I wanted to forward to the readers of the site a bit of two chapters from my novel, Virtue’s Fool. The novel takes place during the Democratic Convention, notorious for its police violence.
The action takes place in the early hours of the morning. There are two characters, Harvey Stone, a man in his sixties, theSenio Deputy Managing Editor of Epoch, the Great American Magazine, and Peter fielding, a young reporter who has been with there only seven months. Peter has already gotten two national exclusives about the illegal bombing of North Vietnam, and the building of the U.S. spy plane, the SR-71, which was built “off the books,” its cost disguised as “engine overhauls” at the Wright-Patterson air base.
The Midwestern editor, Adrian Hall, has appointed Peter to head four teams of reporters and photographers to cover the street violence. When these chapters begin, Pater has been out late. He has been attacked, chased, tear-gassed and is entirely worn out. Harvey Stone is trying to mentor Peter, a shy ambitious man who remains very uncertain of his footing there.
I implored the readers to remember this is a conversation, not a term paper.
Harvey was looking commiseratingly at Cheryl, who was gathering up her tings, about to leave. He looked up and saw the figures in the doorway. They came in slowly, like old men.
“Well, well,” he said to them. “The wanderers.”
It was almost two in the morning. Their faces were white as chalk, but Harvey instantly saw that something was wrong with their eyes. He got to his feet, and waited for them. Howard came first; his body bulging with equipment, Peter just behind, and behind him came Duane, a bundle of nerves. They moved feebly, utterly worn out. Peter and Howard were bareheaded. Duane was holding a helmet.
“You look like shit,” Harvey observed.
“You know, a simple ‘good evening’ or a ‘how the hell are you, would probably suffice,” Howard said.
“Not to guys who look the way you look,” Harvey said. And he realized then that their eyes were swollen from tear gas.
“What are you doing here?” Peter asked. His face was utterly worn out. “You should be in bed,” he told Harvey.
“Waiting for you guys. Christ, I was beginning to think you’d been sent to jail.”
“We went to check out the streets of Old Town. After they cleared the Park the cops forced a lot of kids into Clark Street,” Howard said. His eyes were swollen small.
“Clark Street, I heard. So what happened?”
“Everything. We saw all kinds of stuff,” Peter said, blinking. His blue eyes were swollen.
“Like what stuff?”
“Oh, I don’t know. They had cops piling out of unmarked cars and beating people. They hit residents, forced some out of their houses…” Peter said. “…we saw some guy trying to drive his car, and the cops stopped him and, leaning in his window, he said, ‘Listen, you goddamn mother fucker, get this fucking car out of here’. And then…” Howard was saying. “He was a guy just trying to get home,”
Duane cut in. “He was in his own neighborhood.” He was indignant.
“So what happened?” Harvey said.
“Well…” Peter started.
“The cop cut him off,” Howard said. “The cop said, ‘Listen, you son of a bitch or something, didn’t you hear me the first time?’ and he smacked the guy’s door with his night stick…”
“What?” Harvey was stunned.
“…leaving a sizable dent,” Peter added.
“It was quite a night.”
“Yeah, but the cop damaged his car? The cop?” said Harvey.
“They’re real pricks,” Howard said.
“They have to be crazy,” Harvey said. “Doing that in Old Town? They have to be nuts.”
“They were turning on everybody,” Howard said.
Goddamn, I should have watched the damn TV.”
“They had tear gas trucks,” Howard said. “No one had a chance.”
“But they really beat these people?” Harvey asked.
“Anybody they could catch, they beat up,” Peter said.
“Or roughed them up.” Howard said.
“It was awful,” Duane said. “They were shoving people in doorways and pounding them.” He indicated Howard and Peter with admiration. “You should have seen these guys,” he said to Harvey.
“I’m looking at them now. All I see two walking wrecks. Three counting you. Go home,” Harvey said.
“I’m going to haul my takes back, and then I’m going home,” Howard said.
While Howard was going back, Harvey turned to Peter and said, “I really thought you’d been arrested. The last of the group got in here an ago. They had a stomach full of it.”
“You want anything? Duane? Peter?” Howard said. He was heading towards the bar.
“No, thank you,” said Duane. “I’m going home.”
“You know a beer would be good,” Howard said. “You want one? Peter?”
“Is there one?”“
“In the cooler,” Harvey said.
“You want one?” Howard said to Harvey.
“No, hell, I’ve spiked my coffee. I’m fine. I’m steadily improving in fact.”
“Duane?” Howard said. Duane hesitated then said, “No. I’m heading home.”
Howard pried off the tops and returned with cold, dripping bottles, their fine silver collars looking elegant against the green glass.
“Oh, boy,” Peter said, sinking into a seat, if sitting down was a positive pleasure.
“Yeah, they looked bad,” Harvey said. “Especially Macklin. He got gassed really bad. Barnaby too.”
Howard turned to Peer. “What are you going to do?”
“What do you mean? Do about what?”
“I have to get a new notebook,” Peter told them.
“You can do something for me,” Harvey said.
They looked up.
“You can go home. Get some sleep. Both of you. I mean, tomorrow is another day, and all that shit.”
“You mean you want us to be in here tomorrow?” Howard said in mock surprise.
“Only if you feel like it,” Harvey said. Howard grinned.
“Yeah, tomorrow night all the goblins will be out,” Peter said. “
“Walpurnischnicht,” Harvey said.
“Who?” said Howard.
“Nothing. Goethe,” Harvey said.
“Well, I’m leaving you guys, Good night,” Duane said. He was over by the door.
“Listen, thanks a lot,” Peter said. “I mean it. You were terrific help.”
“Take it slow,” said Howard, Duane said good night and left. Howard and Peter and Harvey talked a bit, then Howard said, “Well, I guess I’m going to go to bed too.”
“I’ll be back soon,” Peter told him, meaning their hotel.
“What a night? So you’ll be okay?” Howard asked Peter.
“I’m not going to stay long,” Peter said.
“Harvey, take it easy.”
“You too. Get some rest.”
Peter sat, his eyes still swollen. He was holding his beer. Then he suddenly said, “He alone wins freedom and something, who earns them anew each day. Who said that?”
“He only earns his freedom and existence who daily conquers them anew,” Harvey said. “Faust.” He was pleased with himself.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Peter said. “‘Faust,’ right? I know another word too: Walpurnischnicht or something.”
Harvey smiled. “Walpurgis Night. It’s a Dutch or German name for the night of 30th of April – the eve of the feast day of Saint Walpurga. It’s meant to honor some 8th-century abbess.” Harvey said. “Do you like ‘Faust’?”
“I do, but I read it in college.”
“Oh, it’s wonderful,” said Harvey with verve. “It’s one of the great love stories of the world. Gretchen is a sweet creature. The abandonment and betrayal of Gretchen by Faust is one of the greatest things ever written.”
“What was that again?”
“What was what?”
“He only learns what?”
“Earns. He only earns his freedom…”
“…’his freedom and existence who daily conquers them anew.’ It’s from the First Act, I think. I’m not sure. Christ, that’s what’s wrong with this business. You don’t get chance enough to read stuff that matters. What did Pound say? Literature is news that stays news. That’s pretty good.”
“That’s damn good.”
“So you read Goethe, huh?” Harvey said.
“A long time ago. Five years.”
“I still read him. I like to read his conversations with Eckermann,” Harvey said.
At this, a fresh admiration entered Peter’s eyes.
Harvey admired readers; he felt mankind could be classified into those who felt an obligation to learn what had been thought and done by the great, in contrast to those whose interests didn’t go much beyond themselves.
“The full use of the mind’s faculties, in the direction of excellence?” Harvey said. He gazed fondly at Peter. “I’m glad you’re in one piece,” he said. He lit a cigarette, propelling the smoke from his mouth in a blue, acrid thinning cloud.
“Tonight really took something out of them. They looked winded. Even Edie.”
“She a tough one, isn’t she?”
“She got big balls – the original Iron Maiden,” Harvey said. “You know she knows a lot about military history. You should hear her on grant or Lee.”
“Someone was telling me that.”’
“She’s a hot ticket.”
Peter drank his beer. “Whenever I saw her she was cool as hell.”
“Well, she’s got a lot of self-command.”
Peter was thinking, rubbing his eye with the back of his small hand. He blinked. Then he said, “What was odd was how the temper of the cops varied from street to street. Some were hostile and edgy, others were vicious. A few were kind and civil. Others acted as if they’d kill you if they could do it without getting caught. There was no telling, in other words. Going up to each new group was nerve-wracking.”
“Yeah, but this is just up your street,,” Harvey said.
“My street?” Peter looked surprised.
“I thought you liked to test yourself.”
“Listen,” Peter said earnestly. “I ran like hell. Howard and I got trapped between these two ranks of cops, both advancing on us. First, the front rank charged, and we wheeled and ran towards the second, and they saw us and charged, and we turned and ran in a panic toward the front rank. We were yelling that we were press, and went up to an officer and showed our credentials, and he said, ‘Okay,’ as if he hadn’t a care in the world. I was certain they were going to leave us for dead.”
“Shit, I’d run too,” Harvey said.
“But you feel ashamed at running. You feel contempt for yourself. You can say what you like, but you feel like a goddamn coward when you retreat,” Peter said.
“You are damn lucky. You weren’t hired to have your head broken. This is not an equal contest of wills.”
“Running makes me despise myself,” Peter said.
“You can’t fight them,” Harvey said. “They would beat you senseless, and then they’ll slam you in jail. What’s the good in that?”
“I don’t like being a victim,” Peter said. “I was a human punching bag growing up. No, thank you,” Peter said bitterly.
“A bad parent?”
Peter simply shook his head.
Harvey didn’t think it wise to probe. Harvey saw that Peter’s shyness testified to some deep, inner damage.
“Sometimes it takes a lot of guts to absorb punishment,” Harvey said.
Peter was silent.
“It’s hard to accept suffering with grace and patience. Don’t you think?” Harvey said.
“I guess so,” Peter said.
“Remember when you’re out there, it won’t help us if you get your skull cracked. You’ll help the public more by reporting it.”
“Anyway,” said Harvey, “I heard you did a good job tonight.”
Peter’s wasted, odd face was puzzled.
“Who?” Peter said.
“You; who do you think?”
“Yeah. I don’t see anybody else sitting there?
Peter laughed. It was always alarming to discover that he was an object of study, being talked about and observed by others.
“They were very complimentary.”
“Why, what’d they say?” Peter was uncomfortable.
“Nothing. Just that you were, in the thick of things, pumping new life into the group. They were impressed, most of them.”
“I was just there,” Peter said. “If I’d had the moral courage, I would have left. But they stayed, so I stayed.” But he liked knowing he was admired.
Watching Peter’s swollen eyes, Harvey thought that Peter was one of those people who think that everybody else had a stronger character than he does because he can’t see what they suffer. All he knows are his own mental arguments, and he doesn’t think of how he’d overcome them; he’s only embarrassed by the fact that the mental battles occurred at all.
“They’re good people, aren’t they?” Harvey said, tilting his mouth to the match to light up. Blue clouds rose.
“They’re the best,” Peter’s uncertain manner instantly changed to warm enthusiasm.
“I thought you’d like them.”
“Oh, they’re terrific! And they’re really professional. Roger, Edie, Howard…Howard really knows what he’s doing out there…I get so tired of seeing that tight, little black ass outrunning me.”
“Howard’s a good guy. He’s Muhammad Ali’s photographer, you know.”
“I know. We went to his house.”
“Ali’s house? So did you meet him?”
“He wasn’t home.”
“He wasn’t there?”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
“No, it’s okay. I’m a Joe Frazier fan, anyway.”
“Well, Joe Frazier’s a great fighter.”
“Yeah, but that’s too bad,” Harvey said, referring to Ali’s absence.
Peter sighed and looked around. “I gather Adrian isn’t here.”
“You gather correctly. I sent him home,” Harvey said. “Actually you ought to go home too. I’ve got some sorting to do. Contact sheets.”
“Contact sheets? I thought we had people who did that?”
“We don’t have enough of them.”
“I can help.”
“I’m just tired; I’m not helpless.”
Harvey was moved. It was sincere. “You deserve to relax.”
“So do you,” Peter said.
“Oh, hell; then just sit and talk to me,” Harvey said.
Peter was saying, ”I think that one has to ask what do these people create? What do they originate?”
“Are you asking that of the politicians or the kids?” Harvey said.
Peter colored. He’d been criticizing the protestors. Then he said with passion, “Listen, I agree with the anti-war people. I do. I hate any leader whose power gives him the right to turn bright, talented young men into cannon fodder.
“But just because I hate and oppose the war doesn’t stamp my existence as valid.”
There was a pause.
“I detest the war, Harvey said. “I see it as a total waste. To me, it’s a masterpiece of ignorant willfulness and stupidity. It will haunt America to the end of its days. You’ll see.”
Harvey sipped his bourbon from his cup. He had already mashed his cigarette in the ashtray.
“I still don’t understand why we got involved in Vietnam?” Peter said wearily, his face lost in thought.
Harvey knitted his brows, “For a long time, America has pursued a policy of liberal hegemony.”
“There are two countries that want to rule the world.”
“The USSR and America.”
“That’s right. The USSAR and America. We know all about Russia’s defects, but we don’t see American defects very clearly.”
“What defects? What do you mean?”
“American defects. The idea of American being exceptional is poured over inspecting American heads by the ladleful.”
“I see that,” Peter said.
“It is our habit to think of ourselves as the miracle of history. It isn’t the Jews who are the Chosen People, it’s us. See, America wants to dominate the entire globe. That is our foreign policy.”
“That’s too ambitious?” Pete asked.
Harvey was unfazed. “Think of the Monroe Doctrine; think the annexation if Texas, the war with Mexico, the Samish-American War which gave us Cuba Guam, the Philippines. Of course, we had a war against its inhabitants. Then we acquired Hawaii. Am I making sense?”
“We don’t oppress the people we conquer. We don’t use secret police and gulags. We don’t murder unless we have to. Think of Cuba and the Philippines or Vietnam, for that matter. What American wants to do is to spread democracy far and wide. This means spreading U.S. business interests far and wide. To do that, we replace the leaders of a country with our own.
“America has a mania for expansion, just like the Greeks. Our policy makers assume that every region in the world needs American security, and it follows that the U.S. security umbrella has to be extended to every country that wants protection.
“Of course, establishing democracy means toppling regimes and doing nation-building. The British were experts that this. That is why FDR. Roosevelt, hated the British Empire. The empire rested on the subjugation of native peoples who were to enrich Britain while the brutish never did a goddamn thing to raise their subjects’ standard of living.”
Harvey paused, his tired face bleak. “In Vietnam, we are trying to do what the British did, and it won’t work. First of all we are a country of black ad white men meddling in a nation of yellow men. We are Christians meddling n a country of Buddhists. In any case, America, like the British, thinks it is an instrument of God or History, and our motives are so pure, we can steal without feeling guilty.
“We forget that we are all political orders are under judgments. The whole fabric of America is under judgment too.”
“I’m not sure what that means?” Peter asked
“It means that all empires are mortal. Think of the Hittites; think of the Babylonian, the Egyptian, Greek and Roman Empires. ,They were all mighty yet they all died. Why? Because the processes of time produces a relentless sifting and testing of anything they achieved. Over time, a seamy side of a political order begins to emerge. Over time, the faultiness of a system begins to come clear.” He took s big drag on his cigarette “What we really need these days is a deeper kind of self-questioning, but no one is doing it, not in America these days.”
Harvey stared gloomily into space. Then, he brightened. “Anyway, let’s talk about something else.”
Harvey drew on his cigarette, cheeks sucking in. A blue cloud turned end over end toward the ceiling. “How about a beer?” Harvey said to break the tension.
“I don’t mind getting it,” Peter said, taken by surprise.
Harvey was already on his feet. “Sit still. What kind to you want?”
“Budweiser or Schlitz. Otherwise, anything in a bottle would be fine.” Harvey walked across the floor to the cooler, bent down, took a dripping bottle with a silver collar out of the cooler, pried off the cap, and listened as the compressed gas escaped with a long hiss. The ice had melted in the cooler, but the beer was still ice cold.
“How about a Heineken?”
He stopped and picked up a bottle of bourbon from the bar and came back, carrying both.
“I’m really enjoying this,” Peter said.
“Well, good,” Harvey said. “I am too.” And he was.
“It’s fun to sit and talk. I usually don’t get to talk to anyone like this.”
“I have a question for you. I’m curious,. How well do you get along with the staff? Are you making friends?”
“Well, let’s put it this way…”
“I mean, do you like them. I guess that’s what I’m asking.”
“Me liking them isn’t the point,” said Peter. “It’s comes down to them liking me.”
“Are you saying they don’t like you?”
Peter’s face hardened. “I don’t know what to think. They know a lot, I’ll give them that. They acquire facts the way a cat attracts fleas. They break their necks trying to be up to date, but if I try to talk to them, the way I am talking to you, all I get is the blasé shrug or patronizing silence.” Peter’s small eyes flashed. He drank deeply from his bottle.
“Because you intimidate them,” Harvey said. He liked this young man, and it was time for him to know the score – the effect he was having on people.
Peter looked startled. “What? What do you mean?”
“It never occurred to you?”
“Intimidate them? Intimidate them with what?” Peter a bit scornful.
“You don’t believe it?”
“It is ridiculous.” Peter spat.
Harvey sat and watched him, smoking and taking a sip from his cup. “Let me tell you a story. Do you mind? It’ll only take a minute.”
“No, please do,” Peter said with a trace of dread.
“It’s not a long story at all. I just wondered if any one had ever told you how Adrian introduced you to the senior staff in New York.” He saw he had Peter’s attention.
“So you’ve never heard this?”
“Well, then let me go ahead. You see, I was at one of these big meeting of the brass up on the 29th floor, in the conference room. All News people, Text Department guys, and head editors like Steve Gelmen, Phil Kunhardt, and John Frook were there, and they were discussing your story, the one about the illegal bombing. Someone asked who you were. They asked about your background and your short stories, and Adrian stood up and said, ‘Peter Fielding is a super-dooper hot shit dude.’ He came out with it, right there in front of the whole group,” Harvey said.
Peter felt a sudden flush of pride. “Sounds a bit like a cartoon. Super-dooper.”
But Harvey could see he was pleased.
“Remember, this is a group,” Harvey said. He was unscrewing the top off the whiskey bottle that lay in his lap. He poured some into his cup. Then he replaced the bottle on the floor. He looked again at Peter and leaned back.
“I read somewhere that the child who gets more attention than the other kids is instantly resented because any group is obsessed with ‘distributive justice’ What a clumsy way to put it. I means that no one is supposed to get more attention than anyone else. Some people here, at the magazine, who have been here a long time, feel you have gotten more notice than your fair share.”
Peter looked incredulous, then colored with anger. “Tough.”
“Tough,” Peter said.
Harvey looked askance. “Tough?”
“Listen, I earned that attention,” Peter said. “Or my work earned it. I worked hard on that piece. I didn’t ask for any anybody’s help.”
Harvey saw Peter was riled. “Why don’t you calm down?” he said gently. Peter colored. “You’re all sulfur, you know that? All touchy and flammable,” Harvey said. Peter kept quiet. Harvey began again, “My point is that I know what you feel. All right? You’ve told me. What I’m trying to tell you is how they feel. Are you with me?”
“I don’t care,” Peter said.
“Of course, you care. You care a lot. We all care. Don’t we? Of course, everyone cares. Why? Do you think you’re the only one? I care. Roger cares. Howard and, Edie they care.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
A pause, then, “You are different. I’ll give you that,” Harvey said, not looking at him.
“Why am I different?”
“Why? Because you have an outlook of your own. Because you want to see and experience things for yourself, form your own conclusions. Well, many of the staff don’t share your zeal. See, by their working here – I mean the bulk of the staff now – by their working here, they have access to all kinds of opportunities. They have expensive lunches at famous places. They have dinners with movie stars. This is a very self-selected group, marked by collective immodesty. They assume they are important because if “Epoch” is writing about something, then the whole world must be reading about it. They have the vanity to think the world is fascinated by them and their doings. I’m not talking about the really first-rate people we have, like Roger and Edie. I’m excepting them. I’m talking about the bulk of the people here.”
Peter kept his silence. He didn’t like the reference to Roger. Roger was addicted to his sense of being the cleverest man in the room.
“All of us, we sometimes think of worse of human nature than it deserves. We talk of classes, our backgrounds, our jobs, but we forget that no one is simply and absolutely any one thing. Not the cops or the protestors, not the staff – all people have different sides. Even a murderer has different aspects. And yes, many the staff is mediocre, but that doesn’t make them weak.”
Peter, puzzled, stared at him.
“Nothing is stronger than mediocrity,” Harvey explained. “Don’t ever be confused about that.”
Peter didn’t answer.
Harvey sent him an assessing look. “See, you bring to this job integrity, sincerity, a sense of what? A sense of dedicated purpose that a lot of these people don’t share. In fact, you act at times as if performing your job is like performing some kind of religious commitment.”
“You make me sound like a horse’s ass.” Peter grumbled.
“You’re not an ass. All I’m saying is that they aren’t going to share your fervor or whatever. They admire their status, their checkbooks, and to some extent each other. And that’s it. Except you think they’re a race of fools, and you get bitter, and you hold them up to scrutiny and judgment. The problem is, they know it.”
“But I like so many of them,” Peter protested. “I like Howard, I like Gomel, I like Barnaby, I like Roger,” which was stretching it a bit. “The people on the teams are the best.”
“I’m just saying a judging people is dangerous.”
A long pause.
“I just want to have integrity,” Peter exclaimed. He was thinking of Jackie. Any sexual affair with Jackie would completely undermine his efforts to have that quality.
“You do have integrity,” Harvey replied.
“Well, it’s all I want,” Peter said tensely. “I just want to do my job. I just want to produce exclusives.”
“You will produce exclusives. All I’m saying is, why not enjoy it more? Why not lower your defenses, and get to know other staffers? Maybe you’ll find you have more in common with them than you think?”
Peter was silent, listening, tiny eyes down, embarrassed by his own outburst.
“Just ease up a bit,” Harvey told him.” Now, go home.”