EIGHT ‑ THE RADICAL SPEAKERS BUREAU

 

 

"You were magnificent!" The face blurred, then became clear. Gideon stared into this stranger's face and tried to sit up. It was then he discovered his head was gone. It wasn't gone for long. In less than a second it had come rushing back to sit on his neck again, twice as big as before.

     "Ungh," Gideon said.

     "The doctor said you'd be all right."

     "Doctor!" Gideon shouted, then grabbed his head. "Ungh."

     "You never even got to jail."

     "Jail?"

     "I've never seen anything like it before."

     "What...?"

     "Everyone stood up for you. All the students, that is." Gideon looked closely at this stranger.

     "Who are you?" he asked.

     "I'm Ricky Ledwell from the Radical Speakers Bureau, and I ‑"

     "What do you want?"

     "Well, we thought since you were no longer a student ‑"

     Gideon sat up fast. "Say that again?"

     "We thought since you were no longer a student at the university here you might be interested in making a speaking tour."

     Gideon could only stare at him.

     "We would appreciate it," Ricky Ledwell said. Gideon lay back down.

     "You'd be a great inspiration to the Movement."

     Gideon thought of having to go back to work.

     "All your expenses would be paid by the Radical Speakers Bureau."

     Gideon sat back up. "Really?" he said.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NINE ‑ THE MAGPIE

 

 

     Gideon sat on a small mound of packed dirt, hands in his pockets as he hunched over against the cold. Grey trees outlined against the lighter grey of the sky formed a solid flank behind him. A cold, monochrome world spread out ahead and felt its way out to an invisible horizon. Everything blended with the pre‑dawn grey.

     He looked down the slope to his van, and wondered if Carmen was still sleeping. He wondered if she would really miss him and, to his surprise, wondered if he would miss her. His world had turned topsy‑turvy.

     He thought of the time a little over two months ago, when he had thought he could control his own destiny. "Ha ha," he said.

     "Tweedle," said a bird, surprising Gideon as it hopped over the small crest of another mound beside him. It was a magpie. Gideon looked at the bird.

     "Hello," he said.

     "Tweedle?" the bird replied.

     "Yeah," Gideon said, shaking his head. He turned and looked down the hill again to watch color slowly capture the world. It was dawn.

     Greens and browns slipped over the still sleeping trees and tall stalks of grass, flowing over them quickly and silently. A gentle coup. A thousand shades of browns and reds crept across the earth and painted the thick layer of tiny rocks, not missing a single spot. The sky was turning a pale blue behind idle puffs of clouds. Trees came alive with the delicate fluttering of wings as birds prepared for a new day. Gideon glanced over to the next mound and the magpie was still there. It watched him through bright eyes, liked oiled ball bearings, and it made Gideon nervous.

     The birds in the trees suddenly stopped all motion, and the silence was frightening. Gideon looked at his distant van, now blue again, then up at the sky just in time to see the sun, like an expert hunter, sneak over its blind of trees to fire bright orange beams of light into the defenseless clouds, double‑barreling them into oblivion. The birds applauded wildly, screaming their respects to the rising sun.

     Gideon looked at the mound again and the magpie was gone. He stood, his back to the warm sun, and shook his pant legs down over his boot tops. The Plains surrounded him, dwarfing his van and pushing the still cool air into the folds of his jacket. It had been a mild fall, and the locals said that usually meant a bad winter.

     "I guess it shouldn't matter to me," Gideon said out loud, though there was no one around to hear. "I won't be around."

     This was the day Gideon would be leaving in his van to tour the United States of America, lecturing as he went.

     "Bullshit," he said.

     The lecture tour had been arranged by the Radical Speakers Bureau, Gideon's new boss. He was still numbed, his plans and once eventual security down the drain with his ouster from Macalester College on the charge of being a radical troublemaker and an instigator. The more Gideon tried to explain what happened, the less people listened. To those who admired him he was a hero, and they closed their minds to anything he said that cast doubt on himself.

     "Humble," they would say. "A true leader."

     Those who hated him heard his words as ridicule. They thought he was laughing at them. Gideon hadn't laughed at anything in a long time.

     He shrugged these thoughts off and walked to the van, his boots crunching across the rocky ground. He opened the door quietly and slipped inside. The small gas heater hissed softly.

     "Hello," Carmen said. She was sitting up in the bed, her pale, slender legs swinging over the side. She pushed them out then back, nervously, like a swimmer treading water at the edge of a pool. She took his jacket front in her small hands and pulled him to her, sucking in her breath as his cold clothes met her bare skin.

     "You're cold!" she whispered into his shirt. "Have you been outside long?"

    'Since midnight,' he thought, wondering why he couldn't remember any of all the things that had occupied his mind for six hours in the cold darkness. He knew nothing more of what he was going to do than he'd known when he left her sleeping so long before.

     "Not long," he said, his arms around her shoulders as she rocked him back and forth. She held tight to his waist.

     "I'm going to San Francisco," Carmen said.

     "What?" Gideon pulled back and she looked up at him, her blue eyes rimmed in red. He wondered if she, too, had been up all night.

     "My parents called yesterday, but I didn't know how to tell you," she said. Tears welled up but she fought them back. "They're taking me out of school."

     "Because of me."

     "Because of everything," Carmen said as the tears won out. "They told me to come home." She pulled him to her again and cried.

     "But you're going to San Francisco?" Gideon rested a hand against her cheek.

     "I called Molly last night before you came over," she said. Molly was Carmen's closest friend. She lived in San Francisco, writing some very good articles for a women's liberation newsletter while working as a waitress to pay her rent. "She told me I could stay with her."

     Gideon unwound himself from Carmen and sat down beside her on the bed.

     "And, besides," she wiped her eyes with the sheet, "I don't want to stay here after you've gone." As she said it they both realized his departure was only hours away. Gideon would be leaving at noon.

     She faced him then, her fingers working at the buttons of his shirt. She opened it and let her warm hands explore his chest. "I know it already," she said, not looking at his face. "I'm going to be lousy at saying goodbye."

     Gideon put his hands over hers and lifted them from his chest. He stood and walked to the cab of the van, returning with a small package in his hand. "It's a stupid present," he said. "But I'm going to give it to you, anyway."

     He handed it to Carmen, then turned away to hang his jacket on the chair. He heard her crying as she unwrapped it. Gideon kicked off his boots and removed his shirt, feeling the warmth of the van wash over him. When he looked back at her she was smiling.

     Carmen held the gift in her hands and her smile turned to a throaty laugh. His present to her was a small glass paperweight with a log cabin and tiny pine trees inside. When turned over, then righted again, the air around the cabin and trees was filled with thousands of tiny white snowflakes.

     "Oh, God," she said, laughing, "this is a stupid present!" She held it up, turned it over, then righted it again. Snowflakes. She looked at Gideon and cried.

     "Gideon," she called to him and he came to her. It was time to say goodbye.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TEN ‑ THE EXIT

 

 

A large, restless crowd huddled together against the cold. A small, nondescript office on the fringe of Macalester College stood at their backs. They lined the curb of a branch parking lot and watched quietly as Gideon moved things around inside the van to make room for a stack of cardboard boxes. More boxes sat in unsteady stacks on the curb. The blue sky had returned to grey as Winter played its hand. The slight warmth Gideon had felt earlier that morning was gone, and a chilly wind had begun to blow.

     Gordon Cotton, ex‑president of the Students in Defense of the Third World and destined to become president again when Gideon left, stood beside the van. Next to him was the secretary of the Radical Speakers Bureau, a shivering young man named Carl Truman. They waited patiently to shake Gideon's hand, and let him know how proud they were to be waging revolution in such good company.

     Truman, a short, straight‑backed man with shiny, capped teeth and a mortician's smile, had originally wanted Gideon to use his Blackledge Foundation money to fly across the country instead of driving the van. Now, he stood proudly in the chill autumn day with even more vouchers, folders, maps and schedules overflowing his delicate hands. Carl Truman thought the Bureau was lucky to have the opportunity to hire so dedicated a brother as Gideon Holley, and he'd told him so.

     Gideon was close to tears, a very unfamiliar feeling for him. All he wanted was to stay in college and find a few friends, like J. and Carmen. He wanted to graduate and get an easy job with his uncle's farm supply store in Tallahassee, Florida. He had never wanted much.

     "You don't understand, Carl," Gideon had been smooth in convincing Truman that it would be so much better to use his van to travel from college to college.

 

     "It gives me more mobility." Gideon remembered how he stood defiantly before the young man a week before. "If something starts coming down around me, I can get out from under it in my van." He had watched Carl's determined face begin to crumble.

     "I'd be trapped if I had to wait for an airplane. Hell, the government controls those things anytime they want!" Gideon poked his finger into Truman's chest then, a gesture he despised, but he was on a roll and couldn't stop himself. And, it worked.

 

     "Well," Carl started. "Well ‑"

     "My effectiveness depends on my ability to do what has to be done without interference," Gideon was practically shouting, thinking how good it sounded.

     "But, the normal procedure ‑"

     "Normal, hell!" Gideon did shout. "These aren't normal times, Carl. Believe me," he added for effect, "I know!"

     Carl Truman bought it, and apologized for not having thought of it himself. Gideon breathed a sigh of relief. If he'd taken Carl's suggestion to fly from campus to campus he would have had no excuse for being late, or not showing up at all if, for some reason, he wanted to do something else.      

     This was something new to Gideon, and he wasn't sure he would be good at it. With his van, Gideon had an endless supply of excuses; flat tires and blown engines and bad brakes and heavy traffic and many other valid and wonderful reasons for not having to stand in front of several thousand eager and angry students, spilling out his revolutionary heart and soul.

 

 

Now, at the curb, Gideon stepped out of his van and everyone was talking at once. Hands shook his while mouths overflowed with radical cliches. Gordon Cotton pushed his way through the crowd and stood at Gideon's side. He was very glad to see Gideon leave. Gideon Holley was too much competition.

     Gordon Cotton was five feet and eleven inches tall in hiking boots, and had long, reddish‑blond hair. He also sported a ragged goatee. On the day Gideon left, Gordon was wearing a T‑shirt with a target printed on the chest. Inside the innermost black circle, directly over his heart, were two tiny words: bulls eye.

     Gordon shoved his hand into Gideon's and pumped it up and down furiously. "Power to the people!" he demanded.

     "Power," Gideon said. He looked around for J., knowing he wouldn't be there, but looking anyway.

     "Fuck the system," Gordon continued pumping Gideon's hand.

     "Fuck," Gideon said.

     Carl Truman stepped forward and held the pile of folders out to Gideon, explaining each one as he placed it in Gideon's outstretched arms.

     "This is your basic itinerary," Carl said, dropping the first folder into his arms. "It has the names of your contacts at each college, too."

     "Good."

     "This is your schedule of banking transactions. It lets you know which bank will be holding your money from the Foundation, and has slips authorizing you to get it."

     "Very good." Gideon continued the litany until the last folder changed hands, then leaned into the van and dumped them all into an empty cardboard box. Carl tapped his back timidly.

     "This is a big step for people's politics, Gideon."

     "Yeah," Gideon said as he pushed the box behind the driver's seat. When he turned back around Carmen was there. She was smiling, and her eyes sparkled.

     "I'm so proud of you!" She kissed him.

     "Yeah," Gideon said, distracted. "Proud."

     He hugged her, then waved grandly to the crowd like Eddie Rickenbacker, all set to fly away. He stepped into the cab. The crowd was cheering as he cranked the engine, and he smiled. When he looked out, he was surprised to see a magpie fly in front of the windshield. It turned its round head and, for a fraction of a second, looked at Gideon with eyes like oiled ball bearings.

     "Tweedle," the bird called as it flew out of sight.

     Gideon looked for the last time at the crowd, and his eyes stopped on Carmen. "I love you," her lips moved slowly, soundlessly forming the words. He nodded, a lump in his throat choking him. He put the van in gear and drove away. When he reached the outer fringe of the crowd, Gideon was surprised to see J. Hubbard standing alone, staring at something across the street. He blew the horn and waved, but J. didn't seem to notice.

     J. Hubbard didn't even see Gideon. He was watching a short, wiry man who looked to be about forty years old. The man had a long, incredibly twisted nose and dark, gold‑ rimmed glasses. His complexion was sallow, and his short, sandy hair was combed down in bangs across a tall forehead. He was wearing grey flared pants and a blue Nehru jacket. An enormous brass medallion hung from a thick chain around his neck.

     None of these things held J. Hubbard's attention. What had caught his eye was what the man was doing. He was talking into a flower that he held in his hand.

 

 

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