine.
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
Some girls came to see Crystal. They wanted to know if she wanted her hair cornrowed. She was wearing it in a sort of sloppy natural and she and her two friends went in the bathroom and studied their hair in the mirror. One thing they knew was that it was one hot-ass day. They wanted their hair out of the way if this was how summer was going to be. Casually, one of the girls asked Crystal who were all the white people in the house.
“They the SLA,” said Crystal authoritatively. She poked out her lips and opened her eyes big. It was her mirror face.
“The who?” said one friend.
Cinque stopped in the hall and poked his head in the bathroom door.
“How you sisters doing?”
One girl, Cathy, rolled her eyes. The other, Rondella, asked him: “Who’s the SLA?”
They were going to start a revolution and get the police. Not necessarily in that order. They were recruiting too. Interested? The girls shook their heads.
Crystal decided not to get cornrows because Rondella, who was good at it, wanted three dollars. She walked out with the two girls when they left the house. While they stood on the shaded porch, two of the white girls came out. One carried a rifle, and the other had her pistol out and was cleaning it. Cathy and Rondella were bugging out. They went off to tell people what they’d seen at Sheila Mears’s house.
THE VOICE SAYS, “THERE’S a real scientific reason for this. The reason that you so often see dogs in older photographs with pipes and cigars and cigarettes in their mouth is because photographers found that they were extremely sensitive to nicotine, the dogs were.”
The radio host says, “Sensitive? As in, they responded to it as they might have to a drug?”
“What a load of crap,” criticizes Teko.
The Lincoln pulls up beside a newspaper vending machine, and Yolanda, who has been sprawled across the seat to avoid stepping on Ray Fraley, emerges to buy a copy of the Los Angeles Times. The fugitives are looking to buy a car.
“Yes. Exactly. Photographers found that it was extremely helpful in terms of getting the dog to stand still and in place during the somewhat lengthy process of exposing the plate. So it became a common thing.”
“And there was no comic intent? No sense of here, just for laughs let’s dress this dog in a top hat with a cigar?”
“So why,” says Teko, “didn’t they just mix some tobacco in with their food?”
Yolanda runs her finger down the column. BUICK ’69 EL’TRA; CHRYSLER, ’68—NEWPORT; FORD GALAXIE 500 ’69; PONTIAC CATALINA ’62.
“Too big,” says Teko. “Too much money. Check the foreign cars.”
“And yet frequently,” says the interviewer, “you do see these animals wearing human clothes in photographs of the time.”
“Yes, but there was no true scientific reason behind it, as with the tobacco items.”
DATSUN ’72; TOYOTA, ’71, CORONA; VOLKSWAGEN ’68 BUG.
Teko: “Anyways, how would they get enough nicotine to actually be, like, drugged, just from having an unlit cigar in their mouth?” No one answers him. “What a load of crap,” he concludes.
“Now we’ll be accepting some questions from our listeners at home.”
Teko stops again. Yolanda takes a handful of dimes and goes to make some calls from a pay phone. The three occupants of the car sit without speaking.
“Hello? My young cat is very active and seems to want to be played with, but the thing is whenever I try to invent a game for her, she just stalks away. What’s wrong?”
Yolanda makes a thumbs-up as she walks back from the pay phone. Leaning in the driver’s side window, she points to a circled ad for a ’63 Corvair offered for three hundred dollars. She then points to an address written in the upper margin of the page. All this silent business is so that Ray Fraley has no way of identifying the make and model car they buy. Teko nods.
“Am I on?” asks a man. “What I wanted to say is it seems to me that everyone knows about dogs, but nobody knows about horses. What I mean is that practically everybody can tell the difference between a poodle and a bulldog, but nobody knows the difference between, say, a quarter horse and an Arabian. Why?”
“I honestly don’t know, but I certainly agree with you. And the strange thing is that horses are such a big thing, quote unquote, today.”
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
Jimmy Reddy knew Lillian Maybry liked her greens, so he picked some fresh that morning before the sun got too hot to be standing around like a old fool and made up a brown paper bag for her. He carried it over. Hot already, with one of them warm winds that put a angry in you.
Lillian was a nice girl and easy to look at. Something funny, though. The house seemed to be full of guns and white folks.
“Where’s Lillian at?” he asked a young white man who sat in the front room. The white man shrugged, so he carried his bag into the kitchen and set it down. A fat white girl came up and upped herself on tiptoe to peep in the bag, nice as you please.
“Hi,” she said. “Did you just pick those? They look fantastic.”
“Got ’em out my garden,” he said.
“How do you make them?” she asked.
“You just, you boil ‘em, or you can fry ’em up in a little oil, you know, till they get wilty.” He sort of backed out of the kitchen. That girl was wearing a gun.
The old man found Lillian in her bedroom, fully dressed but looking kind of groggy on the edge of the bed.
“Brought you some collard greens,” he said.
“That’s nice,” said Lillian. “Thank you.”
“What’s going on around here?” he asked. “Sort of funny-looking.”
Jimmy looked toward the open door and saw the fat girl again with a hard-looking white girl, hard-looking. She had a gun too.
“Is Lillian feeling OK?” asked the fat girl.
“Ask her yourself,” said Jimmy. “I got to go.”
YOLANDA CLEARS HER THROAT.
“Yo deseo la compra el azul coche que usted coloca el anuncio en el Tiempo de Los Angeles.”
“No entiendo.” The small woman stands on her doorsill, arms folded.
“¿El coche usted desea venta?” Yolanda tries again.
“¿Mi car? ¿Usted quiere intentarlo? You drive it?”
“Um. No una cosa importante. Aqui dinero suficiente y la coloco en manos de usted.”
The woman shakes her head and reaches to close the door on her visitor. “No entiendo.”
Yolanda: “¡Puse el dinero a usted para el azul del coche!”
“OK. ¿Usted quiere pagarme y tomar mi car ahora? Right now?”
“Sí. Um, yo quiero pagarme y tomar el car. Coche.”
The woman shakes her head at the dual idiocy of this Anglo lady’s Spanish and her willingness to purchase the car sight unseen.
“Trescientos. Three hundred dollars.”
“Esto es dinero requerida.”
“La suma requerida está aquí.”
“OK. OK.” The woman can’t help laughing now. She has the cash in her hands and holds it close to the bosom of her tired housedress, gathering it in as she laughs.
“Me deseo hago los papeles necesarios al gobierno. ¿Todo a la derecha?”
“No entiendo. No entiendo.” The woman laughs and laughs.
“Hago los papeles al gobierno. OK?”
She laughs: “Bueno, bueno. OK. No cuido.”
RAY FRALEY HAS AN IRA, which he pronounces like the male given name. Lest it be confused with the terrorist army, ha-ha. He has a certificate of deposit, and a mutual fund, and a savings passbook he wants to bring in to have the interest registered. He has term life insurance through his company and whole life through Irving Kreitzberg, CLU over in West Hollywood. He has a death, disability, and dismemberment policy, which pays incrementally greater amounts for the loss of a single finger, a hand, an entire arm, and so on, and does he really want to think about this now? He has Blue Cross, which provides for a semiprivate hospital room. He has a house that last belonged to Ted Bessell. From That Girl. Or was it Dick Sargent? Dick York? It was a colorless male lead. He sees the face and hears the laugh track smothering the unfunny lines. Bob Crane? Bob Cummings, ring a bell? Bob Montgomery? That would be Elizabeth’s dad. She starred with Dick York—or was it Sargent?—in that show. But whoever it was who’d walked the halls of his house, burned meat in the barbecue pit, and pissed in the toilets, he just can’t remember at this particular moment. Anyway, these are the assets he has counted on being able to marshal against the onslaught of the world. They had looked formidable, solid, marking him as a propertied man, a man of means, of a certain impermeability. And now?
Bob Cummings had been Robert in the movies. Ray Fraley had watched his movies at the Fox, in Detroit, when he was a boy. Not a pot to piss in then. If he’d had a way then to articulate his desires, they would have come out: IRA, life insurance, mortgage, etc. It is these financial instruments that give form to his dreams. His dreams wrap themselves in their legal names.
Impermeabile means raincoat in Italian. Ducking into Renascente on a rainy February day, “Vorrei un impermeabile.” Feeling like Gregory Peck, picturing himself in the future, telling the anecdote of this needful Roman purchase, the rain angling out of a slate sky onto the very history of Western civilization.
But it wasn’t Robert Cummings stalking those drafty halls he now owned. Bob Cummings hadn’t sat on his patio or poured an old-fashioned at his wet bar. Who?
And what else? He has a very exciting oral-genital relationship with a married middle-aged secretary in his office named Maureen. He has a teenage daughter with a canopy bed. An ex-wife whose wedding he will attend because they are “good friends.” When he pictures her mentally, he sees a figure sitting propped up in bed, wearing sunglasses, a hundred-millimeter filter cigarette burning in an ashtray at her bedside right next to her sweating tumbler. That aggrieved noontide voice.
This car purrs just like a kitten.
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
This is the talk of the neighborhood. Over the fence while you hanging the wash and whatnot: Y’all hear what’s up at Sheila’s? What they coming in all bold like that unless they wanting people to know. Because they don’t know how dull it can get around here. They are the number one topic, mmmmm-hmm. They gonna kill the cops. They gonna start a revolution. Revolution? What we need a revolution for? Just open a supermarket around here we don’t be going to Sam’s for every damn thing. Ha-ha-ha.
At 1220 hours Metro Squad Castle-Bravo Six on routine patrol did observe two unattended vehicles at location rear of One Four Five One East Fifty-third Street matching APB descriptions on vehicles sought in Eight Three Three West Eighty-fourth Street incident. Per bulletin, dispatch informed but no further action taken.
EN ROUTE TO GRIFFITH PARK, the suitably remote location where they plan to release Ray Fraley with a stern warning and switch to the Corvair, Yolanda, following in the new car, misses the exit. Tania, who drives the Lincoln, watches helplessly in the rearview as the little blue car continues on the freeway, heading toward beautiful downtown Burbank. That was stupid. Teko curses.
Once in the vast park, is she a little surprised to find herself on Crystal Springs Road? She’d graduated from Crystal Springs School for Girls, where she’d met and commenced the seduction of Eric Stump.
She sees it now as an act of bourgeois self-annihilation. I mean, wanting to be a housewife at age sixteen?
But anyway, Crystal Springs, the reservoir itself, had been a long streak of glittering mercury in the sun that slanted over the coastal ranges, another of the Bay Area’s limitless ornamentations, fenced off from the public and viewed mainly from the viaducts she drove her MG across.
Teko leans close. He whispers, “We have to waste this guy. Yolanda’s not showing up.”
Tania’s eyes fill with tears.
“We’ll leave his body in the bushes. Nobody’ll find it for days. Now, you knock it the fuck off. The last thing I need is any of your rich bitch bullshit. Just shut up and do as you’re ordered.”
“We could wait a little longer. Please. Just a little while longer.”
They wait. The radio reports again on the useless raid on Eighty-fourth Street. The garbage-strewn house has been found to be unoccupied. Teko sneers. Tania reaches out to change the station, slaps away Teko’s hand when he moves to restrain her. It is an unpremeditated, unprecedented act, and they stare at each other in silent hiatus before Tania turns the knob, seeking music.
In the back, Ray Fraley hears the famous voice singing the grinding dirge: “If I ever get out of here, thought of giving it all away.” He says to himself, Oh Yes God Please.
Whispering again: “Fucking have to off him. It’s him or us.”
“Just wait. She’ll come.”
“You do what I tell you, or I swear it’ll be both of you rotting in the bushes.”
Tania has basically made up her mind that she isn’t going to allow Ray Fraley to be killed just because Yolanda can’t read road signs, or follow big white cars, or whatever her problem is. She works to convince herself that this mutinous plan is worth it on the basis of what seems like the distant memory of Ray Fraley’s not-so-bad smile as he leaned out of his car window to talk to two apparent hitchhikers in the early morning. The bright, mildly lecherous smile of a man taking time out of his busy day.
“We wait five more minutes.”
“I’m not fucking bargaining with you, Tania.”
“Five minutes, then you can kill him.”
“The fuck? Quiet the hell down, will you?”
“Just not yet. Don’t kill him yet. OK?”
“Just, like, shh! Shhhhh! Come on.”
Tania finds it easier to talk to Teko like this when she’s alone with him. Together he and Yolanda just wear her down. But separately they’re both little nothings. In the old days she wouldn’t have given either of them the time of day. She is amazed at how easily that old sense of class privilege resurfaces. On the other hand, she’s a little proud of how well she’s adapted; this is the very first time in her life she has had to associate, for a sustained period, with people she hasn’t chosen.
“OK. OK. I’m ready to move on to plan B.” Teko is holding a revolver and gesturing with his head toward the huddled prisoner in the back. He nervously cocks and uncocks the weapon’s hammer, the barrel aimed carelessly at his own femoral artery.
“Are you sure you want to do it in the car? Pretty messy.”
“Well, I guess not. But where’m I supposed to?”
“I don’t know. It’s your plan.”
“Well, I can’t just shoot him in plain sight.”
“Well, we can’t just go driving around with a bloody body in the back.” Tania slackens her face to demonstrate the stupidity of this prospect.
“You’re shouting again.”
“I’m not. I’m not shouting. This is talking.”
“I’m so sick of whispering. I don’t have a whispering voice. Some people were born to go mousing around whispering their whole lives and I’m not one of them. I’m so sick of whispering I could scream.”
“I’m not screaming. I’m not shouting. I’m just sitting here talking. You’re the one who puts us in these situations where we have to be going around talking in these little like whispery voices. Talk about something else and we don’t have to whisper. Just, like, change the subject.”
“You’re crazy. You’ll never be an urban guerrilla. You just don’t understand that this sort of work calls for instantaneous reactions to rapidly unfolding developments.”
“OK. Sure. I don’t understand. Let’s just shoot the guy. Mr. Fraley, will you please sit up?”
“Stop! Shouting!” screams Teko. “Fraley, you just lie there, man! Don’t listen to her! She is fucking around with us.”
The blanket is trembling. Nearly twenty-four hours of trembling blankets. Something about this upholstered fear that makes it more palpable, more pitiable; something about it that marks the total destitution of these seized and interrupted lives. She is moved beyond words by these frightened people hidden away under blankets; she is furious that Teko sees them merely as markers at arc’s end of a gesture he is determined to complete.
Teko is red-faced, and he is shaking with anger. He raises the gun and presses it to her collarbone.
“You”—he taps the gun against her—“fucking”—tap—“watch it”—tap.
Then there is motion in blue heading up the road and through the parking lot. It’s the Corvair, with a harried-looking Yolanda behind the wheel. She pulls up beside the Lincoln, yanks the emergency brake.
“Sorry I’m so late,” she says.
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
Everybody began falling by to see the SLA. Cinque sent Crystal out to get some Boone’s Farm, and Sheila watched uneasily as he slugged that down while describing the SLA’s goals, showing off his quick-draw technique with his Chief’s Special, and occasionally seeming to drop off to sleep in mid-sentence. The white man kept watch out the front windows. Charles Gates went up to Cinque and whispered something in his ear. Sheila rolled her eyes. Mr. Big Secret. Man so full of it he can’t see straight. Cinque nodded, and Charles Gates left.
Charles Gates was booking on out of there with that easy five hundred. Never to return, baby.
Sheila went to stand behind Willie and look out her own front window, thank you. This was a day of wonders for sure: another white man, wearing a coat and tie, was outside talking to Charles Gates, pointing and gesturing at her house. He looked familiar, and then his friend or what you call colleague with the little camera comes up, and she sees the camera has on it “KNXT MiniCam Unit.”
She heard Cinque ask, “Where’s the station wagon?”
“I don’t know. When did you send that kid?” asked the hard-looking one.
“While ago, now.”
“With the money.”
“What you want me to do?”
“Well, what you want?”
Sheila was tireder than she could ever remember. Up all night and then this whole day being what her grandma would have called a tribulation. Cartons and boxes seemed to be piled in every corner of her home now, and she picked her way past, heading for her bedroom, where she found that white boy stretched out on her own bed. She put her hands on her hips. Not a word. Just one look was all it took. He leaped up as if she’d stuck him with a hatpin and was gone. She closed the door behind him.
When Timmy got home from school he didn’t see his mother but he did see all those white people and their guns were still there. The man told him to Sit Down and Shut Up and he went out the back. Mr. Reddy was out there and he told him to go to his grandma. “Go get your grandma,” said Mr. Reddy.
EVEN AFTER FIVE O’CLOCK, the main parking lot is jammed and a long line forms outside the gates of the happiest place on earth, Disneyland. Curled in exhaustion on the backseat of the Corvair, Tania senses a distant agitation, in the noise and aromas, in the quality of the light that falls upon this former citrus orchard. It is a place as peculiarly essential as can be. For millions it is an introduction to crowds and their logic. It is rules and order in carefree guise. It is a walk inside a giant rendering of the sugar coating that swathes American life, an exhibit like the Smithsonian’s enormous and anatomically precise organs. But who sees it that way? A million kids with stomachaches? Parents in ridiculous tourist garb, popping off flashcubes like confections of frosted light, the fathers encumbered with Nikons and Pentaxes, the mothers easily swinging Instamatics from their wrist straps? These people waiting to buy sugar water, spun sugar, sugar baked in the familiar forms of nutritious items? Those who stand in line to sit in moving chairs? It is the greatest fun of all, to ennoble all of a culture’s half-forsaken myths and shibboleths by reducing them to cliché and sanitizing them. Yet even among clichés there are those that aren’t permitted here, they’re so ambiguously evocative or of such unpalatably grizzled mien. Everything here looks as clean and disposable as a Dixie cup.
E.g., the motels across Katella Avenue. This is the epicenter of a kind of beauty, the wild optimism of transience. These postatomic permacrete structures stand in mute astonishment at their survival into the 1970s. There are the Little Boy Blue Motel, the Magic Carpet Motel, the Magic Lamp Motel, the Samoa Motel, the Space Age Inn, and a dozen others, each asserting itself through its towering sign, its brummagem modernism, its paradoxical insistence on the eternal half-life of fads.
Yolanda worked here, at Disneyland, one summer, having traveled to the Coast from Indiana. Tania tries to picture the grim revolutionary as a rube fresh from the Midwest, an eight-hour smile on her face throughout her shift, her uniform soiled and smelling of grease.
Teko pulls into the broad driveway of the Cosmic Age Lodge, which sits unobtrusively enough in the harsh light of late afternoon. Driving the Corvair slowly through the half-empty lot, he circles the structure, choosing a spot in the rear with plenty of vacant spaces on either side of it. As Yolanda and Teko instruct her to remain hidden in the backseat while they register, Tania worries for a moment that the little blue wreck will be mistaken for abandoned in its purposeful isolation. Set apart from the sturdy late-model Buicks and Mercurys that muscle up to the building, their car has that telltale bent and faded look of automotive worthlessness.
And it doesn’t escape her that now she’s the one stowed away under that blanket.
The law couldn’t believe its good fortune. Los Angeles ASAC Haff had been informed not only that the SLA vans had been located, but that someone had phoned to report that she had seen the SLA and to provide their address, while another caller had reported “white girls” sneaking around backyards—and all in the same immediate vicinity.
Now Haff leaned back in a chair and stared at the water-stained dropped ceiling in the office of the tow truck business where the field command post had been established. When the op had begun taking shape, he’d headed here from his office. Tips had continued to come in. When he arrived, he was briefed by an agent supervisor: “The switchboard’s like a Christmas tree.” Haff liked that one; it was the sort of malapropism that made his day.
But the LAPD was up his ass. They were just being outrageously aggressive. So Haff quietly made arrangements to minimize the Bureau’s role. Rather than leave the locals holding the whole bag, though, he thought he’d grant them one small favor, just for the sake of auld lang syne, their mutually beneficial relationship, and all the usual horseshit. He picked up the phone and dialed.
He said, “I’d like to speak to Commander Montag, please.” Randy Montag was the LAPD’s public relations liaison. Haff called him the Shadow because of his ability to cloud men’s minds.
Haff waited a few moments, drumming his fingers on the metal desk, and then said, “Randy. Gary Haff at the Bureau. We have an operation coming down that’ll require your fine hand. Oh, yeah. Lucy, you gotta lotta splainin to do.”
He laughed. “Oh, because it’s all yours, my friend. The federal government is just going to be pitching in and directing traffic.” He tilted his head back and laughed again. “Literally”
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
Cinque handed Crystal another twenty; he was running low on cigarettes. Crystal took the money and headed up the alley toward Sam’s one more time. That was funny; there was cops all over the place.
The man behind the counter smiled at her. “You busy today,” he observed. “Gonna wear a groove between here and your place.”
She shrugged. She was pretty sensitive to what she perceived as criticism at her age. She handed him the twenty, and he exhaled sharply. “Y’all know I need to keep some change for other folks, don’t you?” he said, giving it back.
Sullenly she reached into her pocket and dug out a couple of singles and handed them to the man, keeping her hand extended for the change.
“Y’all want a receipt with that?” he asked sarcastically. She turned and left without answering.
As she turned down the alley she saw a white man sliding up to her sideways and she stopped and sighed. It was predictable on the level of cop bullshit. He took her aside, plunked her right out of her real life and into the realm of his convenience. Name and who you going to see, all that. Then he said she had to turn around. No one going through here. This was new. Why? Because he said so. He got a little look on his face, just this angry smile like he was going to cross that line they sometimes did where they start taking little liberties if you don’t start doing what they wanted so she dropped it and turned around. Before she entered Sam’s to return the cigarettes she remembered to put a big smile on her face.
YOLANDA RETURNS TO THE car to retrieve her purse and tersely whispers the room number to the hidden Tania. Tania waits another five minutes and enters the motel at 5:30 to join the others.
The brightly lit public areas of the Cosmic Age are unusual, with panels depicting odd geometric patterns affixed to the walls and staircases, and hanging lanterns offering a not altogether incongruous hint of tropical Orientalia. Sunlight streams blindingly through the tall windows that vertically band the building, and two clerks working the front desk squint across the counter at their guests. At this hour the lobby is becoming busy, as tired vacationers return to their rooms after an afternoon at the theme park. Blending easily with them, Tania ascends a staircase of molded cement steps mounted on an angled steel track.
The interior of the room is pure American Motel: beds, night tables, credenza with color television, picture of ships at sea bolted to the wall. Yolanda is keeping the heavy drapes closed. She lies faceup on one of the double beds, and when Tania enters, she informs the ceiling that Teko is checking the perimeter. Tania switches on the TV
Tania likes to adjust the color, the tint and the hue. She likes a bright, vivid picture, with unreal shades. To her, that’s the point of color television. It drove Eric Stump nuts.
She suddenly realizes that she hasn’t seen television since the night she was kidnapped. The whole country that she’s planning to take over is right here in this box, and she hasn’t even had time to notice how much she’s missed it, the detergents and the new Chevys and the powdered soups that come in an envelope, awaiting boiling water. There are Kenner nail salons, SST Smash-Up Derby cars, training schools that provide free tools upon graduation from their certificate programs. The double knits, the K-Tel records, the lonely Maytag repairman. Even Yolanda raises her head from the synthetic counterpane to watch.
And then there’s nothing more American than this, a preemption of the regularly scheduled broadcast for a special report. Uniformed men with guns outside a flimsy house. The only question is why is this so special after a television lifetime of Vietnam?
It’s the most ordinary of Southern California houses; Tania must have seen a thousand of them in just the last two days.
And they are saying, “SLA.”
And they are saying, “Kidnapped newspaper heiress Alice Galton.”
And they are saying, “Surrounded by police and FBI agents.”
Teko comes in, all excited, though for a brief instant he considers becoming pissed off that Tania and Yolanda have found the news on their own, that he was not the first to watch television. But he settles in, sitting at the foot of the bed Yolanda lies on. “It’s live,” he says.
1466 East Fifty-fourth Street
Della Hurd didn’t believe the boy’s story because his imagination was alive with bedevilment and he was a handful. But there was a look on his face like she doesn’t know what and that old fool Jimmy was standing by the fence with a waiting face. So she went in the back and checked the oven and the range and she shut her back door and turned the lock, all with profound misgivings. At her age there was less time to be wasting.
“I seen some strange things over there myself, Della,” said Jimmy. She waved her hand at him to shut him up.
“Lillian was there looking pretty sick.”
Lillian was like living with a auto wreck as far as Della Hurd was concerned.
“Place was a mess.”
What she just said?
“Full of white people and lots of guns.”
Della Hurd put her hand on Timmy’s shoulder and told him to stay with Mr. Reddy. Then she got on her horse and got over there.
It was worse than she expected. House looked like a army base except with beer bottles and half-eaten sandwiches all over. Ignoring the white people, she went to Sheila’s room and found her lying insensible on the bed. She went to that Lillian’s room and found her barely more responsive.
“Is everybody here drunk?” Della Hurd asked herself.
In the kitchen she found Cinque and some girl, catching the tail end of the same tired rap his daddy had laid down.
“I am ready to die,” he said, swigging from a bottle of plum wine, “but I’m gonna take a lot of motherfucking pigs with me. You got a smoke, baby?”
Della Hurd went up to the girl, a teenager she knew from around, and told her to get herself home. Then she turned on Cinque.
“What the hell you doing here? Get yourself out of this place right now and all your friends with you. This is my daughter’s home and my grandsons’. And you are not welcome to come in here and start making trouble.”
“Elder sister, your daughter has generously—”
“Don’t older sister me.”
“Don’t you think that black people need to stick together?”
She stopped talking to him and went back into Sheila’s room. She gathered between her thumb and forefinger some flesh from behind Sheila’s knee and gave it a twist. Sheila screamed.
“Get up, you. If I don’t get nobody else to listen to me I’m going to get you. We’re getting out of here right now.”
She helped Sheila off the bed.
Her daughter asked, “What about Lillian?”
“Not enough hours in the day to worry about Lillian,” said Della Hurd, and as she said it she looked at her watch. Just about 5:30.
As they walked out the door together, two of the white girls looked up.
“Oh, nice to meet you!” said one, brightly.
“Bye-bye!” said the other.
THEY THINK SHE’S IN there. Tania sits on the floor at the foot of one of the beds, staring up at the spectacle efflorescent on the television screen.
OCCUPANTS OF ONE FOUR SIX SIX EAST FIVE FOUR STREET: THIS IS THE LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT SPEAKING. COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP. COMPLY IMMEDIATELY AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED.
The police have made numerous surrender demands. At this point the SLA has to be aware that it is surrounded. The choice is theirs whether to surrender or engage the police in a shoot-out.
PEOPLE IN THE YELLOW FRAME HOUSE WITH THE STONE PORCH. ADDRESS ONE FOUR SIX SIX EAST FIVE FOUR STREET. THIS IS THE LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT SPEAKING. COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP. COMPLY IMMEDIATELY AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED.
She thinks, Stone porch?
ALL PEOPLE IN ONE FOUR SIX SIX EAST FIVE FOUR STREET: COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP.
She watches as an entire family, a woman carrying one child and pushing two others ahead while a third child and an adult man bring up the rear, heads for safety, skirting a SWAT cop in a gas mask who is assuming an awkward combat stance, covering someone with his M-16.
A window covered up with a flattened cardboard box that says VIVA. As in paper towels.
Is she in there?
COMPLY IMMEDIATELY AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED.
From inside the house there come heavy bumping sounds, like furniture being pushed against the doors.
We are not sure but Alice Galton, the kidnapped newspaper heiress who is wanted for questioning in a San Francisco bank robbery, may be in there with her SLA comrades, repeat may.
She knows that they think she’s in there. The surrender demands continue to come; she waits for her name to be called. Her name uttered through a bullhorn, what an idea.
There’s a whoosh as the Flite-Rites are launched. The front windows shatter. The first sounds of automatic rifle fire come from the house. The police response is immediate.
“That’s Cin’s weapon!” says Teko, with dubious accuracy.
WE NEED ALL THE GAS THAT YOU CAN ROUND UP FROM PARKER CENTER OR ANY GEOGRAPHICAL DIVISION AND WE NEED IT DOWN HERE CODE, AH, THREE, FAST AS YOU CAN GET IT DOWN. IN ADDITION TO THAT WE NEED ALL THE AMMO THAT WE’VE GOT IN THE SAFE. WE’RE TAKING AUTOMATIC FIRE FRONT AND BACK FROM THIS LOCATION; THEY’RE MUCH BETTER ARMED THAN WE ARE.
Police are saying the fugitives are better armed than they are.
holding the Negro residents of the house hostage.
Teko: “Bullshit! Fascist bullshit!”
here in the newsroom we have a noted expert
We have been informed that more than three hundred police and FBI agents are participating in this operation, an awesome amount of firepower marshaled against the radical sect the SLA.
who is here to tell us about the SLA and their strange beliefs.
Reporters and police both fall back, fall back in a wave broadcast in a series of shaky images by the MiniCam Unit of KNXT-TV
The dry wind sends the CS gas coming back. Searing and choking.
Doughnuts and crushed paper cups on the street from the reporters, down there where their feet had been.
The police have made more than a dozen surrender announcements, folks. They have given the radical members of the Symbionese Liberation Army ample chance to drop their weapons and surrender.
have brought this fusillade of death upon themselves.
unsubstantiated reports that there are hostages inside.
“Bullshit! Damn it!”
A SWAT cop on a neighboring roof edges over to peer into the kitchen window at 1466 and is fired upon. He throws himself backward and rests, breathing heavily, on the shake roof.
THIS IS SKY ONE WE HAVE POSSIBLE WOUNDED TEAM MEMBER ON ADJACENT ROOFTOP REPEAT POSSIBLE WOUNDED REQUEST IDENTIFY AND STATUS TEAM TWO MEMBER OVER.
The camera jumps and turns. It pans past the long, low fieldstone wall surrounding this bungalow.
speculated the SLA may have picked this house because of its natural defensive barrier in anticipation of just such a siege as this.
Then with the sound of sustained gunfire the camera lens is suddenly pointed at the pavement; it jogs wildly before someone turns it upright to aim it again toward the horizon. Teko reaches forward and changes the channel.
tells us that groups such as the SLA often have a strongly suicidal bent.
MOVE ’EM BACK. MOVE ’EM BACK.
I’m told the gas is launched through the window in canisters where it explodes, a nonlethal explosion inside that’s of sufficient force to release the gas and, hopefully, to subdue
Unknown whether the SLA is equipped with gas masks. They are, in any case, very heavily armed.
Three cops slam a group of boys to the ground when, curious, they stray within an unstated “inner perimeter.” The boys have come from one of the neighboring houses, maybe. One, who complains about the rough treatment, gets his lumps right away, an indiscreet knee to the kidney. There is a boo from the surrounding crowd, and the cops redouble their zealous effort to push its members back.
The cops are interested in mopping this up fast. They don’t want to be here after dark.
—Is this Watts? says one reporter. Watts, damn it? Someone said Compton and I want to know is it Watts?
—The fuck do you care? You need a dateline for TV?
—What’s a dateline?
The SLA’s trail was picked up by the police department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the robbery yesterday of a Los Angeles sporting goods store. A member of the SLA is reported to have stolen a pair of sweat socks and when store employees confronted him with the theft they were fired upon by a young woman who may have been missing heiress Alice Galton.
“It wasn’t socks,” says Teko.
—When’s the last time you were here, buddy?
—Nine years ago, just like you.
—Get this, get this. Get over here with the minicam, damn it. Look at those holes, those are bullet holes, damn it. Zoom in on them. Zoom in.
The press moves back to yet another redoubt, the police are pushing them back, they’re pushing back the blacks, they’re pushing everybody back, in helmets and joyless eyes sheathed behind aviator sunglasses and ugly batons held at port arms.
—Watts, not Compton. Watts. What’s the fucking difference?
—Yeah, but there are white people in there …
The ghetto the ghetto this ghetto area is taking some of the heaviest damage it’s seen since the Watts riots, ah, nine years ago, Watts riots. Very heavy fire now. We are moving for cover.
THERE’S ONE DOWN AND ONE’S FIRING, HE CAME OUT AND WENT BACK IN, POSSIBLY HIT HE’S STILL FIRING. THREE FEMALES ARE SHOOTING.
They think she’s in there.
Police believe newspaper heiress Alice Galton is in the house with her former captors, the people she’s come to identify as her comrades
she now wishes to be known by the name of Tania
will the strange saga of heiress Alice Galton come to an end here in the Los Angeles ghetto?
They think she’s in there. And they don’t care. Never did. Cinque was right all along: She is a sacrifice, she is a traitor to her class, she is a common criminal. Whatever justifies the rabid fury of this assault is what she is. Alice Daniels Galton, her old name rides on waves of ions and electrons, bouncing off lofty satellites and trundling under the sea in stout cables, carried the world over, flying across the oceans and vaulting distant mountains, uttered with alien accent and inflection. Is she dead? Is she dead at last? Is the ungrateful bitch dead?
Some might say that she’s getting what she’s got coming.
THIS IS SWAT TEAM TWO, REPEAT TEAM TWO. REQUEST PERMISSION DEPLOY FIVE FIVE FIVE INTO LOCATION REAR, REPEAT, REQUEST PERMISSION TO DEPLOY FEDERAL FIVE FIVE FIVE GAS INTO LOCATION REAR, OVER.
Smoke. Fire. Fire. She sees fire. She looks quickly at Teko and Yolanda to see if they see what she sees. Sheets of flame rising from the windows and up to the roof. Teko is shaking. Fire is terror.
“They’ve fired incendiaries! Those fucking—” and he loses language suddenly, a regression to animal wrath, guttural horror.
COME ON OUT. THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED.
But the guns are still firing from within the house. Yolanda cheers, a sort of throttled scream. She hugs a pillow to herself. Teko pounds on the bed with both his fists, his glasses falling off.
“I wish I were there with them,” he says. “I wish I were there with them. I wish I were there with them.”
Tania stares at the black smoke and fire. The rear of the house is a wall of searing, kinetic color.
Suddenly a woman comes out of the house and is dragged on her belly and handcuffed after a brief struggle.
What’s this! A Negro just came out of the house! A Negro woman has just emerged from the burning house! It’s not we don’t She may have been one of the Negro hostages. The police are taking her to safety now.
The police report later describes how an officer places “his foot firmly but lightly on her back to stop her voluntary and involuntary movement.”
The militant radical SLA members, who seek to violently overthrow the government of the United States, are still firing upon the police. The gunfire is coming at a less constant rate now.
this onetime law-abiding girl who now calls her parents … PIGS!
COME OUT, YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED. THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. IT’S ALL OVER. THROW YOUR GUNS OUT THE WINDOW YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED.
All are probably dead or dying in there. Hard to believe that anyone could survive such a fiery inferno. Only time will tell if missing heiress Alice Galton is among the dead.
Yolanda rationalizes, “It would serve no purpose to go there … we’d only be killed.” But Tania knows that they all are equally immobilized by nauseating fear as they look at the blaze and the greasy smoke.
The police are working against a background of bordello colors: twilit lavender with the peach and melon tones of the fading May sun and the uncanny flux of light and shade from the fire and smoke.
Getting ready for the final assault. Cops moving ‘em back hard. Can’t say but maybe. Maybe an explosion in the offing. Gas mains and whatnot. Moving back. The bravely professional members of the LAPD doing one hell of a job here today!
Children pressed tight against the walls of the surrounding houses, sightseeing in their own neighborhood. Overhead a helicopter drones. The children stare, openmouthed; the camera zooms in on their faces briefly.
Snipers ready ready on the roofs in case some of the SLA try to make an escape.
Every vision of hell from her Janson’s is conjured up. Tania wishes she could tell Cujo. She wishes she’d paid more attention when she stood jadedly before the Breughels and Goyas of Europe.
The sound of windows bursting, exploding from the heat. It is a molten thing in the shape of a house that glows there on the TV screen.
What was a house just a few minutes ago is now a funeral pyre for the Symbionese Liberation Army and their twisted beliefs.
proving that those who live by the sword
Whatever else happens the police and FBI have established an unbreakable cordon surrounding this area no one will get in or out!
Tania fingers the stone monkey around her neck. Everything, ending. Everything over.
KEEP BACK FOR THE FIRE DEPARTMENT, THEY WANT TO MOVE THAT APPARATUS IN. THEY HAVE SOME THEY HAVE SOME.
Fire trucks moving in, containing the fire damage before it spreads to other houses
SOME RESCUE EQUIPMENT SMOKE INHALATION AND THAT SORT.
They killed them. They killed him. They killed her. She crawls on hands and knees to the bathroom, closes the door with her shoulder, and then wedges her upper body in the space between the tub and the toilet, feeling the cool of the porcelain and tile against her skin and through her thin shirt. She reaches up to reassure herself: The monkey is still there. She will never see Cujo again. They’ve taken him. She will not know this grief again until she repudiates him in open court. But that is twenty-one months away. What’s in her mind now is what’s always in the mind of the shattered to identify what provides solace but there’s none here. There’s nothing. He’s gone, all gone. Her world is rising black into a darkening sky thirty miles to the northwest. She reaches for the monkey and fingers it. Hope and love leave the earth and rise in rolling dark clouds. Oh God please let his monkey burn with him don’t let them have it.
Yolanda starts banging on the door.
“Come out here, Tania!” she says peevishly. “You’re not being very respectful of our fallen comrades!”
Tania rises and opens the bathroom door and then strides through the room, opens the door, and steps outside, ignoring Teko’s stern admonition. They will cast this in revolutionary terms. Let them cast it in revolutionary terms, this is her loss not the People’s, This is my loss I will not share it. I hold on to it. I’m holding on.
Outside in the parking lot she sees that the walls of the Cosmic Age glow an eerie blue against the twilight: both she and Cujo are in glowing houses, and she has to smile. The solitary trace of their bond, of this catastrophe, that the gathering darkness accommodates is in the coincidence, and, sensing that the charity of signs and omens will be scarce in the days to come, she clings to it tightly.
SING OF GRIEF. GRAB the collar of the old shirt you loved and pull until it tears. You didn’t know your own strength. This is the outward part, the rending of garments as they say. Sit in your chair holding that strip of shirt in your hand, one end still attached to an actual article of clothing you actually wear. Your hand ringing, with a sensation between discomfort and pain, from the effort. That you barely notice. That’s shock.
Then to focus on the smallest of your chores, break it down to atomized movement, elemental gestures as ritualized as ballet. To scrub, to sweep, to put away. It’s a good thing that things go askew by themselves, or rather, that it seems to happen pretty regularly in the course of events; at any rate, that things make themselves available to be straightened by you. Otherwise your fingers would dart out at nothing at all. To file things away, to stack papers evenly, to search for the wrong amount in the checkbook register, tapping the point of your pencil on your scratch pad: you hate being off by any amount. And: mystery novels. And: loaves of banana bread, the sink filled each day with soiled mixing bowls and rubber spatulas. And: God knows what else. You fill time.
But grief requires the daily subterfuge among the unknowing. You take refuge in their callousness, their total lack of caring. Public sympathy is something to recoil from. So you maintain a certain whatever it is you maintain that marks you as normal, as living in a healthy continuum of good-mornings and good-nights and everything in between, world without end. As if you hear a jaunty theme when you bend to get the paper off the front step. You fill the car up—and they don’t know. You buy a paperback, a travel iron—and they don’t know. There’s a virtuousness to this kind of imposture. Your lack of affect is a mighty effort.
It’s as if you felt you could hold in reserve your honesty, the honesty of your grief, a new candor that will be pure and indiscriminate and cruel. When this old world starts getting you down, you can unsheathe it, the true edge of your pain. You feel as if you’ve refrained from such honesty until now out of fear. But what could they do to you that could compare with this? It’s almost as if the real life of your candor can begin, the life that has been kept secret until some outcrop of your being was demolished.
So—now that you know how you’re feeling, what are you going to do about it? You don’t have much time. You’re a little surprised, though not in an angry way, that you’re still doing what people tell you; that the telephone receiver is in your hand and you’re placidly whistling along with the Muzak, waiting for an operator to take your charge card number and sell you an airplane ticket.
You will not ask for a discount.
You will not make a fuss.
It’s just another day of whatever’s left of your life, which as far as you can tell isn’t saying much. You have a body to identify. The hand smarts. And you liked that shirt too.
Well, you’re off the plane now. That paperback’s in your jacket pocket; the travel iron’s tucked away in your luggage. And here they come with their cameras. Here they come, and you wonder why they bother to make it look so orderly in the newspapers, so absolutely stately, why they sit them behind walnut desks on TV and hand them papers to grip while evocative graphics flash over their shoulders; why do they bother when what it is is a sweaty man holding a small tape recorder aloft, when it’s a tall woman lunging with the epée of her microphone to the forefront of the cluster that surrounds you, now, as you walk; when it’s the shouted questions the cluster directs at its nucleus?
“Have you seen the body?”
“Have you been in touch with the other parents?”
“We understand those bodies are burned beyond recognition!”
“Do you think this is just deserts for the Hibernia bank robbery?”
“Do you plan to sue the police?”
“Who taught your child to want to overthrow the government?”;
—can you react for us, please, can you drop the unwavering pose of dignified solemnity, can you give us something raw, the way bone answers the knife that opens the flesh, something we can show people? Something we can use to sell cars, and the deodorant soaps that make our elevators friendlier places, and piping food in trays that’s as good as having a loving family? Can you?
Would you have guessed, Mr. Galton, that burned corpses possessed so many specific traits? Would you ever have suspected the need to catalog them?
But then, some of these traits exist only in the realm of perception. They are not, in other words, the traits of burned corpses at all, but the peculiarities of your own imagination as it struggles to compare new horror with what’s already known to it.
Well, for example: upon being ushered into the autopsy room for your “VIP tour,” didn’t you think, Mr. Galton, that the SLA corpse that lay on its side partially covered by a green sheet looked like a roast tucked sweetly into a hospital bed? Until you drew closer, at least, and could see the lungs and the heart through the cavity formed when the back, rear rib cage, and spinal column had burned away?
What made you want to see these things?
Well, but what about those traits that can be explained scientifically? Those lungs, that heart, for example. Were you surprised to learn that this is typical, that even the most badly burned corpses routinely present with organs that are more or less intact? That the fluid level in the organs and body cavities prevents total incineration?
Not that you could use those organs for transplants, or anything. Even if they hadn’t been cooked through as thoroughly as if they’d been baked in a clay pot, there is the matter of the carbon monoxide, which generally is to be found in the blood and tissues. CO saturation is in fact one of the first things to look for in the bodies of burn victims.
The quest for scientific knowledge justifies itself, doesn’t it?
More science: Did you consider the materials in your own sports jacket and shirt, the iridescent weave of your necktie, did you feel these things between your fingers, when you learned that ignition generally starts with the victim’s clothing? When the bits of shiny crystalline matter running from just below the neck and spreading around the gaping crevasse that had been burned into the body were pointed out to you? That was what remained of the victim’s shirt. The new synthetics go right up. Stick like napalm.
Not that cotton is much better. Whatever you do, Mr. Galton, avoid cotton pajamas.
How about the zeal with which the pathologist and the two technicians who wandered in during the course of your “VIP tour” competed to explain the so-called multiple wick effect? Was there something healthy and American about this competition in how best to describe a theory that posits that only those body parts covered by clothing will burn?
With their high-spirited verbal jousting, they truly brought the subject to life!
The idea is that separate articles of clothing act as multiple wicks when the subcutaneous layer of body fat liquefies and soaks into them.
This is supposed to encourage burning over a long period, which explains the very severe combustions that occur at relatively low temperatures—like, for instance, when one falls asleep while smoking.
The clothes maintain the fire, and the victim burns to a crisp.
Here the pathologist had reached out and rapped on the friable flesh of the corpse. Remember?
Did you both want and not want to look? Did you find that the wretched tissue was so removed from the condition of human flesh that the dread had been incinerated along with all traces of the young woman it had been? Did you wonder which one it was?
Did you recall the infant your daughter once had been when you gazed upon the body drawn tight into the fetal position, its arms and legs pulled close to the torso? And what exactly did you think it was that you were observing, Mr. Galton?
No, Mr. Galton. Not rigor mortis—but good try.
Because of the characteristic resemblance to a boxer crouched and guarding his midsection, this is known as the “pugilistic pose.” It too is typical of burned bodies; the sustained exposure to the heat of a fire causes the major flexor muscles of the limbs to contract, drawing them toward the body.
Were you very surprised to hear Dickens and Bleak House cited in a Los Angeles County autopsy room? Were you? And did you wonder, briefly, if a strangely inappropriate attempt was being made to impress you? Were you, in any case, relieved to learn that science has shown that there cannot possibly be such a thing as spontaneous human combustion since the temperatures necessary cannot occur spontaneously or without an evident source of fuel? You may rest assured.
And had you been wondering about the frequency of accidental or incidental cremation? Was it news to you that the burning of a body doesn’t usually result in cremation, which technically is the body’s actual reduction to ash and bone fragments, about six or so pounds of them? It is amazing, is it not, that despite an experienced pathologist’s occupational encounters with many bodies over the course of a long and satisfying career usually none of them has met with the sort of sustained exposure to a steady, high temperature necessary to produce total incineration.
And what did you think an anthropologist might have to do with something like this? Not exactly Margaret Mead’s beat, is it?
Did it enliven your existence to learn that in cases involving large numbers of severely burned fatalities, a forensic anthropologist is sometimes called in to assist in the body recovery process? This assistance is especially helpful in identifying so-called commingled remains in situ so as to preserve the scene.
The forensic anthropologist also aids in distinguishing human remains from those of livestock or other animals. Pretty tricky business.
Were you impressed by the number of different specialties and subspecialties of forensic science that might be consulted in a case like this?
In this case, however, the only specialist whose aid was required was the forensic odontologist. You remember, Mr. Galton, the request to have Miss Galton’s dental records flown down.
Do you understand now why science sharply discounts the possibility of what people like to refer to as natural causes? It is nearly always more useful to assume that the term is being employed in a given case as a euphemism, a sort of palliative for the sake of the bereaved.
What is important to remember is that forensic pathology illustrates the intertwined relationship between science and religion most explicitly. Each shares a sort of faith in that which unfolds only in death.
People generally die from unseen things, and for the scientist to believe in them, in these hidden manners of death, in the ways in which a body holds back the secret knowledge of its defilement, is a kind of faith. There are always things that go unseen.
Thus it is a good idea to clamp off the airway of a corpse and therefrom recover unconsumed accelerant.
Also always a good idea to dissect the airway and search for soot to determine if the decedent was alive and breathing during the fire.
Another good idea to check the percentage and degree of body burns in search of inconsistencies.
To check hemoglobin levels, that is a good idea.
Cyanide levels too.
It is always, always, always a good idea to check female corpses for gravidity.
A good idea to check for signs of trauma.
A good idea to bear in mind that the bodies of murder victims are often burned to disguise the crime, or aspects of the crime, such as sexual assault.
To x-ray the corpse or corpses to look for metal and such, as in bullets.
It is a kind of faith; there are always things that go unseen. The other kind of faith is for the graveside, to succor the horror of those goodbyes keened beneath the unbroken sky that drapes the rolling chill of an American cemetery, huge and groomed and implacable.
Thank you, Mr. Galton.