Old-fashioned torches and modern spotlights threw a glare of illumination over the small convoy, and Frank Jackson stretched and yawned wearily. It had been a long day, and the commander in chief of the Army had no business doing grunt work. Unfortunately, Frank still found it easier to recognize the concept of delegation than to practice it. Or, if he wanted to be more accurate about it, he could delegate just fine . . . as long as he didn't have any choice about it.
He grinned at the thought and scratched the neatly trimmed beard he'd decided to grow since arriving in a Germany which had never heard of replaceable razor blades, much less disposable razors. Then he shook himself and headed out on one last walk-through inspection.
The flatbed tractor-trailer rig was ugly as sin—a single-axle tractor pulling a standard semitrailer whose walls and roof had been torched off and hauled away for salvage. The ability of the resulting visual abortion to handle outsized cargos had proved extraordinarily useful quite a few times, but it had never carried a load like the one chocked and strapped down on it tonight.
Three boat trailers, one behind each of the two coal trucks and another hitched firmly to the rear of the flatbed, each carried a power boat. Quite large power boats. Jack Clements' thirty-two-foot Century 3200 measured ten and a half feet across the beam, and Louie Tillman's twenty-eight-foot Chris Craft launch was very nearly as big. Neither of them really had any business in a place like Grantville, far from any coasts or large lakes or inland waterways except the Monongahela. But, in any town of several thousand people, a few of them are bound to buy something that everyone else considers ludicrous. At least Jack Clements could argue in self-defense that he'd bought his boat to take to Florida with him when he retired. And Louie Tillman had spent a lot of hot summer days on the Monongahela River in his Chris Craft before the Ring of Fire.
But the third boat, sitting in massive, lordly majesty atop the flatbed . . .
Frank shook his head. George Watson's Outlaw 33 was thirty-three feet long, with an eight-and-a-half-foot beam, and the damned thing weighed over three and a half tons. The weight, of course, was picayune for a tractor-trailer combination designed to haul well over twenty tons. But it was so big that it overhung the trailer front and back and a bit on the sides, braced in position by lumber and held down by nylon straps. It looked like some kind of high-tech, fiberglass torpedo sitting up there, gleaming with polished stainless-steel fittings and embellished with bright red lightning bolts down either side of the hull. Frank had no idea how much the thing had cost, and Watson had always refused to tell anyone—probably because he'd figured they'd all know he was insane, instead of just suspecting it, if he ever admitted how much he'd paid for it.
"I still say you've got no right to steal my fucking boat," a voice grated, and Frank turned his head. George stood behind him, glaring up at his expropriated property, and Frank barked a laugh.
"Jesus, George! You've had the damned thing in the water—what? twice? three times?—in the entire time you've owned it! I can't begin to imagine what you thought you were doing when you bought it. Except maybe watching reruns of Miami Vice again!"
"If I want to buy a boat, it's my own frigging business," Watson shot back belligerently. "And you got no right to steal it from me. You or Mike Stearns!"
Frank didn't like George Watson, and he never had, even making allowances for the fact that George was a fellow member of the UMWA. Watson was the kind of sour, surly man who, almost fifty years old now, liked to brag that he was a lifelong bachelor—a brag which drew the invariable response that no woman in her right mind would have him.
So he saw no reason to be polite to him. With Watson, being polite was a waste of time anyway. "We didn't 'steal' it," he said forcefully, "we nationalized it. And we're gonna use it to save your ass right along with the rest of us, so quit bitching about it."
"I'll sue," Watson threatened. "You see if I don't!"
"You do whatever you want, George," Frank said, shrugging. "You'll get compensated for it by the government. Now, beat it. It's done. And I've got other things to worry about."
Watson stalked off. Frank turned to another, older man whose hair gleamed like fresh snow under the lights.
"You sure about this, Jack?" he asked more quietly.
"Yeah, sure I am," Clements replied cheerfully. "Hell, you think I'm going to let anyone else drive my boat?"
"Actually, I'm thinking we'll probably need you worse for Watson's Folly, here," Frank told the man who had once served in the U.S. Coast Guard before coming home to the West Virginia mountains, and jerked a thumb at the massive boat on the flatbed. "You've got the most boat-handling experience of anyone we've got, and that thing's gonna be a real handful for whoever gets behind the wheel."
"Maybe," Clements said in an unconvinced voice, and Frank chuckled.
"Hell, you're in the Naaaaavy now, Mr. Volunteer Lieutenant Clements, sir!" He waved in something which could, with a sufficient stretch of the imagination, have been called a salute. "Admiral Simpson's gonna have his own ideas about how to use you best. And much's I hate to say it, the prick seems to know what he's doing, so you listen to him, hear?"
"You say so, Frank," Clements agreed dubiously, and Frank chuckled again. Then he turned back to his inspection.
Clements', Watson's, and Tillman's were the three boats Eddie had specifically requested. After that, the Grantville boating selection ran down through smaller ski boats to bass boats and simple dories, but Frank had picked out one more as a backup for Eddie's requests: a sixteen-foot Boston Whaler which had belonged to Harry Rousseau before Harry and his family went to visit his mother in Duluth the day before the Ring of Fire struck. It was on the small size for what they had in mind, but it was the next biggest boat in Grantville, and he wished fervently that he had an entire fleet to send with the four of them.
Hell, while I'm wishing, I might's well wish for a frigging destroyer—or even an aircraft carrier! he told himself sourly.
He started tugging on the tie-down straps and checking the hull chocks, but left off when he spotted Jerry Yost glaring at him. The truck driver, clearly enough, did not appreciate the interference of an amateur, "General of the Army" or not. Frank gave Yost a half-apologetic smile and moved down the line of trucks. The coal trucks, he decided, would provide him with a safer avenue for venting his overseer reflexes. They were, after all, officially the property of the U.S. Army.
He glanced into the back of the first coal truck. At the moment, it was loaded with additional fuel drums and cans, two deflated rubber Zodiac boats that belonged to Sam and Al Morton, and the odd case of dynamite. The second coal truck, also towing Rousseau's Boston Whaler on its trailer, would be leaving Grantville for Halle early next morning with its own load of supplies too bulky to be transported by the speedboats themselves—including several hundred rockets and the modified launch frames the machine shops were working frantically to complete even as Frank stood in the dark and worried.
He still had his doubts about the entire operation, whether he was prepared to admit them to anyone else—besides Mike, of course—or not. But if the defense of Wismar failed, it wasn't going to be because Frank Jackson hadn't done everything he could to prevent it.
He reached the end of his inspection trip and grunted in satisfaction, then looked at his own addition to the relief force.
James Nichols and Frank's niece Julie had personally overseen the training of the Thuringian Rifles, the first company of true long-range snipers in history. Most of them, American and German alike, had been experienced hunters before the Ring of Fire. The Germans were mostly youngsters who hadn't picked up any bad habits when it came to firing a gun from serving in arquebus-wielding mercenary units, and had been eager to learn. The up-time Americans among them, on the other hand—about a fourth of the unit—had already thought they understood the finer points of marksmanship. Julie and Dr. Nichols had shown them otherwise, and on any one-for-one basis, the forty-two men and three women of the understrength "company" were undoubtedly the most dangerous marksmen in the world. Aside from their official commanding officer, Julie Mackay, that was. In fact, they were too dangerous for Frank to justify committing all of them to Wismar, but he'd decided that he could reinforce that city with their first squad, at least. Second Squad would be leaving for Luebeck with the second coal truck.
He didn't think he'd need to send more than that, anyway. Mustered up not far away from the Thuringian Rifles, their horses already saddled, was a larger body of men. Thirty-four of them, all with the long beards they favored, and all wearing their special blue uniforms and distinctive "montero" headgear. The montero was an odd-looking hat, which the Germans sometimes called an "English foghat." In cold weather, the beak of the hat could be pulled down, serving much the same function as a balaclava.
They were all Swedish woodsmen and gameshooters, under the command of Nils Krak. Gustav Adolf had ordered the unit's formation early in 1632. Unlike most other soldiers of the time, these men used small-bore rifled hunting muskets and the unit had been designed for sniping and skirmishing, not volley fire in the line. Once the alliance with the Americans had been made, Gustav had sent Krak's Shooters down to Thuringia. Krak and his men had all been issued brand-new flintlocks with longer barrels and a tighter rifling twist, and they had now trained for months alongside the Thuringian Rifles. The two units got along well, and were accustomed to joint operations. True, the Swedish sharpshooters did not have the range of their U.S. counterparts, but their weapons had been fitted with aperture sights which made them very nearly as accurate over the range they had. Compared to any other body of 17th-century soldiers, they were a unit of elite riflemen. Some of the best shots among them had actually been issued telescopic sights from the carefully hoarded store of them which had come back from the 21st century, and to compensate for the technical inferiority of their equipment, almost all of them had a lot more in the way of actual combat experience than most of the U.S. soldiers did.
They were also trained as dragoons, so they would make the trip on horseback. On the crude roads ahead of them, especially with the unwieldy trucks setting the pace, they would have no trouble at all keeping up. The ten members of First Squad, along with their carefully packed 21st-century weapons and ammunition, were now loading into a pair of pickup trucks at the end of the procession. These trucks, unlike most of the ones in service, still ran on gasoline rather than natural gas. The one big drawback to natural gas engines for military operations, even leaving aside the danger inherent in the more flammable fuel, was that gasoline engines had more range for the same weight and bulk of fuel.
Frank nodded to Stan Wilson, their sergeant.
"Ready to go, Stan?" he asked, through the rumble of waiting engines.
"Ready as we're going to be, anyway, I reckon," Stan drawled back.
"Well, then," Frank said, reaching in through the truck window to pat him on the shoulder. "You watch your ass—all of you! I'd take it as a personal favor if you'd remember we don't want any dead heroes around here."
"Oh, I think you can count on us to remember that," Stan assured him with a slow smile.
"Bet your ass," Frank agreed, and slapped him on the shoulder again. Then he stepped back and twirled one hand over his head in a "wind-them-up" gesture. Stan's pickup truck honked its horn in response, and the lead tractor-trailer moved forward in a grumbling snort of diesel exhaust. The snort had a vaguely derisive sound to it, as if Frank Yost was still miffed that Frank—friggin' coal miner, what does he know?—had had the presumption and gall to double-check his expert tie-down.
Frank Jackson stood there, watching them head off down the dirt roads of southern Thuringia until their tail lights vanished into the blackness.
When he returned to the executive branch building in downtown Grantville, Frank found Mike sitting at the desk in his office. He'd expected to find him there, since he'd known Mike would wait to hear his report.
What he hadn't expected to see was the cheerful smile on his face.
"What are you so happy about?"
"This," said Mike, pointing at a piece of paper lying on his desk. "Quentin Underwood just handed it to me an hour ago. It's his resignation from the cabinet."
Slowly, Frank lowered himself into his seat. "Resigned, huh?" He thought about it, then shrugged. "Well, that'll hurt us politically, of course. But at least it might keep James Nichols from killing him at the next cabinet meeting. For a moment there, I thought he was going to do it today."
Mike made a face. The cabinet meeting that day had ended in the worst brawl his Cabinet had ever had—and, with its strong-willed personalities, it had never been a cabinet characterized by mild manners. It had begun badly, with Quentin—as usual—insisting on bringing up again his disagreements over the issues thrashed out and settled the day before.
Mike had squelched that quickly—it's settled; that's it; forget it—because he needed to leave as much time as possible for the cabinet to consider his next proposal. That was, of course, the decision to leave Becky and the U.S. delegation in Amsterdam with a Spanish siege about to close in.
Underwood had kept his mouth shut while Mike explained the political and diplomatic aspects of the question. In fact, Mike suspected he really wasn't paying much attention at all, since he was brooding over his defeat over yesterday's issues. But when Mike had finally gotten to the "kicker," Underwood had exploded.
"Are you out of your mind?"he'd roared, rising from his chair and planting his hands on the table. "You want us to send off our whole supply of antibiotics—every drop of chlora-chlora—whazzit and most of the sulfa drugs we've slowly accumulated? Sending some of it to Gustav in Luebeck is one thing—but to the fucking Dutch?"
Slammed his fist on the table. "No, dammit! Let the Dutch handle their own mess! The whole problem with you, Stearns, is that you've forgotten that you were elected to be the President of the United States—not the 'President of Europe.' That stuff should be kept here for—"
And that was as far as he'd gotten. For the first time since anyone in Grantville had met the doctor, arriving in town the day before the Ring of Fire to accompany his daughter Sharon to Rita's wedding, James Nichols lost his temper.
He shot to his feet, spilling his chair. The sound of his fist slamming the table was like a gunshot.
"You insufferable jackass! You stupid, ignorant, self-satisfied moron!"
Nichols came stalking around the table toward Quentin. For all that James Nichols was a smaller man than Underwood—he stood only five feet eight inches tall and was not especially heavily built—the advance radiated sheer menace. For a few seconds, the well-educated and urbane doctor in his late fifties vanished, and everyone caught a glimpse of the ghetto hooligan who, as a teenager, had been given the choice by a judge between the Marines and a stay in prison. Mike started to rise, thinking he would have to physically restrain James from beating Quentin into a pulp. And that he could pummel the larger and younger man into a pulp, Mike had no doubt at all.
Neither, from the shocked pallor on his face, did Underwood himself—and Quentin was by no means a timid or cowardly man.
But, by the time Nichols reached Underwood, he'd brought himself under control.
More or less.
"Sit . . . down," he commanded, pointing a rigid finger at Quentin's chair. "Now!"
As Quentin fumbled to comply, James spoke through teeth which were not quite clenched, but closely enough that the words came as a hiss.
"Let me explain something to you, Underwood. Maybe this time you'll finally get it. There is no such thing as a 'Dutch disease.' There is no such thing as a 'United States immune system.' The bacteria and viruses which carry epidemics don't give a flying fuck about your precious borders and your fine political distinctions. They could care less, fathead. Do you think a germ stops when it gets to your nose and says: 'Oh, no! Mustn't infect this man. He's a fine and respectable Murikun, 'e is. I'll just have to find me a scruffy no-good Dutchman or Kraut or Frog or Dago. Huh? Do you?"
Underwood stared up at him, wide-eyed.
"Do you?" James demanded. His hand reached out, as if he were tempted to grab Underwood by his jacket and shake him. But he drew it back. Mike was relieved to see that Nichols had his temper back under control, even if he was still steaming mad.
"Let me explain to you, Underwood," James grated, "what's going to happen to you—or your wife, or your sons—if you get infected with Yersinia pestis. That's the germ that carries bubonic plague. I'll startwith the less fatal form. Then I'll move on to describe what often happens in cold weather—shut the fuck up, Underwood! I am sick to death of you!"
Quentin's attempt to interrupt James was cut off by that angry shout. James drove on relentlessly. "You will listen. This once, you will finally listen to me."
In the time which followed, carefully and slowly, Nichols explained—in the truly graphic and gruesome detail which a doctor can—exactly what would happen to a human body infected with bubonic plague. Even Mike, who knew far more about the subject than Quentin had ever bothered to learn, found himself getting a little sick to his stomach. Most of the people sitting frozen around the table seemed to share his reactions.
By the time James finished, the tone in his voice was more that of an old, tired anger than a fresh and hot fury.
"—come cold weather—and the sieges in Luebeck and Amsterdam will for sure and certain last through the winter—the form of the plague often changes. The infection migrates from the lymph nodes to the lungs. At that point it becomes what we call 'pneumonic plague,' which is the most virulent form of the disease. Along with the septicemic variety, where it gets into your blood."
He wiped his face. "I've had nightmares about pneumonic plague since the Ring of Fire," he said, almost whispering. "It's airborne, so it can spread like wildfire. Except for some of the exotic Ebola strains of hemorrhagic fever—which, thank God, we don't have to worry about—there is no disease I know of which has a worse fatality rate. No mass disease, anyway. Regular bubonic plague is bad enough. That'll kill half of the people who contract it. But pneumonic plague . . . With that form of the disease, the fatality rate is at least ninety percent."
He glared down at Underwood, his dark eyes like agates. "The Black Death of the fourteenth century was bubonic plague, by the way—and it started in China. But, hey," he sneered, "who cares about China, right? If we aren't going to worry about some Dutchmen, why lose any sleep over a bunch of coolies? Right? Well, here's how it really works, Mr. Borders-and-Frontiers. After killing an estimated twenty-five million Chinese, the epidemic reached Europe, probably through India and the Middle East. Maybe Istanbul. Who knows? The bacterium's invisible to the human eye, Underwood—you do know that much, I hope? Ain't no border guard checking papers gonna spot it, trust me."
He moved away from Underwood and started walking back toward his side of the conference table, talking as he went. "It started in the Italian port cities. By the summer of the year 1348 it had reached Paris; by the end of the year, London. By 1350—two years, that's all—it had spread throughout Europe. Everywhere, from Scandinavia to Spain to Russia. By the time it ran its course, the Black Death killed a third of the continent's population, all told. The estimate of historians is another twenty-five million people. Add that to the death toll in China, and you're looking at the same numbers as World War II and the Holocaust—in a world which had a far smaller population than the twentieth century."
He reached down, picked up the chair he'd knocked over, and resumed his seat. Then, clasping his hands in front of him, he swept the room with a long and stony gaze.
"I have been telling all of you for over two years now that we're living on borrowed time. There is no way—I don't care how you try, barbed wire around the borders, it doesn't matter—that you can insulate our little United States here from the rest of the world. For Christ's sake, people, even with the resources the old U.S.A. had, millions of so-called 'illegal aliens' came across our borders every year. From everywhere—China to South America—where there were poor people looking for something better, or fleeing from persecution and oppression. And in case you haven't noticed yet, 17th-century Europe in the middle of the Thirty Years War has more poverty and persecution and oppression and desperation than we did back up-time—and, God knows, we had plenty of it."
He paused, letting that sink in. "What we are faced with here is basically the same choice we've been faced with since Day One. This is the same argument Mike had with Simpson at that first public meeting. The same argument he had again with him during the campaign. The analogy Mike likes to use is whether a man who stumbles should try to take the fall—on broken glass—or run faster. I think of it like a man in the surf who sees a tidal wave coming. He's got a choice between trying to get to dry land—with not enough time to do it—or swimming out to meet the wave and trying to ride it in. Either way, the odds are crappy. But what looks like the safest course in the short run is sure to be the most dangerous one in the end."
Quentin was frowning. Clearly enough, the parallel James was drawing between the current issue and the old battle between Mike and Simpson had gone right over his head. James sighed.
"I'll put it a different way. The only way we've really got to protect ourselves from epidemics—sure as hell in the long run—is to spread our knowledge and our sanitary and medical techniques, throughout Europe. The whole world, eventually. I've always known that. The problem, however—compared to which deciding what to do with the piddly supply of antibiotics we've got on hand is meaningless—fucking meaningless, people—is that most of Europe doesn't believe us. Half the time, even our friends and allies don't really believe us. For every Balthazar Abrabanel who does, there's at least ten people who think our notions are either witless babble or heretical theology or—or—God knows what they think. Not the least of the reasons I supported Mike during the wrangle over chemical warfare was because I knew that if we set that monster loose we'd never get anyone to trust us when it came to medicine. Nobody in their right mind goes to a poisoner for remedies."
He lifted his clasped hands and thumped them on the table. Not angrily, so much as forcefully. "Who cares, goddammit, if we give up enough existing antibiotic to treat a few thousand people? If an epidemic hits the U.S., we'll run through that much antibiotic inside of a week. And then what?" He shook his head. "It's penny-wise and pound-foolish. We'll keep making the stuff, of course, and rebuild the stockpile. But it's way better for us, right now, to send what we've already got on hand to Luebeck and Amsterdam. Why? Because—are you listening, Underwood?—think what's going to happen there this winter. In a siege, rampant disease is a given. It's a fact of life. Everybody in this day and age knows it perfectly well. Right?"
Several people nodded. James smiled coldly. "Okay, then. Think what happens—what people all over Europe think—when they see Spanish besiegers dying in droves . . . and Dutchmen in Amsterdam surviving. When they see Danish and French soldiers being shoveled into mass graves outside of Luebeck—and Swedish and German troops surviving inside the city. Because of what we sent them."
He opened his clasped hands and spread them wide on the table. "Sure, Europe's princes don't give a damn—well, most of them—what happens to their commoners. But they do give a damn about their wars. Show them—in as graphic a way as possible—how a war can be impacted by modern sanitary practices, prophylaxis and medical treatment . . ."
Mike was watching Underwood. Still, the man didn't understand. He never would, Mike realized. It was odd, really, how a man so very intelligent could be so blind. Could see 'victory' only in terms of scoring points in a game. As if politics were a game to be won in the first place, instead of—what it should be, at least—the methods by which a civilization governs all "games" in the first place.
He decided he'd try one last time. "Quentin," he said softly, "I don't care who ends the danger of epidemic. I don't care if it's done by us—or by some French cardinal trying to beat us, or an ally emulating us, or just some Italian city council trying to keep their tax base intact. As long as it gets done." He breathed in; out. "Just like I don't care how freedom of religion gets established all across Europe. If Wentworth and Richelieu start implementing it to fight us, then as far as I'm concerned the whole basis of the 'game' has been shifted in the direction I want it. We aren't scoring points here, for the love of God. You score points with a ball. Not with peoples' lives."
Silence fell on the room. After a few seconds, Mike said: "The decision's mine, of course, in the end. But I'd like a formal vote of the cabinet. All in favor of my proposal to send our existing stock of chloramphenicol and most of our sulfa drugs to Luebeck and Amsterdam, along with as much DDT as we can manage, raise your hands."
Nichols' hand was up before he'd finished speaking. Ed Piazza's and Willy Ray Hudson's hands came up almost as fast. Within five seconds, the hand of every member of the cabinet was raised.
Except Quentin Underwood's. He looked around the room, shook his head, and said quietly: "Sorry, folks. I can't see it. That stuff belongs to us. We made it. We should keep it here for our own people. I just don't understand how anyone can see it any other way."
Then he rose and left the room.
"So when'd he resign?" asked Frank.
"Not long after. The cabinet broke up within a half hour. He came in maybe half an hour after that and—" Mike nodded toward the letter.
Frank thought about it for a bit. "Well . . . Personally speaking, I'm tempted to jump for joy. He's been a pain in the ass to deal with for months, now, and it seems like it's been getting worse all the time. Kinda strange, really. I'd have thought he'd have put old quarrels behind him."
Mike shook his head. "This isn't an 'old quarrel,' Frank. It's got nothing to do with the fact that he used to be the manager of our mine and we used to be the officers in charge of the union. Quentin's narrow-minded, yeah, but he's not that narrow-minded." Shrugging: "It's just the way the world works. When it comes to politics, anyway. Given XYZ set of circumstances, some people are going to argue one side, somebody else the other. Change the circumstances a bit—WXY—and the alignment changes. Some, anyway."
He chuckled, a bit ruefully. "Would you believe that under these circumstances, I'm starting to warm up to John Chandler Simpson?"
Frank made a face. Mike laughed. "C'mon, Frank! The man's not a devil. Neither one of us thought that even when he was at his worst. What he was, in those days, was an arrogant and take-charge kind of guy who, faced with a crisis, tried to drive through what he thought was the safe alternative. Too sure of himself—too obsessed with his own position, also—to consider the long-term risks."
"So? How's anything changed? According to James, anyway—and it sounds like you agree with him—we're facing the same choice now. Always have been."
"Don't oversimplify. Broadly speaking, yes. In detail, it's a lot different." Mike levered himself up from his relaxed slouch. "Right now, John Chandler Simpson has two big advantages Quentin Underwood doesn't. And I think—not sure yet—I just handed him a third."
Frank cocked an eye. Smiling, Mike continued. "The first advantage he's got is that he's already taken a big set of lumps from me. False modesty aside, I give pretty big lumps in the political arena. Quentin hasn't. Yet."
Frank's shoulder heaved a little with amusement. "You figuring you will?"
"Pretty soon. Not right away. First thing Quentin will do is go talk to Wilhelm Saxe-Weimar about forging a united opposition. Let's call it a 'conservative' opposition. Wilhelm will agree, of course—he's a very sharp cookie—without letting Quentin understand exactly what the problems are. Which won't be hard, since it'll never occur to Quentin to consider that the term 'conservative' covers a lot of ground. Cats and dogs are both conservative too, y'know—I've raised 'em, so have you, and if you don't believe me try changing their routine—but that doesn't mean they necessarily get along or have the same attitudes and personalities."
Seeing Frank's little frown of incomprehension, Mike waggled his fingers. "I'll get to that in a minute. The second advantage Simpson has over Quentin, now that he's gotten the stuffing knocked out of him—enough of it, at least—is that he has an intrinsically wider view of the world to begin with."
" 'Intrinsically,' " Frank muttered. "Dammit, ever since you married Becky you've been starting to talk like a city boy."
Mike grinned. "You shoulda heard the way I talked those years I lived in Los Angeles. I mean, like, man, when in Rome kick back like the Romans do."
Frank chuckled. "All right, all right. And your point is?"
"What's so complicated about it? Quentin was born and raised in West Virginia, spent his whole life here. There, I should say. Started in the mines right out of high school, picked up an education at college while he was working, wound up the manager. He's not exactly what you'd call a 'hick,' but sure as hell a country cousin."
"Hey!" protested Frank. "The same's true for me. You too, for that matter, leaving aside those three years you spent in La-la-land."
"Not the same thing, Frank," replied Mike, shrugging. "The problem with Quentin is that his mind never left the place. Yeah, sure—you and me were coal miners. But did you take the job home with you?"
"Fuck no," snorted Frank. "Washed it off with the coal dust, fast as I could."
"Exactly. Whereas Quentin . . ." Mike shook his head. "He spent an entire adult lifetime thinking about not much else beyond his job and getting ahead. I used to wonder, sometimes, how he ever found time to get Roslyn to marry him, much less raise his kids."
Mike spread his hands. "And that's . . . still pretty much his world, Frank. Put a problem—especially a technical or managerial one—right in front of his nose, Quentin will do fine. Do very well indeed, more often than not. That's why he was so good—and he was, let's not deny it—in the first stretch after the Ring of Fire. But try to get him to consider the world beyond the little hills and hollers of his view of it, once things start getting complicated and confusing . . ." Mike shook his head.
"Can't be done. God knows, I've tried, these last two years. Simpson, on the other hand—to get back to the subject—is a different breed altogether. Give the man some credit, Frank. Yeah, in a lot of ways he's narrow-minded. It might be better to say, a narrow kind of man. But he's no hick, that's for sure. He's been all over the world—and not just as a tourist—he's run a major petrochemical corporation, been a naval officer, rubbed shoulders with generals and admirals and politicians in Washington D.C.—and—"
Mike's grin was very wide. "Is married to a woman from old Eastern money who is a genuineconnoisseur of the arts, a former wheeler-dealer in very high social circles, and happens to speak fluent French. Pretty decent Italian, too, Tom tells me."
"Figure it out, Frank. Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar will launch his kind of political party. One that not only suits him but can appeal to a broad range of people in the United States—a lot of whom find me pretty scary. A lot, Frank. Don't ever make the mistake of thinking it's just a handful of sour-grapes noblemen and those bigoted goofs who hang out at the Club 250. All the way from old widows worrying that I'll remove their rent income because it derives from some kind of old medieval land tenure, to religious fanatics or just people who really believe in witchcraft, you name it. But most of them are German, and so they'll be thinking in their own terms. Wilhelm knows that. So he'll put together a party based on a platform which can 'bridge' the gap. Draw mass support from Germans but be acceptable—enough, at least—to a lot of Americans."
Mike shrugged. "It'll be 'conservative,' sure, but his definition of the term. Not Quentin's. I'm not sure yet, but I think Wilhelm will base most of his program on the theories of the cameralists, who've been the rising new reform movement here in Germany for quite some time. Interesting stuff, actually. Becky's uncle Uriel is quite a fan of the cameralists, in a lot of ways, and I've been talking to him about them over the past few months. Then Wilhelm will graft onto it, probably, a hefty dose of stuff from the Anglo-American political tradition back in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Edmund Burke, for sure—and you might be surprised how conservative a lot of the Founding Fathers were. They didn't all see eye to eye with Tom Paine and Sam Adams."
Frank was frowning again. "Becky is ruining you. I lost count, exactly, but I knowthere was more than one three-syllable word in those sentences you just rattled off. Keep it up, buddy, and I'm taking away your Caterpillar hat. Don't even think of applying to the Ancient Order of Hillbillies for a Harley-Davidson decal."
They shared a laugh. When it was over, Mike shook his head and said cheerfully: "The reason I'm not too worried about the political hit I'm going to take from Quentin's resignation is because I know what's going to happen. Bet you dollars for donuts. Wilhelm's going to agree to form an alliance with Quentin because Wilhelm is plenty smart enough to know that for an opposition party here in the U.S., having some well-known and respected American adherents and leaders is critical to success. A purely German-based party won't have enough credibility that it can keep the tech base up and running—and nobody who lives here, not any longer, has any doubt that's necessary. Having Quentin Underwood signed up, on the other hand, is about as gold-plated as it gets."
"Makes sense. But I still don't understand what you're grinning about."
"I'm grinning about what's going to happen afterwards. After Wilhelm's milked Quentin for all he's worth and then has to explain to him that the cameralistdefinition of 'conservative' is not 'what's good for General Motors is good for America.' " Mike leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers across his midriff. "The cameralists—in some ways, like the founding fathers of conservatism in our own political tradition—were basically a bunch of forward-looking and socially-conscious noblemen and gentry figures who felt that government should, among other things, look out for the needs of the common people. They weren't actually all that fond of unbridled capitalism, which Quentin thinks will solve all problems. Rather the opposite, in fact."
He pursed his lips. "Uriel once told me he thought the best translation of what 'cameralism' meant into modern political concepts—as near as he could figure it out—would be something like 'aristocratic municipal socialism.' Or 'social democracy,' at least, to use the more appropriate European term. Think of it as a mix and match between noblesse oblige, Teddy Roosevelt's progressives,and Milwaukee-style 'sewer socialism.' For guys like Wilhelm, the notion of 'deregulation' ranks right up there with fornication and adultery and worshipping graven idols."
Frank's eyes were almost bulging. "Socialism?!" he choked. "Quentin Underwood?"
James Nichols entered the room, then, talking as he came through the door. "Okay, Mike, it's set. Stoner's starting to get the stuff packed up and Anne Jefferson's volunteered to lead the medical side of the mission to Amsterdam. Sharon'll go to Wismar and—"
He stared at Frank. "What the hell's so funny?"
Frank, his shoulders heaving, pointed an accusing finger at Mike.
"James, this bastard is a sneaky, conniving, scheming—"
"It's taken you this long to figure that out?" Nichols shook his head sadly. "Dumb-ass hillbilly. I figured it out within a week after the Ring of Fire."
He plumped himself onto another chair. " 'Course, I did have the advantage of a Chicago street education. He's a politician, Frank. For my money, the best one in Europe. I sure as hell hope so, or we're dog meat."