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Fall of giants, p.25
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       Fall of Giants, p.25

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 25

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE - May and June 1917

  The Monte Carlo nightclub in Buffalo looked dreadful by daylight, but Lev Peshkov loved it just the same. The woodwork was scratched, the paint was chipped, the upholstery was stained, and there were cigarette butts all over the carpet; yet Lev thought it was paradise. As he walked in he kissed the hat-check girl, gave the doorman a cigar, and told the barman to be careful lifting a crate.

  The job of nightclub manager was ideal for him. His main responsibility was to make sure no one was stealing. As a thief himself, he knew how to do that. Otherwise he just had to see that there was enough drink behind the bar and a decent band onstage. As well as his salary, he had free cigarettes and all the booze he could take without falling down. He always wore formal evening dress, which made him feel like a prince. Josef Vyalov left him alone to run the place. As long as the profits were coming in, his father-in-law had no other interest in the club, except to turn up occasionally with his cronies and watch the show.

  Lev had only one problem: his wife.

  Olga had changed. For a few weeks, back in the summer of 1915, she had been a sexpot, always hungry for his body. But that had been uncharacteristic, he now knew. Since they got married, everything he did displeased her. She wanted him to bathe every day and use a toothbrush and stop farting. She did not like dancing or drinking and she asked him not to smoke. She never came to the club. They slept in separate beds. She called him low-class. "I am low-class," he had said to her one day. "That's why I was the chauffeur. " She continued dissatisfied.

  So he had hired Marga.

  His old flame was onstage now, rehearsing a new number with the band, while two black women in head scarves wiped the tables and swept the floor. Marga wore a tight dress and red lipstick. Lev had given her a job as a dancer, having no idea whether she was good. She had turned out to be not just good but a star. Now she was belting out a suggestive number about waiting all night for her man to come.

  Though I suffer from frustrations

  The anticipation's

  A boost to our relations

  When he comes

  Lev knew exactly what she meant.

  He watched her until she was done. She came offstage and kissed his cheek. He got two bottles of beer and followed her to her dressing room. "That's a great number," he said as he went in.

  "Thanks. " She put the bottle in her mouth and tilted it. Lev watched her red lips on the neck. She took a long drink. She caught him watching her, swallowed, and grinned. "That remind you of something?"

  "You bet it does. " He embraced her and ran his hands over her body. After a couple of minutes she knelt down, unbuttoned his pants, and took him into her mouth. She was good at this, the best he had ever known. Either she really liked it, or she was the greatest actor in America. He closed his eyes and sighed with pleasure.

  The door opened and Josef Vyalov came in.

  "So it's true!" he said furiously.

  Two of his thugs, Ilya and Theo, followed him in.

  Lev was scared half to death. He hastily tried to button his pants and apologize at the same time.

  Marga stood up quickly and wiped her mouth. "You're in my dressing room!" she protested.

  Vyalov said: "And you're in my nightclub. But not for much longer. You're fired. " He turned to Lev. "When you're married to my daughter, you don't screw the help!"

  Marga said defiantly: "He wasn't screwing me, Vyalov, didn't you notice that?"

  Vyalov punched her in the mouth. She cried out and fell back, her lip bleeding. "You've been fired," he said to her. "Fuck off. "

  She picked up her bag and left.

  Vyalov looked at Lev. "You asshole," he said. "Haven't I done enough for you?"

  Lev said: "I'm sorry, Pa. " He was terrified of his father-in-law. Vyalov would do anything: people who displeased him might be flogged, tortured, maimed, or murdered. He had no mercy and no fear of the law. In his way he was as powerful as the tsar.

  "Don't tell me it's the first time, either," said Vyalov. "I been hearing these rumors ever since I put you in charge here. "

  Lev said nothing. The rumors were true. There had been others, although not since Marga was hired.

  "I'm moving you," Vyalov said.

  "What do you mean?"

  "I'm taking you out of the club. Too many goddamn girls here. "

  Lev's heart sank. He loved the Monte Carlo. "But what would I do?"

  "I own a foundry down by the harbor. There are no women employees. The manager got sick, he's in the hospital. You can keep an eye on it for me. "

  "A foundry?" Lev was incredulous. "Me?"

  "You worked at the Putilov factory. "

  "In the stables!"

  "And in a coal mine. "

  "Same thing. "

  "So, you know the environment. "

  "And I hate it!"

  "Did I ask you what you like? Jesus Christ, I just caught you with your pants down. You're lucky not to get worse. "

  Lev shut up.

  "Go outside and get in the goddamn car," said Vyalov.

  Lev left the dressing room and walked through the club, with Vyalov following. He could hardly believe he was leaving for good. The barman and the hat-check girl stared, sensing something wrong. Vyalov said to the barman: "You're in charge tonight, Ivan. "

  "Yes, boss. "

  Vyalov's Packard Twin Six was waiting at the curb. A new chauffeur stood proudly beside it, a kid from Kiev. The commissionaire hurried to open the rear door for Lev. At least I'm still riding in the back, Lev thought.

  He was living like a Russian nobleman, if not better, he reminded himself for consolation. He and Olga had the nursery wing of the spacious prairie house. Rich Americans did not keep as many servants as the Russians, but their houses were cleaner and brighter than Petrograd palaces. They had modern bathrooms, iceboxes and vacuum cleaners, and central heating. The food was good. Vyalov did not share the Russian aristocracy's love of champagne, but there was always whisky on the sideboard. And Lev had six suits.

  Whenever he felt oppressed by his bullying father-in-law he cast his mind back to the old days in Petrograd: the single room he shared with Grigori, the cheap vodka, the coarse black bread, and the turnip stew. He remembered thinking what a luxury it would be to ride the streetcars instead of walking everywhere. Stretching out his legs in the back of Vyalov's limousine, he looked at his silk socks and shiny black shoes, and told himself to be grateful.

  Vyalov got in after him and they drove to the waterfront. Vyalov's foundry was a small version of the Putilov works: same dilapidated buildings with broken windows, same tall chimneys and black smoke, same drab workers with dirty faces. Lev's heart sank.

  "It's called the Buffalo Metal Works, but it makes only one thing," Vyalov said. "Fans. " The car drove through the narrow gateway. "Before the war it was losing money. I bought it and cut the men's pay to keep it going. Lately business has picked up. We've got a long list of orders for airplane and ship propellers and fans for armored car engines. They want a pay raise now, but I need to get back some of what I've spent before I start giving money away. "

  Lev was dreading working here, but his fear of Vyalov was stronger, and he did not want to fail. He resolved that he would not be the one to give the men a raise.

  Vyalov showed him around the factory. Lev wished he were not wearing his tuxedo. But the place was not like the Putilov works inside. It was a lot cleaner. There were no children running around. Apart from the furnaces, everything worked by electric power. Where the Russians would get twelve men hauling on a rope to lift a locomotive boiler, here a mighty ship's propeller was raised by an electric hoist.

  Vyalov pointed to a bald man wearing a collar and tie under his overalls. "That's your enemy," he said. "Brian Hall, secretary of the local union branch. "

  Lev studied Hall. The man was adjusting a heavy stamping machine, turning a
nut with a long-handled wrench. He had a pugnacious air and, when he glanced up and saw Lev and Vyalov, he gave them a challenging look, as if he might be about to ask whether they wanted to make trouble.

  Vyalov shouted over the noise of a nearby grinder. "Come here, Hall. "

  The man took his time, replacing the wrench in a toolbox and wiping his hands on a rag before approaching.

  Vyalov said: "This is your new boss, Lev Peshkov. "

  "How do," Hall said to Lev, then he turned back to Vyalov. "Peter Fisher got a nasty cut on his face from a flying shard of steel this morning. Had to be taken to the hospital. "

  "I'm sorry to hear that," Vyalov said. "Metalworking is a hazardous industry, but no one is forced to work here. "

  "It just missed his eye," Hall said indignantly. "We ought to have goggles. "

  "No one has lost an eye in my time here. "

  Hall became angry quickly. "Do we have to wait until someone is blinded before we get goggles?"

  "How else will I know you need them?"

  "A man who has never been robbed still puts a lock on the door of his house. "

  "But he's paying for it himself. "

  Hall nodded as if he had been expecting nothing better and, with an air of weary wisdom, returned to his machine.

  "They're always asking for something," Vyalov said to Lev.

  Lev gathered that Vyalov wanted him to be tough. Well, he knew how to do that. It was the way all factories were run in Petrograd.

  They left the plant and drove up Delaware Avenue. Lev guessed they were going home to dinner. It would never occur to Vyalov to ask whether that was okay with Lev. Vyalov made decisions for everyone.

  In the house Lev took off his shoes, which were dirty from the foundry, and put on a pair of embroidered slippers Olga had given him for Christmas, then he went to the baby's room. Olga's mother, Lena, was there with Daisy.

  Lena said: "Look, Daisy, here's your father!"

  Lev's daughter was now fourteen months old and just beginning to walk. She came staggering across the room toward him, smiling, then fell over and cried. He picked her up and kissed her. He had never before taken the least interest in babies or children, but Daisy had captured his heart. When she was fractious and did not want to go to bed, and no one else could soothe her, he would rock her, murmuring endearments and singing fragments of Russian folk songs, until her eyes closed, her tiny body went limp, and she fell asleep in his arms.

  Lena said: "She looks just like her handsome daddy!"

  Lev thought she looked like a baby, but he did not contradict his mother-in-law. Lena adored him. She flirted with him, touched him a lot, and kissed him at every opportunity. She was in love with him, though she undoubtedly thought she was showing nothing more than normal family affection.

  On the other side of the room was a young Russian girl called Polina. She was the nurse, but she was not overworked: Olga and Lena spent most of their time taking care of Daisy. Now Lev handed the baby to Polina. As he did so, Polina gave him a direct look. She was a classic Russian beauty, with blond hair and high cheekbones. Lev wondered briefly whether he could have an affair with her and get away with it. She had her own tiny bedroom. Could he sneak in without anyone noticing? It might be worth the risk: that look had shown eagerness.

  Olga came in, making him feel guilty. "What a surprise!" she said when she saw him. "I didn't expect you back until three in the morning. "

  "Your father has moved me," Lev said sourly. "I'm running the foundry now. "

  "But why? I thought you were doing well at the club. "

  "I don't know why," Lev lied.

  "Maybe because of the draft," Olga said. President Wilson had declared war on Germany and was about to introduce conscription. "The foundry will be classified as an essential war industry. Daddy wants to keep you out of the army. "

  Lev knew from the newspapers that conscription would be run by local draft boards. Vyalov was sure to have at least one crony on the board who would fix anything he asked for. That was how this town worked. But Lev did not disabuse Olga. He needed a cover story that did not involve Marga, and Olga had invented one. "Sure," he said. "I guess that must be it. "

  Daisy said: "Dadda. "

  "Clever girl!" Polina said.

  Lena said: "I'm sure you'll make a good job of managing the foundry. "

  Lev gave her his best aw-shucks American grin. "Guess I'll do my best," he said.

  {II}

  Gus Dewar felt his European mission for the president had been a failure. "Failure?" said Woodrow Wilson. "Heck, no! You got the Germans to make a peace offer. It's not your fault the British and French told them to drop dead. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. " All the same, the truth was that Gus had not succeeded in bringing the two sides together even for preliminary discussions.

  So he was all the more eager to succeed in the next major task Wilson gave him. "The Buffalo Metal Works has been closed by a strike," the president said. "We have ships and planes and military vehicles stuck on production lines waiting for the propellers and fans they make. You come from Buffalo, go up there and get them back to work. "

  On his first night back in his hometown, Gus went to dinner at the home of Chuck Dixon, once his rival for the affections of Olga Vyalov. Chuck and his new wife, Doris, had a Victorian mansion on Elmwood Avenue, which ran parallel to Delaware, and Chuck took the Belt Line railway every morning to work in his father's bank.

  Doris was a pretty girl who looked a bit like Olga, and as Gus watched the newlyweds he wondered how much he would like this life of domesticity. He had once dreamed of waking up every morning next to Olga, but that was two years ago, and now that her enchantment had worn off he thought he might prefer his bachelor apartment on Sixteenth Street in Washington.

  When they sat down to their steaks and mashed potatoes, Doris said: "What happened to President Wilson's promise to keep us out of the war?"

  "You have to give him credit," Gus said mildly. "For three years he's been campaigning for peace. They just wouldn't listen. "

  "That doesn't mean we have to join in the fighting. "

  Chuck said impatiently: "Honey, the Germans are sinking American ships!"

  "Then tell American ships to stay out of the war zone!" Doris looked cross, and Gus guessed they had had this argument before. No doubt her anger was fueled by the fear that Chuck would be conscripted.

  To Gus, these issues were too nuanced for passionate declarations of right and wrong. He said gently: "Okay, that's an alternative, and the president considered it. But it means accepting Germany's power to tell us where American ships can and can't go. "

  Chuck said indignantly: "We can't be pushed around that way by Germany or anyone else!"

  Doris was adamant. "If it saves lives, why not?"

  Gus said: "Most Americans seem to feel the way Chuck does. "

  "That doesn't make it right. "

  "Wilson believes a president must treat public opinion the way a sailing ship treats the wind, using it but never going directly against it. "

  "Then why must we have conscription? That makes slaves of American men. "

  Chuck chipped in again. "Don't you think it's fair that we should all be equally responsible for fighting for our country?"

  "We have a professional army. At least those men joined voluntarily. "

  Gus said: "We have an army of a hundred and thirty thousand men. That's nothing in this war. We're going to need at least a million. "

  "A lot more men to die," Doris said.

  Chuck said: "We're damn glad at the bank, I can tell you. We have a lot of money out on loan to American companies supplying the Allies. If the Germans win, and the Brits and the Froggies can't pay their debts, we're in trouble. "

  Doris looked thoughtful. "I didn't know that. "

  Chuck patted her hand. "Don't worry about it, honey. It's not going to happen. The Alli
es are going to win, especially with the U. S. of A. helping out. "

  Gus said: "There's another reason for us to fight. When the war is over, the U. S. will be able to take part as an equal in the postwar settlement. That may not sound very important, but Wilson's dream is to set up a league of nations to resolve future conflicts without us killing one another. " He looked at Doris. "You must be in favor of that, I guess. "

  "Certainly. "

  Chuck changed the subject. "What brings you home, Gus? Apart from the desire to explain the president's decisions to us common folk. "

  He told them about the strike. He spoke lightly, as this was dinner-party talk, but in truth he was worried. The Buffalo Metal Works was vital to the war effort, and he was not sure how to get the men back to work. Wilson had settled a national rail strike shortly before his reelection and seemed to think that intervention in industrial disputes was a natural element of political life. Gus found it a heavy responsibility.

  "You know who owns that place, don't you?" said Chuck.

  Gus had checked. "Vyalov. "

  "And who runs it for him?"

  "No. "

  "His new son-in-law, Lev Peshkov. "

  "Oh," said Gus. "I didn't know that. "

  {III}

  Lev was furious about the strike. The union was trying to take advantage of his inexperience. He felt sure Brian Hall and the men had decided he was weak. He was determined to prove them wrong.

  He had tried being reasonable. "Mr. V needs to make back some of the money he lost in the bad years," he had said to Hall.

  "And the men need to make back some of what they lost in reduced wages!" Hall had replied.

  "It's not the same. "

  "No, it's not," Hall had agreed. "You're rich and they're poor. It's harder for them. " The man was infuriatingly quick-witted.

  Lev was desperate to get back into his father-in-law's good books. It was dangerous to let a man such as Josef Vyalov remain displeased with you for long. The trouble was that charm was Lev's only asset, and it did not work on Vyalov.

  However, Vyalov was being supportive about the foundry. "Sometimes you have to let them strike," he had said. "It doesn't do to give in. Just stick it out. They become more reasonable when they start to get hungry. " But Lev knew how fast Vyalov could change his mind.

  However, Lev had a plan of his own to hasten the collapse of the strike. He was going to use the power of the press.

  Lev was a member of the Buffalo Yacht Club, thanks to his father-in-law, who had got him elected. Most of the town's leading businessmen belonged, including Peter Hoyle, editor of the Buffalo Advertiser. One afternoon Lev approached Hoyle in the clubhouse at the foot of Porter Avenue.

  The Advertiser was a conservative newspaper that always called for stability and blamed all problems on foreigners, Negroes, and socialist troublemakers. Hoyle, an imposing figure with a black mustache, was a crony of Vyalov's. "Hello, young Peshkov," he said. His voice was loud and harsh, as if he was used to shouting over the noise of a printing press. "I hear the president has sent Cam Dewar's son up here to settle your strike. "

  "I believe so, but I haven't heard from him yet. "

  "I know him. He's naive. You don't have much to worry about. "

  Lev agreed. He had taken a dollar from Gus Dewar in Petrograd in 1914, and last year he had taken Gus's fiancee just as easily. "I wanted to talk to you about the strike," he said, sitting in the leather armchair opposite Hoyle.

  "The Advertiser has already condemned the strikers as un-American socialists and revolutionaries," Hoyle said. "What more can we do?"

  "Call them enemy agents," Lev said. "They're holding up the production of vehicles that our boys are going to need when they get to Europe-but the workers themselves are exempt from the draft!"

  "That's an angle. " Hoyle frowned. "But we don't yet know how the draft is going to work. "

  "It's sure to exclude war industries. "

  "That's true. "

  "And yet they're demanding more money. A lot of people would take less for a job that keeps them out of the army. "

  Hoyle took a notebook from his jacket pocket and began to write. "Take less money for a draft-exempt job," he muttered.

  "Maybe you want to ask: whose side are they on?"

  "Sounds like a headline. "

  Lev was surprised and pleased. It had been easy.

  Hoyle looked up from his notebook. "I presume Mr. V knows we're having this conversation?"

  Lev had not anticipated this question. He grinned to cover his confusion. If he said no, Hoyle would drop the whole thing immediately. "Yes, of course," he lied. "In fact it was his idea. "

  {IV}

  Vyalov asked Gus to meet him at the yacht club. Brian Hall proposed a conference at the Buffalo office of the union. Each wanted to meet on his own ground, where he would feel confident and in charge. So Gus took a meeting room at the Statler Hotel.

  Lev Peshkov had attacked the strikers as draft dodgers, and the Advertiser had put his comments on the front page, under the headline WHOSE SIDE ARE THEY ON? When Gus saw the paper he had been dismayed: such aggressive talk could only escalate the dispute. But Lev's effort had backfired. This morning's papers reported a storm of protest from workers in other war industries, indignant at the suggestion that they should receive low wages on account of their privileged status, and furious at being labeled draft dodgers. Lev's clumsiness heartened Gus, but he knew that Vyalov was his real enemy, and that made him nervous.

  Gus brought all the papers with him to the Statler and put them out on a side table in the meeting room. In a prominent position he placed a popular rag with the headline WILL YOU JOIN UP, LEV?

  Gus had asked Brian Hall to get there a quarter of an hour before Vyalov. The union leader showed up on the dot. He wore a smart suit and a gray felt hat, Gus noted. That was good tactics. It was a mistake to look inferior, even if you represented the workers. Hall was as formidable, in his own way, as Vyalov.

  Hall saw the newspapers and grinned. "Young Lev made a mistake," he said with satisfaction. "He's fetched himself a pile of trouble. "

  "Manipulating the press is a dangerous game," Gus said. He got right down to business. "You're asking for a dollar-a-day increase. "

  "It's only ten cents more than my men were getting before Vyalov bought the plant, and-"

  "Never mind all that," Gus interrupted, showing more boldness than he felt. "If I can get you fifty cents, will you take it?"

  Hall looked dubious. "I'd have to put it to the men-"

  "No," Gus said. "You have to decide now. " He prayed his nervousness was not showing.

  Hall prevaricated. "Has Vyalov agreed to this?"

  "I'll worry about Vyalov. Fifty cents, take it or leave it. " Gus resisted an urge to wipe his forehead.

  Hall gave Gus a long, appraising stare. Behind the pugnacious look there was a shrewd brain, Gus suspected. At last Hall said: "We'll take it-for now. "

  "Thank you. " Gus managed not to let out his breath in a long sigh of relief. "Would you like coffee?"

  "Sure. "

  Gus turned away, grateful to be able to hide his face, and pressed the bell for a waiter.

  Josef Vyalov and Lev Peshkov walked in. Gus did not shake hands. "Sit down," he said curtly.

  Vyalov's eyes went to the newspapers on the side table, and a look of anger crossed his face. Gus guessed that Lev was already in trouble over those headlines.

  He tried not to stare at Lev. This was the chauffeur who had seduced Gus's fiancee-but that must not be allowed to cloud Gus's judgment. He would have liked to punch Lev in the face. However, if this meeting went according to plan the result would be more humiliating to Lev than a punch-and much more satisfying to Gus.

  A waiter appeared, and Gus said: "Bring coffee for my guests, please, and a plate of ham sandwiches. " He deliberately did not ask them what they wanted. He had seen Woodrow Wilson ac
t like this with people he wanted to intimidate.

  He sat down and opened a folder. It contained a blank sheet of paper. He pretended to read it.

  Lev sat down and said: "So, Gus, the president has sent you up here to negotiate with us. "

  Now Gus allowed himself to look at Lev. He stared at him for a long moment without speaking. Handsome, yes, he thought, but also untrustworthy and weak. When Lev began to look embarrassed, Gus spoke at last. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"

  Lev was so shocked that he actually pushed his chair back from the table as if fearing a blow. "What the hell. . . ?"

  Gus made his voice harsh. "America is at war," he said. "The president is not going to negotiate with you. " He looked at Brian Hall. "Or you," he said, even though he had made a deal with Hall only ten minutes ago. Finally he looked at Vyalov. "Not even with you," he said.

  Vyalov looked steadily back at him. Unlike his son-in-law, he was not intimidated. However, he had lost the look of amused contempt with which he began the meeting. After a long pause, he said: "So what are you here for?"

  "I'm here to tell you what's going to happen," Gus said in the same voice. "And when I'm done, you'll accept it. "

  Lev said: "Huh!"

  Vyalov said: "Shut up, Lev. Go on, Dewar. "

  "You're going to offer the men a raise of fifty cents a day," Gus said. He turned to Hall. "And you're going to accept his offer. "

  Hall kept his face blank and said: "Is that so?"

  "And I want your men back at work by noon today. "

  Vyalov said: "And why the hell should we do what you tell us?"

  "Because of the alternative. "

  "Which is?"

  "The president will send an army battalion to the foundry to take it over, secure it, release all finished products to customers, and continue to run it with army engineers. After the war, he might give it back. " He turned to Hall. "And your men can probably have their jobs back then, too. " Gus wished he had run this past Woodrow Wilson first, but it was too late now.

  Lev said with amazement: "Does he have the right to do that?"

  "Under wartime legislation, yes," said Gus.

  "So you say," said Vyalov skeptically.

  "Challenge us in court," said Gus. "Do you think there's a judge in this country who will side with you-and our country's enemies?" He sat back and stared at them with an arrogance he did not feel. Would this work? Would they believe him? Or would they call his bluff, laugh at him, and walk out?

  There was a long silence. Hall's face was expressionless. Vyalov was thoughtful. Lev looked sick.

  At last Vyalov turned to Hall. "Are you willing to settle for fifty cents?"

  Hall just said: "Yes. "

  Vyalov looked back at Gus. "Then we accept, too. "

  "Thank you, gentlemen. " Gus closed his folder, trying to still the shaking of his hands. "I'll tell the president. "

  {V}

  Saturday was sunny and warm. Lev told Olga he was needed at the foundry, then he drove to Marga's place. She lived in a small room in Lovejoy. They embraced, but when Lev started to unbutton her blouse she said: "Let's go to Humboldt Park. "

  "I'd rather screw. "

  "Later. Take me to the park, and I'll show you something special when we come back. Something we haven't done before. "

  Lev's throat went dry. "Why do I have to wait?"

  "It's such a beautiful day. "

  "What if we're seen?"

  "There'll be a million people there. "

  "Even so. . . "

  "I suppose you're afraid of your father-in-law?"

  "Hell, no," Lev said. "Listen, I'm the father of his grandchild. What's he going to do, shoot me?"

  "Let me change my dress. "

  "I'll wait in the car. If I watch you undress I might lose control. "

  He had a new Cadillac three-passenger coupe, not the swankiest car in town but a good place to start. He sat at the wheel and lit a cigarette. He was afraid of Vyalov, of course. But all his life he had taken risks. He was not Grigori, after all. And things had worked out pretty well for him so far, he thought, sitting in his car, wearing a summer-weight blue suit, about to take a pretty girl to the park. Life was good.

  Before he had finished his smoke, Marga came out of the building and got into the car beside him. She was wearing a daring sleeveless dress and had her hair coiled over her ears in the latest fashion.

  He drove to Humboldt Park, on the East Side. They sat together on a slatted wooden park seat, enjoying the sunshine and watching the children playing in the pond. Lev could not stop touching Marga's bare arms. He loved the envious looks he got from other men. She's the prettiest girl in the park, he thought, and she's with me. How about that?

  "I'm sorry about your lip," he said. Her lower lip was still swollen where Vyalov had punched her. It looked quite sexy.

  "Not your fault," Marga said. "Your father-in-law is a pig. "

  "That's the truth. "

  "The Hot Spot offered me a job right away. I'll start there as soon as I can sing again. "

  "How does it feel?"

  She tried a few bars.

  I run my fingers through my hair

  Play a little solitaire

  Waiting for my millionaire

  To come.

  She touched her mouth gingerly. "Still hurts," she said.

  He leaned toward her. "Let me kiss it better. " She turned her face up to his and he kissed her gently, hardly touching.

  She said: "You can be a little firmer than that. "

  He grinned. "Okay, how about this?" He kissed her again, and this time he let the tip of his tongue caress the inside of her lips.

  After a minute she said: "That's okay, too," and she giggled.

  "In that case. . . " This time he put his tongue all the way inside her mouth. She responded eagerly-she always did. Her tongue and his met, then she put her hand behind his head and stroked his neck. He heard someone say: "Disgusting. " He wondered whether people walking by could see his erection.

  Smiling at Marga, he said: "We're shocking the townspeople. " He glanced up to see whether anyone was watching, and met the eyes of his wife, Olga.

  She was staring at him in shock, her mouth forming a silent O.

  Beside her stood her father, in a suit with a vest and a straw boater. He was carrying Daisy. Lev's daughter had a white bonnet to shade her face from the sun. The nurse, Polina, was behind them.

  Olga said: "Lev! What. . . Who is she?"

  Lev felt he might have talked himself out of even this situation if Vyalov had not been there.

  He got up. "Olga. . . I don't know what to say. "

  Vyalov said harshly: "Don't say a damn thing. "

  Olga began to cry.

  Vyalov handed Daisy to the nurse. "Take my granddaughter to the car right away. "

  "Yes, Mr. Vyalov. "

  Vyalov grasped Olga's arm and moved her away. "Go with Polina, honey. "

  Olga put her hand over her eyes to hide her tears and followed the nurse.

  "You piece of shit," Vyalov said to Lev.

  Lev clenched his fists. If Vyalov struck him he would fight back. Vyalov was built like a bull, but he was twenty years older. Lev was taller, and had learned to fight in the slums of Petrograd. He was not going to take a beating.

  Vyalov read his mind. "I'm not going to fight you," he said. "It's beyond that. "

  Lev wanted to say: So what are you going to do? He kept his mouth clamped shut.

  Vyalov looked at Marga. "I should have hit you harder," he said.

  Marga picked up her bag, opened it, put her hand inside, and left it there. "If you move one inch toward me, so help me God, I'll shoot you in the gut, you pig-faced Russian peasant," she said.

  Lev could not help admiring her nerve. Few people had the balls to threaten Josef Vyalov.

  Vyalov's face darkened in anger, but he t
urned away from Marga and spoke to Lev. "You know what you're going to do?"

  What the hell was coming now?

  Lev said nothing.

  Vyalov said: "You're going in the goddamn army. "

  Lev went cold. "You don't mean it. "

  "When was the last time you heard me say something I didn't mean?"

  "I'm not going in the army. How can you make me?"

  "Either you'll volunteer, or you'll get conscripted. "

  Marga burst out: "You can't do that!"

  "Yes, he can," Lev said in desolation. "He can fix anything in this town. "

  "And you know what?" said Vyalov. "You might be my son-in-law, but I hope to God you get killed. "

  {VI}

  Chuck and Doris Dixon gave an afternoon party in their garden at the end of June. Gus went with his parents. All the men wore suits, but the women dressed in summer outfits and extravagant hats, and the crowd looked colorful. There were sandwiches and beer, lemonade and cake. A clown gave out candy and a schoolteacher in shorts organized the children to run jokey races: a sack race, an egg-and-spoon race, a three-legged race.

  Doris wanted to talk to Gus about the war, again. "There are rumors of mutiny in the French army," she said.

  Gus knew that the truth was worse than the rumors: there had been mutinies in fifty-four French divisions, and twenty thousand men had deserted. "I assume that's why they've switched their tactics from offense to defense," he said neutrally.

  "Apparently the French officers treat their men badly. " Doris relished bad news about the war because it gave support to her opposition. "And the Nivelle Offensive has been a disaster. "

  "The arrival of American troops will buck them up. " The first Americans had boarded ships to sail to France.

  "But so far we have sent only a token force. I hope that means we're going to play only a small part in the fighting. "

  "No, it does not mean that. We have to recruit, train, and arm at least a million men. We can't do that instantly. But next year we will send them in their hundreds of thousands. "

  Doris looked over Gus's shoulder and said: "Goodness, here comes one of our new recruits. "

  Gus turned and saw the Vyalov family: Josef and Lena with Olga, Lev, and a little girl. Lev was wearing an army uniform. He looked dashing, but his handsome face was sulky.

  Gus was embarrassed but his father, wearing his public persona as senator, shook hands cordially with Josef and said something that made him laugh. Mother spoke graciously to Lena and cooed over the baby. Gus realized his parents had anticipated this meeting and decided to act as if they had forgotten that he and Olga had once been engaged.

  He caught Olga's eye and nodded politely. She blushed.

  Lev was as brash as ever. "So, Gus, is the president pleased with you for settling the strike?"

  The others heard this question and went quiet, listening to hear Gus's answer.

  "He's pleased with you for being reasonable," Gus said tactfully. "I see you joined the army. "

  "I volunteered," Lev said. "I'm doing officer training. "

  "How are you finding it?"

  Suddenly Gus was aware that he and Lev had an audience around them in a ring: the Vyalovs, the Dewars, and the Dixons. Since the engagement had been broken off, the two men had not been seen together in public. Everyone was curious.

  "I'll get accustomed to the army," Lev said. "How about you?"

  "What about me?"

  "Are you going to volunteer? After all, you and your president got us into the war. "

  Gus said nothing, but he felt ashamed. Lev was right.

  "You can always wait and see whether you get drafted," Lev said, turning the knife. "You never know, you could get lucky. Anyway, if you go back to Washington I guess the president can get you exempted. " He laughed.

  Gus shook his head. "No," he said. "I've been thinking about this. You're right, I'm part of the government that brought in the draft. I could hardly evade it. "

  He saw his father nod, as if he had anticipated this; but his mother said: "But, Gus, you work for the president! What better way could there be for you to help the war effort?"

  Lev said: "I guess it would seem kind of cowardly. "

  "Exactly," said Gus. "So I won't be going back to Washington. That part of my life is over for now. "

  He heard his mother say: "Gus, no!"

  "I've already spoken to General Clarence of the Buffalo Division," he said. "I'm joining the National Army. "

  His mother began to cry.

 
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